A Question About roman Houses

I was looking at a book about the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. The houses of the rich people had an interesting figure…they had a large room (the atrium) which was open to the sky; in the middle was a small pool of water, maybe 4’ x 8’, perhaps 2-3’ deep. What was the function of this pool? As we all know, the Romans had an excellent water system (aqueducts and pipes that delivered fresh, potable water to public fountains and baths). So what was the function of the atrium pools? Such water would not be safe to drink, and may well have bred mosquitos. Did the Romans suffer from malaria? The atrium pools would have been quite a hazard.

ISTR they raised fish in them?

My understanding is that early on, the impluvium was indeed for drinking water (why wouldn’t it be safe? What, acid rain?) but that later in the Empire they were essentially decorative.

Were they standing water or flowing? If the latter, they would be as safe as the stream the water originally came from. Mosquitos only breed in standing water.

My personal suspicion is that it was there to catch the rain water, and to look pretty. Seriously.
If you look at those Roman House plans, you’ll notice that they lack something we take for granted – outside windows. The exterior of your typical well-to-do Pompeiian home was lined with shop kiosks, that the ownrer rented out to small businesses. This left no windows out into the strreet (which the owners arguably wouldn’t have wanted anyway – the windows would let in street odors and noises and destroy family privacy).

The problem is that you need openings for ventilation and light. So they had an opening in the roof for that purpose - a permanent skylight. The problem is that , when it rains, water comes in. So you build a trap for it in the floor. Now that you’ve got it there, you can pretty it up with a mosaic floor and maybe fish or something. Like my Chinese restaurant. Of course, you keep it clean, so it doesn’t turn into a Scum Vat. If you keep fish in it, they’ll eat mosquito larvae. (Or else you can pour il on it to suffocate larvae).
Pompeiian houses usually had a large garden with peristyle, as well, for light and ventilation and ambiance, but you want your front hall to be ventilated and lighted, too.

thanks, it sounds like the pool was ornamental. another question; the Romans had large pools in their baths, but did they use outdoor swimming pools as well?
I am quite sure that pools must have been common, as the aqueducts kept flowing-it made sense to catch the water in pools.

If you’re talking specifically about a Pompeiian domus, then the impluvium, located in the unroofed atrium, was designed to collect rainwater and convey it to an underground cistern. At the rear of the house, there may have been a peristylium, which was a garden surrounded by porticoes and often embellished by a fountain.

Source: Liberati & Bourbon, 2004. Ancient Rome: History of a Civilization That Ruled the World.

I think swimming in the Tiber River was for exercise. I don’t know of any pools used for swimming, just for bathing.

Swimming in the Tiber was reserved for the dead.

The Tiber collected - and washed away - the waste of Rome. The aqueducts would have ensured there was a steady flow of waste into the Tiber. Just like today, nobody would have gone for a swim in it - at least not in the city or downstream. If you wanted to “swim” you’d go to the Baths of Caracalla. Those baths had a natatio, a large swimming pool, in them. (I believe Caracalla’s baths were the first to have this, though the Baths of Diocletian may have had a similar feature.)

Also, responding to the OP and others, having a personal water line connected to the city’s water supply was expensive. Collecting water from the public fountains was free, and only the very rich paid for a private water supply. The rich minimized the need for a large water pipe connection to the Emperor’s water by building an atrium which collected and stored water.* These little pools [impluvium] would not have been sitting water either; they would generally have a small fountain in them, the fountain being fed by the external pipes. Therefore, the impluvium was the rich Roman’s water supply and the household’s water came from this pool or its attached cistern.

  • You paid for a private water supply not according to use, but according to the size of your pipe connection to the castellum. The castellum was the large holding pool in the city where the aqueduct’s water flowed into; the larger your pipe connection to this source, the higher the price. The vast majority of Roman’s could not afford ANY connection and instead collected water freely from the public fountains which dotted most Roman cities of renown.

The Getty Villa in Malibu is modeled after Villa dei Papiri, a 1st-century Roman villa outside Pompeii that was buried under volcanic ash. I think they have some of the actual artifacts from the original villa, including 6 or so bronze statues.

It has an atrium and pool exactly as you described. When it rains a substantial amount, the rain pours through a series of lions head down spots on inner edge of the hole in the ceiling. The museum is quite stunning and I’d recommend it to any one passing through L.A. with a day to kill. It’s free, except you have to pay for parking.

I just realized this thread could have been about Baba Yaga.

Bwahahaha. That took me a second.