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Housing in Ancient Rome

Rome became a very large city in ancient times. The city developed from small villages on seven hills merging together. The great fire of 64 A.D. destroyed large portions of the city's housing, which was mostly built of wood. After the fire, much of the city was rebuilt using concrete. Stone was intermixed to create design. This was very costly, so it was only used in large amounts by those who could afford it.


Most of the population in of Rome lived in crowded, multi-story apartment structures that were as high as five or six stories. In cities, such as Pompeii, the apartments were only two stories high since they were less crowded. The bottom floor of the apartment buildings often housed shops along the road. The lower floors were occupied by wealthier Romans, while poorer Romans lived in the upper floors. Only the first floor would have running water and under-the-floor heat. Walls on the lower floors were often made of concrete and brick, while the upper floors were made of wood. Some of the apartments were badly constructed and were prone to fires. Those on the upper floors had very little chance of escaping a fire. Conditions in the apartments were often crowded and unsanitary.

Town Houses

For the richest of Romans, a town house would be constructed. Town houses were one or two stories tall with no outside windows on the first floor. Windows were limited for security purposes and due to the noise and dirt from the street. A town house would have an open-air atrium in the middle. Some of the very rich even had their own private bath area.

The Romans used two types of heating systems during the cold seasons. Bronze trays called braziers were used to hold charcoal to heat rooms. A town house was often built with a central heating system called a hypocaust. The hypocaust had a fire in the basement which heated the air below the floor and spaces in the walls.

Kitchens were not allowed in many of the apartments due to being a fire hazards. People living in these structures would buy their meals from local bars or takeout places. Kitchens in town houses consisted of a counter where slaves boiled or grilled food over a small fire. Brick ovens were also used for baking.

roman reflecting pool


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