chapter  6
15 Pages


The doorway of a house had an important role in describing the resident’s status and what was inside the house. This role was enshrined around the god Janus, associated with the beginning of events (Ovid, Fasti 2.51; Cic., Nat. Deor. 2.67). The doorway was thought to mark the division between two types of air, one inside the house and the other outside in the street (Lucr. 4.29). Also the door marked the division between private and public space, and could be guarded by a porter (Ovid, Fasti 1.135; see Wallace-Hadrill 1988 on the levels of privacy in the Roman house). The doorway was the entrance into the house not only for people, but also for curses and diseases (Plin., N.H. 32.44, 28.86). A door could also shut in rumour (Catull. 67) and was seen to protect the virtue of women from strangers’ attention (Apul., Met. 9.5; Hor., Carm. 1.25). The doorways of the famous could re ect their glory. These doorways would have been decorated to emphasise a person’s achievements. For example, Augustus’ door posts were wreathed with bay leaves (R.G. 34; Juv. 12.80-102; Petron. 28-9), and the consuls of 509 bc were permitted to have their doors opening into the street (Plin., N.H. 36.112). It would appear that in Rome it was normal to keep the main doors of houses open during the day, with a porter to control access to the house (Liv. 5.13. 6-7, 6.25.9; Plaut., Asin. 273; Wallace-Hadrill 1988: 46). However, it is uncertain whether this was universal. It seems more likely that only the wealthy could afford the luxury of leaving their doors open. For others the door provided protection against burglars (Apul., Met. 1.11, 3.5). The ability to leave the door open allowed for the display of the status of the occupier. The onlooker in the street would have been presented with a visual narrative through the house, which would have provided information about the occupier’s status (Watts 1987: 187). However, in times of crisis, even the wealthiest had to bolt their doors against attack (Cic., Vat. 22: Bibulus was driven from public spaces into the privacy of his house; cf. Cic., Mil. 18 for Pompey, or Cic., Verr. 2.69: Verres when governor in Sicily was besieged in a house; see Cic., Cat. 28 for Cicero; see also Tac., Hist. 1.33). The houses of the elite also had a side door that was not as strongly defended. During the looting of Cremona in ad 69, the Vitellian soldiers were particularly success-

ful, because they knew where the side doors of the houses of the elite were (Dio 64.15). This suggests that the side entrances to houses were not easily identi ed. Equally, those doorways associated with shops or other retail outlets would have punctuated a person’s journey through a street. Thus, the doorway was a noticeable feature of the Roman street. Also, the doorway marks the meeting point of space and the built environment, and the interface between public and private.