The earliest remains of buildings have been found around the Palatine hill and date as far back as the 10th century BC, several hundred years before the mythical founding of Rome (753BC) by Romulus. At this time we know that the geography of Rome‘s area was very much one of hills, valleys and marshes. The first Roman houses were therefore built on the top of the hills. The Roman Forum was a sort of meeting area between one hill and another.
Early homes at the time of the seven kings of Rome were similar to those of their ancient Etruscan neighbours: structures made of wood and mud with straw roofs. A hole in the roof would allow fire smoke to escape. More important buildings would employ more complex construction methods and have more durable (and labour intensive) building materials such as stone blocks for the foundations and terracotta for the roof tiling.
As the fortunes of Rome progressed so too did the use of materials and the employment of Roman architectural knowledge. Several of the first kings of Rome were actually Etruscans (many Etruscans came to live in Rome) and with them they brought important technological and engineering know-how. Summing fortune, a strong practical sense and this background understanding of structures soon brought the richer Romans to build increasingly elaborate and sumptuous villas.
Great insights into the construction, architecture and appearance of the Roman villas has been gained from the discoveries on sites such as at Ostia and Pompeii. Ancient Pompeii has in fact enabled not only an insight into what roman houses might look like at the period of the eruption (first century AD) but also how these homes and villas developed through time: digging under them into the foundations or even looking behind walls enables archeologists to gain insights into previous forms which those buildings had. This is particularly evident in Pompeii where it is increasingly evidend how the Roman influence was merged and overlaid with the original Samnite architecture of the city.
– More details, imaged and plans of ancient roman homes