Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Roman dining attire

I was surprised to discover that Romans wore special "dinner clothes" called the synthesis or cenatoria and not togas or clothing normally worn in public (except during Saturnalia). The garment was worn by both men and women and described by Martial as characteristically colorful except for members of the Arval brothers priesthood who wore a pure white version at their ceremonial banquets. Without further description or confident identification in ancient art, though,  scholars have only been able to speculate that it could have been worn over a tunic as an ensemble or suit such as a tunic-mantle combination or was some sort of robe.  The toga was considered simply too cumbersome and inappropriate for reclining at dinner. Exposing too much flesh at dinner was also offensive to the Romans.  Art historians point out that funerary dining scenes in Roman art showing bare torsos had symbolic or religious meanings and were not representative of an actual Roman dining experience.

Fashionable elite Romans probably owned several dining outfits that may have also been conspiculously expensive. Martial mentions one of his friends giving a fine synthesis to his mistress on the occasion of the Matronalia.  It is thought that the synthesis may originally have been women's clothing, adopted by men as part of Saturnalia's role reversals.  Although it eventually became accepted for what would be termed "private leisure," it was considered a faux pas to wear it in everyday public life. One of the many things Nero did that drew the ire of the upper class was his decision to wear a loose-belted synthesis as everyday attire.

Silver spoon and fork, 3rd century C.E., Roman, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York image courtesy of the museum. This elegant and unusual eating implement doubles as both a spoon and a fork, the latter intended more for picking up food from a serving dish than for eating with from one's own plate. The handle is decorated with a spotted panther, an animal often associated with the god Dionysus. - Metropolitan Museum of Art

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

No comments: