University of Leicester
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Delos: Investigating the notion of privacy within the ancient Greek house

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posted on 2011-01-10, 15:05 authored by Samantha Burke
Understanding the social organisation of past societies, such as ancient Greek civilization, continues to prove intriguing. The limitations of literary evidence can mean that archaeological remains, for example housing, can aid in improving knowledge of such topics. One of the difficulties in studying Greek housing is the low level of surviving buildings. House remains on Delos are uniquely preserved with extensive elevated walls and other architectural features, and as such provide a means of understanding use of house space and privacy. In order to rigorously investigate these concepts, this study combines traditional field observations and written evidence with quantitative mathematical and CAD analysis. Surveys of the ruins at Delos carried out for this work reveal deliberate use of architecture to impact upon everyday life. For example, ground floor windows are constructed in ways that allow occupants external visibility whilst views into the house are curtailed. Measurements of standing remains from Delos are used to partially reconstruct houses, allowing examination of visual accessibility along sight lines both into and within buildings. This shows that despite apparent open plan design of many ground floors, visibility was often very restricted by both architectural constraints and poor illumination. Ground plans are used to produce statistical representations of interior house space, analysing spatial syntax between rooms, and between the interior and exterior of the house. The methods employed here prove useful in simplifying complicated building layouts for a given construction snapshot. However, the adaptation of room spaces on Delos is sufficiently dynamic through time that multiple interpretations are often unresolvable other than by using qualitative judgement. Combining multiple methodologies in studying Greek housing allows improved insights into aspects of privacy. Issues such as multiple occupation, temporal and adaptive use of house space are beginning to reveal some of the complex nuances of ancient home life.



Foxhall, Lin; Ruggles, Clive

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University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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