Ancient Roman houses


This is a video about Pompeii in Italy.

Today, in the archaeological museum.

Dr Ruurd Halbertsma of the museum told about Roman housing.

The subjects was: homes and hearths in the Roman empire.

In antiquity, he said, the Greeks and Romans saw the hearth as the symbol of the home.

Its flames were also a symbol of continuity.

One can see that even today, in eternal flames at unknown soldier’s monuments.

When a family moved to another house, they lighted the hearth of the new house with fire from the old home.

Greeks and Romans also had an important goddess of home and hearth: Hestia in Greek, Vesta in Latin.

Dr Halbertsma said in ancient Rome, there were also lesser gods of fire, the Lares.

They symbolized flames, and were depicted in little statues as dancers.

These statues were at Roman house altars, along with little statues called penates, symbolizing ancestors.

How did rich, slave owning Romans live?

To get an idea of that, we started with a model in the museum of the House of the Menander in Pompeii.

This was owned by Quintus Pompeius Sabinus, one of the richest citizens in Pompeii town in southern Italy, before a volcano destroyed it.

It was very big, with thermae (baths) of its own.

It contained many mural paintings and mosaics.

Like near the entrance, saying cave canem, beware of the dog.

After the entrance and entrance hall, people entered the atrium, eg for business visitors.

Closer friends of the extended family living here were welcomed more to the center of the building, in the peristylium, where in summer dinner was served in the open air; or in the dining hall.

A peristylium was also a sort of indoor garden. Roman villas did not have gardens on the outside.

Most Romans did not live in villas.

Well, some did, but as slaves in the slaves’ quarters.

Other poor Romans lived in sometimes eight stories high appartment houses.

Which sometimes collapsed, as the government had no safety rules.

And you could be still more unfortunate, and live homeless in the streets, and often die early.

Rich Romans often had expensive furniture.

Including, in the museum collection, a table-leg, shaped, the museum note says, like a leopard.

Is it really a leopard, or is it a cheetah?

Dr Halbertsma thought the head looked small for a leopard.

Also the long legs, and claws, pointed in the cheetah direction.

As the Roman empire expanded to countries further north of the mediterranean, rich Romans also built villas in these countries, including the present Netherlands.

They had an economic function, providing the Roman occupation troops along the borders with provisions (not really in supplying the capital Rome, like Roman villas in Libya).

Basic building principles of Roman villas in The Netherlands were the same as in the Mediterranean: though they needed more heating in the colder climate.

Here, they did not just have a hearth, but central heating for the floors and walls as well.

One can get an impression of the interior of a Roman villa in the southern Netherlands from an item in the museum, the Simpelveld sarcophagus.

Pre-Roman atrium houses exhibited a striking number of similarities as part of a long Italic building tradition. Dutch researcher Noor van Krimpen analysed the measurements of primary mansions in Pompeii. As buildings were constructed according to a standard model, the adaptations to that model, required by the economical, practical and social demands of any particular project, provide a lot of information about the social significance of the houses of Pompeii’s elite: here.

Roman silverware: here.

5 thoughts on “Ancient Roman houses

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