Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Shaping Houses: integrating the physical and socio-cultural in the domestic architecture of Ancient Sicily

Roe, Sarah Elizabeth  
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In this thesis I explore how physical and socio-cultural factors interact to shape domestic architecture by analysing the form, layout, and construction of houses from Sicily dating from the Neolithic to the end of the Hellenistic period. This time range encompasses two primary domestic building traditions: single-spaced round houses that dominate from the Neolithic through to the end of the Late Bronze Age, and large, multiple-spaced rectilinear structures that characterise the Archaic period onwards. As such the domestic architecture of Sicily provides the opportunity to study not only two distinct ways of building, but also the dynamics within them and the changes that occurred as one evolved into the other during the Early Iron Age: a period of transition that is often studied in isolation or only in relation to the earlier or later context, rather than as an integral part of this island’s history.

A critical analysis of building techniques and materials in the context of available resources and their material properties alongside local environmental conditions reveals correlations between the choice of materials, construction techniques, and topographical and climatic conditions, as well as the form taken by the building as a whole. Comparative analyses were also carried out of house size, form, and degree of subdivision within and between the building traditions. The picture presented shows an increase in total size and subdivision (despite the relatively stable size range of individual spaces within the houses) from the Neolithic to the Hellenistic period and implies a developing desire for options to separate people and activities. Finally, close diagrammatic studies of the layout and spatial organisation of the houses bring to light the structuring of these domestic spaces: the use of architectural features and artefacts to provide a sense of division in single-spaced buildings; greater layers of access and control of movement incorporated into the larger, rectilinear houses with their multiple spaces; and the arrangement of these to allow for the lighting of interior rooms. Combined with the results above, these reveal patterns in the development of building traditions on Sicily and how they relate to, encompass, and entangle the dynamic socio-cultural and physical parameters that make up the wider landscapes they are a part of: notions of identity and its formation and transmission, social structure and stratification, topography and climate, and material structural properties. Altogether this allows for the development of a deeper and more holistic understanding of the relationship between building and living, of how physical and socio-cultural parameters integrate and influence the construction of houses, and how these all come together in the building traditions that are both shaped by us and shape us.

Robb, John
Spence, Kate
Domestic Architecture, Houses, Sicily, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Early Iron Age, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, Spatial Analysis, Building Tradition, Mediterranean Archaeology
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
AHRC Doctoral Studentship Award



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