As with temples, view and visibility were just two of many considerations for the placement and layout of ancient Roman houses. Some modern scholars have pointed out how highly prized a good view could be for the owners of ancient Roman domus (e.g. Purcell 1996, 135; Owens 1996, 18; Stambaugh 1988, 215). The builders of the House of the Stags and the House of the Mosaic Atrium at Herculaneum, as well as of the Villa of the Mysteries just outside the gates of Pompeii seem clearly to have exploited the sites on which they were built to maximise the view of the Bay of Naples afforded by the location. The view from a building within a city was so important that landowners even had a legal right to protect 'good' views from their houses, although what constituted a 'good' view was never legally defined (Rodger 1972, 124-34).
What is even more interesting, however, is that visibility could play a role in the location of a private house. A politician such as Cicero understood the power a highly visible domus could have and purposely located his houses in order to maximise their visibility (Cic. Att. 12.19; id. Nat. D. 2.141; id. Dom. 100 and 116). Indeed, the ideological power of a home visible from a great distance was so great that it had to be handled with care. Plutarch and Livy relate the story of Publicola who was building a house on the Velia hill, the former location of the house of one of Rome's early kings, Tullus Hostilius. Publicola's house was visible from the Roman Forum and his contemporaries interpreted this visibility, as well as the historical associations with a king, as a bid for regal power. He had to transfer all the building materials to the most inconspicuous and least visible spot he could find in the city in order to convince his contemporaries that his political aspirations were more humble (Plut. Vit. Pub. 10.2; Livy 2.7.9-12).
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Last updated: Thu Jun 12 2003