Eating Apart Together? Commensal Rules, Customs and Deviations Aboard Ostend Company Ships (1722-1731)

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Commensality – the act of eating together – and its social effects of creating or reinforcing social groups has been studied extensively. In life aboard ships, in particular, eating together is attributed a key role in reflecting and thereby enforcing the professional hierarchies deemed fundamental to the functioning of the ship. However, transgressions of these commensal rules and customs have often been overlooked. Taking the eighteenth-century Ostend Company based in the Southern Low Countries as a case, this article argues that commensal deviations were possible for a variety of reasons, ranging from a means of disciplining crew members to signalling discontent and waging power struggles. Nevertheless, transgressions were temporary: regardless of the success in attaining the envisaged goals, the commensal structure was quickly restored. Thus, rather than threatening the social hierarchy vital to the ship’s functioning, this article argues that these deviations helped sustain it by providing outlets for tensions before more serious challenges to on-board hierarchy could arise
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)4-31
Number of pages28
JournalBMGN - Low Countries Historical Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Antwerp City Archives (Felixarchief).

Copyright 2023 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Ostend Company
  • commensality


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