Dinnertime for Ancient Romans

Some consider the most important meal of the day to be breakfast, but some feel that the meal at the end of the day is quite rewarding. Not everyone eats or prepares their dinner table in the same way. This is especially true when looking at ancient civilizations. This article explores some of the dinner traditions, meals and ways regarding ancient Romans, as well as an early welfare system.


During the times of the Republic and leading into the second century, ancient Romans ate a dinner meal consisting mostly of vegetables. The diet was quite simple during those times. Meals were created by the mother of the family or by female slaves that took direction from the matriarch of the family. The dinner table could be located within the atrium of the house, where the father, mother and children situated themselves around the table, sitting on stools. It was not uncommon for the children to serve their parents during this time.


Knives and forks were not used during these days, but spoons that resembled what we use today were used. Before the food was served, it was cut up into small pieces and presented as finger food. The food was then eaten with fingers or with a spoon. It wasn’t until the last two centuries of the Republic that the way ancient Romans ate evolved. Separate dining rooms were being implemented within the household and instead of sitting upon benches or stools, Romans now sat upon dining couches.


As the Imperial Age took over, the lower class of Roman, referred to as plebeians, ate a dinner of porridge. The ingredients that were used when preparing this meal included mostly vegetables. When the plebeians had enough money to spare, they purchased olives, bread, fish, meat, as well as wine for their dinnertime meals.


Because many of the lower class citizens were quite poor, the ancient Romans created a way to aid in this misfortune. It could actually be compared to what we know as the welfare system. This program was referred to as annona. Separate lunch programs for schoolchildren were also created, which were called alimenta.


Instead of receiving a food stamp like today, ancient Romans were given small tokens (tesserae). These tokens would allow you to pick up food items, such as baked bread, wheat flour and other items. Special tokens were distributed for celebratory occasions where meat was given out. All of the food was stored within a large government structure.


Dinner for the upper class Roman, which were called patricians, seemed rather fancy. Men held dinner parties, where children and women were separated from the crowd. A variety of food was eaten and a ton of wine was included. Dinner would last for hours. The dinner parties that the men held may include entertainment, which came in the form of dancing ladies or a theatrical performance. Reclining couches were used as seating areas and the men gathered around a dinner table. Chairs were supplied for the children and women who ate apart from the party. Late in the Empire, women were later allowed to join in on these parties.