DOMUS (οἶκος, οἰκία, and in old Greek δόμος), a house.
[. . .]
2. Roman. The houses of the Romans were poor and mean for many centuries after the foundation of the city. Till the war with Pyrrhus the houses were covered only with thatch or shingles (Plin. H. N. XVI.15), and were usually built of wood or unbaked bricks. It was not till the latter times of the republic, when wealth had been acquired by conquests in the East, that houses of any splendour began to be built; but it then became the fashion not only to build houses of an immense size, but also to adorn them with columns, paintings, statues, and costly works of art.
M. Lepidus, who was consul B.C. 78, was the first who introduced Numidian marble into Rome for the purpose of paving the threshold of his house; but the fashion of building magnificent houses increased so rapidly that the house of Lepidus, which, in his consulship, was the first in Rome, was, thirty-five years later, eclipsed by a hundred others (Id. XXXVI.8.24 § 4). Lucullus especially surpassed all his contemporaries in the magnificence of his houses and the splendour of their decorations. Marble columns were first introduced into private houses by the orator L. Crassus, but they did not exceed •twelve feet in height, and were only six in number (Id. XVII.1, XXXVI.3). He was soon outdone by M. Scaurus, who placed in his atrium columns of black marble, called Lucullean, •thirty-eight feet high, and of such immense weight that the contractor of the sewers took security for any injury that might be done to the sewers in consequence of the columns being carried along the streets (Id. XXXVI.2).
The Romans were exceedingly partial to marble for the decoration of their houses. Mamurra, who was Caesar's praefectus fabrum in Gaul, set the example of lining his room with slabs of marbles (Id. XXXVI.7) Some idea may be formed of the size and magnificence of the houses of the Roman nobles during the later times of the republic by the price which they fetched. The consul Messalla bought the house of Autronius for 3700 sestertia (nearly 33,000 l.), and Cicero the house of Crassus, on the Palatine, for 3500 sestertia (nearly 31,000 l.) (Cic. ad Att. I.13, ad p427Fam. V.6). The house of P. Clodius, whom Milo killed, cost 14,800 sestertia (about 131,000 l.); and the Tusculan villa of Scaurus was fitted up with such magnificence, that when it was burnt by his slaves, he lost 100,000 sestertia, upwards of 885,000 l. (Plin. H. N. XXXVI.24). The house-rent, which persons in poor circumstances usually paid at Rome, was about 2000 sesterces, between 17 l. and 18 l. (Suet. Jul. 38). It was brought as a charge of extravagance against Caelius that he paid 30 sestertia (about 266 l.) for the rent of his house (Cic. pro Cael. 7).
Houses were originally only one story high; but as the value of ground increased in the city they were built several stories in height. In many houses each story was let out to separate tenants, the highest floors being usually inhabited by the poor (Cic. Agr. II.35; Hor. Ep. I.1.91; Juv. Sat. III.268, &c., X.17). To guard against danger from the extreme height of houses, Augustus restricted the height of all new houses which were built by the side of the public roads to •seventy feet (Strab. V p235). Till the time of Nero, the streets in Rome were narrow and irregular, and bore traces of the haste and confusion with which the city was built after it had been burnt by the Gauls; but after the great fire in the time of that emperor, by which two-thirds of Rome was burnt to the ground, the city was built with great regularity. The streets were made straight and broad; the height of the houses was restricted, and a certain part of each was required to be built of Gabian or Alban stone, which was proof against fire (Tacit. Ann. XV.43; Suet. Ner. 36).
Our information respecting the form and arrangement of a Roman house is principally derived from the description of Vitruvius, and the remains of the houses which have been found at Pompeii. Many points, however, are still doubtful; but without entering into architectural details, we shall confine ourselves to those topics which serve to illustrate the classical writers. The chief rooms in the house of a respectable Roman, though differing of course in size and splendour according to the circumstances of the owner, appear to have been usually arranged in the same manner; while the others varied according to the taste and circumstances of the master.
The principal parts of a Roman house were the 1. Vestibulum, 2. Ostium, 3. Atrium or Cavum Aedium, 4. Alae, 5. Tablinum, 6. Fauces, 7. Peristylium. The parts of a house which were considered of less importance, and of which the arrangement differed in different houses, were the 1. Cubicula, 2. Triclinia, 3. Oeci, 4. Exedrae, 5. Pinacoteca, 6. Bibliotheca, 7. Balineum, 8. Culina, 9. Coenacula, 10. Diaeta, 11. Salaria. We shall speak of each in order.
