Houses of Ancient Herculaneum

By the Editors of the Madain Project

  • This article is a stub as it does not provide effective content depth for the core subject discussed herein. We're still working to expand it, if you'd like to help with it you can request expansion. This tag should be removed, once the article satisfies the content depth criteria.
    What is this?

The houses of ancient herculaneum refer to the residential structures, casas, apartments, and villas, in the Roman city of Herculaneum, in the Campania region of Italy. The houses of ancient Herculaneum offer a fascinating window into the domestic lives of the town’s affluent residents. Nestled along the coast of the Bay of Naples, Herculaneum was a prosperous Roman town that attracted wealthy citizens who built lavish homes reflecting their status and tastes.

Overview

Unlike Pompeii, which was buried under ash, Herculaneum was preserved by a torrent of pyroclastic material from the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. This unique preservation has provided remarkable insights into Roman residential architecture, interior design, and daily life.

Herculaneum's houses range from opulent villas to more modest dwellings, each meticulously designed and decorated. The larger homes often feature spacious courtyards, elaborate gardens, and stunning views of the sea. Interiors were adorned with vibrant frescoes, intricate mosaics, and luxurious furnishings, indicating the homeowners' wealth and social standing. These well-preserved residences reveal the architectural sophistication of the time, with innovations such as advanced water systems, atriums, and peristyles that enhanced both comfort and aesthetic appeal. Through the study of these ancient houses, we gain a deeper understanding of the lifestyle, culture, and artistic achievements of Herculaneum’s inhabitants.

Residential Architecture in Herculaneum

circa

The architecture of ancient Herculaneum houses reflects the sophistication and wealth of its residents, showcasing intricate designs and advanced engineering that were typical of Roman residential architecture.

The atriums, the central open-air courtyards, were a defining feature of Roman houses. The atrium often contained a shallow pool called an impluvium, which collected rainwater. It served as the main reception area and was typically surrounded by rooms on all sides. The houses usually featured a peristyle, open courtyards surrounded by a colonnade, often found in larger homes. They usually contained gardens, fountains, and statues, offering a peaceful retreat within the home. Houses in Herculaneum were richly decorated with frescoes and mosaics. Walls were adorned with vibrant paintings depicting mythological scenes, landscapes, and daily life. Floors often featured intricate mosaic patterns, showcasing the artistic skills of the period.

List of the Houses

circa

House of Aristides
The House of Aristides (Casa di Aristide) is the first house, on the left, located on the Cardo III. The house was mistakenly named after the statue of an Athenian politician, found during excavations, while it was later discovered to belong to the Attic orator Aeschines. It was discovered during the period of Bourbon explorations, and a good part still remains to be explored. The property had a lower floor, which was probably used for storage. This level had been built by extending the edge of the promontory toward the sea by means of a monumental wall in opus reticulatum.

circa

House of the Genius
II.3
The House of Genius (Casa del Genio) is located near the north end of Insula II on the west side of Cardo III. The house derives its name from the small statue of a winged genius or guardian spirit that decorated a candlestick found in the building. Along with the neighbouring houses in the insula, the House of the Genius was among the first to be openly excavated; between 1828 and 1850 CE. Although only partially excavated, the House of the Genius appears to have been a spacious building. The main entrance to the house was from the Cardo II, so what we see today is the rear of the peristyle and the rooms that line the back wall.

circa

House of Argus
II.2
The House of Argus (Casa d'Argo) derives its name from a fresco representing the myth of Argus and Io found in a reception room that opened onto the large peristyle. According to mythology, Argus, Hera's servant, was charged with guarding the white heifer Io from Zeus, keeping her chained to the sacred olive tree at the Argive Heraion. The fresco is now sadly lost, but its name lives on. The discovery of the house in the late 1820s was notable because it was the first time a second floor had been unearthed in such detail. The excavation revealed a second floor balcony overlooking Cardo III and also wooden shelving and cupboards. Sadly with the passing of time, these elements have now been lost.

circa

House of the Skeleton
III.3
The House of the Skeleton (Casa dello Scheletro) is located across the House of the Genius, on Cardo III. This building, probably the aggregation of three smaller buildings, derives its name from the discovery of human skeleton in a second floor room in 1831 CE. The house with the skeleton consists of three houses that were purchased by the owner of the house. He just broke down the walls, connecting them into a single mansion. Interestingly, the house of the Skeleton does not have the usual pool-impluvium. At the back of the atrium, there are two Nymphaeum shrines dedicated to nymphs. In the courtyard there is an altar for the lares, decorated with mosaics.

