What is western banquet

Drinking bout of antiquity

Event photographers know that pictures of celebrating celebrities sell particularly well. Even in antiquity, people were often and gladly held for eternity while they were eating and drinking together. "On the one hand the motif was wonderfully suited for self-portrayal and self-definition - because only the higher classes could afford such feasts, on the other hand it perfectly reflected the peaceful side of life", explains Petra Amann, deputy. Head of the Institute for Ancient History and Archeology, Papyrology and Epigraphy at the University of Vienna.


In a large-scale project, in cooperation with her national research partner Peter Ruggendorfer from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, she created all banquet and feast scenes from the 8th to the 3rd century BC. Systematically investigated in the Italian, Greek, Minor and Near Eastern regions. "The image motif occurs in all areas of life - but we have concentrated specifically on the grave area," explains the professor of etruscology. This area is particularly interesting because it plays an important role in self-definition: "How the deceased imagines the afterlife or what image he or she wants to leave behind for posterity says a lot about the cultural background and social structures of a person ancient society. "

In Etruria, belonging to a certain social class or family (the gens was particularly important) was important, which is why collective banquets were shown above all. The Etruscanologist Petra Amann has examined, among other things, the representation of women: While "lying down" at a banquet tends to emphasize the erotic bond or partnership, "sitting" - above all on one's own piece of furniture - reflects the legitimacy of the wife and head of household. (Fresco from the tomb of hunting and fishing in Tarquinia / South Etruria, 520-510 BC, today's Italian region of Latium, couple stored)

National arch

Many of the ancient cultural regions have already been intensively investigated with regard to depictions of banquets and banquets. "But we are the first to take on the topic with a supraregional perspective - which also includes the western Mediterranean world. It is only through this broad arc that we can better understand the social and religious differences behind it and look beyond our own professional horizons", explains the professor.

The Etruscans - who settled in the area of ​​today's Italian regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Latium -, the Greeks of southern Italy, those of the motherland as well as the Greek and native inhabitants of Asia Minor - including the Lycians in the southwest of today's Turkey - have very different approaches to the Topic found. "There were of course mutual influences," said Amann. Why, for example, are there such close iconographic parallels between Etruria and Lycia? So far there has not been a satisfactory answer to this. "This is exactly where we wanted to start and remove another question mark from the story," explains Amann.

Non-Greeks and Greeks

In contrast to the "periphery", scenes of drinking parties in the grave area of ​​the "Greek heartland" played a subordinate role. "I don't like to use the term 'periphery' in this context, because it reflects the old Grecentric image of research," emphasizes Amann. With the Greeks, the focus was on the individual figures and not on their group membership. Amann's explanation for this: apart from the Greek heartland, aristocratic and strongly hierarchical societies dominated. Showing that one belonged to a higher social group or court elite was particularly important here for self-representation. And the banquet motif was wonderfully suitable for this.

In classical Athens, on the other hand, the democratic state system encompassed all full citizens - women were excluded from political rights. "It was therefore less important to show oneself on the grave monuments as part of the large group, since in principle everyone belonged anyway," explains Amann. Rather, allusion was made to the social role of the individual. "Only in the everyday art of vase painting are the drinking bouts that are important for the internal cohesion of groups of men to be found," adds the historian.

Greek drinking bouts held according to certain rules were called "symposia". The ancient Greek expression means "drinking together in company". How and whether these were presented depends on the region. Banquet motifs can be found in the Greek "peripheral areas" - from Etruria to Macedonia, Lycia, Cyprus to the Carthaginian area in North Africa - relatively often in the grave area, in the Greek heartland around Athens, however, almost only in the votive and everyday area. Hellenism reshuffled the cards. (Painting in the "Diver's Grave", Paestum / Southern Italy, around 470-480 BC, men's symposium)

Lying, sitting or standing?

The historian and etrusologist Petra Amann is primarily concerned with the message that an image conveys. The way in which a woman is represented, for example, says a lot about a society. "That is why the female element was an important topic in the project," says the expert. Do women even appear? If yes how? "The women lie on the Attic vase paintings. It is known that only hetaerae were allowed to take part in symposia in this position. They were used to entertain the men and were not socially equal," says Amann.

The tomb paintings of Etruria also depict the women lying down. But in this case it is the wives who rest next to their husbands in the family graves of the high nobility. "In this case, the Greek paintings were the concrete iconographic models - but the understanding behind them was different," explains Amann. Although the pictures are similar in structure, the cultural landscapes developed their own understanding of it. "It is therefore important to assess the images from the respective social and sociopolitical context," emphasizes the professor. "In Lycia, for example, the representation of the family banquet with a seated wife and children played an essential role".

Recognize cultural differences

While the Etruscan upper class expected a joyful life in the afterlife over long stretches of history, the idea of ​​life after death in archaic and classical Greece was not so rosy: Here only a select few made it to the Symposium of the Blessed in Elysium - all others ended up as Shadow creatures. (Tomb of Hurttuweti in Myra, 4th century BC, family banquet)

Thanks to a methodologically uniform approach to the analysis of the individual cultural landscapes, the scientists can now make more precise statements about the socio-political situation and religious ideas of ancient societies. "Etruria has adopted a lot of the style and motifs from Greece, but has always remained true to itself and its structures. Therefore, explanatory models valid for Greece cannot simply be transferred to the Etruscan city-states. This of course also applies to the other cultural landscapes of the ancient world "explains the historian.

From the huge mountain of material of banquet scenes, a very complex database with over 800 entries was ultimately created. "Even the smallest details can be queried here," says Amann happily. (ps)

The FWF project "Banquet and grave. Comparative studies on a central theme of sepulchral art and the associated values ​​in the Etrusco-Italic, Motherland Greek-Minor Asian and Levantine-Near Eastern regions from the 8th to 3rd centuries BC". ran from February 1, 2009 to December 31, 2013 under the direction of Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Petra Amann, Deputy Head of the Institute for Ancient History and Archeology, Papyrology and Epigraphy at the University of Vienna. Your national research partner was Dr. Peter Ruggendorfer from the Institute for Ancient Cultural History of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW). Project team members were: Dr. Tina Mitterlechner (Institute for Ancient History and Classical Studies, Papyrology and Epigraphy, University of Vienna), Mag. Agnes Nordmeyer (Institute for Ancient Cultural History, OeAW), PD Dr. Ellen Rehm (Stuttgart / Frankfurt a.M.) and Dr. Christian Eder (Münster).