Vitruvius (VI.3) distinguishes five kinds of atria or cava aedium, which were called by the following names:—
The atrium was the most important room in the house, and among the wealthy was fitted up with much splendour and magnificence (compare Hor. p428Carm. III.1.46). The marble columns of Scaurus already spoken of were placed in the atrium. The atrium appears originally to have been the only sitting-room in the house, and to have served also as a kitchen (Serv. ad Virg. Aen. I.726, III.353); and it probably continued to do so among the lower and middle classes. In the houses of the wealthy, however, it was distinct from the private apartments, and was used as a reception room, where the patron received his clients, and the great and noble the numerous visitors who were accustomed to call every morning to pay their respects or solicit favours (Hor. Ep. I.5.30; Juv. VII.7, 91). Cicero frequently complains that he was not exempt from this annoyance, when he retired to his country-houses (Ad Att. II.14, V.2, &c.). But though the atrium does not appear to have been used by the wealthy as a sitting-room for the family, it still continued to be employed for many purposes which it had originally served. Thus the nuptial couch was placed in the atrium opposite the door (in aula, Hor. Ep. I.1.87; Ascon. in Cic. pro Mil. p43, Orelli), and also the instruments and materials for spinning and weaving, which were formerly carried on by the women of the family in this room (Ascon. l.c.). Here also the images of their ancestors were placed (Juv. VIII.19; Mart. II.90), and the focus or fire-place, which possessed a sacred character, being dedicated to the Lares of each family. [Focus.]
With the tablinum, the Roman house appears to have originally ceased; and the sleeping rooms were probably arranged on each side of the atrium. But when the atrium and its surrounding rooms were used for the reception of clients and other public visitors, it became necessary to increase the size of the house; and the following rooms were accordingly added:—
The arrangement of the rooms, which are next to be noticed, varied, as has been remarked, according to the taste and circumstances of the owner. It is therefore impossible to assign to them any regular place in the house.
p429 In this kitchen, as well as in many others at Pompeii, there are paintings of the Lares or domestic gods, under whose care the provisions and all the cooking utensils were placed.
The two woodcuts annexed represent two atria of houses at Pompeii. The first is the atrium of what is usually called the house of the Quaestor. The view is taken near the entrance-hall facing the tablinum, through which the columns of the peristyle and the garden are seen. This atrium, which is a specimen of what Vitruvius calls the Corinthian, is surrounded by various rooms, and is beautifully painted with arabesque designs upon red and yellow grounds.
The next woodcut represents the atrium of what is usually called the house of Ceres. In the centre is the impluvium, and the passage at the further end is the ostium or entrance-hall. As there are no pillars around the impluvium, this atrium must belong to the kind called by Vitruvius the Tuscan.
Like most of the other houses at Pompeii, it had no vestibulum according to the meaning which we have attached to the word. 1. The ostium or entrance hall, which is •six feet wide and nearly thirty long. Near the street door there is a figure of a large fierce dog worked in mosaic on the pavement, and beneath it is written Cave Canem. The two large rooms on each side of the vestibule appear from the large openings in front of them to have been shops; they communicate with the entrance hall, and were therefore probably occupied by the master of the house. 2. The atrium, which is •about twenty-eight feet in length and twenty in breadth; its impluvium is near the centre of the room, and its floor is paved with white tesserae, spotted with black. 3. Chambers for the use of p430the family, or intended for the reception of guests, who were entitled to claim hospitality. When a house did not possess an hospitium, or rooms expressly for the reception of guests, they appears to have been lodged in rooms attached to the atrium. [Hospitium.] 4. A small room with a stair-case leading up to the upper rooms. 5. Alae. 6. The tablinum. 7. The fauces. 8. Peristyle, with Doric columns and garden in the centre. The large room on the right of the peristyle is the triclinium; beside it is the kitchen; and the smaller apartments are cubicula and other rooms for the use of the family.
The next woodcut
contains the ground-plan of an insula, which was properly a house not joined to the neighbouring houses by a common wall (Festus, s.v.). An insula, however, generally contained several separate houses, or at least separate apartments or shops, which were let to different families; and hence the term domus under the emperors appears to be applied to the house where one family lived, whether it were an insula or not, and insula to any hired lodgings. This insula contains a house, surrounded by shops, which belonged to the owner and were let out by him. The house itself, which is usually called the house of Pansa, evidently belonged to one of the principal men of Pompeii. Including the garden, which is a third of the whole length, it is •about 300 feet long and 100 wide.
