Throughout history, humans have always had an insatiable desire to let loose, indulge in excess, and revel in the euphoria of celebrations. From ancient civilizations to the roaring 90s, parties have been an integral part of human culture, serving various purposes, whether to worship gods, celebrate unions, or simply to revel in the joy of life. These historical festivities have been marked by copious amounts of alcohol, elaborate costumes, and wild revelries that allowed people to subvert societal norms and party until dawn. In this blog post, we will embark on a journey through time and explore some of the wildest parties in history that left an indelible mark on their eras.
Festival of Drunkenness (Egypt, 15th century BC)
Our journey begins in ancient Egypt, where the Festival of Drunkenness took center stage in the 15th century BC. This extraordinary event was rooted in religious mythology, honoring the sun god Ra's triumph over chaos. According to the legend, Ra stopped the goddess Hathor from destroying humanity by tricking her into a drunken stupor. Egyptians celebrated this divine intervention by consuming copious amounts of beer every year on the 20th day of Thoth, the first month of the Egyptian calendar.
Intriguingly, this festival was not only about drinking but also included acts of wild indulgence, including orgies and uninhibited expressions of love and fertility. Hathor, the goddess of love, became the muse of these passionate celebrations, making it a truly hedonistic affair.
Nero’s Golden House (Rome, 64-68 AD)
Fast forward to ancient Rome, and we find ourselves amidst the infamous Emperor Nero's Golden House. The grandiose Domus Aurea was renowned for hosting some of the most debauched parties in antiquity. In the coenatio rotunda (rotating dining room), Nero would treat his guests to extravagant, gluttonous feasts. Guests were reportedly allowed to leave the banquet hall only if they made themselves vomit, enabling them to continue indulging in the sumptuous offerings.
But the pinnacle of decadence was Nero's portrayal of a wild beast. Clad in the skin of a wild animal, he had men and women tied to posts for his amusement and pleasure. The festivities continued until Nero himself decided it was time to end the revelry.
Ball of the Burning Men (Paris, 1393)
Moving forward to medieval France, we find the Ball of the Burning Men, a celebration that turned into pandemonium. Initially intended as entertainment for a royal wedding, the ball featured knights dressed as wild men, their costumes soaked in pitch to resemble hairy creatures. The courtiers were meant to guess the identity of the disguised knights.
However, a tragic accident occurred when the king's brother, the Duc d’Orleans, entered the ballroom carrying a torch, oblivious to the ban on candles and torches due to the highly flammable costumes. The ensuing blaze caused chaos, and the young king, protected by a quick-thinking duchess, emerged unscathed. The event, known as the Bal des Ardents – the Ball of the Burning Men – resulted in public penance for the entire court for jeopardizing the king's life for the sake of a party.
Field of the Cloth of Gold (Northern France, 1520)
In the early 16th century, an extravagant meeting between two powerful monarchs, King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France, took place in Northern France. Known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold, this event was essentially a competition of lavishness and conspicuous consumption.
Both kings spared no expense, erecting temporary tents to host extravagant banquets, jousting tournaments, and nightly festivities. An astounding 216,000 gallons of wine were consumed during the two-and-a-half-week event, equivalent to a staggering £15 million in today's money. However, the political diplomacy between the two rulers was minimal, overshadowed by their egos and personal rivalries.
The Beistegui Ball, 1951
Jumping to the mid-20th century, we find ourselves in Venice, where Carlos de Beistegui threw the legendary "Le Bal Oriental" at Palazzo Labia on September 3rd, 1951. This opulent party earned its place in history as the party of the century, with an illustrious guest list that included film stars, nobility, artists, and cultural icons.
To attend the event, guests were required to wear elaborate costumes inspired by Tiepolo's painting depicting Antony and Cleopatra. The party showcased the meeting of creativity and luxury, with artists dressing designers and vice versa. Salvador Dalí and Christian Dior famously dressed each other, and Pierre Cardin gained recognition as a designer due to his creations for the ball.
