“How can that be a villa,
if it has neither the furnishings of the city nor
the appurtenances of the country?”
(Varrón, Res rusticae, III, 2,9.)
Along the last two centuries of the Empire, roman aristocracy reached such a level of wealth and prosperity never seen before. This situation reveals specially in the luxury of the country residences, the villae. Although we can find this kind of buildings in Hispania since the 1st century AD, it is now when they develop into their real nature as farms and great residences of landowners.
Along the last two centuries of the Empire, roman aristocracy reached such a level of wealth and prosperity never seen before. This situation reveals specially in the luxury of the country residences, the villae. Although we can find this kind of buildings in Hispania since the 1st century AD, it is at this moment when they are developed into their real nature as farms and great residences of landowners.
The importance of villae lies in the fact that land was the base of roman economy and the essential point to sustain the social prestige and political power of its owner. Leisure and business (otium et negotium) were the two sides of the same coin. The countryside residence supports the economic status of its owner, providing at the same time a place for retirement and leisure away from the city, somewhere to cultivate his hobbies and social relationships.
There are not two villae alike, but all of them aspire to be erected in the best conditions, under a healthy environment, with plenty of water, an adequate location, and surrounded by fertile lands.
But it is in the residential area where the lord shows off his position. Luxury in the house is a competition indicator among aristocracy. Figurative and geometric mosaics, spaces porticoed with columns and capitals, collections of statues, paintings, curtains and carpets composing a scenography, marble, small furniture made with silver and ivory.
The number, wideness and decoration of the public and private rooms of the house must be up to the status and politic and social responsibilities of the aristocrat. Great landscaped courtyards, reception hall, bedrooms, private baths including thermal circuit, dining rooms for the banquet, offices and libraries, a whole world dedicated to self representation and ostentation built on the overwhelming difference between honestiores and humiliores, between rich and poor.
Nevertheless, the world of late Empire villae was in a deep cultural, religious, economic and politic transformation. And such a way of life could only die out. The villae changed their look and their purpose. Some of them were definitely abandoned but other ones met new dwellers, maybe the same inhabitants that previously worked the land for the lord that occupy the residential building with the only intention of subsistence. Eternal Rome had vanished, a new era was beginning.