Ancient Roman Homes

In Ancient Rome, a wealthy citizen (a patrician) would live in a house called a domus. A domus was an expensive, fancy, and often very large house.

The modern word “domestic” (which means “relating to the home”) comes from the same root word “domus” comes from.

A patrician would construct their domus with elaborate marble decorations, marble panelling on all the walls, and columns (stone pillars) which ran from floor to roof.

A domus would be decorated with expensive artwork or statues, if they could be afforded. This meant that the interior of a patrician’s domus was usually very colourful.

The domus included many rooms, including multiple indoor courtyards and a special indoor garden called an atrium.

The atrium was an open garden filled with exotic plants. It usually had a fountain in the centre where the homeowner could sit and relax, and an altar to the gods to provide a comfortable place to worship.

The rest of the domus was built around the atrium – the atrium was the centrepiece of the home, and the pride of all patricians. Leading off the atrium were several bedrooms, or cubicula; a dining room called a triclinium; and a living room called a tablinium.

The triclinium was another focal point of the home, as dinner parties were very important in Roman culture. The triclinium was filled with couches for guests to lie on while they ate.

However, no matter the wealth of their owner, few Roman houses had windows. Glass was hard to get, and open windows would cause the house to lose heat.

Because the master bedroom was not an important point of the domus, it wasn’t well decorated. There was usually just a small wooden bed and hard couch.

The tablinium (sometimes built as a study rather than a living room) was similar in size to the master bedroom, though this depended on the profession of its owner.

If the one who owned the house was a banker, merchant or some other type of businessman, the study would be larger to make room for the extra materials required. The tablinium was usually simply decorated, with just a single table surrounded by three couches.

The study was also used as a passageway between rooms. As protection from intruders, a patrician’s domus would not face the streets – the only entrance to the house faced away from the street.

This made the home harder to break into. The wealthiest also employed security to protect their possessions and families.

However, the wealthiest patricians did not just own a domus. Many also owned villas. A villa was a country house intended to show off how wealthy the owner was.

Villas typically did not have studies or multiple bedrooms – instead, there were several dining and living rooms, and a greater emphasis on decoration.

The walls of a villa were usually painted with bright colours, and would house many guests for dinner parties. Some patricians would go to their villas on their days off.

The poor of Ancient Rome (the plebeians) lived in flats called insulae. An insula was an apartment building, and most Roman citizens lived in these buildings if they could not afford a domus.

Insulae were poorly constructed, however. Most were a huge fire risk, and many types didn’t even have running water or toilets. They were built using timber, mud brick, and a weak version of concrete.

However, not all insulae were equal. Because of safety issues (and the extra flights of stairs) the top floors of an insula were the least desirable. These floors almost always had no running water or heat, which meant that the people living inside them had to use public toilets and washrooms.

Those who lived on the top floors were often fined/punished for throwing waste out the windows into the street below.

Facts about Ancient Roman Homes

  • The wealthy class of Ancient Rome (the patricians) would live in fancy homes. A patrician’s home was called a domus.
  • Many patricians would own a second home called a villa.
  • The domus was a well-decorated home with several bedrooms, a study, and an indoor garden called an
  • The poor of Ancient Rome (the plebeians) lived in flats called
  • An insula was the name of an apartment building in Ancient Rome.
  • The insulae located on the top floors were the worst of them all. They had no running water or heat, and very few plebeians ever wanted to live there.
  • The insula were dangerous places to live. They were likely to collapse, and very vulnerable to fire.
  • Those who lived on the top floors of an insula were often fined for throwing waste or rubbish out the window.

QUESTIONS:

  • What was the name of a patrician’s home?
    – A domus.
  • Where did plebeians live?
    – In ancient apartments called insulae.
  • What was the name of the indoor garden of a patrician’s home?
    – An atrium.
  • Why were the top floors of Ancient Roman apartment buildings such a bad place to live?
    – They had no heat, no running water, and no toilets.