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What was vomitorium?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)


At present, there is a common misconception that the vomitorium was a room specially dedicated by the ancient Romans to empty the stomach during banquets.

In fact, the vomitorium was an exit in an amphitheatre or stadium, allowing the crowd to quickly leave the building. Usually, the passage was marked under the rows of seats. Often, the vomitorium was used by actors to enter or leave the stage. Modern stadiums imitate the innovative idea of the Romans.

But why there is such a mistake in the meaning of the word vomitorium? The word was used by Macrobius1, but not in the context of feasts, but as an image of spectators leaving the amphitheater en masse. This wording was misinterpreted in the 19th century with reference to special rooms during feasts. The prevailing belief in uncouth and decadent feasts has resulted in an over-interpretation. However, it cannot be ruled out that the hosts did not actually prepare such rooms.

There is no doubt, however, that the generous Roman feasts in the homes of rich noblemen ended in vomiting. The stoic writer Seneca the Younger (4 BCE – 65 CE) mentions this. In one of his writings he tells how slaves clean up vomit at banquets, summarizing the feasters: “They vomit so they may eat, and eat so they may vomit”.

  1. Macrobius, Saturnalia, 6.4.3
  • Stephanie Pappas, Purging the Myth of the Vomitorium, "Scientific American", 28 August 2016

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