Illumination matters. Revisiting the Roman house in a new light

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)

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Interpreting the social complexity of the Roman house requires a careful evaluation of existing evidence. With this in mind, recent work in the field has proposed a variety of different approaches, focusing each time on a specific type of source (architecture and décor, ancient texts, material evidence from excavated houses), each in turn recursively deemed more adequate for the purpose or more fruitful and less biased. This opposition of approaches and critiques between scholars has yielded an extraordinarily rich picture that, however, leaves some of the social dynamics of domestic space out of our reach. This dissertation, focusing on the case study of the House of the Greek Epigrams in the northern part of Insula V 1 in Pompeii, suggests a further level of understanding that combines the aforementioned types of sources with simulations and digital analyses to support archaeological interpretation. Everything visible in the house, including its architecture and its decorations, actively participated in the construction of the social identity of the owner of the house and the Romanitas of his family. However, everything visible is so by virtue of light, which is not a mere medium, but actively partakes in social dynamics and can be manipulated to meet certain demands. In this dissertation, light is considered in its dual aspect as a physical and as a visual and sensory phenomenon. Starting from the assumption that light is a powerful social agent, the study investigates, through historically grounded and physically accurate lighting simulations and analyses, the intertwined spatial and social circulation patterns in order to derive new insights into the social dynamics of the Roman house. In particular, this study argues that the social space of the Roman house was characterized by a greater complexity than that conveyed by ancient sources. It suggests a more nuanced picture, one of light and shadow but also of activity at different times of the day and year, and richer in people both in the foreground and in the background.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Classical archaeology and ancient history
  • Gerding, Henrik, Supervisor
  • Leander Touati, Anne-Marie, Assistant supervisor
  • Niehorster, Diederick C, Assistant supervisor
Award date2023 May 26
ISBN (Print)978-91-89415-71-3
ISBN (electronic) 978-91-89415-72-0
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Apr 28

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2023-05-26
Time: 13:15
Place: LUX:C121
External reviewer
Name: Joanne Berry
Title: Associate Professor
Affiliation: Swansea University

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Classical Archaeology and Ancient History

Free keywords

  • House of the Greek Epigrams
  • Roman domestic space
  • Pompeii
  • lighting simulation
  • lamps
  • digital archaeology
  • 3D
  • virtual reality
  • eye-tracking
  • 3D GIS


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