Prestigious early Roman gardens across the Empire: the significance of gardens and horticultural trends evidenced by pollen

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Abstract

The present study has two main goals. The first is to reconstruct the botanical components that grew in the impressive garden of Villa Arianna (Stabiae). The garden, which was extensively destroyed and covered by tephra ash in 79 CE, is considered the largest peristyle garden in the Vesuvian region. Its plants were revealed based on a unique palynological-archaeological method involving the extraction of pollen from plaster attached to structures that faced the garden. The second aim is to compare this prestigious garden with other early elite Roman gardens, located in the eastern part of the Empire, to trace the importation of plants, horticultural trends, etc. For this purpose, gardens of Herod the Great, the client king of Judaea, which the author recently studied palynologically (in Caesarea, Herodium and Jericho), were compared with the new pollen results of Villa Arianna. The comparison between the gardens’ botanical components and their different landscapes led to the following conclusions: (1) Plants were imported from both ends of the Empire as elite products (rather than cash crops). Hazelnut (Corylus) and cedar (Cedrus) were introduced from west to east, while the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was introduced along an east-west axis. (2) The gardening trend of tree dwarfism was observed both at Villa Arianna and Jericho. (3) The gardens flourished in challenging habitats. At Villa Arianna and Caesarea, efforts were devoted to sustaining splendid gardens in the relatively harsh, saline Mediterranean Sea environment; at Herodium and Jericho, special efforts were required for the success of Mediterranean plants in semi-arid climate. (4) Herod’s mausoleum garden in Herodium, whose dark evergreen trees on the whitish slopes of the artificial tumulus could be seen from the Temple in Jerusalem, may have been inspired by the architectural arrangement of the Pantheon and the Mausoleum of Augustus, the patron of Herod.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPalynology
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Keywords

  • ancient gardens
  • King Herod
  • pollen-plaster
  • Roman Empire
  • Roman gardens
  • Stabiae
  • Villa Arianna

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