Houses in Roman Britain: a study in architecture and urban society
By Dominic Perring
PhD Dissertation, University of Leicester, 1999
Abstract: This thesis surveys the evidence for Romano-British houses, with an emphasis on the imported and urban traditions that witness the influence of empire on province. The sample is therefore biased towards high status sites with complex spatial arrangements (i.e. town houses and villas).
Chapter 1 explains the value of architecture in the study of social arrangements. Chapter 2 sets the Romano-British evidence in context by summarising research on the origins of the Roman house. Although the northwest provinces generated a distinct vernacular tradition this was inspired by architecural concepts developed in the eastern Mediterranean.
Chapter 3 describes construction techniques, and charts a progression from timber and earth-walled buildings to masonry and concrete constructions. Details of building elevation and interior decoration are also considered. Chapter 4 describes the different types of room encountered. Houses were commonly set out over two principal wings, with the main reception rooms found in the rear wing. A portico leading from a front entrance and affording views over gardens and yards usually linked these areas. Building typologies are also described, offering a refinement of previous classificatory systems.
The work concludes with a summary of chronological developments and changing social arrangements (Chapter 6). Britain boasted a distinctive range of local architectural styles that were the product of evolving fashion on the period AD 75-150. It is argued, however, that British society was no more or less ‘Roman’ than provincial society elsewhere in the empire. From the second century onwards there was a progressive move of social activities from the public sphere to the private one, as houses became increasingly important as a forum for the display of social relationships and as places for the representation and reproduction of wealth.