Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A space under the floor of an ancient Roman building where heat from a furnace was accumulated to heat a room or a bath.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. An underfloor space or flue through which heat from a furnace passes to heat the floor of a room or a bath.
  • n. An underfloor heating system, even without such an underfloor space or flue, as adapted to the modern housing, east and west.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A furnace, esp. one connected with a series of small chambers and flues of tiles or other masonry through which the heat of a fire was distributed to rooms above. This contrivance, first used in bath, was afterwards adopted in private houses.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. In architecture, an arched fire-chamber, from which heat is distributed through earthenware pipes to the rooms above it. The term is also sometimes applied to a fireplace, furnace, or oven.

Etymologies

Latin hypocaustum, from Greek hupokauston, from hupokaiein, to light a fire beneath : hupo-, hypo- + kaiein, to burn.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Latin hypocaustum, from Ancient Greek ὑπό (hypo, "underneath") + καίειν (kaiein, "to light a fire, burn") (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The stube, or stove, of a German inn, derived its name from the great hypocaust, which is always strongly heated to secure the warmth of the apartment in which it is placed.

    Anne of Geierstein

  • A dozen burials found in the surrounding hypocaust in the nineteenth century would be consistent with a graveyard around a church*.

    Wroxeter: the sixth-century rebuilding

  • The hypocaust was rebuilt, and part of the suspended floor was found still intact when excavated in 1969.

    Chester in the seventh century: surviving infrastructure

  • “It was Ahenobarbus Pontifex Maximus who refurbished the Atrium Vestae sixty years ago,” the housekeeper explained, “and then Caesar Pontifex Maximus installed hypocaust heating in all the living areas as well as the record rooms.”

    Antony and Cleopatra

  • The stoking had been done, but it was not yet time to rake the glowing coals into the hypocaust, there to heat the upper floors.

    Antony and Cleopatra

  • Our basement was given over to the storage of wills, but Caesar Pontifex Maximus worked out how to take enough of it to make the best hypocaust in Rome.

    Antony and Cleopatra

  • The hypocaust took up the entire basement, which allowed heated air to flow beneath the caldarium floor, and other rooms as well, and inside the walls through many terra-cotta pipes.

    Flushed

  • The water for the other two rooms was heated by wood-fired furnaces located in the hypocaust—the heating area.

    Flushed

  • The caldarium still shows the hypocaust underfloor heating system.

    Archive 2006-05-01

  • The floor, hollow underneath and heated by a stoked hypocaust fire, had mosaics the equal of Italy's.

    Hadrian's Wall.html

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  • Roman communal toilet seat warmer?

    January 30, 2010

  • "'I'm wondering if I can vent some of the heat from the kiln, and run it under the floor of the cabin. You know what a Roman hypocaust is?'

    'I do.' He turned to eye the foundation of his domicile.... The notion of central heating in a crude mountain cabin made him want to laugh."
    —Diana Gabaldon, A Breath of Snow and Ashes (New York: Bantam Dell, 2005), 197

    January 30, 2010