NPR

The Lavish Roman Banquet: A Calculated Display Of Debauchery And Power

A new book profiles 10 prominent emperors who helped shape the destiny of Rome. Part of their legacy includes wild stories of hedonistic banquets, when luxury ruled even as plebeians went hungry.
The banquet of a noble Roman in ancient Rome was more than a lavish social meal, it was a crucial power tool — a way of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. Source: Bildagentur-online

The Roman banquet may well have been the original staging ground of gastronomic excess — think platters of peacock tongue and fried dormice, chased down with liters of wine poured by naked waiters. But at the heart of all that gluttony was cold calculation.

For the aristocrats who ruled this sprawling ancient empire, which, at its peak under the soldier-emperor Trajan (A.D. 98 to A.D. 117), stretched all the way from Britain to Baghdad, the banquet was much more than a lavish social meal. It was a crucial power tool.

"The banquet was a chance to follow the precept of keeping your friends close and your enemies even closer," says historian and Cornell University Professor Barry Strauss. His engaging new book, profiles 10 prominent emperors whose policies and personality shaped the destiny of imperial Rome. "They allowed emperors to display political power and wealth, and dispense valuable favors to the invitees and monitor potential rivals. Even before there were emperors, members of the Roman elite

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR8 min read
John Williams And Anne-Sophie Mutter, 2 Geniuses For The Price Of One
John Williams is an honored film composer, but he began as an arranger. Williams is now arranging again, this time with the acclaimed violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter on the album Across the Stars.
NPR4 min read
Buying Greenland? That's Nothing To Gabriel García Márquez
Gabriel García Márquez's intricate, confusing, magnificent novel centers around a monstrous, nameless dictator — known only as the General or the Patriarch — who sells the entire Caribbean Sea.
NPR2 min readPolitics
Trade And Economic Tensions Loom Over G-7 Summit In France
Just before leaving Washington, D.C., Friday, President Trump hiked tariffs on Chinese imports and threatened to force American companies to leave China.