The study of the private houses of the Ancient Near East is a very interesting and sometimes neglected subject: on the one hand, it might help in better understanding the daily life of the peoples of a vast region, which for many aspects influenced the cultures of the Mediterranean, but, on the other hand, it has been affected by biases and misunderstandings. Biases and misunderstandings affected the analysis of palace and temple architectures, too, but in the course of time, more in depth and refined studies largely amended most of the misinterpretations. Unfortunately, private houses did not attract much interest, at the beginning of the archaeological explorations, whereas recently very useful studies were produced, mainly, but not only, on houses structures and plans (see Pfälzner 2001, 2012, 2015). Yet, it is sometimes difficult to elaborate on data from old excavations, where not everything is properly recorded, particularly the findings and their positions, which is a basic element for the analysis of the use of individual spaces. A house is, or should be, the place where persons feel free from social constraints: this belief led to apply feelings and patterns of behaviour of the modern researcher or inferred from ethnographic comparisons. A famous case is the interpretation of the Old Babylonian private houses of Ur: Woolley’s interpretation is strongly marked by both biases, but even the more recent analysis by Brusasco, taking into account also the written evidence from the houses, still kept one of Woolley’s main assumptions, namely female segregation, based on a doubtful interpretation of the function of some rooms. In my presentation, I will argue that an in-depth study of private houses should take into account the mobility patterns within the house, the distribution of artefacts, the hierarchical level of settlements, the placement of the houses within the settlement and, eventually, also data provided by cuneiform texts from the same contexts. I will use as case studies the Old Babylonian houses of Ur and the Late Bronze age houses from the Syria Jezirah. My aim will be to try and demonstrate the following points:
1) A private context is not a place of complete freedom and of the absence of social constraints, but rather a place where rules apply, which are sometimes different from those adopted in public contexts.
2) A private house is not a static context; it is usually more “mobile” and “evolutive” than official contexts, like palaces or temples, precisely for the absence of specific functions for the individual spaces.
3) There is no evidence for female segregation.