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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Urban Byzantine House

The founding of Constantinople in 324 AD by Constantine I established official recognition of the economic supremacy of the East on the basis of economic and political criteria. Already in the 6th century, Constantinople was a universal economic centre, a position kept until the 12th century. The wealth accumulated in the Byzantine capital was incredible for its time. As a result, the display of wealth and power found its best expression in luxurious houses. Cities of the time as far as we know, display in general, the strict town-planning of the Roman tradition. The urban house had often two, three or even four stories. The recent discovery of an early Christian house in Thessaloniki, which according to the present data must have been inhabited from the 5th on to the 9th century, proves the above remark. A quite complicated legislation decided building regulations where formation of the facade and the relation to neighboring houses were concerned. The construction materials must have been cheap, that is stones, mud and wood, since almost everything in these buildings has perished by fire. The cheap urban buildings reflect the bad economic situation. About the facades of Byzantine houses, in years of prosperity special attention must have been paid to the facades of houses. The various construction methods and the marbles, colours and mosaics employed for the decoration of façades must have been pleasant to the eye. Judging from the plan of the Thessaloniki house, the Roman concept of space organisation was still prevalent in early Christian years. The courtyard surrounded by rooms and the garden were still in use. Later, however, the concentration of too many people in the cities made such expenditure of space a luxury. The “triclinum” was the main room of the house and it was used only by the males of the family. Around this core were arranged the other rooms of the house. Some of them were exclusively used by women, others, like the kitchen, the dining room, the water closet, served everyday needs Later, when the space of the Byzantine house shrank, the “triclinium” became the substitute for more of the above rooms and their functions.