Session no. 4, 2012: Rebecca McKie: Roman villa’s and estates
REBECCA MCKIE, SESSION 4 2012Roman Villa’s and Estates Villa of Oplontis, Italy
What were they? Large estates in the country- traditionally with a strong focus on agriculture and farming. Luxury retreats for elite citizens- with many luxury villas across the empire with a focus on leisure and displays of wealth and power. Many slave-run estates with huge productive capacities. Villas of the late empire focused most on production, providing the organizational centre of the large holdings called latifundia, that produced and exported agricultural produce.
Functions Varied functions can be seen through archaeology. Remains of buildings show three areas mentioned by writers of agricultural manuals: Pars urbana- residential quarter, often very luxurious with features of the Domus or Roman town house. Pars rustica- working and productive quarters, could have wine presses, stables etc. Pars fructaria- storage areas.
Functions: Agricultural Subsistence farming (to support inhabitants) Mass production for profit- often of key cash crops such as oil and wine. Wine and oil vats and presses discovered in many villas of the early empire, such as at Settefinestre which could produce many thousands of litres of wine a year. profit-oriented latifundia of late empire probably grew enough of all the basic foodstuffs to provide for their own consumption.
Balaeric islands- agricultural villas Villas specializing in the sea-going export of olive oil to Roman legions in Germany were a feature of the southern Iberian province of Hispania Baetica. Olive oil was a key cash crop which was produced in vast quantities in villa estates and exported for profit.
Function: Leisure Villa itself also a place for the pursuit of Otium- Roman idea of time for recreational and academic activities. Villas began to include greater spaces for relaxation and luxury with the pars urbana having lotsVilla of oplontis of decoration and spaces for relaxation and entertainment.
Leisure- early empire Luxury villas of the late republic and early empire had very luxurious residential quarters. Villa of the mysteries in Pompeii (built end of the republic, refurbished 1st Century AD) had a very decorated pars urbana with many fresco’s and mosaics.
Luxury Villas Some estates were purely luxurious such as Hadrians villa at Tivoli Very ostentatious with different building complexes spread over different terraces, palatial in style. Many entertaining spaces and fantastic architecture, as well as many sculptures, water features etc.
Villas- late empire This dual aspect of villas continued into the late empire. Luxuries in late villas such as hypocaust-heated rooms and mosaics. This can be seen in the late roman villa at La Olmeda in the province of Palencia (now Castile and Leon, Spain)
Development of the villa The ideology behind the villa and many key elements remained into the late empire, but there were also various changes. The increasing manumittence of slaves led to a shift from large slave-run estates to estates run by lords with the land worked by peasant farmers dependant on them.
Development of the villa Even during the collapse of the roman empire in the fourth and fifth centuries the villa system continued. The villa systems of late antiquity survived into the middle ages as many working villas were donated to famous monks becoming nuclei of monasteries. Despite the changes that underwent the basic concept still remained- of the villa as a place primarily for large scale production, but also as a luxurious retreat and place of display.