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Humanities Roman Villas And Leisure Add in library

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Discuss on roman villas and the leisure of the romans?



The study of recreation and leisure in the modern society originates from the contemporary views of leisure and the different cultural customs and practices that are related to leisure. In this regard the Roman Villa and the different ways in which they spent their leisure times are evaluated with examples and evidences. In must be noted that there are certain drawback in studying the historical facts as the sources may not be reliable for establishing the objective assessment of the evidence. It is difficult to ensure the validity and the accuracy of the information obtained (McKay and Smith, 2000 [1998]).

Most of the Romans efficiently worked hard for survival but they also utilized time for leisure by taking off from their works. In those days the Romans participated in chariot races or in gladiatorial competition or visited the public bath. In some other days of off they participated in religious festivals and rituals. Leisure that the Romans were interested was fishing and they used to spend hours near a riverbank with the fishhook and the dangling rod. The young Romans had the fascination to stay fit in the case if they had to serve the country. In this regard an open field called palaestra was where the young Romans used to jump, run, throw weights and wrestled. Reading books occupied the leisure of the Romans (Marzano, 2007, pp. 15-41). The libraries in Rome were either set up by the state or constructed by some of the wealthy Romans but everyone was allowed to read books within the premises and were not allowed to borrow books. Another way to spend the leisure time that the Romans utilized was gambling. It was a popular game which was played with dices but there is a negative impact on the lives of the Romans as there is a tendency to loss all possessions in the gambling matches (Myers, 2005)..

Archaeologists described villa to be a farm but the Roman culture has diverted from the meaning of farm as it was constructed by the educated and prosperous members of the Roman society. The main aim of the Roman Villa was to experience a luxurious life in order to de-stress from the distressed life. The individuals generally derive leisure from the location of the villa as well as the design and decoration of the interior and exterior of the villa. The villa supported the aspirations of the individuals regarding their full utilization of the leisure. The leisure spent by the Romans were influenced from philosophies that can be explained by the interpretation of a famous philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) who argued that the leisure is the main objective of humans. The main focus of this theory was that the goal of the humans is to achieve happiness, contentment and well being which is described by the Greeks as eudemonia. Aristotle further elaborated the notion by associating the concept of “leisure well spent” with the attainment of well being and happiness (Spencer, 2010, pp. 112 ). In this way the Romans emphasized on the relevance of leisure which not only deals in the well being of the health but also on the expansion of the mind. This was not true for the poorer sections of the Roman society as they were deprived of the leisure. It was only the wealthy and the affluent sections of the Roman society who could afford to indulge in the leisurely pursuits. This can be explained through the example of the leisure of the Romans during the gladiatorial competition or games in the Coliseum. It was the lower classes and most importantly the women that had their seats at the far end of the area whereas the affluent Romans like the senators and the generals who had their seats situated near the emperor. This proved the higher status of the Romans which is a symbol to show that they are educated, wealthy and have a fetish for Villa (O’Sullivan, 2006).

It is evident from the theory of Epicurus (341-270 BCE) which states that the leisure is a means to an end and the process to smooth the coarse and stressful life in the form of a pleasurable experience of body and mind by releasing pain and anxiety from life. Both the theories of Aristotle and Epicurus are similar with respect to the theory of the lives of the humans but differed in the ideologies of leisure (Milner, 2011 [1937]). . Epicurus was of the view that anyone could take pleasure in leisure. An example of the Epicurean theory is established using the Roman Villa of the Papyri situated at Herculaneum. This Roman Villa was characterized as a place of intellectual leisure which aims to expand and nurture the minds of the humans. The design of the villa had considered and honored the teachings of Epicurus with the construction of library along with house texts of the philosophies of Epicurus. Within the palatial building, there was a bronze portrait of Epicurus himself which highlighted the tastes and preferences of the owners that would intrigue the visitors (Armiero, 2011).

The humans who followed the teachings and the principles of Aristotle and Epicurus philosophical theories created villas throughout the countries. This can be again be explained through an example of the reconstruction of the Villa Sperlonga that was an example of the way individuals embraced the natural surroundings that enhanced the leisurely qualities of the villas. The design of the villas is such that the visitors are able to acquire experiences of theatrical learning and it also honored God and the classical heritage of the building. The relaxing environment is ensured during the diner and social gatherings where the humans participate in intellectual reflection on several issues which is treated to be a form of leisure. There was also a provision of visual pleasure through the grotto in the cliffs where visuals of the mythological stories were displayed by setting scenes for multi figured statues  Roymans and Derks, 2011).


The main relevance that is derived from the Roman villa is from its location which is considered to be the shelter from the hassles of the city life. One of the great writers was instilled with the comparison between the city life and the country life that is required for the humans. The poet Horace (65 BCE-4CE) had mentioned in his Horace’s Sabine Farm: retreating from town which states that “In Rome, you waken me to advocate: get your arse in gear or someone will take your place”. This example highlights the issues where the city life is considered to be ruthless and imposes a lot of pressure on the lives of the people. The poet made contradiction by reminiscing about the farm life where he dreams of retreating to the farm where he can read stories, drink away his worries (Council, 2011). This also posed as an example to the relevance of the leisure for the high class of the Roman culture. This notion coincides with the theory of Epicurus which describes the fact that all human beings want to drive away the pain and anxiety from their lives.

An example can help to better understand the virtues of the leisure within the Roman Villas. A young Roman named Pliny was a lawyer who designed his Roman Villa at Laurentum in order to extract the best possible leisure time. He focused on the minute details of each of the rooms and mentioned in his account that he derives pride, full of enjoyment and pleasure in living in the villa. The dining room is sea facing which was wonderful for him to spend time at the room where the bright sunlight reflected from the sea. He designed the rooms in such a way that he can peacefully read and manage his study all the year round. Also his courtyard is protected by strong windows to withstand the bad weather. The sound and soothing environment in this villa enable him to indulge in his intellectual leisure quest. The design of his villa is such that he can relax in his villa and reenergize so that his mind and health are enhanced in accordance with his profession. Thus, he states that the seclusion is of profound peace to him (Jolivet, 2013).

