Ancient Romans used boys' hair instead of napkins
The word “communal meal” originally meant a small table of three legs. Ancient Greeks used it during their feasts. The table laden with food and drinks would be attached to the bed. Ancient Romans also ate while lying in their beds. They even used “napkins.” The “napkins” looked very strange: they were live boys with long and curly hair. Being employed as a kitchen boy in the house of a rich patrician was regarded as a stroke of luck.
It is probably a good thing that the above way of wiping hands disappeared along with the Romans. However, people kept using their hands for picking food from the table for many centuries. There is a very small number of forks listed in the most complete kitchen inventories of the 14th and 15th centuries. For example, the French queen Jeanne d'Evre had 64 spoons and 1 fork only. She kept it in a special sheath.
The clergy strongly disliked the fork during the Renaissance. The use of fork was forbidden in monasteries until 18th century. The clergy regarded the fork as an embodiment of the Devil. Well-off patrons used gloves to keep their hands from being greasy.
The first napkins were invented in Ancient Greece. Those napkins were made of alabaster. They do not get any washing after use, they were put into a fire for cleansing. The napkin arrived in Russia during the time of Peter the Great. He banned using table cloths for wiping hands.
Louis XII surprised the whole Europe with plates during his coronation dinner. The first plates were rectangular and lavishly decorated. Russian peasants used bowls and pots in lieu of plates. A bowl and a pot were the only items of crockery available in the house of a Russian peasant. The so-called bread plates were large pieces of bread with some food on top. Bread was either eaten or given away to the beggars. The real plates arrived at Russia in 16th century.
The fork was banned in the British Royal Navy until 19th century. It was thought that the prongs of a fork pressed against a plate looked very much like female legs in an indecent state of exposure.