How clients are entertained

Mosaic of slaves serving at a banquet, from Carthage, 3rd century CE. Louvre, Paris. Photo by Barbara McManus












Ancient Rome was full of dubious hospitality. The complicated system of patronage meant that clients were occasionally invited to a banquet, in gratitude or reciprocity for all their efforts on their patron’s behalf. It was not uncommon for guests at the same party to be treated to different food and wine, served on different plates and glasses, depending on where they stood in the social hierarchy. J.P.V.D. Balsdon notes in Life and Leisure in Ancient Rome, that “(t)his differentiation, it seems, could be made even between guests at the same table.”

In “How Clients Are Entertained,” Juvenal, taking the part of the client/guest, asks, “[i]s a dinner worth all the insults with which you have to pay for it?”

“First of all be sure of this –that when bidden to dinner, you receive payment in full for all your past services. A meal is the return which your grand friendship yields you; the great man scores it against you…

“The page [slave] who has cost so many thousands cannot mix a drink for a poor man: but then his beauty, his youth, justify his disdain! … It is beneath him to attend to an old dependent; he is indignant that you should ask for anything, and that you should be seated while he stands. All your great houses are full of saucy slaves. See with what a grumble another of them has handed you a bit of hard bread that you can scarce break in two, or bits of solid dough that have turned mouldy – stuff that will exercise your grinders  and into which no tooth can gain admittance. For [the host] himself a delicate loaf is reserved, white as snow, and kneaded of the finest flour. Be sure to keep your hands off it: take no liberties with the bread-basket! …’What?’ you may ask, ‘was it for this that I would so often leave my wife’s side on a spring morning and hurry up the chilly Esquiline when the spring skies were rattling down the pitiless hail, and the rain was pouring in streams off my cloak?’

Juvenal, Satire V, 20-25; 60-70. Loeb edition, translated by G.G. Ramsay


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