Roman etiquette

Lying in comfort on the beds, the diners at Roman banquets served themselves with food arranged in large communal bowls. Slaves cut the food into small pieces, which were generally placed in the mouth with the hands. The leftovers, such as grape pips, fish bones and walnut shells, were left on the floor at the end of the meal. By throwing the leftovers on the floor, the Romans intended to appease the gods of the underworld, who lived underground. In the 2nd century B.C., a certain Sosus of Pergamon used this motif as a still life, known as Asàrotos Oikos (the unswept room), which was often reproduced in dining room mosaics.

Mosaic known as the asarotos oikos (unswept floor) from Villa Lupi in Rome, 1st century A.D., Musei Vaticani

Roman banquet scene, 1st century A.D. Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, originally from Pompeii

Top: Roman banquet, 2nd century A.D. Ancona, Museo Archeologico Nazionale delle Marche

In Roman times meals were consumed in a specific room known as the triclinium (from the Greek kline, or bed), which was generally the most attractive and elegant room in the house. Those who could afford it had more than one: a winter dining room, facing west to make the most of the warmth and light of the sun; and a summer one, facing north so as to be cooler.
The pleasure of the eye went hand in hand with that of the table. The meal stimulated all the senses. In order to best appreciate the food, the performances, the games and the entertainments that interspersed the courses, as well as lying down in comfort, guests took off their shoes and gave them to a slave, who returned them when they took their leave. Guests lay on beds arranged around three sides of the room, with the table in the centre. Each bed could hold three people, facing towards the centre of the room, with their left elbow resting on a cushion and their left hand free to hold the plate.
Food was just one of the pleasures of the table, the most important was the company of friends and conversation. Early on women never attended these banquets. However, during the imperial age they were permitted to take part too, although only during the first part of the banquets, the first mensae, before the wine was served.