Roman sleep - Sleeping areas and sleeping arrangements in the Roman house

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Roman sleep - Sleeping areas and sleeping arrangements in the Roman house

Publications and data pertaining to my research project
Laura Nissin: Roman sleep – Sleeping areas and sleeping arrangements in the Roman house

(University of Helsinki, 2016)

The main themes of this study are the sleeping areas and the sleeping arrangements in the ancient Roman house (domus). Sleeping is fundamentally important to the well-being of humans. In order to solve the sleep related problems, it is crucial to understand how sleeping is arranged in different societies past and present. According to the premises for sociological sleep studies, especially outlined by Simon Williams, ”how we sleep, when we sleep, where we sleep, what meanings we attribute to sleep, who we sleep with, are all important socially, culturally and historically variable matters” . In this work, I have pursued a new, cross-disciplinary approach to the social aspects of ancient Roman sleeping culture by applying these premises and asking the research questions, how, when, where and with whom Romans slept, and which factors determined these arrangements, drawing on the evidence from Latin literature and Roman archaeology. Written sources consist of Latin texts which mention sleeping and resting. Texts were chosen by using reference books and electronic databases and studied with source critical text analysis. Archaeological material was collected from private dwellings of Herculaneum, where evidence of beds has survived. The data concerning the material culture and architectonic elements of Herculaneum was gathered mainly from the excavation reports. In addition, I documented the houses during two short fieldwork periods. The data was studied by using the methods of buildings archaeology and artifact studies. The analysis of data was influenced by the theories on the use of domestic space and on the theories of privacy. The main factors influencing the sleeping arrangements in Roman society included the social status, climate, urban culture, need for control, moralistic outlook as well as ritualistic behaviour. Roman households had routine-based nightly activities and very likely also permanent sleeping spaces. However, the locations of sleeping areas could have changed according to season. The wealthiest Romans appreciated the peaceful bedchambers and cubiculum was this separate, even private bedroom of the (elite) domus. Roman sleeping culture was biphasic, consisting of two main divisions: the midday rest and one period of sleep at night The settings for sleeping among upper class Romans were more solitary than social and group sleeping among the members of the elite nuclear family in the houses was not typical. Slaves on duty slept outside the owner s bedroom rather than inside and, in general, slaves had few possibilities to influence their sleeping arrangements. Children were taken into consideration in all areas of life including sleeping arrangements. Night-time and darkness influenced the Roman space use as well; even the Roman night was dark and full of terrors and sleeping had many negative connotations. However, in spite of the negative outlook on sleeping and night, even the positive aspects of resting were admitted, sleep deprivation was understood to be harmful and problems of sleeping were actively remedied.

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December 8, 2019
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