Small pediments, capitals, columns and bases are parts of garden and peristyle architecture: pergolas, aedicula, small shrines and nymphaea, in front of which often flowed water features imitating streams. These sophisticated architectures were built with the aim of embellishing the home and recreating exotic landscapes.
Guide to the museum rooms
The Roman house was also open to outsiders and was the site of the owner's social representation. The findings of this room tell the story of a typical city domus, with its atrium, garden, dining rooms and bedrooms.
A trapezophoron is a marble or bronze table support shaped as an animal, usually a crouching lion on two legs. In the domus, marble tables were placed in the atria and tablinia as well as in the gardens. Low tables were also found in the centre of the triclinia, the dining rooms where meals were eaten reclining on couches.
Statues and statuettes of deities, philosophers, heroes and athletes decorated the rooms and gardens of the domus. Images of deities were also found in aedicula, where they were worshipped. As well as the major gods (Jupiter, Juno and Venus), the minor ones were worshipped too, such as Bacchus and Hercules, and those of oriental origin, including the goddess Isis.
The ara is an altar on which rites and offerings were made to honour the gods. These were worshipped in public places but also in private homes, where the carved or painted images of gods and Lares – guardian deities of the house – were placed in the Lararia, shrines or temple-shaped niches in front of which stood the altar. The altars were placed in the atria, where the domestic hearth was kept, but also in gardens and peristyles. Worship was conducted by the head of the family, who gathered the family around the Lararium and performed sacrifices on the altars at the beginning of each month and on important events such as births, weddings and comings of age.
The realistic portrait was born in the first century BC among Roman aristocrats, who were then the only ones with the right to be portrayed and keep their pictures and those of their ancestors in the house. Among the Romans, displaying family portraits in one's home was an attribute of patrician and ancient origins. They were displayed in the tablinum, the owner's study that overlooked the atrium. As well as in the home, portraits were also displayed in public places and funerary settings.
On the lower floors of the domus there were tabernae – artisans and merchants' workshops – overlooking the streets. Amphorae and dolia were used to store wine and oil, which were produced on farms in the area and transported to be sold in the city's shops, while bread was produced in the city's bakeries, called pistrina, from the verb pinsere which means to grind. In the pistrina, located behind the shops, grains were ground with large millstones pulled by donkeys, the bread was made and baked and then sold directly in the adjoining shops.
The Roman house was the place where the owner's social status was enacted. By day, the doors of the house were open and passers-by were able to have glimpses of the interior. The bright atrium, which was the first room of the domus, was where the clientes were received, who ran errands for the master, and flocked to his house from early morning to hail him. Behind the atrium was the peristyle, a large colonnaded porch that surrounded the garden of the house. Here, shaded by pergolas and exotic plants, people walked and conversed. Also overlooking the peristyle were the triclinia, dining rooms so called because they were furnished with three 3-seater couches around a low table, where diners ate reclined. Almost all the rooms of stately homes were decorated with frescoes on the walls and mosaics on the floor.