The host, Carlos de Beistegui, stood out in a spectacular fashion, sporting a towering 16-inch platform shoes, concealed beneath a bright red robe topped with an extravagant wig. The ball was a spectacle of grandiosity, and its impact echoes through the ages.
JFK's 1962 Birthday Party, 1962
In the early 1960s, the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, held a birthday celebration at New York City's Madison Square Garden. The fundraiser, billed as his 45th birthday celebration, attracted more than 15,000 guests and featured a star-studded lineup of performers, including Ella Fitzgerald, Maria Callas, Jack Benny, Peggy Lee, and the captivating Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn's sultry rendition of "Happy Birthday" to President Kennedy set the event apart, igniting rumors of their affair. She wore a skin-tight dress encrusted with rhinestones, designed by Jean Louis, which is now known as one of the most expensive dresses in history. The party became one of Monroe's final public appearances before her untimely death later that year, etching an iconic moment in history.
Truman Capote's Black and White Ball, 1966
In 1966, author Truman Capote hosted the extravagant "Black and White Ball" in New York City, celebrating the publication of his book "In Cold Blood." This soirée was meticulously curated, with only 540 carefully selected guests from the highest echelons of society receiving invitations.
Inspired by a scene from the movie "My Fair Lady," the guests were required to wear black and white attire and masks until midnight. The guest list was an eclectic mix of notable figures from politics, literature, fashion, and the arts, including Marianne Moore, Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow, Gloria Vanderbilt, Andy Warhol, and more.
The Ball remains an iconic event in history, influencing numerous parties that followed, including Sean Combs' 29th birthday celebration in 1998, and his very own 50th birthday party in 2019.
Rothschild's Surrealist Ball, 1972
The extravagance and opulence of the Rothschild family reached its zenith in December 1972 when Marie-Hélène de Rothschild hosted a Surrealist Ball at Château Ferrières in France. With guests like Audrey Hepburn and Salvador Dalí, the invitation itself was designed as a mirror with a dress code of "black tie, long dresses & surrealist heads."
The ballroom was adorned with bizarre and surreal decorations, including plates covered in fur, blue bread rolls, broken dolls, dead fish, and taxidermied tortoises. The dessert was served upon a mannequin corpse lying on a bed of roses. The event was a true spectacle of audacity and eccentricity, truly reflecting the indulgence of European high society.
Bianca Jagger's Birthday – 1977
The iconic Studio 54 played host to some of the wildest parties of the late 1970s, and among them was the birthday celebration of Bianca Jagger in April 1977. The Studio 54 opening night a week before Bianca's birthday had already set the stage for opulence and extravagance.
Bianca's party was attended by a select group of celebrities, including her husband, Mick Jagger, and actress Liza Minelli. However, the event became legendary when Bianca herself rode into the club on a white horse, led by a nude man covered in glitter body paint. The photograph of this moment became an iconic symbol of the era and a testament to the exuberant nature of the Studio 54 scene.
Freddy Mercury's Halloween Party – 1978
Our journey through wild parties in history concludes with a legendary Halloween party hosted by rock icon Freddy Mercury in 1978. The party celebrated the launch of Queen's seventh album, "Jazz," and is rumored to have cost over $200,000.
The event featured nude waiters and waitresses, snake whisperers, mud-wrestling naked models, fire-eaters, and strippers. Guests enjoyed sumptuous delicacies like oysters, lobsters, stuffed crabs, caviar, and the finest champagne. Though never officially confirmed, the event was said to have had waiters with plates of cocaine strapped to their heads. This wild, rock 'n' roll affair remains an emblem of extravagance and excess in the music industry.
From ancient Egypt to the glamorous 1970s, history's wildest parties have showcased humanity's desire to escape the ordinary and embrace the extraordinary. These celebrations have often pushed boundaries, blurred societal norms, and created unforgettable moments that have reverberated through time. While we may think our modern parties are wild and uninhibited, these historical festivities demonstrate that the spirit of hedonism and revelry has always been deeply ingrained in human culture. As we look back at these events, we can appreciate how they have shaped our perception of what it means to party hard and live life to the fullest.