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The domus -Variations in size and shape.

Some regular shapes, some shaped to fit the space of the Insulae. Houses also remodelled, extended, subdivided. Houses also varied as they reflected owner's preferences, financial position and period in which the house was built. i.e. no standard Roman house. Pompeii and Herculaneum provide a picture of the evolution of domestic architecture of the Italic style. The basic style was the atrium house.

Wallis-Hadrill groups 2. Type I one or two roomed houses, used as shops and workshops as well as living spaces 3. Type II These range in size from two to seven rooms on the ground floor and contain larger workshops and residences 2 I 4. Type III Usually following a fairly symmetrical plan, Type III houses have an average of eight rooms, maximum thirteen. Average Pompeiian House. Shops at front. 5. Type IV The largest houses designed for entertaining and featuring quarters for large numbers of house slaves.



Herculaneum insulae showing house sizes

Evolution of houses
Houses varied over the long period of settlement from the Samnite and Greek periods into the Roman periods. Houses reflect the period in which they were erected as well as the preferences of their owners by AD 79.

Evolution of the houses

Earliest houses had a hortus or garden at the back. This evolved into a peristyle garden area with additional rooms for summer dining and sitting at the back of the garden area and cubiculum/cubiculae (bedrooms) along the sides.

fauces = entrance Atrium = entrance room with compluvium in roof and impluvium below. Collection tank underneath for conserving rainwater. Tablinum = reception area for meeting clients, visitors. Cubiculum = bedrooms Alae = open rooms for everyday activities Triclinium = dining room Hortus = vegetable garden

The house of the Surgeon from Pompeii and the Samnite House of Herculaneum are examples of this type of house. These are Italian (Samnite) Houses which predate the Roman colonisation of Camania.

Pre Roman Samnite house- the house of the Surgeon in Pompeii

Features include
Italian faades of Sarno limestone and volcanic tufa large squared blocks (in contrast to the smaller brickwork of later houses). monumental (big, impressive) doorway. Internal walls of rubble mixed with mortar. Plastered and painted in first style. Presence of Greek (Hellenistic) influences in use of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns in courtyards the atrium as the source of light and collection point for water

Entrance = fauces

Building material large volcanic stone blocks.

Atrium with tablinum and hortus


hortus tablinum


Rooms off atrium

triclinium alae cubiculum

Hortus in Pompeii

Samnite House in Herculaneum

Fresco false upper floor



Gardens not peristyle Larger gardens are market gardens at the back of the owners house.

Roman Period house with peristyle

These houses retained the fauces and atrium entrances but contain a peristyle garden which evolved from the hortus and columns of the earlier architectural style. The fresco decoration also changed to second style.house of the labyrinth in Pompeii.

Larger atrium Peristyle garden Mosaics on floors and second style frescoes on walls.

The atrium house evolved further in size and decoration up to the earthquake of AD62. These larger houses include the House of the Mosaic Atrium IV.1-2) at Pompeii ; and the House of the stags IV.2 and House of the Carbonized furniture at Herculaneum Painted in the third style. some renovations include paintings in fourth style.

THE MOST MODERN STYLE BY AD79: The House of the Vettii (VI.15.1/2)- plan below - shows the rebuilding following the earthquakes of AD 62, and indicates the latest construction fashions. Includes two atria, no tablinum, new focus on peristyle garden replacing the atrium and tablinium for conducting business and impressing visitors. Painted in the fourth style. Two Atria

Focus on Peristyle garden

No tablinum

Frescoes Peristyle increased level of impressiveness of the Peristyle area.

atrium No tablinum

Peristyle garden

View of the atrium from the Peristyle of the House of Octavius Quartius in Pompeii

Functions of rooms
rooms may be identified by function (bedrooms, study, dining room, kitchen) but, as function could vary according to need, these labels are not fixed. Households had minimal furniture, easily moved, bedding easy to set down in any room, cookers easy to bring into any space as a temporary kitchen. So fluid approach to functions of rooms some larger houses also had toilets and bathrooms

V fauces (entrance) A atrium formal entrance hall Al- ala"wings" opening from atrium C-cubiculum small room; bedroom Cu culina kitchen E-exedra- garden room

P- peristylium colonnaded garden T- taberna shop office; study

Ta - tablinum

Tri- triclinium dining room V vestibulum entrance hall

(from Barbara Mackay)

Light from the internal courtyards. So ground floor tended to be dark.


SHOPS at front

The front and entrance

Houses were inward oriented outer walls were the walls of the insula fronting the streets of the shops at the front of the house. Few exterior windows on ground floor these were barred where they exist.

Views of houses in Herculaneum

Smaller slave entrance

Shop front

House entrance

upper floor much more open, lighter areas of the house with balconies as shown on this house from Herculaneum. Houses in Herculaneum tended to have an upper floor for guests. Houses in Pompeii did not generally have an upper floor (less tourism)

The fauces
a long, narrow hallway leading from the front door into the atrium; this was the vestibulum, also called fauces (throat). The Fauces could be decorated with elaborate frescoes. The floor of the vestibulum often contained mosaics with a message for the visitor, Mosaic beware of the dog house of the tragic poet. House of the Faun lararium at entrance fauces

Fauces of the House of Pansa

The Atrium and Impluvium

The atrium was a large airy room lighted by an opening in the roof. It was the formal room where guests were received and clients assembled to wait for their customary morning visits to their patron, but it was also a room for family occasions. On either side of the atrium were small rooms (cubicula) used for various purposes. Beyond these small rooms the atrium frequently opened out into two wings (alae);

Atrium of the house of the faun

Atrium of House of the tragic poet

In the center of the atrium, directly beneath the opening in the roof (compluvium) was a shallow pool (impluvium). This had the practical purpose of collecting rainwater but also added greatly to the attractiveness of the room. Often the walls of the atrium were adorned with wall paintings, perhaps as simple as colored panels, but more often depicting graceful patterns, mythological motifs l

Artists impression of Atrium of House of the faun

The tablinum
The tablinum is the room beyond the atrium, usually a thoroughfare to the peristyle garden which was the formal meeting place for the paterfamilias and his visitors such as clients and business guests.


Impluvium in atrium

Tablinum of the House of the Faun mosaic floor

Peristyle garden in background tablinum

atrium House of the tragic poet

The peristyle and exedra

two peristyle gardens in the house of the Faun

Peristyle, garden and cubiculae behind portico of the House of Venus in the shell

The house of the stags in Herculaneum

The peristyle became the business and living area

Small rooms in the housecubiculum

The triclinium- dining room

Summer triclinium in garden with fixed reclining on three sides.