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Ancient Homes & Houses

Ancient Empires

The area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, referred to as Mesopotamia ("between two rivers") by the ancient Greeks, was the site of the earliest known civilization. This became the Sumerian empire, and it was located in the region of present-day Iraq and Iran. Civilizations soon began to spring up in many different parts of the world, including Greece, China, India and Egypt. These civilizations were interrelated by trade, and ideas and skills were therefore passed between them. Later, agricultural communities in Mexico developed into the great civilizations of the Mayas followed by the Aztecs.

Ancient Homes & Houses

Archaeological exploration of ancient houses has provided a fascinating window into the daily lives of ancient peoples. Sifting carefully through the remains of bygone civilizations, often with only a teaspoon and a brush to remove the accumulated debris of later centuries, archaeologists have recreated the homes and lifestyles of the ancients.

Ancient House
Painted limestone
model of a house.

Ancient Mesopotamian Houses

The Sumerians were the first to build great cities in Mesopotamia. The upper classes such as priests and merchants lived in double-storey houses, while craftsmen and tradespeople generally built only a single storey. Ancient Sumerian homes were built from mud bricks dried in the sun, and were centered around a courtyard that provided light and air to the rooms while affording security and protection from the weather. Houses had a kitchen with fireplace and cooking utensils, bathrooms with drainage, a downstairs room for receiving guests, and upstairs bedrooms leading from a balcony that ran around the courtyard. Furniture was simple, including low stools and tables and a few storage chests. Beds were sometimes used but more often people slept on mats on the floor. There is evidence from ancient art that some Mesopotamian furniture was quite elaborate, with elegant upholstery, carved animal-like legs, and relief inlays.

Ancient Chinese Homes

The earliest homes in China were simple affairs made of baked bricks, but by 200BC the home of a Chinese nobleman would have colored glass windows, marble staircases and fireplaces. The earliest items of furniture were designed to provide comfort during the bitter winter months. Screens were used to keep out the wind, and the Kang - a hollow platform heated from underneath - was used for all types of household activities in winter. Cushions and rugs for sleeping would be placed on the Kang, and low tables, often intricately carved, were placed on it for serving meals. Stools provided places to sit, or to display works of art. Later, the Chinese were renowned for beautifully carved cabinets, chairs, dining tables and other items of furniture.

Ancient Aztec Homes

The Aztecs lived in thatched adobe houses. There were usually two single-roomed buildings - one was a living area, used for eating, sleeping and religious activities, while the other housed a steam bath. The homes of the rich were larger, but of similar design, and would contain works of art, statues and decorations. Furniture was not much used; most people slept on mats and stored their food and other goods in clay pots.

See subsections on ancient Egyptian homes, Greek homes, and Roman homes, including Diocletian's Palace, as well as suggestions for further reading.

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