Among the numerous foreigners who recorded their impressions of the Byzantine court Liutprand of Cremona, ambassador of Berengar of Italy in 949–50, provides descriptions of court ceremonies and a glowing account of the Christmas dinner he enjoyed at the Great Palace.
Christmas was celebrated in the wonderfully beautiful House of the Nineteen Couches. Constantinos VII Porfyrogennetos, the ”Purple -born” emperor and his guests didn’t sit at the table but reclined on couches, eating from golden plates in ancient Roman style. After the solid food, fruit was served in three very heavy, gold bowls. Two of them were put on the table in the following way. The ceiling opened and the bowls were lowered onto a table. Between the numerous courses, there were various entertainments . An acrobatic display, however, was particularly remarkable. It was performed by a strong man who balanced on his forehead a wooden pole 24 feet long, which, a foot and a half from the top, had a cross piece 3 feet wide.Two boys, naked except for a piece of cloth around their middles, climbed up and down performing tricks at the top of it. Liutprand was astonished by what he saw.
But, what was on the menu?
Sadly, he didn’t specify what was served in the gold dishes.
Perhaps, the advices that are found in the Byzantine dietary manuals would be ideal for a Christmas banquet.
See also: Christmas with the Emperor.