Roman Housing [Review]

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Book Review

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Despite the reawakened interest in the study of Roman domestic space, there has been no general introduction to the topic since Alexander McKay's Houses, Villas, and Palaces in the Roman World 25 years ago. Recent monographs on the topic, though exemplary, have been limited in scope by region (Wallace-Hadrill's Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum) or housing type (Mielsch's Die römische Villa), and almost always exhibit a bias (understandable, given the archaeological record) towards upper-class housing. Simon Ellis' ambitious new book, based on over twenty years of research, is an attempt to fill in these gaps; indeed, the work claims to be "the first empire-wide, overall introduction to Roman housing, covering all provinces and social classes, from the origins of Rome to the sixth century AD." (1) The breadth of focus is certainly to be admired, but there are real drawbacks to a book that attempts to cover so much ground in less than 200 pages of actual text. At times, keeping up with Ellis' breathless tour, from house to house, and province to province, becomes a real test of the reader's stamina; the regrettable infrequency of visual aids makes the tour even harder to follow, and all too often our patience is tested as we listen to a detailed analysis of a house for which no architectural plan is provided. In spite of these shortcomings, both scholar and student can learn a good deal from this book, which offers a wide-ranging and up-to-date survey of many of the important issues in the archaeology of the ancient Roman house.

Publication Information

Bryn Mawr Classical Review