Roman Culture/The Roman House

The Roman house has a very systematic and elaborate floor plan and structure, partly on account of its inheritance of Greek and Etruscan architectural standards. Of course, the general idea of what a home should be and contain changed over the course of Rome's history. This can be attributed to the shift of wealth into the city, the availability of materials, and advances in Roman technology (like piped water and glass). The build of a house also depended on the location of the construction; the upper class was able to live on the higher, more expensive parts of the city, or even outside the walls in the countryside. The plebeians had to dwell in the lower parts of the city, and thus were unable to have the sort of luxury seen in the villas. These lower parts had usually been marshlands before being drained and made fit for human habitation, so the quality of life had to have been considerably lower than that of the patricians. Perishable materials were very rarely used; instead, the new technology of concrete could be used to strengthen a house as a structure; plaster used to decorate the house as a home.

Each room had a very specific purpose;, but that did not stop Romans from moving their spaces around, depending on the season or weather. These were often rooms like the dining hall, or the kitchens. Even cubicula (the word we use for the small rooms) could have been interchanged with others according to the needs of the owners. As we can see from houses preserved in Pompeii, like “The House of the Tragic Poet”, which is a good example of what a house was generally structured like. It's important to remember that houses varied in floor plans; there was no set plan that was agreed upon. What we can tell, however, is that certain spaces were always included. One of these spaces, arguably the most important space in the Roman house, was the atrium. This was the center of the home; the traditional place for the hearth. It was usually the biggest part of the home, as you were meant to be able to reach nearly every room from there. It was often directly at the beginning of the home, after the entrance (the vestibulum). Usually the roof in this area was open, in order to keep with the Roman theme of the illusion of being in nature (most Roman homes were introspective, and thus had a small number of windows). This had a practical purpose as well; the collection of rain water. A small pool would be inserted into the floor, along with a cistern. This way the pool never flooded over. Another staple of the floor plan would be a peristyle garden, which also featured an open roof. This was so even in inclement weather, the garden could be visited and walked around. The dining hall would often be near the periculum as well.

Art and sculpture were also very important, as Romans viewed their homes as needing to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible, especially for those in the city. Gardens with themed decorations and sculpture were commonplace in the homes of the richer citizens. Most of the knowledge that we have of such art comes from the cities affected by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius, such as Pompeii.