Roman houses – Ancient Rome

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A model of a typical house (from Egypt)

A model of a typical house (from Egypt)

Most people in the Roman Empire lived with their whole familyin one room of a sort of small apartment house. These were built, like many cheap apartment houses in the United States today, around two or three sides of a courtyard, one or two stories high. The other sides of the courtyard had high walls to keep out burglars. Today we use these courtyards for parking, but Roman people (who didn’t have cars) used them for cooking, and for children to play in. The apartment houses were generally mud-brick, with flat roofs that you could sleep on in good weather.

Poor people who lived in cities sometimes had this kind of apartment, but more often had to live in taller wood or brick apartment buildings called insulae, without any courtyard.

Roman houses for rich people, at the beginning of the Roman Republic, were a lot like the houses the Etruscans lived in. Most houses had a front door leading into an atrium (AY-tree-um), or courtyard, and rooms all around the courtyard. Sometimes there was a roof over the courtyard, often with a skylight hole in the center to let in light, and to channel rainwater into a cistern in the middle of the courtyard.

A video walkthrough of a rich Roman’s house
Roman peristyle from Ostia

Roman peristyle from Ostia

In the back of the courtyard, across from the front door, was the parents’ bedroom, or tablinum (tab-LINE-um). Later this became mainly an office, where you did business and sometimes ate with your guests. On the sides were the bedrooms, or cubicula (coo-BICK-you-lah).

By the Late Republic, some Romans were beginning to build more Greek-style houses. These houses still had an atrium with rooms around it, but in the back they had a peristyle, or garden, with columns all around it, and more rooms around the peristyle. These are sometimes called atrium-peristyle houses.

This is the peristyle of a house from the Roman town of Ostia.

On the far side of the peristyle, there would often be a dining room, called a triclinium.

Build a model of a Roman house in Lego or in Minecraft
More about Roman kitchens

Bibliography and further reading about Roman houses:

Roman Bedrooms
Roman Dining Rooms
And Roman kitchens
Roman apartment buildings
More Roman Architecture
Ancient Rome home

By | 2017-08-27T17:28:09+00:00 August 27th, 2017|Architecture, Romans|4 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Roman houses – Ancient Rome. Study Guides, August 27, 2017. Web. February 22, 2018.

About the Author:

Karen Carr
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. Karl January 29, 2018 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    Good info

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr January 29, 2018 at 9:26 pm


  2. bob January 25, 2018 at 11:19 am - Reply

    very informational

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr January 25, 2018 at 11:44 am

      Thank you!

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