Ancient Romans were just as dependent
on their pocketbooks as modern homeowners for the size and
comfort of their housing. Within the walls of Rome, housing
prices soared, much as house and land prices do
today, while smaller cities and towns afforded homeowners more spacious
dwellings, to make up for the sacrifice of living
outside the Eternal City.
Excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum have brought many
dwellings to light, and allow us to see not only the floor
plans but give one a sense that the home's owners have just
moved out, allowing new owners to walk the rooms and imagine
their own furnishings within.
Large Roman houses provided living arrangements not only
for the immediate family, but also other relatives and, of
course, the household servants and slaves, and often rooms
along the periphery were rented out to shopowners. Thus,
possession of a large home did not necessarily mean that its
owners had a great deal of privacy.
In addition to the houses themselves, writers such as
Vitruvius left us with a veritable handbook to architects
of his day describing the type of dwelling a person, depending
on his status in life, would require.
Most Roman houses, and indeed many
modern Italian and Spanish homes, present a more or
less unbroken wall to the streets outside, with most doors and
windows open onto its interior courtyard. Its proportions
were dictated by years of custom, stretching back to Etruscan
times; in fact, one of the major features, the
, has its origin in Etruscan houses.
Based on evidence found in Etruscan tombs, homes were
simple, with a main room opposite the entrance, or a set of
rooms built around an atrium. These were later roofed
in, except for the opening in the roof (compluvium)
to let in light and air.
From its Etruscan forebears, the Roman house grew in size
and functionality, incorporating many architectural elements
from the Greeks, while retaining its essential Roman function
Handbook to Life in Ancient
Adkins and Roy A. Adkins (Oxford University Press,
Daily Life in Ancient Rome, Jérôme
Carcopino, Yale University Press, 1940
As the Romans Did, JoAnn Shelton,
Oxford University Press, 1998