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AIA LaFollette Lecture: Eat, Drink, and be Roman: How to Survive a Roman Banquet

Lecture: Other UCB Archaeology | January 29 | 7:30 p.m. | 370 Dwinelle Hall

Nicholas Hudson, Assistant Professor, Department of Art and Art History, University of North Carolina, Wilmington

Archaeological Institute of America

The Roman banquet was a spectacular social event that holds a peculiar place in modern popular culture. Whether in the form of the college Greek “toga party” or portrayals in films such as I, Claudius, Cleopatra, and the over-the-top Caligula, as a modern audience we have expectations about the Roman banquet that meet certain criteria regarding common (mis)conceptions of Roman luxury and revelry. The ancient reality was something strikingly different, but not necessarily any less exotic. The Roman banquet was more than simply a chance to eat well with friends, it was an opportunity to expand one’s political and economic horizons. Successfully participating in a banquet required detailed knowledge of appropriate etiquette and the ability to prove by erudition that you belonged on the guest list. Using a wide variety of evidence, including frescoes, mosaics, the written word, and the dishes used at the banquets themselves, we can reconstruct banqueting traditions full of social meaning. In this lecture we explore the purposes, processes and changes of the Roman banquet from the first through the sixth century AD. The divergence of banqueting fashions represents a fissure between the ruling elite and the increasingly disenfranchised masses, and the form the new style took may have everything to do with the rise of Christianity.