Roman Housing Styles - Netizen Me
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Roman Housing Styles

Due to the tragic volcano eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D, we can glance at houses in Pompei and gain some insight into Roman housing styles. 

Ancient Roman architecture adopted the external language of classical Greek architecture for the purposes of the ancient Romans, but was different from Greek buildings, becoming a new architectural style.

The two styles are often considered one body of classical architecture. Roman architecture flourished in the Roman Republic and even more so under the Empire when the great majority of surviving buildings were constructed. It used new materials, particularly Roman concrete, and newer technologies such as the arch and the dome to make buildings that were typically strong and well-engineered.

Large numbers remain in some form across the empire, sometimes complete and still in use to this day.


What are the three main types of housing in Ancient Rome?


Roman civilians lived as a nuclear family, and the vast majority were the commoners with lower incomes. They lived in a housing complex called Insulae, which functioned like an apartment complex. An Insulae was built around a courtyard that had six or seven apartments. The yard was used for cooking and other activities. According to Lockey (2009), Those houses were tower blocks with hazardous, less space, no water or heating, and overcrowded conditions. 

In Roman architecture, an insula (Latin for “island”, plural insulae) was one of two things: either a kind of apartment building, or a city block.

Roman Housing Styles - Campitelli - Insula romana 1907
Roman Housing Styles - OstianInsula

The poor lived outside the city limits had small villages or farms. And those houses were built with stone structures. 

Read more about the working-class citizens of Rome.


The rich lived in much more significant and comfortable houses compared to Insulates. These single-family houses were called Domus, which accommodated many rooms for various purposes and a courtyard. And the houses were decorated with wall paintings and marbles. They also showcased sculptures and bronze statues in their homes (Lockey, 2009). 

In ancient Rome, the domus (plural domūs, genitive domūs or domī) was the type of house occupied by the upper classes and some wealthy freedmen during the Republican and Imperial eras. It was found in almost all the major cities throughout the Roman territories.

Roman Housing Styles - Atrium interior


Some elite members of the society also owned Villas. These were rural retreat houses with much larger spaces. A surviving example of a villa is Villa Adriana, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. 

A Roman villa was typically a country house for wealthy people built in the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire.


Some other ruins of Roman villas we can see today:

  • Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, Italy
  • Villa Armira near Ivaylovgrad, Bulgaria
  • House of Antiope at the Museum of Mosaics in Devnya, Bulgaria
  • Fishbourne Roman Palace and Bignor Roman Villa in West Sussex, England
  • Lullingstone Roman Villa in Kent, England
  • Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina, Sicily, Italy
  • Chedworth Roman Villa in Gloucestershire
  • Littlecote Roman Villa in Wiltshire
  • Villa Rumana in Żejtun, Malta
  • Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii
  • House of Menander, Pompeii
  • Pliny’s Comedy and Tragedy villas, Lake Como, Italy
  • La Olmeda Roman Villa in Palencia, Spain
  • Roman Villa Borg, Germany

Read more about Slavery in the Archaic Roman History

Read more about Roman Housing Styles:

Lockey, I. “Roman Housing.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (February 2009)