A four room house, also known as an "Israelite house" or a "pillared house" is the name given to the mud and stone houses characteristic of the Iron Age of Levant. Although sometimes considered particularly Israelite, they are also found in non-Israelite sites. (A. Mazar, 1985a: 67–68; Finkelstein, 1988: 237–59)." Their origins are uncertain. The house's inhabitants lived on the second floor, the ground floor being used as a stable for livestock, and for storage. The four room house is so named because its floor plan, divided into four sections; it is also sometimes called a pillared house because three ground-level "rooms" are separated by two rows of wood pillars holding up the second floor. The pillars, however, are not the defining feature of the four roomed house, and this error of terminology leads to the confusion of four roomed houses with other buildings such as storehouses and stables, where pillars were widely used, but which were not constructed under the four room house layout.
There were multiple variations on the basic four room house, such as where the rooms were divided into smaller areas, as well as five, three, and two room models. Acknowledging these sub-types of the four room house, the popularity of the structure started at the beginning of Iron Age I (end of the eleventh century BC) and dominated the architecture of Israel through Iron Age II until the Babylonian Exile. After the destruction of Judah (of the seventh and sixth centuries BC) the architecture type was no longer utilized.
There have been multiple theories on why the four room house construction was so popular. Architectural analysis can be made of the residential units by the way they are grouped, the relationship between structures, their size, internal divisions, and the size and structure of the families that inhabited them. Various points can be made about the four room house pertaining to the culture of their inhabitants. Disparity in house sizes and build quality within towns seem to be a result of socio-economic stratification within cities. Four roomed houses are found in isolation or built in clusters of grouped units. It can be observed that smaller urban houses, that shared walls between, them were most likely inhabited by nuclear families, while the larger stand-alone houses belonged to extended and wealthy families such as the urban elite. Through the analysis of space syntax within the four room house, it can be said that the four room house reflects an egalitarian ideology. The typical four room house had a layout where all the inner rooms were directly accessible from the house's central space, suggesting that all rooms were equal and there was no hierarchy to the space. The four room house was unlike the typical Canaanite-Phoenician dwelling had a layout where some rooms could be entered only by passing through other rooms, which showed a hierarchy of access.
Building materials and methods
Through archaeological and anthropological excavations, it is possible to report on building materials and possible methods used in the construction of the Israelite four roomed houses. The Iron I four-room houses typically measured ten to twelve meters long and eight to ten meters wide. The floor plan consists of three vertical rooms, connected by one “broadroom" at the rear of the building. Although a majority of houses were not found standing, through analysis it can be concluded that some houses stood two stories tall. Not all four roomed houses were stand-alone houses in the typical American sense. While some houses were found in isolation, other houses were found with shared walls, and even shared the back broadroom wall with a thicker, outer, defensive city wall. The houses could be constructed in a circular pattern, where the outer city wall connected all back broadroom walls, such as in a combination of the casemate wall and the residential wall. The normal walls were around one meter thick, and were constructed of fieldstones. The exterior defensive walls were thicker. The surfaces of exterior walls were likely plastered to prevent erosion from rainfall, which could be heavy and intense in the winter and spring of the region. The plastering would have demanded a significant quantity of lime to be manufactured, which required a kiln.The floors were composed of beaten earth and paved flagstone. Finely layered ash and clay helped keep the floors smooth and level. As seen by the sheer volume and weight of all of the stones, wooden pillars, and mudbrick walls used in the construction of the four roomed house, it can be said that construction was a team effort that took a lot of energy.
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