We spend so much of our lives looking forward that sometimes it's easy to forget to look back. So today we're going back to school—to history class, that is. You might be surprised by how much dining room furniture has changed over the centuries (both in purpose and style), and particularly by how much the function of dining rooms has changed.
Let's start with the centerpiece of any dining room, new or old: the table. This word was introduced in the 12th century in its Latin form, tabula, and with the original meaning "a board or a plank." It is believed that the Egyptians were the first people to have tables. Theirs were made of wood and were short like our modern-day coffee table, but were pedestal-style rather than having legs. Egyptians took their meals while sitting on the floor, though, and most references indicate that they did not actually use the table when eating. Rather, the table served two main purposes: (1) a place to offer foods to deceased relatives and (2) a place to keep things off the floor.
The table first became the dining room table—and thereby purposed primarily for eating—in the homes of Greeks and Romans. Tables of this era were called trestle tables and were made of stone, marble, wood, or metal. The trestle table is characterized by four legs linked by two beams in the shape of an "x." Many dining room tables of this time period were large and round or semicircle in shape.
The trestle table was the most common form of table until the 16th century, when stronger frame-based structures such as refectory tables took over. A refectory table is likely what you picture in your mind's eye when you think of a Medieval banquet-style table. These elongated tables were originally used in monks' dining halls and were made of oak or walnut, using the trestle-style "x" support beams positioned very low to the floor for strength and durability.
A "food for thought" factoid to leave you with:
Soldiers of the Middle Ages used their shield upon their lap as their plate and their sword as a knife.