According to Wikipedia (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_the_Vettii) the House of the Vettii brothers had two atria, one specifically for slaves.

Servants' quarters are to one side off the atrium, arranged round a small atrium of their own.

However, according to this discussion of the house, http://web.mit.edu/course/21/21h.405/www/vettii/houseblue.html the room identified as the slave's atrium is a courtyard, with a compluvium -

Room v is in the northern corner of the house. From the room, also considered a courtyard, a variety of other rooms can be accessed. To the west, the room leads to room w. Room x and y are off of the northern corner of the room. Room z also has a small entranceway to the northeast, as does room 08 which is off of the eastern corner of the room. In the center of the room is an impluvium, or pool. On the western wall there is a painting of lararium aedicula (seen in the photo). The painting was done in Fourth Style. Artifacts found in the area, such as razors and cups, suggest the room served a bathing purpose. emphases mine.

Against this, the "slaves' atrium" does appear to lead to the kitchen, and is largely separate from the reception areas of the house. Moreover, in Rome:Its People, Life and Customs, U E Paoli (1958) states that in The House of Pansa,

"There are two adjoining atria.... the Tuscanicum and it's surrounding rooms were used by the owner's family. The tetrastyle, on the other hand,... was in the humblest part of the house, reserved for slaves." p68

In my admittedly limited understanding, the notion of specific "servants' quarters" - particularly an atrium - seems anachronistic; according to some ancient writers, slaves should be either working or sleeping, so why would they need an atrium? I have always understood that Romans shoehorned their slaves in wherever there was space, and the notion of providing a room for their own use appears unlikely. I realise history is not linear, but servants' quarters in the sense of the great country houses was a fairly late development; medieval servants bedded down wherever they could!

Can anyone resolve my confusion?

  • 2
    In Rome, there were slaves and slaves. A skilled slave - a physician, teacher, secretary, business manager, &c - could have fairly high status and even a degree of wealth.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 16, 2016 at 4:47
  • @jamesqf Thanks - yeah, I know, someone like Cicero's Tiro, for example, would have had a very different to life to that of a labourer on one of his estates. But the idea of an ancient "servants' hall" still strikes me as strange, from my limited knowledge.
    – TheHonRose
    Mar 16, 2016 at 13:30
  • 2
    I don't know that it's really strange. I think intelligent Romans would have caught on to the fact that they got better performance out of their slaves when they were allowed some leisure time. Not that I'm saying all Romans were intelligent - I mean, a lot of the modern tech industry hasn't figured this out yet :-)
    – jamesqf
    Mar 16, 2016 at 19:07
  • @jamesqf Very good point! :)
    – TheHonRose
    Mar 16, 2016 at 20:13
  • 2
    Atria were also a way to get light and air into the interior of a large house. There's an advantage if the slaves have a place to work that is well lit and doesn't burn oil, and yet out of the way of classy visitors.
    – Oldcat
    Mar 17, 2016 at 17:39

1 Answer 1


The thing that seems to have been glassed over here is that the Vettii brothers were Freedmen themselves.The following is from the MIT source mentioned above:

The very fact that these two brothers were able to rise from the status of slaves to wealthy merchants speaks to the social mobility within their society. It is theorized that the Vettii brothers made their fortune as wine merchants and were then able to essentially purchase the elite status of freeborn aristocrats.

A video of a Yale Course lecture on Roman Architecture discusses this building at about 26 minutes in, and also concludes that these were probably slaves quarters.

Since the Vettii brothers were in fact former slaves themselves, you could conclude that, even though they kept slaves, their attitude towards the treatment of those slaves may have been more humane then that of the typical Roman. So unless you can find other examples documented this situation may have been atypical.

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