The Ideal House
offer us an exceptional insight into Roman life in the first century
AD, no more so than what it tells us about the houses the inhabitants
lived in. Both towns have many examples of the 'domus', the one family
home, as it was between the fourth century BC and the first century AD.
The basic layout was established by the Samnites
and was plainly the outcome of previous experience. This was the 'domus
italica', a house with a series of service areas off a central axis.
Thus the areas for sleeping, cooking and eating were alongside areas
used for family and social life.
The latter areas were almost completely covered, like the atrium, or completely open, as in the peristyled
garden, while between the atrium and the peristyle was the family's most sacred room, the tablinum.
Light and air for the rest of the house usually came from these central
spaces alone, very rarely from the exterior.
The 3D view on the left shows the layout of a typical atrium house. The
main points of note are:
This model stood the test of time and varied little in its basic layout.
Variations included a covered atrium, the addition of a second floor and more
recreational areas - perhaps a second peristyle or private baths. The atrium roof often had supporting columns.
The architectural orders used in the buildings were the classical ones,
identified by their capitals; Doric, Ionic, Corinthian or Composite, a combination of Ionic and Corinthian. In Pompeii and
Herculaneum the orders have some characteristics of
their own, rooted, in particular, in the Samnite tradition.
The Range of House Types
This 'ideal house'
described above is just that; an ideal where the use of atrium
are central to providing light and access to the main
reception rooms. But this layout is anything but universal. The
constraints of the plot available have a direct bearing on the
practicality of having an impluviate atrium
let alone a peristyle.
social standing of the owner defined the need or otherwise to
provide public rooms for receiving guests. These factors, and others,
have led to the range of house styles we see in Pompeii and Herculaneum
today. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill in his book 'Houses and Society in Pompeii
and Herculaneum' grouped properties in a sample area into four
quartiles based on size as a basis for analysing the social standing of
the towns residents. In summary the attributes of each quartile was as
Against this table Wallace-Hadrill
made various comparisons with regard to
non-residential usage, decoration, architectural features and decorative
style. The conclusions of this analysis are best left to the author
himself, but to better understand the range of properties in Pompeii and
Herculaneum it might be appropriate to examine the houses covered by
each quartile. To allow a visual comparison of each quartile, a plan of
part of Reg I, Ins 7 has been included with the properties from
different quartiles differentiated by colour.
open area (sq.m.)
|10 - 45.......
|50 - 170.....
|175 - 345.....
|350 - 3000...
Almost all the properties in Wallace-Hadrill's
first quartile are shops or workshops. Of these,
over a third have at least one back room or a flight of stairs to an
upper area which the shopkeeper and his family could have used as living
quarters. The remainder of the properties in the quartile are
considered to be too small to provide any meaningful accommodation. Two
properties which belong to this quartile (shown green in the graphic to
the right) are the Taberna of Primilla (Reg I, Ins 7, 4) and the corner
thermopolium (Reg I, Ins 7, 8-9).
Properties in the second quartile generally have between two
and seven ground floor rooms and are usually of an irregular plan due to
restrictions in space. Almost 61% of this quartile are shops and
workshops, their plan ranging with their size from a shop with a single
back room to a house with enough space to provide a central circulatory
space. In the top 26% of this quartile the floor plan becomes more
regular with a pattern of two rooms flanking the door, an atrium with an
impluvium, two rooms facing the entrance, and, occasionally, a small
garden with rooms beyond. In this quartile (shaded pink in the graphic
opposite) are the small, but elegant, House of Fabius Amandus (Reg I,
Ins 7, 2-3) and, further to the east, a medium sized officina (Reg I,
Ins 7, 5).
The third quartile includes houses which would be regarded as 'typical'
Pompeian houses in style. With between five and thirteen ground floor
rooms, the properties generally have a more regular plan with the top
28% having the familiar atrium/tablinum/garden layout. A substantial
proportion (60%) of the houses include shops or workshops. Almost half
the properties in this quartile have more than one entrance. The House
of the Priest Amandus belongs to this quartile and is shown coloured
blue in the accompanying graphic.
The majority of houses in this quartile (76%) have a traditional atrium;
64% of the properties have both atrium and colonnaded peristyle; the
very largest houses (over 1,000 sq.m) may have a second atrium or a
second peristyle. The largest houses have a considerable numbers of
ground floor rooms (20 to 26) and are plainly designed to accommodate a
large slave household. A feature of houses in this category is the large
number of entrances they have: 78% have more than one entrance, while
38% have three of more doors. A secondary entrance may simply be a back
door, but often it reflects the fact that the house has been formed from
an amalgamation of separate units. The House of Paquius Proculus (Reg
I, Ins 7, 1,20) belongs to this quartile (shaded light yellow) and
occupies about one quarter of the whole insula.
The decoration of the walls of all Roman houses has been classified as
belonging to one of four distinct styles based on the decorative
features originally delineated and described by August Mau during his excavations at Pompeii.
The four styles are defined as first (incrustation or structural), second (Architectural), third (Ornamental) and fourth (Illusionist).
main distinguishing feature of these four styles is their use of
architectural illusion. The first
style (pictured left) creates a simple illusion of
marble cladding by the use of painted plaster.
style (pictured below) extends
this basic two dimensional illusion into the third dimension by creating
architectural views framed by columns.
style (pictured above) steps back
somewhat from this by supplanting columns with architectural motifs that
form a decorative framework to large panels with mythological centre
style (left), in many respects indistinguishable from
the third, reverts back to illusion, replacing the architectural motifs
by elaborate architectural views.