Another special feature of the Roman Villa that enhanced the leisure of the Romans was the paintings that augmented the natural beauty of the villas especially for those close to the coast. One of the examples was the three paintings from Sabiae which was a town near the coast at Naples. These paintings were initially criticized on the grounds of being sacro-idyllic which portrayed the ideas of the interiors and exteriors of the villas but on the other hand it also idealized porticoes in the form of figures that were seen to socialize and take their leisure by the sea inhaling the fresh air (McLean and Hurd, 2011, pp. 24-78). . Thus, these paintings is in compliance with the theory of Epicurus which highlights the stress free life with the positive experiences that affect and enhance the health of the mind, body and soul.

The different designed mosaics enhanced the beauty of the Roman villas. The Roman villa at the Morton at Branding is an example to the mosaic as a Roman design in the villa. Although some believe this to be an example of the Romano-British mosaic design yet it is inevitable to agree to the notion that these mosaic can enhance the leisure time of the owner. The enhancement of the villa design is ensured by the mosaic in an intelligent manner which highlighted an area within the villa that was previously of low importance. Another example can be established through the Plan of Room Twelve at Branding that illustrates the mythological stories with the Medusa as the centre piece and a gladiator with a weapon ready to strike (Spracklen, 2011). This enhanced the interiors of the room. The taste for the music by the owners can be delivered through the half figures that played horns or figures that were played stringed instrument encircled by animals and birds. These unique designs of the mosaics would convey the interest and leisure chase of the owner as well as the use of the arts and designs in the villa have the ability to create a pleasant environment to live in the villa.

It can be concluded that there still remains a scope for understanding the importance of the design of the Roman villa which in turn will depict the interest of the Romans. Many occupants of the Roman villas have expressed through their writings about the relevance of the surroundings but it is only evident to the wealthy and affluent Romans that design the Roman villas lavishly which depicts the interest and leisure pursuits of the owners. In short the design, decorations and the layout of the Roman villas actually talk about the owners and their tastes and preferences towards leisure  (Russell, 2013). It is evident from the fact that if the Roman villas have text houses or libraries, then it can be said that the owner uses his leisure time in reading books. The main aim of the construction of the Roman Villas was to escape from the stressful environment of one location and settle in seclusion where the humans can indulge in their interests and leisure. Roman had the desire to gamble and they considered it to be a game of dice. Some of the lavishly built Roman villas also had separate room designed for the gambling matches to take place (Clarke and Smith, 2000). This again portrayed the leisure of the Roman who gambled in his leisure time. The excavation of the Romans throws light on the design and the architectural pattern of the Villas. There are other sources of information about the Roman villas that can be derived from the literature and art (Firnigl, 2013). It can be said that there are two aspects for the owners of the Roman villas. The first is the source of enjoyment derived from the natural surroundings of the Villa and the second is the classical learning and mythology which was seen to be consistent with the design of the Roman Villas that aimed to explore the arenas of leisure (Bruntun, 2015, pp. 10-19).



Armiero, M. (2011). Enclosing the Sea Remaking Work and Leisure Spaces on the Naples Waterfront, 1870–1900. Radical History Review, 2011(109), 13-35.

Bruntun, D. (2015,). Place and Leisure. Malta: Gutenberg Press Limited, AA100 Book, pp. 10-19. Chapter 3.

Clarke, J. and Smith, J. (2000). Roman Villas: A Study in Social Structure.American Journal of Archaeology, 104(1), p.150.

Council, B. C. (2011). Kings Weston Roman Villa. Work, 117(922), 3571.

Firnigl, A. (2013). The settling factors of Roman villas in southern Lusitania.Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Agriculture and Environment, 5(1).

Jolivet, V. (2013). Villas? Romaines? Républicaines?. JEFFREY A. BECKER and NICOLA TERRENATO (edd.), ROMAN REPUBLICAN VILLAS: ARCHITECTURE, CONTEXT, AND IDEOLOGY (Papers and Monographs of the American Academy in Rome, vol. XXXII; University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2012). Pp. iv + 146, figs. ISBN 978-0-472-11770-3. Journal of Roman Archaeology, 26, pp.482-487.

Marzano, A. (2007). Roman villas in central Italy: a social and economic history. Brill. pp. 15-41.

McKay, A. and Smith, J. (2000 [1998]). Roman Villas: A Study in Social Structure. The Classical World, 93(3), p.296. [1998]

McLean, D., and Hurd, A. (2011). Kraus' recreation and leisure in modern society. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. pp. 24-78

Milner, M. (2011 [1937]). An experiment in leisure. Taylor & Francis.

Myers, K. S. (2005). Docta otia: garden ownership and configurations of leisure in Statius and Pliny the Younger. Arethusa, 38(1), 103-129.

O’Sullivan, T. M. (2006). The Mind in Motion: Walking and Metaphorical Travel in the Roman Villa*. Classical Philology, 101(2), 133-152.

Roymans, N. G. A. M., and Derks, T. (2011). Studying Roman villa landscapes in the 21st century: a multi-dimensional approach. In Villa Landscapes in the Roman North (pp. 1-44). Amsterdam University Press.

Russell, R. V. (2013). Pastimes. Urbana, 51, 61801.

Spencer, D. (2010). Roman landscape: culture and identity (No. 39). Cambridge University Press. pp. 112

Spracklen, K. (2011). Constructing leisure: Historical and philosophical debates.


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