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Kim Bowes

Roman landscapes exhibited enormous diversity, from the rolling hills of the Mediterranean heartland, to Nile marshlands, Apennine mountain pastures, and African pre-deserts. New work on this diversity has demonstrated the intensive methods with which they were managed for agriculture and artisanal output, as well as their highly periodized histories. While much debate in the study of these landscapes has revolved around ancient climate change, more apparent is robust human intervention, which often reached a peak during the Roman period. Romans thought deeply about landscapes, and their literature and religious rituals used landscape to frame moral, religious, and political values.

Unlike the landscapes of the Greek city states, those encompassed by the Roman empire at its height were diverse in the extreme. Among the empire’s territories were the pre-desert regions of Tripolitania and the Syrian frontier, the mountain pastures of the Apennines, and the marshes of the Egyptian oases, not to mention the rolling limestone landscapes of the Mediterranean heartland. Even within smaller slices of these territories (and even within tiny micro-regions), new work has revealed the remarkable diversity of vegetation, sunlight, rainfall, and topography. It is the plurality of these landscapes that gave Romans material for a rich tradition of literary and religious expression as well as a vast and intensive apparatus for economic exploitation.


Giusto Traina

The most common words to designate a marsh, a swamp, or a bog are helos in ancient Greek and palus in Latin; beside these terms, less common words were also employed. Literary and epigraphic texts give evidence for marshlands in the countryside, in the coastal areas, and also close to urban agglomerations. The sources often give evidence for drainage activity, but cases of extensive drainage are rare. In fact, they were possible only at public expense, by employing free or slave labor. On the other hand, several territories were characterized by a sort of marsh economy. Although rarely portrayed in literature, and despite the risk of malaria, marshy areas presented some economic potential: fishing, hunting, salt extraction, and farming. In many respects, the negative image of wetlands is a modern invention. The contrast between the rational order of the Roman countryside and the “barbaric” medieval landscape was introduced by the Enlightenment, and must be treated with caution.



Katharine T. von Stackelberg

Gardens in the Greek and Roman world were both important cultural spaces and essential contributors to the Mediterranean food economy. Originally dedicated to producing useful household plants for the farm, the garden (kēpos, hortus) developed into a highly desirable urban and suburban amenity that combined productive, leisure, and religious space. Gardens’ association with the paradeisos enclosures of Persian and Hellenistic kings also encouraged their use as status symbols that signaled wealth and power. Gardens were also used as spaces of philosophical engagement and religious activity. They serve as an index of colonial and imperialist practice, reflecting the expansion of Greek and Roman territory through the introduction of new plants, and the use of Hellenizing and Orientalizing art and architecture. As cultivated places defined by their proximity to architecture, gardens emerged as an ideal space to explore the intersection between art and nature represented in the idea of the locus amoenus (‘pleasant place’) and the culture of the Roman villa.