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The Definition of Public Space in Republican Rome


This dissertation uses a combination of literary and archeological evidence to ask how Romans understood and defined public space in Rome during the Republic. The definition of concepts of `public' and `private' in Roman culture differed from that current in modern Western discourse, but just like modern definitions, it was ambiguous and manipulable. Taking public space as a starting-point offers new insights into the Roman concepts, and a behavioural approach, aided by insights from space syntax theory, allows for a partial reconstruction of the diversity of spatial experience in the city. Traditionally, lack of behavioural control has been associated with private space, but for the majority of the population, who were not householders, it was public spaces which were characterised by greater freedom of access and behaviour. Public space was not a monolith, but offered a variety of spatial experiences and was experienced differently by different groups. Moreover, just as the space of the Roman elite house was more `public' than we might naively suspect, public space in the city of Rome was determined by and thoroughly saturated by the private. The Republican Forum Romanum incorporated domestic and commercial space as well as political space, which itself was never neutrally `public' but always contested. The grand victory porticoes of the Campus Martius mark out sacred space but also space associated with an individual general, and their architecture and decoration increasingly mark them as semi-private, until eventually Pompey's theatre-portico complex incorporates not only a curia but also his own house. We see attempts to exploit the ambiguities of existing discourses of public and private, creating spaces like victory complexes and basilicas. Although Latin uses publicus and privatus as a natural and exclusive pair, the terms were in fact contested even in ancient times, and very little space in Rome was entirely public or entirely private.

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