Weird History 11 Interesting Facts About What Ancient Roman Parties Were Really Like  

Aaron Edwards
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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. 

Dinner Parties Were The Thing To Do
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Photo: Thomas Couture/Public Domain

Most social activities were centered on eating, and Rome wasn’t one to eschew tradition. Dinner parties were the cornerstone of Roman social life. It was the best excuse for the noble class to get together and network. Those throwing the party enjoyed greater prestige. These parties were known in Latin as "convivium" (which means living together). They happened at all echelons of society, though most surviving histories speak only of those dinners hosted by the elite. 

In his book Daily Life of the Ancient Romans, author David Matz quotes Suetonius on Emperor Augustus's habit of throwing dinner parties: "He gave dinner parties constantly and always formally, with great regard to the rank and personality of his guests... He served a dinner of three courses or of six when he was most lavish, without needless extravagance but with the greatest goodfellowship." 

For The Elite, Dinner Parties Were A Display Of Status
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Photo: Eugène Delacroix/Public Domain

The food served and the way it was displayed at dinner parties meant everything. The goal was to impress guests enough to call in favors and make impressions, so hosts had to bring their A-games. The more exotic and expensive the food, the more impressive the hosts were. Those who really wanted to show everyone how rich and cultured they were would lay out platters of different dishes from which guests could choose. 

According to The Illustrated History of the Roman Empire, a meat course alone might include "veal, suckling pig, boar, venison, hare, wild goat, kid, porpoise, bream, hake, mackerel, mullet, oysters, sole, chicken, duck, goose, partridge, thrush, turtle dove, even crane, flamingo and ostrich."

Dinner Parties Weren't Always Private - Holidays Got Everyone Together To Get Down
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Photo: Jean-Léon Gérôme/Public Domain

While there were plenty of private dinner parties, ancient Romans also hosted public feasts called epulums, which were religious events. The Epulum Jovis, for instance, was held each year in honor of Jupiter, to commemorate the dedication of the Capitoline temple in Rome. It was a festival of feasting. Other Roman holidays were accompanied by feasts that spilled over from public to private spaces. Food was made available in public, but citizens also hosted their own parties during which they ate and drank. 

Gregory S. Aldrete describes the party scene during the Roman holiday Saturnalia in his book Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii and Ostia:

The... week was taken up with nonstop parties and feasts. All shops, law courts, and schools were closed. Normal moral restraints were loosened and everyone was expected to engage in all forms of revelry and fun. This was the only time of year people were allowed to gamble in public. Bands of revelers ran through the streets drinking and shouting...

Entertainment For Elite Roman Parties Might Include Poetry And Gladiators
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Photo: Herbert Schmalz/Public Domain

Elite ancient Roman private dinner parties featured more than just elaborate food and noble guests. They also featured a wealth of entertainment of many forms. Conversation was the bedrock of many dinner parties, but they also could feature poetry readings, music, plays, and acrobatics.

The most impressive dinners could end in an intimate gladiator fight, but they also sometimes featured discreet interactions with sex workers.