A typical upper- and probably also middle-class Roman house in the classical age contained a peristylium or peristylum, or so I was told. I wonder why they used a Greek word for such a standard Roman architectural feature. Did they also have a Latin term for it? Or was the feature adopted from Greek architecture?

Bonus question: if the construction was borrowed from the Greeks, when did this happen, and what did Roman houses look like before?

Origin of picture: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a3/Brogi%2C_Carlo_%281850-1925%29_-_Pompei_-_Domus_Vettiorum_-_Veduta_del_peristilio_-_n._9711_-_ca._1896.jpg


1 Answer 1


"The early Italian house consisted only of the atrium and the surrounding rooms, with, in most cases, a small garden at the back.... Out of the small plot at the back of the early house developed the peristylium, a garden surrounded by colonnades on to which rooms opened on all sides,... The peristylium, both in general appearance and in name, reproduced the men's room of a Greek house. Whilst the names of the front rooms of a Roman house are Italian (sic) (atrium,fauces, alae, tablinum) those of the back are Greek (peristylium, triclinium, oecus, exhedra)"

Rome: It's people, life and customs, Ugo Enrico Paoli, 1940, trans. R. D. Macnaghten, English version 1958.

Comment and link incorporated as suggested by @Cerberus

This link discusses the House of the Surgeon and the architectural development mentioned :-


L&S give this as the derivation of peristylium :-

peristylium The Greek adjective περίστυλος is applied either to a court surrounded by colonnades on the inside, or to a building surrounded by them on the outside, as a temple. It is then used alone, in all three genders, with a substantive understood, for a court with colonnades: hence the Latin peristylum, or more commonly the substantive form peristylium. It is especially used for the courts of a Greek dwellinghouse, and for that introduced into Roman houses in imitation of them.

  • That's interesting. So do you think the Romans adopted their peristylia entirely from the Greeks and that structure and name arrived together?
    – Cerberus
    Sep 8, 2016 at 1:48
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    OK I'll keep that theory in mind. Some magnificent mosaics in that house, incidentally!
    – Cerberus
    Sep 8, 2016 at 2:01
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    Hah, how common! sniffs
    – Cerberus
    Sep 8, 2016 at 2:15
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    Good addition! It does suggest that it was only introduced by the Greeks and it did not have a name in Latin before (nor after). I do wonder whether the Romans used some other kind of colonnade in their houses, before the adoption of the Greek peristylum?
    – Cerberus
    Sep 16, 2016 at 1:27
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    @Cerberus It appears not, the various "orders" were borrowed (and adapted) by the Romans from the Greeks. AFAIK, the iconic Roman structure is the arch, resting on a fairly basic (non-columnar) pier. PS thanks for tidying up my answer! See en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_order
    – TheHonRose
    Sep 16, 2016 at 3:06

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