• jpkenwood

The Home Office: Roman Tablinum

Yes, I finally have one of my own. The walls of the tiny bedroom that once belonged to my sprouts is now mine; the walls are painted, the floors cleaned, the new light fixture hung. The gorgeous posh rug I bought doesn’t fit (too big) and the furniture hasn’t arrived yet, but I have one.

I have a tablinum. Well, not really a tablinum.

The home office is a very old idea. A very male idea. Every Roman man who enjoyed some level of status, wealth, and client dependents had a tablinum in his home. But it was not a place to hide away, read the latest scroll best-sellers and write adventure novels. If he had time for those civilized activities, he’d have and use his private library (bibliotheca). One had to be quite wealthy to have a personal library in the home. And the leisure time to enjoy it.

No, the home office was a public place, a place to be seen, sitting in one’s chair reviewing the ledgers and counting up the household profits and expenditures. Usually the tablinum was adjacent to the atrium, the assembly hall at the front of a Roman home. Since the doors to a Roman house were left open during many hours of the day, passers-by strolling down the street could (and were expected to) look in, see the well-appointed spacious atrium and then, behind it, the master’s tablinum.


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And there in the tablinum, the dominus of the family would sit in his chair, back lit by the light of the next space, the internal garden or peristylium. With the right lighting, he must have appeared divine. The tablinum had no doors and was often elevated, accessed by a step or two.

The tablinum was a stage.

The dominus was the performer, acting his role as a responsible citizen for public consumption and approval. Here he would display some of his costliest artwork and the portraits of his illustrious ancestors. Here he would hear the requests of his clients and dole out rewards for loyalty. Here he would act as a good Roman man was expected to act: noble, generous, virtuous and solicitous.

I don’t have clients or costly artwork or illustrious ancestors. I have a door that I can close to hide away and write. So no, I don’t have a tablinum.

But I do have a home office.

At least, until one of the sprouts moves back in.

#RomanFactoidsandResearch

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