circa

Half-timber House
III.15
The House of the half-timber (Casa a Graticcio), also known as the House of the Opus Craticium lies on the west side of Cardo IV. The house is interesting because of its timber-frame-construction, referred to by Maiuri as opus craticium. Other than economic reasons, the use of timber framing was probably motivated by the amount of space which could be saved by using thin partition walls. In this apartment, like the one to the rear, some fourth style decoration has survived as well as a few articles of furniture. There are the remains of two beds of which one is a child's.

circa

House of the Wooden Partition
III.11
The House of the Wooden Partition (Casa del Tramezzo di Legno) lies on the west side of Cardo IV close to its junction with the Lower Decumanus. Today the house is preserved to the level of the third floor. Its facade, which ends with a cornice decorated with ova, is one of the most sophisticated in the region. The simple mosaic floor indicates that the house was probably built sometime during the late republican period (first century BCE). The house was remodelled early in the first century AD with the construction of the peristyle to the rear of the tablinum and redecorated with frescoes in the third style.

circa

House of the Bronze Hermes
III.16
The House of the Bronze Hermes (Casa dell'Erma di Bronzo) is located between the House of the Opus Craticium to the east and The House of the Brick Altar on the west. In the House of the Bronze Hermes there is a central impluvium and some beautiful frescoed walls in the third style. The house got its name from a bronze Herma found in the tablinum, a room that served as the office of the owner of the house, a place for personal meetings and storage of important documents. The Herma is a four-sided pillar with a sculpted head of a god, politician, or thinker. Historians believe that in this case, the Herma is a portrait of the owner of the house. It is one of the oldest houses in Herculaneum and has an elongated shape.

circa

House of the Brick Altar
The House of the Brick Altar (Casa dell’Ara Laterizia) is a small residential house situated west of the House of the Bronze Hermes. The house is named after an impressive brick altar built against the rear wall, according to Maiuri, was probably in an area roofed to form a Sacellum.

circa

House of the Cloth
III.17
The House of the Cloth (Casa della Stoffa) is named as such, because of the relatively larger number of cloth pieces found here. Maiuri notes that this was most likely a dwelling or workshop of artisans, possibly either cloth-makers or cloth-merchants. In the simple room at the entrance which was used as a shop, there was a stove, a dozen amphorae and a large mortar.

circa

House of the Loom
V.3-4
The House of the Loom, or the House of the (loom) Frame (Casa del Telaio), or the House of the Tailor is named after a wooden weaving frame found in the peristyle. The House is made up of two entrances, one leading into the "Officina" room and the other into the House.

circa

House of the Wooden Shrine
V.31
The House of the Wooden Shrine (Casa del Sacello di Legno) is located immediately south-east of the House of the Great Portal. It is named after an artefact, a wooden sacellum (inspect), discovered on the premises. The house was built in the second century BCE during the Samnite era; later, partially modified, it was buried under a blanket of mud following the pyroclastic flows during the Vesuvian eruption of 79 CE. The house is located along Cardo IV, and contains a number of decorations in the first and third styles.

circa

House of Apollo the Citharist
V.11
The House of Apollo the Citharist (Casa dell’ Apollo Citaredo) or the House of Apollo the Lyre-player, is named after a painted relief of Apollo playing a lyre. This painting showed Apollo playing a lyre and crowned with laurel; a nymph, and on one side, a cupid supports the god’s heavy quiver. The relief was painted on the central part of the souther wall of the tablinum.

circa

House of the Corinthian Atrium
V.30
The House of the Corinthian Atrium (Casa dell'Atrio Corinzio) is one of the oldest in the city. With its main entrance located along Cardo IV, the house is characterized by a porch with brick columns. The house is named after an atrium with three Corinthian brick columns on each side and a cocciopesto floor decorated with polychrome marble chips; a low pluteus runs between the columns and delimits the impluvium , which has a fountain with a marble euripus (basin). In the room to the right of the entrance is a mosaic with crenellated walls with towers; in the diaeta (living room) the coffered ceiling is preserved, painted in the fourth style like the walls of this and other rooms.

