Structures > Peristyle
In Roman architectureIn rural settings a wealthy Roman could surround a villa with terraced gardens; within the city Romans created their gardens inside the domus. The peristylium was an open courtyard within the house; the columns or square pillars surrounding the garden supported a shady roofed portico whose inner walls were often embellished with elaborate wall paintings of landscapes and trompe-l'oeil architecture. Sometimes the lararium, a shrine for the Lares, the gods of the household, was located in this portico, or it might be found in the atrium. The courtyard might contain flowers and shrubs, fountains, benches, sculptures and even fish ponds. Romans devoted as large a space to the peristyle as site constraints permitted; even in the grandest development of the urban peristyle house, as it evolved in Roman North Africa, often one range of the portico was eliminated, for a larger open space.The end of the Roman domus is one mark of the extinction of the Late Classical culture: "the disappearance of the Roman peristyle house marks the end of the ancient world and its way of life," remarked Simon P. Ellis. "No new peristyle houses were built after A.D. 550." Noting that as houses and villas were increasingly abandoned in the fifth century, a few palatial structures were expanded and enriched, as power and classical culture became concentrated in a narrowing class, and public life withdrew to the basilica, or audience chamber, of the magnate. In the Eastern Roman empire, Late Antiquity lingered longer: Ellis identified the latest known peristyle house built from scratch as the "House of the Falconer" at Argos, dating from the style of its floor mosaics about 530-550. Existing houses were subdivided in many cases, to accommodate a larger and less elite population in a warren of small spaces, and columned porticoes were enclosed in small cubicles, as at the House of Hesychius at Cyrene.Other usesAlthough Ancient Egyptian architecture predates Greek and Roman antiquity, historians frequently use the Greek term peristyle to describe similar, earlier structures in ancient Egyptian palace architecture and in Levantine houses known as liwan houses.The Roman peristyle house as a structure helped define and mark the change of domestic occupation and thus the larger change in culture in Roman history as well. In the early period of the Roman Empire many wealthy patricians all owned many large houses throughout the Roman world built in a similar style. However, in the beginning these spaces were very open and social places which changed over the course of hundreds of years. Eventually these structures became increasingly abandoned and subdivided while also becoming more private and closed off.This suggests underlying economic and political influences on the social living situation as the empire developed under various inept leaders and internal strife. In addition the wealthiest of homes by the 6th century AD were only getting bigger while the majority of citizens seemed to occupy tiny structures huddled together in the former city squares and structures of the Roman Empire. Overall the development of the Roman peristyle house can help archaeologists better understand the cultural and social development of the empire through the lens of the major domestic structure present during the time. One major limitation to making any major conclusions about this topic though is that there might be much evidence left to uncover regarding Roman homes that could shed more light on the larger developments of society as a whole.See alsoAtriumCloister – medieval ecclesiastical development of the formQuadrangle (architecture)HypostyleLoggiaPorticoNotesJump up ^ E.B. MacDougall, W.M.F. Jashemski, eds., Ancient Roman Gardens: Dumbarton Oaks Colloqium on the History of Landscape Architecture, 1979.Jump up ^ Yvon Thébert, "Private life and domestic architecture in Roman Africa", in Paul Veyne, ed. A History of Private Life, I: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium (1985, Arthur Goldhammer, tr., 1987) esp. "The peristyle", pp 357-64.Jump up ^ Simon P. Ellis, "The End of the Roman House" American Journal of Archaeology 92.4 (October 1988:565-576) opened the article's abstract with these words.Jump up ^ Ellis notes G. Akerström-Hougen, The Calendar and Hunting Mosaics of the Falconer in Argos, Stockholm, 1974; a somewhat later peristyle house, at Hermione in the Peloponnesus, of the end of the 6th century, was not initiated at this late date but a partial reconstruction of an earlier elite dwelling (Ellis 1988:565).Jump up ^ Noted by Ellis p. 567.Reconstruction of a Roman peristylum (peristyle) and peristylium (courtyard) of Pompeii."In the Peristyle" John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). Rochdale Art Gallery, Rochdale, England.Ceiling decoration in the peristyle hall of the Mediate HabuPeristyle of the Diocletian palace in Split, Croatia by Robert Adam (1764).
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