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Primary texts describing ancient Roman housing
December 28, 2008 12:06 PM   Subscribe

I will soon be teaching a course on ancient Roman domestic spaces, and I am looking for primary source material to supplement readings in scholarship. Any suggestions of Roman texts (poetry, fiction, history, law, biography) that describe a Roman domestic space (domus, villa, insula, palace) would be much appreciated. Textual exempla of Roman domestic practices are also welcome (e.g., the account of Trimalchio's banquet in Petronius' Satyricon).
posted by sarahalisonmiller to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The website linked in this comment by LobsterMitten has some great photos of Roman toilets.
posted by Forktine at 12:17 PM on December 28, 2008


One good place to get started might be a source compendium (I don't know how familiar you are with Roman history) - Jo-Ann Shelton's As The Romans Did has little snippets from primary sources divided into various sections (Family, Food, Burial, etc), some of which will encompass domestic spaces. You can use Shelton to find the names of the sources you want, and then go and look them up in more detail.

I'm afraid I don't have any of my books and notes to hand, but off the top of my head, Juvenal and Cicero discuss social events and may make explicit reference to domestic spaces. I'm pretty certain Juvenal talks about the squalid living conditions in parts of Rome. Cicero discusses villa decoration. Both refer to domestic practices. Vitruvius writes more about how Roman architecture ought (in his opinion) to look, rather than the way it actually was, so might be less useful to you.
posted by iona at 12:43 PM on December 28, 2008


The Mammoth Book of How It Happened: Ancient Rome, dodgy title aside, is a collection of extracts from primary sources, lots of fascinating domestic detail.
posted by runincircles at 12:55 PM on December 28, 2008


Have a look at "Apicius: Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome."
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:09 PM on December 28, 2008


I have nothing useful to add, but I think this sounds like a great class.
posted by pluckysparrow at 2:48 PM on December 28, 2008


Pliny the Younger's descriptions of his villas at Laurentinum and Tifernum would be useful. For a thorough study with attempts at reconstruction, see Pierre de la Ruffinière du Prey, The Villas of Pliny from Antiquity to Posterity (University of Chicago Press, 1995).
posted by brianogilvie at 3:48 PM on December 28, 2008


I totally would have signed up for this class. My favorite writer in Latin was Horace, who had some great satires involving dining (country v. city, especially comes to mind). His epistles and odes and especially the Satires could all provide a different perspective.

It's not a primary source, but I read everything I could get my hands on by Wilhelmina Jashemski. She specializes in historical landscapes, especially gardens - and has written a couple of books on the evidence of gardens in Pompeii - how they were organized, what they grew, etc. Because the nature of Roman domestic space involved opening inward, as opposed to outward, I think this could be useful.

I learned a lot from the art found on the walls and floors in ancient villas, insulae, and other homes - they celebrated their past, their gods, their success, their professions, and were generally very personal. It ended up sparking my memory of reading Horace and Pliny, in particular, and I went back and picked up my older books.
posted by julen at 7:02 PM on December 28, 2008


I learned a lot from the art found on the walls and floors in ancient villas, insulae, and other homes - they celebrated their past, their gods, their success, their professions, and were generally very personal.

Roger Ling's Roman Painting is good for this, also highly recommended for Roman paintings and mosaics from the domestic sphere is anything by Katherine Dunbabin, esp. Roman Mosaics in North Africa julen is right: the domestic art is a good place to get an idea of social practices in Rome.
posted by iona at 5:57 PM on December 29, 2008


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