circa

House of the Painted Papyri
The House of the Painted Papyri (Casa del Papiro dipinto) is located on the east side of the Cardi IV inferior. Pesando and Guidobaldi described this house as preserving the dimensions of a pre-roman dwelling with a long and narrow plan of rooms placed only along the north side and opening onto the long corridor.

circa

House of the Gem
The House of the Gem (Casa della Gemma) was originally part of the house of the Relief of Telephus and this large complex belonged to Marco Nonio Balbus. The House of the Gem was named after a piece of jewelery found there. The jewelery dates from the Claudian period and bares the engraved effigy of Livia. The two houses were then separated during the Augustan period. The house of the Gem is located near the Suburban Baths, which it overlooks, and is built on two levels. The house is located at the southern end of Cardo V.

circa

House of the Carbonized Furniture
V.5
The House of the Carbonized Furniture (Casa del Mobilo Carbonizzato) is one of the oldest buildings in Herculaneum, built during the Samnite period. This house takes its name after a few pieces of furniture, found charred. During the reign of Emperor Claudius, the building was renovated and the walls were painted with colorful frescoes in the third and fourth style. The house was decorated in the third and fourth architectural styles. The house, which overlooks Cardo IV and has an area of ​​two hundred and fifteen square meters, follows the classic layout of Roman houses.

circa

House of the Inn
III.1
The House of the Inn (Casa dell'Albergo) was constructed during the Augustan period, between 27 and 14 BCE, following the Pompeii earthquake in 62 CE. The structure which is also known as the House of the hotel was constructed on the edge of the hill, with a panoramic view of the Gulf of Naples. The main entrance is located on Cardo IV, which leads to the atrium where the remains of the impluvium are still visible. Because of its large size and the presence of its own private baths, it was originally considered to be an inn, but it is now believed to be a private house, albeit a rather sumptuous one.

circa

House of the Mosaic Atrium
The House of the Mosaic Atrium (Casa dell'Atrio a Mosaico), lies on the east side of Cardo IV with a southern aspect overlooking the Bay of Naples. The house is named after a fine black and white mosaic floor, consisting of a variety of geometric shapes and stylized floral patterns.

circa

House of the Alcove
The House of the Alcove (Casa dell'Alcova), a house from the Roman period, is explored through tunnels in the eighteenth century by Bourbon explorers. The House of the Alcova is located north of the House of the Mosaic Atrium, on Cardo IV. This house is actually two buildings joined together, connected by the stepped entrance between the courts. As a consequence of this, the house is a mixture of plain and simple rooms combined with some highly decorative ones.

circa

House of Galba
The House of Galba (Casa di Galba), is one of only three buildings so far excavated in Insula VII, the House of Galba occupies a small part of what is a much larger area lying beneath a residential part of modern Herculaneum. The house was named after a silver portrait bust of the emperor Servius Sulpicius Galba, the first emperor of the Year of the Four Emperors, found outside the building. Like several other houses in Herculaneum, the house was built during the Samnite period. The main entrance has yet to be unearthed, but the posticum or secondary entrance opens off the west side of Cardo III.

circa

House of the Tuscan Colonnade
The House of the Tuscan Colonnade (Casa del Colonnato Toscano), situated on the Decumanus Maximus, is a fine patrician villa that was built during the Samnite period. Originally consisting of a suite of rooms ranged round a central atrium, it was considerably extended in the early years of the first century CE when additional ground was acquired by merging with a second house with an entrance on Cardo III. The house was again modified after the earthquake of 62 CE, when two of its street facing rooms on the Decumanus Maximus were turned into shops.

circa

House of the Two Atriums
The House of the Two Atriums (Casa dei Due Atri), is situated on the east side of Cardo III, at the midway point of Insula VI. The house has an imposing entrance set in an attractive facade, almost entirely composed of opus reticulatum. The house of the Due Atri was built in the Augustan period and subsequently enlarged with the addition of an upper floor, made completely independent following the Pompeii earthquake of 62 CE. The house is located between the Central Forum (Forum Baths), the house of the Tuscan colonnade and the house of the Black Hall, with the main entrance located along the Cardo III.

circa

House of the Black Room
The House of the Black Room (Casa del Salone Nero), considered one of the most luxurious in Herculaneum, is named for a oecus completely painted in black. Inside the oecus, twenty waxed tablets, belonging to L. Venidius Ennychus were discovered on which a number of important events were recorded, like his eligibility as Augustal, birth of his daughter, and purchase of a slave girl. It is situated at the junction of Cardo IV with the Decumanus Maximus. The house has a monumental entrance which still retains the carbonised remains of the doorposts and lintel. The shop "Ad Cucumas" is situated adjacent to the main entrance.

