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Villa Rustica Romana
Transcript of Villa Rustica Romana
The Living Spaces of the Ancient Romans
The Romans lived in different places and in different kinds of dwellings according to the season and their social status.
In cities, the majority of Romans lived in buildings called insulae. An insula (Latin for "island") was a kind of apartment building that housed most of the urban citizen population of ancient Rome, including ordinary people of lower- or middle-class status (the plebs) and all but the wealthiest from the upper-middle class (the equites).
Wealthy Romans who lived in the city could afford a self-contained house, called a domus. They were large single-family residences. Insulae and domi were intermingled in the city and not segregated into separate neighborhoods.
Wealthy Roman families also owned houses in the country. They would stay throughout the summer months to escape the heat, noise, and bustle of the city.
These country houses often had three distinct areas.
One area provided accomodation for the owner and his family. There would be bedrooms, a bath, kitchen, bakery, dining room, gardens, and a fishpond in this area.
A separate area housed the livestock, and had quarters for the slaves. These slaves lived in the villa year round and did all the work on the estate.
The final area contained a room for pressing grapes, olive-pressing rooms, a farmyard with vine vats, a barn for storing grain, and an open space for threshing grain.
Farmyard with vine vats
Olive pressing rooms
Grain threshing area
When the dominus (master) is away, he leaves the running of the villa rustica to his overseer, the "vilicus."
According to the ancient Roman writer Columella, the ideal vilicus should be:
-used to heavy work
-experienced in farming
-not too young or too old
The wealthiest of Romans might have had a villa urbana. These country houses had separate accommodations for the farm. They were often very luxurious, with separate livings spaces for summer and winter, baths, fountains, arched walkways, and elaborate gardens.
Many wealthy Romans chose to have villae maritimae, or country houses by the sea. These luxury houses offered their owners all the comforts of a city house in the beauty and quiet of the country.
The writer Pliny the Younger describes his country house like this:
"I can relax there with fuller and more carefree enjoyment. I need never wear a toga; nobody calls from next door. All is calm and quiet, which makes the place healthy, as do the clear sky and pure air. There I enjoy health of body and mind, for I keep my mind in training by study and my body by hunting."
The ground-level floor of the insula was used for "tabernae," shops and businesses, with the living space upstairs. Like modern apartment buildings, an insula might have a name, usually referring to the owner of the building.
Because they were built in timber, mud brick, and later primitive concrete, they were prone to fire and collapse.
Living quarters were typically smallest in the building's uppermost floors. The largest and most expensive apartments were located on the bottom floors. The insulae could be up to six or seven stories high, and some even reached eight or nine stories!
Because of safety issues and extra flights of stairs, the uppermost floors were the least desirable, and the cheapest to rent. Often those floors were without heating, running water or bathrooms, which meant their occupants had to use Rome's public restrooms (latrinae). Despite prohibitions, residents would sometimes dump trash and human excrement out the windows and into the surrounding streets and alleys. Ewwww!
In the apartment houses an entire family (grandparents, parents, children) might all be crowded into one room!
The elite classes of Roman society constructed their residences with elaborate marble decorations, inlaid marble paneling, door jambs and columns, mosaic floors, as well as expensive paintings and frescoes.
The domus could often be two or three stories high, and contained several bedrooms for the family and slaves, a separate kitchen, dining room, study, atrium with ornamental pond, and an open-air collonaded garden in the back.
Wealthy Romans enjoyed running water, toilets, steam rooms, and bath complexes in their houses too!
The size of a domus could range from a very small house to a luxurious mansion. In some cases, one domus took up an entire city-block!
All domus were free-standing structures. Some were constructed like modern-day townhouses with common walls between them, while others were detached.
Because safety was a primary concern in ancient Rome, the houses did not face the streets, and there were rarely outside-facing windows. They did have two front rooms open to the street. Some families ran their own stores from these rooms, while others leased them out to others.
How are the living spaces and habits of the Romans like and unlike our own modern ones?
Questions to Ponder...
Which type of country dwelling would you prefer to have and why?
Do you imagine yourself living in a condo, a single-family house, or a mansion when you are older?