Roman House Architecture

The House of the Vine is typical of many Pompeian houses, with a rectangular floor plan, and one room leading into another and out into the garden. It contains private family spaces and places for work and business. The Pompeian house is arranged very differently from the houses we live in today. Notice they don’t have any windows.

A graphic house floor plan showing cubiculum, atrium, slave's room, kitchen, triclinium, peristyle garden and tablinum House of the Vine floor plan
Source: Museum Victoria

The rooms inside the House of the Vine

Atrium

Visitors to the house would be shown into the atrium, a large, central room surrounded by smaller rooms. The main feature of the atrium is its impluvium – a pool to catch rainwater falling through the compluvium, an opening in the roof. The atrium opens onto the tablinum, the master’s study, with a view of the garden.

The atrium of the House of the Vine is its most public space, and is decorated with frescoes and works of art to impress visitors with the refinement and wealth of the house owner.

Lararium

Most households and many businesses included a small shrine or lararium. These shrines were devoted to the gods honoured by the family, the lares (the spirits who protected the household) and the family’s genii (guardian ancestor spirits).

In the homes of the poor and in slave quarters of wealthy houses, the lararium might be painted on a wall or in a niche. The lararia of the rich were like miniature temples, with figurines in bronze or terracotta, and were placed in the atrium and sometimes the garden.

Cubiculum

Most Romans did not have bedrooms as we understand them today, but made their beds wherever convenient and according to their status within the household.

The numerous small rooms, or cubicula, in Pompeii houses would have served not just for sleeping, but as private spaces, particularly for the women of the household. Here they could read, sew, weave and meet their friends. On the floor of some cubicula, borders of mosaic give hints of how the room may have been divided, or where furniture once stood.

Among the objects unearthed in cubicula are jewellery boxes, combs, sewing needles, spindles, oil lamps and candelabra.

Tablinum

Generally located on one side of the atrium and opposite the vestibule of the house, the tablinum was a room used as an office by the master of the house and a place where he would meet with his clients. It opened on to the peristyle and garden, sometimes with a large window, or a folding door or just a curtain. The walls were often richly decorated and elite families might display busts of their ancestors here.

Peristyle and garden

Not every Pompeii house had its own garden. But for those with money, a garden – hortus – was an outdoor extension of their home’s indoor elegance. In fine weather alfresco dining was popular, with the garden serving as an outdoor room.

Grand Roman gardens featured promenades, marble furnishings, sculptures, fountains, shrines, fishponds and pergolas. Frescoes of garden greenery could create the illusion of lush grandeur in even a modest-sized garden.

From the remnants of such frescoes, and by studying the impressions left by plant roots, archaeologists have been able to identify some of the plants grown in Pompeii.

Fruits, vegetables and herbs were grown for kitchen and medicinal use, and flowers and leaves were worn as garlands.

Triclinium

The dining room or triclinium contained three couches, or lecti, which formed its main furnishings.

Each lectus was wide enough to fit three reclining diners. Positioned thus, they were served food by slaves – course after course from communal dishes – and entertained by musicians and dancers. Guests were seated, or reclined, according to their status and relationship to the master of the house. Chairs were provided for those whose status did not merit a reclining position.

Wealthy homes had at least two triclinia – often more. These were rooms designed to impress. Ornate with paintings and mosaics, the triclinium of the ‘House of the Golden Bracelet’ had a lifelike garden fresco, flourishing with greenery and birdlife.