Quick Reference

Reclining on couches while dining was introduced in Greece from the near east, probably c.700 bc. Special rooms were built to accommodate the couches along the lengths of the wall, often on a slightly raised plinth. Floors are durable (cement or mosaic), presumably to allow for swabbing down. Each couch had a low table alongside. Such rooms were referred to by the number of couches they held. Eleven is a frequent number, the resulting dimensions (c.6.3 m. (21 ft.) square) thus giving a reasonable size for general conversation across the room. Dining‐rooms in private houses are generally small, those for ritual feasting in sanctuaries may be larger or very large halls for over 100 couches.

In later Hellenistic times the arrangement called trīclīnium developed. Three large couches in a Pi (π) arrangement, each for three diners with head to centre, feet to the outside, making conversation easier. This system was adopted by the Romans. Each couch had its significance: the left couch was the lowest in rank where the family would dine, the host at the top (i.e. on the left); the guests would recline on the other two, the middle one (next to the host) being more honourable: the place on the right was the position of chief honour. See convivium; meals; palaces; symposium; tholos.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

Reference entries