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Roman Furniture by Croom

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A T Croom has written a very useful piece on furniture in the Roman World. She is curator of the Tyne and Wear Museums (being the eastern extremity of Hadrian's Wall if you are not familiar with the UK). The work ties into the items I posted in the gallery (and related to a blog for "Arbeia") , and I will add a couple more new images to help appreciation. The majority of the evidence for re-construction is from Pompeian and Ercolanian survivals (either actual items or pictorial evidence) , with a lesser body of evidence from Britain and Germany.The work is perhaps a little too specialised for general enjoyment , but to give sensible understanding to quotidian reality it is a useful reference.




Several general themes are evident, the relative lack of material goods in the roman household (abundance is of course skewed severly towards wealthy households and is also relative to our modern plethora of furnishings and material goods). Secondly the relative absence of clothing storage (as the cost of garments of quality was again highly skewed, only the rich would need storage, ordinary persons might be wearing nearly all they owned), this is not to say items were not stored, but a reliance on semi-portable chests rather than wardrobes is notable. The careful storage of scrolls in wardrobe-like items is noted. The relative absence of chairs with backs as we recognise them (usually if whicker high backed items are available they are for "weaker" persons ie:females and the elderly), the folding stool is the sine qua non of the Roman Citizen/Soldier and no person of rank was ashamed to be so seated .


Children had very few toys of any type, so the modern headache of toy clutter was near totally absent.


Decorative use of quality woods (citron in particular) was the apex of wealth and taste , the key being the display of intricate natural grain (unpainted). The less wealthy would use available woods and if they lacked displayable grain a red colouring seems to have been long fashionable . The poor would use whatever materials were available (woven willow for beds ). There are useful notes on the triclinium as a sumptuary item of conspicuous consumption (more regarding its drapery than intrinsic finish, though that was important).


An informative work, especially for those concerned to re-create an appropriate backdrop for film or book.

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This is really great Pertinax. Just yesterday I was thinking, "Why don't the museums recreate whole rooms?"


If you encounter any new furniture in Pompeii, do share your photos with the immobile vulgus.

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Thank you MPC, I hope to see some of the original finds in situ or re-created locally. I will certainly photograph any examples I see. I always feel that this "everyday" work makes the past come alive in a very direct way.


I would like to add that , as one might expect, the fashions in furniture tended to radiate out (in time) away from the Italian heartland so that what was fashionable in Rome might appear near 20 years later in Germany say. However some regional fashions do appear to exist , probably it is suggested due to use of local materials and a local craft approach (notably in Britain the use of shale as a material and decorative finish for the legs of tables and "chairs". The Arbeia collection seems to hint at direct import from Rome given the Commanders status.The decrative finish of the rooms is referenced directly to Pompeii , so it is hypothetical for britain (but not wholly unreasonable).

I would also reiterate that we should use the words couch and bed as interchangable descriptions , and assume also that "chair" means "camp stool" (though this might be of a highly ornate or plain nature). The sella curulis is of course an item of status , but it might be best considered as belonging to the "camp stool" idiom , the "masculinity" of its shape and nature do I believe make this a valid sugestion. The literary references to stool and curule make plain the solidarity of citizenship/hierarchy that they represent to soldier and citizen.


This shot exemplifies the decorative context.


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