Roman Villa of Piazza Armerina
A luxurious Roman villa from around 320 CE
How the Villa Was Used in Antiquity
The common visitor of the villa would arrive at the entrance, where the he (it would probably be a male) would see the imposing three way arch of triumph with fountains between the arches and frescoes on the walls to the side. This would be a testimony to the military might of the proprietor of the villa.
Passing the arch the visitor enters the atrium, which featured a fountain at the centre and a shady colonnade on two sides. To the left would be a passage to the latrine, in case the visitor had to absent himself on behalf on nature, and to the right the tablinum, the entrance to the peristyle. Lesser important visitors would probably not go any further that the atrium.
In the tablinum the visitor is greeted symbolically by mosaics of the hosts offering olive branches before entering the peristyle. Here he would be made to wait in the shade under the colonnade until he could be received in the great basilica. Here too was a more luxurious internal latrine in case of need. Many visitors would never be allowed further that this.
The most welcome visitors would be permitted to climb the few steps to the stupendous corridor of the great hunt where he would again have to wait. Here he could admire the mosaics depicting the strange animals that could be found on the other estates of the patron.
At last, if he was one of the lucky few, he might be invited to enter the great basilica to meet the master of the house in person.
The rest of the villa would probably be off limits for all but select few, mostly the peers of the owner. They could be invited to use the thermal baths with the owner (go to the baths was an occasion for socialising for the Romans) or have dinner or conversation with him in the elliptical peristyle and the triclinium.
The Use of the Rooms
Most of the rooms in the villa have clear purposes, which can be determined from their position in the complex and from the decorative elements in the room. There is no doubt about the purpose of the thermal baths, the various latrines, and of the areas that were definitely intended for the public, such as the entrance, atrium, tablinum, peristyle and the great basilica. Also, the elliptical peristyle and the triclinium are certain as (semi-)private area intended for relaxing and dining.
Of the guest rooms some have probably been service rooms, while others have been intended for guests or for proprietor and his family. Some of the rooms have simple geometric mosaics, some poorly laid, indicating a less prestigious purpose, while others have elaborate figurative mosaics, such as the room of the dance, the room of the fishing cupids and the room of the little hunt, hinting at higher status users.
The private apartments have several interpretations. The larger (southern) apartment has a central hall (the Hall of Arion) flanked by smaller rooms with mosaics of children at play or at work, so this has been described as the cubiculi of the domina and the children, while the smaller (northern) apartment which has a cubiculum with erotic mosaics, was taken to be the quarters of the pater familias. This theory is contradicted by the fact that the highest ranking member of the family should have the smaller, and less ostentatiously decorated rooms, while the children would have much more sumptuous sleeping quarters of almost the same size. The size, position and decoration of the apartments make much more sense if they are seen as separate apartments for two couples of unequal social status. The larger and more luxuriously decorated apartment would belong to the higher ranking couple and the smaller apartment to the other couple. There are some clear parallels in the organisation of the two apartments. Both have two cubiculi, one with a square apse and one with a round apse (which could be for the male and the female occupant resp.) with a common entrance. In the larger apartment the Hall of Arion could have been a library.
Another room without a known purpose is the Hall of Orpheus. It has been likened to the central hall in the larger apartment due to their equal size, but it could also be a parallel to the Great Basilica in that it is a room with an apse. If the villa was inhabited by two families of unequal standing, both men would have proper surroundings for the reception of guests and clients.
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