Feasts in the Ancient City of Ephesus

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Beginning as an Oriental luxury and formerly held only in certain homes, special-purpose feasts became a social fashion within nearly two centuries and became a long-standing tradition.
Beginning as an Oriental luxury and formerly held only in certain homes, special-purpose feasts became a social fashion within nearly two centuries and a long-standing tradition. Feasts in the Ancient City of Ephesus were held till the last days of the Roman Empire.

The custom of eating while lying down, which was adopted as a luxurious, extravagant tradition since the 6th century BC, was taken from Lydia or Persians from the Eastern land of Anatolia. Only the man of the house and his male guests could attend such meals. While the men were eating separately, the woman of the house and the children gathered around the fireplace. Initially, these men’s meetings, which were only a method of mutual discussion of the ruling class, became a general practice by being adopted by the rich in the 5th century and later. With the increase of these Antique Age meetings with meals and drinks, there were some fundamental changes in the house plans.

Although the feast initially emerged for religious reasons such as feast being given after war, hunting, or the habit of eating together with the warriors following the 5th century it became a common tradition to the regular people and became a habit rather than a luxury.

They Created Specialized ”Feasting” Furniture!

Roman Men Feasting While Laying On Kline Furniture in Ephesus

The most important furniture of in these places was the ‘kline’ (sofa-like reclining chair), which was made of stone, wood, or bronze. There were at least three of the ‘klines’ in small spaces. The rectangular or round table with a tripod, used during dinner, was one of the indispensable items of these places, like the ‘kline’. The table can be carried easily due to its tripod, it can be brought with the food on it during the meal, and it can be pushed under the ‘kline’ when the meal is finished. In some depictions, we also see the footstool on which shoes are placed when reaching the kline, which is used as a stepping stone to the kline. Vitruvius who was a famous architect and author states:

Men’s invitations are held in large rooms where four ‘klines’ can easily fit and there is enough room left for service and entertainment; According to tradition, it is not customary for the landlady to be present at such invitations.


Only Man Served Men

Oil lamps were used for lighting, and barbecues were used for heating. Preparing the place and furniture for the feast, transporting the necessary materials, supplementing the wine for getting drunk, and serving it to the guests were the duties of only-male servants. The servants were present throughout the feast until all the guests left unless they had another more important duty.

A Male Servant Serving Wine During A Feast

The feast was a two-part meeting, ‘dinner’ and ‘drinking together, which started in the evening and lasted until delinquent, adhering to special conditions and traditions. After the guests had their hands and feet washed by the servants and stretched out on their respective kline sofas, the dinner would begin. It didn’t matter how long dinner took. Because there was no drinking with food and no talking for as long as possible. At the end of the meal, prayers were made, wine offerings were made, and then the main part of the meeting, which was the feast, began. Drinking and reading poetry had certain rules. The president, who was elected separately for each feast, would decide how and how much wine would be drunk, who would talk about what in what order, and who would recite poetry. Every behavior and every action had a different order and rules.

Time For Music, Dancing, and Feasting!

In addition to all these rules, the main purpose of these meetings was to have a fun conversation. We can see paintings on the vase descriptions showing kind of single or double flute (aulos) was preferred among the musical instruments used in the feasts, and the ‘barbiton’, ‘kithara’, also ‘Lyra’ were preferred among the stringed instruments. Dance portrayals, which are less common than music in meetings, resemble those of the dancers we also see in the Dionysus festivals. In some feast depictions, female dancers dressed as warriors are also seen.

Dionysia Dancers Portrayed on a Vase

A game called ‘kottabos’ was very popular during feasts. The rule of thumb in this game was to throw and hit a target, balancing the sludge in the glass of wine. If the shot was a hit, the metal circle on the base of the cup rang out. This game was only played by men at meetings and feasts. The ‘Kottabos’ game demanded hit ability and a good eye setting. So the game started right after the banquet had started when the participants were still sober enough. The game could be played with the goblets used while drinking.

How to play kottabos!

Meetings Were Not Suitable For The Official Wifes

Apart from music, dance, and games, sexual recreation also took a considerable place in the meeting places. Having sex with a hetaira who was a special type of prostitute who excelled in talking and art was common. Having a homosexual relationship with a man in exchange for money was called ‘pornos’. Sexual scenes from these meetings can be seen in vase illustrations.

Hetaria by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1861

The young people at the feasts could sit around the wine jug on the ground and drink wine from the mug, not in the ‘klines’ until a certain age and maturity. After a certain age, sometimes they could have their own wine cups with their names written on them.

Hetairas Were Some Of The Most Educated People Of Ephesus

Women who studied dance, music, articulateness, literature, even philosophy and art to accompany men in public and at feasts could not marry a man who was a citizen, as they were not accepted at the same social level as citizens. On the other hand, these women, who were with men for money, were the most cultured and educated women of their time. Ancient sources also mention the fees set for such relationships. Beauty and education level are the main factors in determining earnings. These women had to get permission from their previous lovers for a new relationship. In addition, it was necessary to promise a long-term friendship with these women in front of witnesses, in other words, to make a verbal agreement that would bind you for a long time. The ‘Heteiras’ were perceived as a professional class in Ephesus because of the education they received and their knowledge of politics and philosophy, the ‘hetairas’ were the most cultured class of women of their time.

A Roman Feast in Ephesus Portrayed on a Mosaic

Feasts Turned Into Degenate Eating Frenzies

Beginning as an easterner luxury and formerly held only in certain homes, night meetings in Ephesus became a long-standing tradition. The tradition of feasting continued during the Roman Empire but differed greatly in terms of content and functioning. In the feasts of this period, artistic, philosophical conversations and discussions were replaced by unlimited eating which was a good example of the degenrate lifestyle of the Roman Empire.

Hasan Gülday

Hasan Gülday. Professional licensed tour guide working in Turkey.

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