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Upper-Class Homes in Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, the domus was the type of house occupied by the upper classes and some wealthy freedmen during the Republican and Imperial eras. It could be found in almost all the major cities throughout the Roman territories. The upper classes of Roman society constructed their residences with extravagant marble decorations, inlaid marble paneling, door jambs and columns as well as expensive paintings and frescoes. The vestibulum was the main hall of the domus. The atrium was the most important part of the house, where guests and clients were greeted. The upper-class ancient Romans had luxurious interior and exterior homes. The lifestyles of these wealthy Romans matched their homes as well.

The domus included multiple rooms, indoor courtyards, gardens and beautifully painted walls that were elaborately laid out. The vestibulum (entrance hall) led into a large central hall: the atrium, which was the focal point of the domus and contained a statue of an altar to the household gods. Leading off the Atrium were cubicula (bedrooms), a dining room triclinium where guests could recline on couches and eat dinner whilst reclining, a tablinum (living room or study) and tabernae (shops on the outside, facing the street). In cities throughout the Roman Empire, wealthy homeowners lived in buildings with few exterior windows. Glass windows weren’t readily available: glass production was in its infancy. Thus a wealthy Roman citizen lived in a large house separated into two parts, and linked together through the tablinum or study or by a small passageway. To protect the family from intruders, it would not face the streets, only its entrance providing more room for living spaces and gardens behind. Surrounding the atrium were arranged the master’s families’ main rooms: the small cubicula or bedrooms, the tablinum or study, and the triclinium or dining-room.

Roman homes were like Greek homes. Only two objects were present in the atrium of Caecilius in Pompeii: a small bronze box that stored precious family items and the lararium, a small shrine to the household gods, the Lares. In the master bedroom was a small wooden bed and couch which usually consisted of some slight padding. As the domus developed, the tablinum took on a role similar to that of the study. In each of the other bedrooms there was usually just a bed. The triclinium had three couches surrounding a table. The triclinium often was similar in size to the master bedroom. The study was used as a passageway. If the master of the house was a banker or merchant the study often was larger because of the greater need for materials. Roman houses lay on an axis, so that a visitor was provided with a view through the fauces, atrium, and tablinum to the peristyle.

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