Roman Insulae - ancient Roman apartment houses
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Roman Apartments (Insulae)

Ostia insula
Ostia (can you see where the wooden
balconies would have been?)

May 2016 - In big cities, most Romans lived in apartment buildings we call insulae (IN-sue-lie), or islands (because they often took up a whole city block). During the 100s AD, there were almost 50,000 apartment buildings in Rome (mostly with many families living in them), and fewer than 2000 private houses. At first insulae were usually built of wood. They were usually three or four stories high.

stairs going up
A staircase in a Roman insula (Ostia)

Later, because of the risk of fire, insulae were more often built of brick. We have many insulae preserved to look at today, especially in the Roman port town of Ostia, near Rome. There are also insulae at Pompeii, and at Italica in Spain.

Which would you rather live in, an insula or a house? Why? Suppose you were a slave?

Bibliography and further reading about Roman insulae:

City : A Story of Roman Planning and Construction, by David Macaulay (1983). For kids - brilliant!

Houses, Villas, and Palaces in the Roman World, by Alexander McKay (1998). For historians, by a specialist.

The City in the Greek and Roman World, by E. J. Owens (1992). Also by a specialist, about town planning.

Roman Architecture
Ancient Rome
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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