circa

The Bicentennial House
V.15
The House of Bicentenary (Casa del Bicentenario), is a three-storey, 600 sq metre domus, which contains stunning frescoes and mosaic floors, was discovered in 1938, 200 years after excavations at the site began, but closed to the public in 1983 after falling into disrepair. This house owes its modern name to the fact that its excavation was started in 1938, which was two hundred years after the beginning of excavations in Herculaneum in 1738 CE.

circa

House of the Beautiful Courtyard
V.8
The House of the Beautiful Courtyard (Casa del Bel Cortile), located in the Regio I, Insula V, features an unusually large reception room that is decorated with a beautiful fourth style wall painting. The house is the result of the fractioning of a much bigger property that originally comprised the Casa del Bicentenario and the Casa dell’Apollo Citaredo. During the second half of the 1st century CE the House of the Beautiful Courtyard was separated by the Casa del Bicentenario: as a result of that, and because of the lack of space, the house had to develop vertically, rather than horizontally, and its plan and layout differed considerably from some more traditional house schemes that it is possible to see in Herculaneum.

circa

House of the Neptune and Amphitrite Mosaic
V.7
The House of the Neptune and Amphitrite Mosaic (Casa del Mosaico di Nettuno e Anfitrite), lies to the north of the House of the Carbonised Furniture on Cardo IV. The house has the standard layout of fauces, atrium, tablinum and garden. It is named after a mosaic depicting Neptune and Amphitrite. The house of Neptune and Amphitrite, owned by a wealthy merchant, was certainly restored following the Pompeii earthquake in 62 CE, when most of the paintings were redone in the fourth style. The house is located along Cardo IV, in front of the entrance to the women's section of the Baths of the Forum.

circa

Samnite House
V.1
The Samnite House (Casa Sannitica), one of the oldest properties in Herculaneum, was built in the second century BCE and originally occupied the entire west side of the insula on which it stood. The house probably belonged to the Spunes Lopi family, as evidenced by a graffiti in Oscan language, found in the vestibule. The house originally occupied all of the southern part of Insula V and included a three sided peristyle, perhaps with a hortus, which once stood on the site of the later House of the Great Portal. During the course of the first century CE the house was sub-divided, the upper floor being rented out with its independent entrance.

circa

House of the Grand Portal
The House of the Grand Portal (Casa del Gran Portale), is named for the portal entrance decorated with half-columns with capitals adorned with the Vittorie, (Victoria: Roman goddess personifying victory in battle). The house of the Grand Portal was built at the beginning of the 1st century CE, on the land purchased from the nearby Samnite house, where the peristyle stood. It was restrored after the 62 CE earthquake and the elaborate entrance portal was also added. The entrance portal of the house has two half-columns with capitals in tuff that show winged Victorias as decoration: a cornice to shelf in brick is placed on two columns and everything had to be coated with plaster red; this type of structure represents one of the architectural innovations used starting from the second half of the 1st century CE.

circa

House of the Relief of Telephus
The House of the Relief of Telephus (Casa del Rilievo di Telefo), is named after a relief-plaque depicting the legend of Telephus (inspect). Originally the house of the Relief of Telephus was part of the House of the Gem and it probably belonged to Balbus. It is located near the Suburban Baths to which it is connected via a private access, has an irregular layout, the result of continuous extensions to get closer to the sea, and structured on three levels.

circa

House of the Deer
The House of the Deer (Casa dei Cervi), is named after two statues of deers being attached by dogs. The House of the Deer was built during the reign of Emperor Claudius. The house is one of the most luxurious waterfront dwellings so far discovered in Herculaneum and is believed to have belonged to Q. Granius Verus by virtue of the find of a loaf of bread bearing his stamp. The entrance to the house is located along Cardo V. Constructed around a central courtyard, the two-storey villa contains murals and some beautiful still-life paintings. The Casa dei Cervi is one of the more well preserved houses in Herculaneum. Some columns are still standing and Fescos are also visable.

Gallery Want to use our images?

See Also

References

Let's bring some history to your inbox

Signup for our monthly newsletter / online magazine.
No spam, we promise.

Privacy Policy



Top