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p1196 Villa

Article by Philip Smith, B.A., of the University of London
on pp1196‑1197 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

VILLA, a farm or country-house. The Roman writers mention two kinds of villa, the villa rustica or farm-house, and the villa urbana or pseudo-urbana, a residence in the country or in the suburbs of a town. When both of these were attached to an estate, they were generally united in the same range of buildings, but sometimes they were placed at different parts of the estate. The part of the villa rustica, in which the produce of the farm was kept, is distinguished by Columella by a separate name, villa fructuaria.

1. The villa rustica is described by Varro (R. R. I.1113), Vitruvius (VI.6),º and Columella (I.4 § 6).º

The villa, which must be of size corresponding to that of the farm, is best placed at the foot of a wooded mountain, in a spot supplied with running water, and not exposed to severe winds nor to the effluvia of marshes, nor (by being close to a public p1197road) to a too frequent influx of visitors. The villa attached to a large farm had two courts (cohortes, chortes, cortes, Varro, I.13) At the entrance to the outer court was the abode of the villicus, that he might observe who went in and out, and over the door was the room of the procurator (Varro, l.c.; Colum. I.6). Near this, in as warm a spot as possible, was the kitchen, which, besides being used for the preparation of food, was the place where the slaves (familia)º assembled after the labours of the day, and where they performed certain in-door work. Vitruvius places near the kitchen the baths and the press (torcular) for wine and oil, but the latter, according to Columella, though it requires the warmth of the sun, should not be exposed to artificial heat. In the outer court were also the cellars for wine and oil (cellae vinariae et oleariae), which were placed on the level ground, and the granaries, which were in the upper stories of the farm-buildings, and carefully protected from damp, heat, and insects. These store-rooms form the separate villa fructuaria of Columella; Varro places them in the villa rustica, but Vitruvius recommends that all produce which could be injured by fire should be stored without the villa.

In both courts were the chambers (cellae) of the slaves, fronting the south; but the ergastulum for those who were kept in chains (vincti) was underground, being lighted by several high and narrow windows.

The inner court was occupied chiefly by the horses, cattle, and other live stock, and here were the stables and stalls (bubilia, equilia, ovilia).

A reservoir of water was made in the middle of each court, that in the outer court for soaking pulse and other vegetable produce, and that in the inner, which was supplied with fresh water by a spring, for the use of the cattle and poultry.

2. The Villa urbana or pseudo-urbana was so called because its interior arrangements corresponded for the most part to those of a town-house. [House.] Vitruvius (VI.5)º merely states that the description of the latter will apply to the former also, except that in the town the atrium is placed close to the door, but in the country the peristyle comes first, and afterwards the atrium, surrounded by paved porticoes, looking upon the palaestra and ambulatio.

Our chief sources of information on this subject are two letters of Pliny, in one of which (II.17) he describes his Laurentine villa, in the other (V.6) his Tuscan, with a few allusions in one of Cicero's letters (ad Quint. III.1), and, as a most important illustration of these descriptions, the remains of a suburban villa at Pompeii (Pompeii, II c11, Lond. 1832).

The clearest account is that given by Pliny in the first of the two letters mentioned above, from which, therefore, the following description is for the most part taken.

The villa was approached by an avenue of plane trees leading to a portico, in front of which was a xystus divided into flower-beds by borders of box. This xystus formed a terrace, from which a grassy slope, ornamented with box-trees cut into the figures of animals, and forming two lines opposite to one another, descended till it was lost in the plain, which was covered with acanthus (Plin. V.6). Next to the portico was an atrium, smaller and plainer than the corresponding apartment in a town-house. In this respect Pliny's description is at variance with the rule of Vitruvius; and the villa at Pompeii also has no atrium. It would appearº from Cicero (l.c.) that both arrangements were common. Next to the atrium in Pliny's Laurentine villa was a small elliptic peristyle (porticus in O litterae similitudinem circumactae, where, however, the readings D and Δ are also given instead of O). The intervals between the columns of this peristyle were closed with talc windows (specularibus, see Domus, p432), and the roof projected considerably, so that it formed an excellent retreat in unfavourable weather. The open space in the centre of this peristyle seems often to have been covered with moss and ornamented with a fountain. Opposite to the middle of this peristyle was a pleasant cavaedium, and beyond it an elegant triclinium, standing out from the other buildings, with windows or glazed doors in the front and sides, which thus commanded a view of the grounds and of the surrounding country, while behind there was an uninterrupted view through the cavaedium, peristyle, atrium, and portico into the xystus and the open country beyond.

Such was the principal suite of apartments in Pliny's Laurentine villa. In the villa at Pompeii the arrangement is somewhat different. The entrance is in the street of the tombs. The portico leads through a small vestibule into a large square peristyle paved with opus signinum, and having an impluvium in the centre of its uncovered area. Beyond this is an open hall, resembling in form and position the tablinum in a town-house. Next is a long gallery extending almost across the whole width of the house, and beyond it is a large cyzicene oecus, corresponding to the large triclinium in Pliny's villa. This room looks out upon a spacious court, which was no doubt a xystus or garden, and which is surrounded on all sides by a colonnade composed of square pillars, the top of which forms a terrace. In the farthest side of this court is a gate leading out into the open country. As the ground slopes downward considerably from the front to the back of the villa, the terrace just spoken of is on a level with the cyzicene oecus, the windows of which opened upon it; and beneath the oecus itself is a range of apartments on the level of the large court, which were probably used in summer, on account of their coolness.

The other rooms were so arranged as to take advantage of the different seasons and of the surrounding scenery. Of these, however, there is only one which requires particular notice, namely, a state bed-chamber, projecting from the other buildings in an elliptic or semicircular form, so as to admit the sun during its whole course. This apartment is mentioned by Pliny, and is also found in the Pompeian villa. In Pliny's Laurentine villa its wall was fitted up as a library.

The villa contained a set of baths, the general arrangement of which was similar to that of the public baths. [Balneae.]

Attached to it were a garden, ambulatio, gestatio, hippodromus, sphaeristerium, and in short all necessary arrangements for enjoying different kinds of exercise. [Hortus; Gymnasium.]

(Becker, Gallus, vol. I p258; Schneider's notes on Columella and Varro, and Gierig's on Pliny, contain many useful remarks.)


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