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Debunking the Vomitorium Myth

Late antique Roman mosaic with an asarotos oikos “unswept floor” now on display in Switzerland at the Chateau de Boudry.
Late antique Roman mosaic with an asarotos oikos “unswept floor” displayed in Switzerland at the Chateau de Boudry.

In popular culture, a common misconception on the word “vomitorium” exists. Many think of it as a room where ancient Romans went to upchuck their meals in order to make room for the next course. Some legends go as far as to describe the vomitorium as a room adjacent to the dining room, supplied with feathers to tickle the throat and a basin to contain the purge. The feasts of the Romans were known to be spectacularly voracious, filled with greed and gluttony from the excess appetite of the Roman emperor—as often documented. Emperor Vitellius, whose image appears in the ancient Roman Aureus coin dating from the year 69 AD, was allegedly unable to maintain control over his desires and would feast exotically over four times a day. This projection of the wastefulness of the Roman empire thus gave rise to our misconception.

Gold coin depicting the gluttonous Emperor Vitellius

In truth, the vomitorium is an architectural term used to describe the passageway or corridor of an amphitheater connecting the bank seats to the outside space. It refers to the passages where spectators could “spew forth” into their seats at public entertainment venues. The purpose of the vomitorium is to provide rapid egress, allowing large crowds to exit rapidly at the end of a performance. The Colosseum in Rome, for example, has a total of 80 vomitoriums where most were used by ordinary spectators with the exception of four that were lavishly decorated and used exclusively by the emperor and the elite class.

Much like the architectural vomitorium, The Vomitorium is an exploratory platform where ideas ‘spew forth’ through research, project showcases, and writings. The name is inspired from a play on both the misinterpreted meaning and the actual meaning of the word as a place for sharing knowledge within the field of architecture through posts of daring design, discourse, discussions.


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