The triclinium was named after the three couches typically found in the dining rooms of upper-class Romans. The lectus, or couch, was an all-purpose piece of furniture. Usually made of wood with bronze adornments, the open bottom was crisscrossed with leather straps, which supported stuffed cushions. Different sizes and shapes of lecti were used for sleeping, conversing, and dining. A chair with a back (cathedra), for example, was considered suitable only for women or old men. Dining couches were fairly wide, for each couch held three diners, who reclined on their left side resting on large cushions while slaves served them multi-course meals. To find out more about the dining arrangements of wealthy Romans, read Pedar Foss's “Age, Gender, and Status Divisions at Mealtimes in the Roman House,” complete with a diagram of a typical seating plan for the three couches. Dining rooms, like other rooms in the Roman house, often had beautifully painted walls (click here for a detail of the central painting, illustrating the mythological story of Dirce and the bull).

Barbara F. McManus
revised November 2006
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