Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online

LIFE IN THE ROMAN WORLD OF NERO AND ST. PAUL

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DINING-TABLE.]

On making our way through this passage we find ourselves in a space still more open than the hall. It is commonly an unroofed, quadrangular court surrounded by a roofed colonnade, and thence known as the "peristyle." Or the colonnade may extend only round three sides, the back being free to the garden. In the uncovered space lying between the rows of pillars there are ornamental shrubs and flowers, marble tables, a cistern of water containing goldfish, a fountain, and marble basins into which fresh water is spouted from bronze or marble statuettes, from figures of animals, or from masks. Under the colonnade are marble floors or other more or less rich pavements, decorated walls, and such works of art as the owner most affects.

[Illustration: FIG. 34.--PERISTYLE IN HOUSE OF THE VETTII. (Present state.)]

When it seems desirable for shade and coolness, coloured curtains or awnings may be suspended between the columns, so that one can sit or walk with comfort under the cloistered portion. At the sides are apartments for different purposes. At the far end, or elsewhere, there is regularly the largest dining-room, often with mosaic floor and generally with pictured walls. Whereabouts in the house the family or an invited party should dine would depend partly on the number to be present, partly on the season of the year, and partly on some passing inclination. A house of any pretensions would possess several rooms used, or capable of being used, for this purpose. Some dining-rooms had what we should call French windows on three sides, permitting the diners to enjoy the view of the garden or the shrubbery outside.

Other large and airy apartments or saloons off the peristyle were used for social conversation, or as drawing-rooms. Farther back still, approached by another passage or door, there was often to be found a garden, containing an arbour or a terrace covered with a trailing vine, of the kind known in modern Italy as a pergola. In suitable weather al fresco meals were often taken here, and occasionally there were fixed couches and tables of masonry always ready for that purpose.

Coming back from the garden into the court, we might explore other passages, leading to the kitchen or to the bathrooms of hot, warm, and cold water. These offices would be respectively situated wherever circumstances made them most convenient. In the kitchen the part corresponding to our "range" consisted of a flat structure of masonry, on which the fire was lighted. The cooking pots were placed either upon ridges of masonry running across the fire or upon three legged stands of iron. The accompanying illustrations will sufficiently show what is meant. The bedrooms, little better than cells, of the slaves, and also the storerooms, were variously distributed. Underground cellars were apparently exceptional, although examples may be seen at Pompeii.

[Illustration: FIG. 35.--KITCHEN HEARTH IN THE HOUSE OF THE VETTII.]

[Illustration: FIG. 36.--KITCHEN HEARTHS (Drawing).]

Somewhere in one of the bays of the hall, at the back of the peristyle court, or elsewhere, would be found a small shrine for the worship of the domestic gods. This was variously constructed. Sometimes it was a niche or recess containing paintings or little effigies and with an altar or altar-shelf beneath, sometimes a miniature temple erected against the wall. There was apparently no special place to which, rather than any other, it was to be assigned. To the nature and meaning of the household gods we may refer again when dealing with the general subject of religion.

[Illustration: FIG. 37.--SHRINE (IN BACKGROUND) IN HOUSE OF THE TRAGIC POET.]

In the homes of persons of culture there would also be included a library and, perhaps less regularly, a picture-gallery. The library, which sometimes comprised thousands of rolls, would be a room not only surrounded by large pigeon-holes or open cupboards containing the round boxes for the parchment rolls, but also traversed by lower partitions provided on either side with similar shelves. About the room, over or by the shelves, stand portrait busts or medallions of great authors, both Greek and Roman, the "blind" Homer being represented in traditional form, but the majority, from Aeschylus and Thucydides down to Virgil and Livy, being authentic and excellent likenesses. In the picture-gallery would be found paintings either done upon the stucco walls in a frame-like setting or upon panels of wood attached to the walls, very much as we hang our modern pictures.

[Illustration: FIG. 38.--HOUSEHOLD SHRINE.]

It was scarcely ever the case that a second storey--where one existed at all--extended over the whole house. If upper rooms were used, they were placed over those parts where they would interfere least with the light, the comfort, and the appearance of the ground-floor arrangements. The stairs leading to them were variously disposed and as little as possible in evidence. In such upper apartments there was naturally not the same risk from the curious or the burglar as in the case of the lower, and windows of perhaps 4 by 2-1/2 feet were therefore freely employed. In some instances, though we cannot tell how frequently, the second storey projected on strong beams over the street, as in the example at Pompeii known as the "House of the Hanging Balcony."

It remains to make brief observations upon one or two matters interesting to any practical householder. These are the questions of water-supply, drainage, warming, and roofing.

In respect of water there was no difficulty. It was brought in the ordinary way, from those reservoirs which formed the ends of the aqueducts or conduits, by means of pipes, mostly made of lead, though sometimes of bronze. These were conducted to the points where they were required, and there the flow was manipulated by means of taps and plugs. In order to make a water-pipe, a sheet of lead or bronze was rolled into a cylinder, the joining of the two edges taking the shape of a raised ridge, which was soldered. One end of a section was squeezed or narrowed so that it might be inserted into the widened end of the next. Lead pipes of no inconsiderable size, stamped with the name of the owner, are to be seen preserved in the Palatine House of Livia, and a number of smaller ones remain at Pompeii. For drainage there the sewers, and also pipes to carry the less offensive overflow of water into the street channels, which in their turn led into underground drains.

[Illustration: FIG. 88 A.--LEADEN PIPES IN HOUSE OF LIVIA. (Palatine.)]

[Illustration: FIG. 39.--PORTABLE BRAZIERS.]

