You may wish to read a page on the town first.
House of the Ceii
Ancient temples, theatres, triumphal arches, colonnaded streets can be seen at many archaeological sites, but only Pompeii retains such a large number of "ordinary" houses which have not been destroyed/modified, because they were covered by the ashes of the 79 AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.
The houses shown in this page were called domus in Latin (hence domestic and domicile) and only the wealthiest citizens could afford living there. The other inhabitants of the town lived in the rear of their shops/taverns or in a few rooms around a small courtyard.
The domus were designed according to a very similar pattern. Apart from the entrance door there were no other openings on the street. It was a matter of privacy/security; rooms received light from one or two open courtyards inside the building.
The overall shape of a domus was rectangular with two open areas:
a) the tablinum (close to the entrance) where rainwater was collected in a basin (impluvium) and stored in an underground cistern. This practice lasted until the construction of an aqueduct at the time of Emperor Augustus. The basins then became part of the decoration of the tablinum, the public part of the house where the landlord received his friends.
b) the peristylum, the private part of the house, consisting of a large courtyard around which the cubicula (small bedrooms), the kitchen and other facilities were located. Curtains separated the tablinum from the peristylum.
In many houses mosaics depicting a dog or Cave canem inscriptions (beware of the dog) were a warning sign for potential burglars.
House of Triptolemus (named after a fresco depicting Triptolemus
destroyed by a 1943 bombing): (left) tablinum and peristylum; (right) fragment of a mosaic
In many cases archaeologists found painted or carved inscriptions indicating the landlords and the houses were named after them. In other cases they were named after a detail of a mosaic or a fresco or a statue (which may no longer be there because it was moved to a museum or destroyed by WWII bombing). Finally other houses were named after an important personage who visited them (e.g. House of the Grand Duke of Tuscany). Some of them have two or three names, but all are identified by a code indicating the neighbourhood (Regio), the block (Insula) and a number. House of Triptolemus (or House of the Cissonii or House of L. Calpurnius Diogenes) is VII.7.7.
House of Menander (named after a painting portraying the Greek dramatist shown in another page)
Pompeii was covered by a layer of 6m/19ft of ashes. Its first excavators were not interested in ancient walls void of decorations so they very often demolished some small rooms placed on the upper floor around the peristylum. In the XXth century excavations were carried out more carefully. The House of Menander was unearthed in 1928-34 and a large room on the upper floor was preserved.
(left) House of M. Epidius Rufus; (right) House of Casca Longus
Definitely M. Epidius Rufus wanted to impress his guests when he placed sixteen high columns in his tablinum. In September 1943 its centre was hit by a bomb which demolished all the columns. By saving every little snippet, the columns were reconstructed, but it was only possible to restore a fraction of the entrance from the street. The display of wealth in so many houses of Pompeii, was not unique to this town, which was not particularly important in any sense. You may wish to see a section on Roman towns in today's Tunisia showing how even small provincial locations had baths, theatres and houses decorated with extraordinary mosaics.
House of L. Caecilius Iucundus: (left) tablinum; (right) walls painted in yellow ochre
Had this house been excavated in the XVIIIth century most likely the 150 wax tablets containing accounting records of the landlord would have been lost, but in 1875 archaeologists were already interested in finding out all aspects of daily life at Pompeii and not only those having an artistic content. The landlord, who died in an earthquake which struck the town in 62 AD, acted as middleman at auctions. He bought or sold on behalf of his customers and he received a commission for his services.
House of the Golden Cupids (its paintings are shown in another page): peristylum
In the early days the ground of the peristylum was used as a kitchen garden. In a second phase these areas became small gardens adding to the beauty of the building, but some of them had trees providing figs, lemons, apples and cherries to the family.
Mosaics at the House of the Golden Cupids (above/below-left) and at the House of Triptolemus (below-right)
Black and white mosaics were very much in fashion in Rome (you may wish to see those at Villa di Livia). The geometric ones were best suited for parts of the house where people moved about. Those portraying a scene were usually placed in the triclinia, the dining rooms. The couches of the landlord and of his most distinguished guests were placed in such a way that they saw the scene from the perfect perspective. The other guests had to content themselves with the meal they were offered.
Archaeological Museum of Naples: (left) detail of a column from the House of the Mosaic Columns; (right) wall panel at "Insula Occidentalis"
In a limited number of cases, walls (and in one instance columns) of houses were decorated with coloured glass-paste mosaics.
House of the Faun: northern peristylum
Not all the landlords were able to rebuild/restore their homes after the 62 earthquake. The landlord of the House of the Faun bought that of his neighbour and turned it into a very large peristylum having the size of a palaestra (a place for wrestling/exercising), rather than that of a private garden.
Archaeological Museum of Naples: (left) bronze statue of a faun after which the house is named; (right) marble leg of a table
The house had a very rich decoration which led to devoting a section of the Archaeological Museum of Naples to its works of art.
Archaeological Museum of Naples: mosaic depicting a battle between Alexander the Great and King Darius III of Persia; (insets) Alexander the Great and a Persian warrior
The house had a floor mosaic which is regarded as a masterpiece of ancient art and one of the most famous portraits of Alexander the Great. It is believed to be a copy of a lost painting.
Archaeological Museum of Naples: mosaics from the House of the Faun
That of the battle is not only fine mosaic found in the house.
Archaeological Museum of Naples: mosaics from the House of the Faun
The image used as background for this page shows a stucco laurel wreath placed above the entrance of a house near Terme Stabiane (which are shown in another page).