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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
TricliniumHere we see a platform arranged to form three sides of a square (tri-clinium = “three reclining places room”).  This platform would have been spread with  pillows to allow for comfortable reclining.  There was a strict protocol to the placement of diners.  The family reclined on the right, with the host at the top.  The rest of the platform was for guests, with the middle segment  reserved for distinguished guests.  The spot on the middle section nearest the host on the right hand section was the place for the most honored guest.  Note that this particular triclinium is intended to take advantage of warmer weather;  there would have been another more protected triclinium in this house for colder weather.
Definition of TRICLINIUM
1: a couch extending around three sides of a table used by the ancient Romans for reclining at meals
2: a dining room furnished with a triclinium
Latin, from Greek triklinion, from tri- + klinein to lean, recline — more at lean
First Known Use: 1646

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