Weird History

11 Interesting Facts About What Ancient Roman Parties Were Really Like 

Aaron Edwards
Updated November 19, 2019 53.9k views 10 items

Contrary to popular belief, Rome was not all crazy sex parties. In fact, ancient Roman parties were pretty tame by today’s standards. Most of the time, it consisted of noble families getting together, eating elaborate food dishes, and talking about everything from politics to the weather. These parties were beacons of status and networking opportunities, which is why they became a cornerstone in everyday Roman life. Partying in Rome was common, but racy Ancient Roman escapades weren't popping off on the daily. 

In addition to dinner parties, there were festivals filled with lower class demographics within this period. There were also lust-filled gatherings, and while people did go to them, it was usually under the guise of secrecy, as they were considered the lowest of the low in terms of entertainment. If you want to know more about how Ancient Romans got down, check out the list below. 

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Seating Charts Were Extremely Important
Seating Charts Were Extr... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list 11 Interesting Facts About What Ancient Roman Parties Were Really Like
Photo: Jan Styka/Public Domain

Since Roman noble parties were all about building relationships and making connections, seating was key to making them work. That’s why the host would spend an incredible amount of time working on seating arrangements to make sure networking opportunities were maximized. Guests who were less important were furthest away from the host. 

Creating a seating chart was complicated by the fact that ancient Romans didn't just pull up chairs to tables, but rather reclined on couches or beds. These spaces might fit one or three people, and were arranged around tables, where meals were spread. Big parties required multiple tables around which a number of beds or couches were placed. 

Wine Was Everything
Wine Was Everything is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list 11 Interesting Facts About What Ancient Roman Parties Were Really Like
Photo: Amos Cassioli/Public Domain

Wine was a cornerstone of Roman culture and nowhere was it more important than at a dinner party. Beer was considered uncivilized for high society, so those who wanted to be seen as high-class would drink wine to exemplify their own importance. It was served in many different forms, but the two people would usually see at a dinner party were calda and mulsum. Calda was served warm, full of spices and generally considered a good winter drink.

Mulsum was a honeyed wine common among Romans. All wine was mixed with hot water before the party as it was considered uncivilized to drink it straight. 

Bacchanalia Was A Racy Festival The Government Restrained By Law
Bacchanalia Was A Racy F... is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list 11 Interesting Facts About What Ancient Roman Parties Were Really Like
Photo: Édouard-Henri Avril/Public Domain

Dedicated to Bacchus, the God of Wine, Bacchanalia was the closest thing to state-sanctioned debauchery in ancient Rome. There were drinking feasts and dramatic performances at the theater for all to enjoy. The festival got so popular, in fact, the Roman government eventually banned it (or at least introduced legislation to tightly control it, which mitigated many of the activities).

The Bacchanalia took place mostly at night and was originally a religious ceremony. It evolved to focus more intensely on the hedonistic aspects. As Roman historian Livy describes it

To their religious performances were added the pleasures of wine and feasting, to allure a greater number of proselytes. When wine, lascivious discourse, night, and the intercourse of the sexes had extinguished every sentiment of modesty, then debaucheries of every kind began to be practiced, as every person found at hand that sort of enjoyment to which he was disposed by the passion predominant in his nature. Nor were they confined to one species of vice..."

Caligula Took Advantage Of Women At His Dinner Parties
Caligula Took Advantage ... is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list 11 Interesting Facts About What Ancient Roman Parties Were Really Like
Photo: Amos Cassioli/Public Domain

Caligula was generally considered to be a brutal embarrassment to Rome. Before something could be done about him, though, the Roman people had to put up with his antics. He enjoyed throwing dinner parties for married couples, which they were forced to attend. During these events, he would steal the wives away to secret rooms for forced intimate interactions.

Then, he’d come back and talk about everything he had just done. Of course, this wasn't emblematic of Roman parties overall, but it did happen from time to time.