chapter  3
HOUSES
Pages 1

Our investigation of the spatiality of the Romano-Egyptian city starts at the level of the house. Houses have a special place in many cultures and the study of housing frequently captures imaginations, offering, it seems, an insight into how individuals conduct their lives in other societies. As we saw in the last chapter, Bachelard (1994) turned the house into a cosmological image, a representation of the divine order, refracted through history and experience. His lead has been taken by others (Knights 1994; see pp. 15-21), though normally in less florid terms. Living in houses is, of course, an almost universal facet of humanity; even nomadic groups have settlements and individuals adopt specific shelters within those settlements and such structures are, broadly, recognizable cross-culturally as ‘houses’, structures which I argued in the last chapter were primary containers of culture (see pp. 33-4). Many houses would seem to operate both as a generative factor in constructing social ideologies and as a construct of those ideologies and thus reflect both the similarities and strangeness of other cultures, their very familiarity perhaps making us more sensitive to cultural variance. Thus, I think, we may be more comfortable in understanding and unfolding the implications of their familiar and unfamiliar elements and both more sensitive to the nuances of different spatial arrangements and somewhat surer in our interpretation than we might be if starting with the broader spaces of the city, or the region, or the province. The house is a starting point for those we study. It is a home: the most intimate of spatial forms and where humans begin to learn about the society and culture into which they have been born. For us, so often the home is the base for the rest of our lives, which we leave to compete in the world and to which we return for security. It forms the solid base around which our lives are constructed. Of course, this is my cultural prejudice and there is no guarantee that RomanoEgyptians shared my perception and emphasis on the home. Nevertheless, the possibility of the centrality of the home to the social formation of the individual and to his or her education (‘education’ in its broadest sense) means that starting with the smallest spatial unit in the city seems appropriate.