Hortus ager pauperis erat: subsistence and commercial production in the urban gardens of first century AD Pompeii

Venner, Jessica Louise ORCID: 0000-0001-5828-6222 (2022). Hortus ager pauperis erat: subsistence and commercial production in the urban gardens of first century AD Pompeii. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The garden, or hortus, was a core component of ancient Roman life. Over several centuries, the hortus underwent a complex process of evolution in Roman thought and space, beginning life as a small, humble plot used to grow vegetables for the table, and growing into a powerful symbol of social display in the early Imperial period. Yet despite mounting scholarly interest in this space, and extensive investigations by Wilhelmina F. Jashemski and other teams in the field, a misconception persists relating to the Imperial decline of the urban agricultural hortus and the supposed low contribution of its produce to local life. Such suppositions have led to scholarly interest being weighted towards the recreational garden, namely those owned by the elite. As such, the academic value of the agricultural hortus, as an important social tool, and a key source of economic and nutritional income, remains undervalued.

In response, this thesis undertakes an interdisciplinary analysis of thirty-two productive horti in Regions I and II of Pompeii, investigating the social, economic, and nutritional contribution of these spaces and their produce to the local population through an analysis of related archaeological, archaeobotanical, paleonutritional, and pictorial remains. Grounded in ancient literary receptions of the hortus, including the hortus’ ability to reinforce and define collective Roman identity and memory, agricultural garden development and use in Pompeii is linked to recent social, economic, and geographical developments in the city, namely the growing commercialisation of Roman urban centres. This includes the first quantification of archaeobotanical assemblages from Campania, allowing hypothetical yields of selected domestic and commercial properties and their monetary and nutritional outputs to be produced, alongside a novel application of spatial syntax analysis of commercial and domestic properties, uniquely uncovering the intricate relationship between garden placement, crops, and use in the city.

The Roman hortus’ complex process of evolution is found to culminate in a phenomenon of twenty-three new agricultural gardens created in the city’s final years, prior to its destruction in the AD 79 eruption. This phenomenon is found to be a direct response to the geographic and economic challenges, commercial opportunities, and elite social agendas discovered in previous chapters, and serves to underpin the persistent nutritional, social, and economic power of the hortus right into the city’s final days.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology (CAHA)
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council, Other
Other Funders: Midlands3Cities
Subjects: S Agriculture > SB Plant culture
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/13063


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