A. Ostium, or entrance-hall, paved with mosaic. B. Tuscan atrium. I. Impluvium. C. Chambers on each side of the atrium, probably for the reception of guests. D. Ala. E. Tablinum, which is open to the peristyle, so that the whole length of the house could be seen at once; but as there is a passage (fauces), F, beside it, the tablinum might probably be closed at the pleasure of the owner. C. Chambers by the fauces and tablinum, of which the use is uncertain. G. Peristyle. D. Ala to the peristyle. C. Cubicula by the side of the peristyle. K. Triclinium. L. Oecus, and by its side there is a passage leading from the peristyle to the garden. M. Back door (posticum ostium) to the street. N. Culina. H. Servants' hall, with a back door to the street. P. Portico of two stories, which proves that the house had an upper floor. The site of the staircase, however, is unknown, though it is thought there is some indication of one in the passage, M. Q. The garden. R. Reservoir for supplying a tank, S.
The preceding rooms belonged exclusively to Pansa's house; but there were a good many apartments beside in the insula, which were not in his occupation. a. Six shops let out to tenants. Those on the right and left hand corners were bakers' shops, which contained mills, ovens, &c. at b. The one on the right appears to have been a large establishment, as it contains many rooms. c. Two houses of a very mean class, having formerly an upper story. On the other side are two houses much larger, d.
Having given a general description of the rooms of a Roman house, it remains to speak of the (1) floors, (2) walls, (3) ceilings, (4) windows, and (5) the mode of warming the rooms. For the doors see Janua.
Mosaic pavements, however, have been discovered at Pompeii, which represent figures and scenes of actual life, and are in reality pictures in mosaic. One of the most beautiful of these is given in its original colours in Gell's Pompeiana, 2nd series, plate XIV. It is composed of very fine pieces of glass, and represents the choragus, or master of the chorus, instructing the actors in their parts. A still more extraordinary mosaic painting was discovered in Pompeii in 1831; it is supposed to represent the battle of Issus (Museo Borbonico, VIII t. 36‑45).
The general appearance of the walls may be seen from the woodcuts given above. Subjects of all kinds were chosen for painting on the walls, as may be seen by a reference to the Museo Borbonico, Gell, Mazois, &c. (compare Vitruv. VII.5). The colours seem usually to have been laid upon a dry ground, but were sometimes placed upon it wet, as in the modern fresco painting (colores udo tectorio inducere, Vitruv. VII.3). The walls also appear to have been sometimes ornamented with raised figures, or a species of bas-relief (typos in tectorio atrioli includere, Cic. ad Att. 1.10), and sometimes with mosaics (Plin. H. N. XXXVI.64). p432
The windows appear originally to have been merely openings in the wall, closed by means of shutters, which frequently had two leaves (bifores fenestrae, Ovid, Pont. III.3.5), whence Ovid (Amor. I.5.3) says,
"Pars adaperta fuit, pars altera clausa fenestrae."
They are for this reason said to be joined, when they are shut (Hor. Carm. II.25). Windows were also sometimes covered by a kind of lattice or trellis work (clathri), and sometimes by network, to prevent serpents and other noxious reptiles from getting in (Plaut. Mil. II.4.25;º Varro, Re Rust. III.7).
Afterwards, however, windows were made of a transparent stone, called lapis specularis (mica), which was first found in Hispania Citerior, and afterwards in Cyprus, Cappadocia, Sicily, and Africa; but the best came from Spain and Cappadocia. It was easily split into the thinnest laminae, but no pieces had been discovered, says Pliny, above •five feet long (Plin. H. N. XXXVI.45). Windows made of this stone were called specularia (Sen. Ep. 90; Plin. Ep. II.17; Mart. VIII.14). Windows made of glass (vitrum) are first mentioned by Lactantius (De Opif. Dei, 8),a but the discoveries at Pompeii prove that glass was used for windows under the early emperors, as frames of glass and glass windows have been found in several of the houses.
(Winkelmann, Schriften über die Herkulanischen Entdeckungen; Hirt, Geschichte der Baukunst; Mazois, Les Ruines de Pompéi, part II, Le Palais de Scaurus; Gell, Pompeiana; Pompeii, Lond. 12mo. 1832; Becker, Gallus; Schneider, ad Vitruv.)
a Windows made of glass: also mentioned, along with a kind of window-grout, in Hist. Aug., Firm. 3.2, written in the mid‑5c (although presenting itself as written in the early part of the 3c, not much later than Lactantius). A fair amount of window glass has been found in different parts of the Roman world.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 17 Nov 13