In Roman architecture
Ancient Roman architecture adopted certain aspects of Ancient Greek architecture, creating a new architectural style. The Romans were indebted to their Etruscan neighbors and forefathers who supplied them with a wealth of knowledge essential for future architectural solutions, such as hydraulics...
, an insula (Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...
for "island," plural insulae) was a kind of apartment building that housed most of the urban citizen population of ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....
, including ordinary people of lower- or middle-class status (the plebs
The plebs was the general body of free land-owning Roman citizens in Ancient Rome. They were distinct from the higher order of the patricians. A member of the plebs was known as a plebeian...
) and all but the wealthiest from the upper-middle class (the equites). The traditional elite
During the Roman Republic, nobilis was a descriptive term of social rank, usually indicating that a member of the family had achieved the consulship. Those who belonged to the hereditary patrician families were noble, but plebeians whose ancestors were consuls were also considered nobiles...
and the very wealthy lived in domus
In ancient Rome, the domus was the type of house occupied by the upper classes and some wealthy freedmen during the Republican and Imperial eras. They could be found in almost all the major cities throughout the Roman territories...
, large single-family residences, but the two kinds of housing were intermingled in the city and not segregated into separate neighborhoods. The ground-level floor of the insula was used for tabernae
A taberna was a single room shop covered by a barrel vault within great indoor markets of ancient Rome. Each taberna had a window above it to let light into a wooden attic for storage and had a wide doorway....
, shops and businesses, with the living space upstairs. Like modern apartment buildings, an insula might have a name, usually referring to the owner of the building.
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...
notes that insulae, like domus, had running water and sanitation. But this kind of housing was sometimes constructed at minimal expense for speculative purposes, resulting in insulae of poor construction. They were built in timber, mud brick, and later primitive concrete, and were prone to fire and collapse, as described by Juvenal, whose satiric
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...
purpose in writing should be taken into account. Among his many business interests, Marcus Licinius Crassus
Marcus Licinius Crassus
Marcus Licinius Crassus was a Roman general and politician who commanded the right wing of Sulla's army at the Battle of the Colline Gate, suppressed the slave revolt led by Spartacus, provided political and financial support to Julius Caesar and entered into the political alliance known as the...
speculated in real estate and owned numerous insulae in the city. When one collapsed from poor construction, Cicero purportedly stated that Crassus was happy that he could charge higher rents for a new building than the collapsed one.
Living quarters were typically smallest in the building's uppermost floors, with the largest and most expensive apartments being located on the bottom floors. The insulae could be up to six or seven stories high, and despite height restrictions in the Imperial era
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....
, a few reached eight or nine stories high. The notably large Insula Felicles or Felicula was located near the Flaminian Circus in Regio IX; the early Christian writer Tertullian
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...
condemns the hubris of multiple-story buildings by comparing the Felicles to the towering homes of the gods. A single insula could accommodate over 40 people in only 3600 sq ft (334.5 m²); however, the entire structure usually had about 6 to 7 apartments, each had about 1000 sq ft
Because of safety issues and extra flights of stairs, the uppermost floors were the least desirable, and thus the cheapest to rent. Often those floors were without heating, running water or lavatories, which meant their occupants had to use Rome's extensive system of public restrooms (latrinae
A latrine is a communal facility containing one or more commonly many toilets which may be simple pit toilets or in the case of the United States Armed Forces any toilet including modern flush toilets...
). Despite prohibitions, residents would sometimes dump trash and human excrement out the windows and into the surrounding streets and alleys.
Regulation and administrationBecause of the dangers of fire, and collapse, the height of the insulae were restricted by Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...
to 70 Roman feet called the pes (20.7 m), and again by Emperor Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....
down to 60 Roman feet (17.75 m) after the Great Fire of Rome
Great Fire of Rome
The Great Fire of Rome was an urban fire that occurred beginning July 19, AD 64.-Background:According to Tacitus, the fire spread quickly and burned for six days. Only four of the fourteen districts of Rome escaped the fire; three districts were completely destroyed and the other seven suffered...
. According to the 4th-century regionaries, there were about 42,000–46,000 insulae in the city, as compared to about 1,790 domus in the late 3rd century. Data on the number of insulae and to a lesser extent domus are used for classical demography
Classical demography refers to the study of human demography in the Classical period. It often focuses on the absolute number of people who were alive in civilizations around the Mediterranean Sea between the Bronze Age and the Fall of the Roman Empire, but in recent decades historians have been...
. The city's population in the late 3rd century is thought to have fluctuated between 700,000–800,000, down from more than 1 million, based also on figures for the amount of grain to feed the population in Rome and surrounding areas.