Beyond Public and Private in the Roman House

Organiser: Kaius Tuori (University of Helsinki)
This session takes place on Wednesday, 16 March 2016 from 14:00-18:00

Studies on domestic space in Roman contexts have shown that the private house (domus) was the economic and social centre of its owner. Houses were designed to suit both the private life of its occupants and the demands of public life. Movement inside houses and the use of space was guided with the help of decoration and structures.

The purpose of this session is to go beyond the dichotomy of public and private spheres of the Roman house through a re-evaluation of the material remains and literary evidence. The time-frame would be from the first century BCE to the third century CE. As an interdisciplinary enterprise, the session seeks to combine historical, archaeological, philological and architectural analyses to further the understanding of the function of the domus as a place for social, cultural, political and administrative action. Often overshadowed by modern presuppositions regarding the functions of spaces within a home, the tradition of assigning a single purpose to each space has only recently been subjected to serious criticism due to the contradictions of material finds with the assumptions regarding the use of that space.

The orthodoxy in the older scholarship supported a very rigid view of the domus as divided between a public and private sections, with the same division acting as a gender marker for the male political activities within the political sphere and the female activities of nurturing and housekeeping within the domestic sphere. Thus the house would have followed the pattern of the familia with the paterfamilias with his sons taking care of the outside relations and the women taking care of the home. This division now outdated within the household, the aim of this session is to take a fresh look at conceptions of public and private within the house. Drawing from the suggestions of new theoretical and archaeological developments, we seek to explore how functions of spaces within the house were created by the actions of its inhabitants instead of being predetermined.

Session Programme

This session is made up of six papers.

1. Venus in Pompeian Domestic Space
2. Questioning the functions of the cubiculum
3. The domus of Apuleio at Ostia Antica
4. Peristyles: conspicuous consumption or functional addition?
5. Private Inscriptions in Public Spaces?
6. Structuring Olfactory Space in the Roman House
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