Everything You Need to Know About Roman Homes

If you’re interested in Roman history, you know that the ancient Romans left their mark on nearly every corner of the globe they visited, including Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The Romans built thousands of different buildings to house their military garrisons and civilian families and even created massive arenas where the famous gladiator games took place. But one structure the Romans built was more typical than all of these combined—the Roman home.

Everything you need to know about how Roman homes were designed and constructed back in their heyday centuries ago!

Vastus Domus and Villa Romana

The two main types of Roman homes in ancient Rome were vastus domus and villas romana. The vastus domus were apartment buildings divided into small apartments, typically housing a family, though they could also be rented out. The rooms in these buildings were furnished and had no indoor plumbing or bathrooms.

The second type of home, a villas Romana, was a larger and more lavish home that wealthy Romans would use as country retreats from cities like Rome during warmer months and entertaining large groups of people.

These homes usually had multiple bedrooms, plush furnishings, and often even marble tiled floors. However, some poorer Romans lived in smaller homes known as insulae. Insulae were multi-story apartment buildings with cramped living conditions and shared facilities on each floor. Many insulae did not have running water inside them at all!

The Main Features of a Roman Home

The center of a Roman home was a large, open room called a peristyle that served as both an entryway and a place for receiving guests. 

The Peristyle

The peristyle was often decorated with statues, paintings, and frescoes. Inside there were bedrooms on either side and off of it. People slept in alcoves around the perimeter at night, while middle-class citizens also had private bedrooms in their courtyard gardens. 

Reconstruction of a Roman peristyle. Photo by Sailko. CC BY 2.5

These rooms would be elaborately furnished with mosaics or marble floors in wealthy homes. Most houses had kitchens and dining rooms near them where families could prepare meals together when they weren’t eating out at restaurants or taverns. 

People spent most of their time outdoors because they didn’t have central heating systems like we do today. However, they did have hypocausts (underfloor heating) which kept them warm during cold weather so they could still spend time inside during winter months when many other parts of Europe were frozen over. 

Porticos

Another feature common to all Roman homes was porticos which acted as verandas. Romans could relax outside and enjoy fresh air without being bothered by insects or rained on during spring showers. 

Porticos were usually located next to dining areas so that diners could eat undercover. They were also used as passageways from one part of a house to another, especially if courtyards separated those parts of the house. 

Bathroom

Every house in Rome had its bathroom complete with running water! This was unheard of in other ancient civilizations like Greece and Egypt, which used public baths for personal hygiene.

Some rich Romans even installed indoor plumbing but most just built simple latrines behind their houses or installed chamber pots underneath beds for nighttime use.

When you think about it, our modern homes are not much different from those built 2,000 years ago!

The Atrium

The atrium was originally intended as a center of daily life. As with many homes in ancient Rome, it served as a living room that contained various elements. The purpose of these elements shifted depending on whether it was daytime or nighttime and if it was summer or winter. 

For example, Romans would gather around an indoor fountain during colder months, and during warmer seasons, they would sleep outside on sleeping platforms called impluviums.

A Roman Atrium by Luigi Bazzan

There were also different rules for each time of day regarding appropriate activities. Some spaces in ancient Roman homes had restrictions depending on their use; for example, women’s bedrooms couldn’t be entered by men except by their husbands or sons.

The Tablinum

The tablinum was an important room in a Roman home. It functioned as a reception area for guests and a storage space for household items.

The room also contained a throne for guests of honor, such as visiting dignitaries and other important persons. Generally, there was only one tablinum per home; however, very large homes might have had more than one. 

When entertaining guests in their homes, Romans would expect them to enter through the main door and pass through the atrium before arriving at the tablinum, where they could relax and converse with their hosts.

With floor-to-ceiling curtains that could be closed when needed, it kept prying eyes out while giving plenty of privacy during a conversation.

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