HOUSEHOLD FURNISHING

he furnishings used in Greek and Roman houses were simple and portable. Since Mediterranean-style houses were sparsely furnished, tables, chairs, and couches were moved from one room to another as people needed them. There were other reasons why portability was important. Upper-class and aristocratic* families, especially in Rome, often had a house in the city and a villa in the countryside, and furniture was moved between the two. Thus, most household furnishings were small and lightweight.

* aristocratic referring to people of the highest social class

Furniture and other items in a Greek household usually served multiple functions. The average home during the classical* period included formal chairs with backs and armrests, benches for sitting or standing on, and beds made of wood, leather, and fibers. The Greeks reclined on couches during meals and ate from small, three-legged tables, which were stacked when not in use. Curtains covered doorways for privacy and for keeping out flies, and screens divided rooms into different areas. Rugs, tapestries*, blankets, and cushions were often beautifully woven of colored wool or linen. Rooms were lit with bronze or clay lamps that rested on tripods* or hung from wall brackets. Hinged chests and boxes, often with elegant bronze decorations, held the family’s clothing and other personal belongings. Greek kitchens had braziers* and cauldrons* for cooking. Bowls, plates, cups, and utensils were often made from ordinary clay, while some wealthy households had bronze, silver, or gold plates and utensils. Houses during the Hellenistic* period were larger than those of the classical era, and the interior furnishings were more luxurious. The wealthy sometimes indulged themselves by decorating their houses with marble sculptures and life-size portraits of themselves.

Roman townhouses and country villas were more lavishly decorated than the houses of the Greeks. Floors and walls were sometimes covered with marble, and wall paintings adorned the interior rooms. Floor mosaics added color to the surroundings. Dining rooms accommodated banquets,during which wealthy Romans displayed their furnishings to impress their guests. Less wealthy Romans who lived in the apartments in the cities tended to have simpler furnishings, although even middle-class apartments had floor mosaics and wall paintings. Bedrooms usually held two beds that were placed end to end. Oil lamps provided light, and the apartments were heated with braziers, which were a constant fire hazard.

* classical in Greek history, refers to the period of great political and cultural achievement from about 500 B.C. to 323 B.C.

* tapestry handwoven fabric, with pictures or designs, used to hang on walls or to cover furniture

* tripod three-legged stool

* brazier metal tray or pan for holding burning coals

* cauldron large kettle

* Hellenistic referring to the Greek-influenced culture of the Mediterranean world during the three centuries after Alexander the Great, who died in 323 B.C.

The furniture of the ancient Greeks and Romans was made from a wide variety of materials. The Greeks crafted fine furniture from ebony, while the Romans used citrus wood from North Africa. Cypress, cedar, and maple woods were also considered high-quality material. Cheaper furniture was made from oak and beech. Some furniture of the wealthy was inlaid* with ivory or decorated with other expensive materials, such as bronze, gold, and silver. (See also Food and Drink; Houses.)

* inlay to set metal, stones, or gems into a surface or ground material

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