For the warming of a house the Romans not only portable braziers with charcoal for fuel, but in the larger establishments there existed a system of "central" heating, by which hot air was conducted from a furnace in the basement through flues running beneath the floor and up through the walls, where its effect might be regulated by adjustable openings or registers. The only fixed fire-place in a town house was in the kitchen. From this the smoke was carried off by a flue, constituting to all intents and purposes a chimney. The belief that the Romans were unacquainted with such things as chimneys has been proved to be untrue.

[Illustration: FIG. 40.--MANNER OF ROOFING WITH TILES.]

The roofing, when constructed, as it most frequently was, in a gabled form, consisted of terra-cotta tiles arranged on a regular system. First came the flat layers, each higher row overlapping the lower. The descending edges of a row of these flat plates, as they lay side by side, were turned up into a kind of flange of about 2-1/4 inches in height, so that at the points of contact a ridge was formed down the roof. Over this line was laid a series of other tiles shaped into a half-cylinder, the lower end of each tile overlapping the next. By this means the rain was prevented from penetrating the crevice between the flanges. At the bottom, above the eaves, the line of semicircular tiles ended in a flower-like or mask-like ornament, which broke the monotony of the horizontal edge of the roof.

After this description of what may be considered a representative Roman house, it is necessary to repeat that it is but typical. Many were considerably smaller, containing, for example, no peristyle. Many on the contrary were far more spacious and sumptuous, possessing more than one hall and more than one peristyle, and varying the nature as well as the number and position of those portions of the house. In exceptional cases the hall had no opening in the ceiling and therefore no basin below, but was covered with a simple gabled roof which shed the rain-water into the street. In exceptional cases also there was no "parlour" of the kind described a little while ago. The situation of the house, enlargements made after the main part was built, the joining of two houses into one, or other causes, often modified the rectangular and symmetrical appearance presented in the plan hitherto given. Such modifications are, however, better illustrated by a comparison of the plans of two well-known Pompeian houses than by any amount of verbal description. The first is that of Pansa, which forms the main portion of a whole block, smaller dwellings and shops unconnected with the Pansa establishment being built round and into it at various points. The arrangements of this house closely approach the normal or simple type described in this chapter. The second is the famous house of the Vettii, which departs somewhat freely from the customary disposition of apartments.

[Illustration: FIG. 41.--HOUSE OF PANSA AT POMPEII.]

The parts within the dark lines belong to the one house; the rest are other houses and shops built into the block.

  1. Vestibule 11. Rooms
  2. Passage 12. Dining-Room
  3. Hall 13. Winter Dining-Room
  4. Rooms 14. Saloon (Drawing-Room)
  5. Wings 15. Kitchen
  6. Dining-Room 16. Carriage Room
  7. Parlour 17. Boudoir
  8. Passage 18. Portico
  9. Library? 19. Saleroom
  10. Peristyle 20. Passage to Side Door

[Illustration: FIG. 32.--HOUSE OF CORNELIUS RUFUS. (Pompeii.)]

[Illustration: FIG. 42.--HOUSE OF THE VETTII AT POMPEII. A second storey extended over the corners and front parts included under the nine small crosses.]

[Illustration: FIG. 43--SPECIMEN OF PAINTED ROOM.]

It would be tempting to indulge in rhetoric and to dwell upon the magnificence of some of the more luxurious houses of the wealthy Romans; to describe their ostentation of rich marbles in pillar, wall, or floor--the white marbles of Carrara, Paros, and Hymettus; the Phrygian marble or "pavonazzetto" its streakings of crimson or violet; the orange-golden glow of the Numidian stone of "giallo antico"; the Carystian marble or "cipollino" with its onion-like layers of white and pale-green; the serpentine variety from Laconia, and the porphyry from Egypt. We might descant upon the lavish wall-paintings, representing landscapes real and imaginary, scenes from mythology and semi-history, floating figures, genre pictures, and pictures of still life; or upon the mosaics in floor and wall depicting similar subjects and often serving to the occupants not so much in the place of pictorial art as in the place of wall-papers and of Brussels or Kidderminster carpets. We might speak of the profuse collections of statuary, of the gilding on ceiling and cornices, of the colours shed by the rich curtains and awnings of purple and crimson, of the grateful sound of water plashing in the fountains and basins or babbling over a series of steps like a broken cascade in miniature. But perhaps too much of such description might only encourage still further the erroneous notion that the Roman houses were all of this nature, and that even the average Roman lived in the midst of an abundance of such domestic luxury and art. It requires but a little sober thought to realise that such homes were, as they have always been, the exception. It would be as reasonable to judge of an average London house by the most opulent specimens in Park Lane, or of an American house by the richest at Newport, as to judge of the abodes of Romans in the time of Nero by the examples which appeal so strongly to the novelist or the romancing historian. Suffice it that beside the modest and frugal homes, the tenement flat, and the hovel, there were houses distinguished by immense luxury; and, since Romans have at all times sought the ostentatious and grandiose, perhaps such dwellings were larger and more pretentious in proportion to wealth than they are in most civilised countries at the present day. Seneca, who made himself extremely comfortable in the days of Nero, exclaims upon the rage for costly decoration. Says he of the bathing of the plutocrat: "He seems to himself poor and mean, unless the walls shine with great costly slabs, unless marbles of Alexandria are picked out with reliefs of Numidian stone, unless the whole ceiling is elaborately worked with all the variety of a painting, unless Thasian stone encloses the swimming baths, unless the water is poured out from silver taps." These, indeed, are comparatively humble. "What of the baths of the freedmen? a mass of statues! What a multitude of pillars supporting nothing, but put there only for ornament! What an amount of water running over steps with a purling noise--and all for show!"

[Illustration: FIG. 44.--SPECIMEN OF WALL-PAINTING. (Pompeii.)]




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