In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Roman Gardens and Landscape Architecture

  • Introduction
  • Scholarly Overviews of Roman Gardens and Landscape Architecture
  • Works for the General Public on Roman Gardens and Landscape Architecture
  • Reference Works
  • Ancient Sources
  • Gardens and Gardening in Literature
  • Garden Painting
  • Domestic Gardens
  • The Horti of Rome
  • Public Gardens
  • Sacred Groves and Temple Gardens
  • Tomb Gardens
  • Plants
  • Garden Archaeology and Archaeological Techniques: General Works
  • Garden Archaeology and Archaeological Techniques: Specialized Studies

Architecture Planning and Preservation Roman Gardens and Landscape Architecture
Elizabeth R. Macaulay
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0081


Gardens are highly constructed spaces, where art, science, and nature intersect. The ancient Mediterranean, Egypt, and Near East had several well-developed garden traditions. Of these, the Romans developed one of the most complex gardening and horticultural traditions. Through archaeological, art-historical, and textual evidence, we can understand how Roman gardens evolved; their diverse socioeconomic, political, and cultural meanings in the Roman world; and how these gardens were constructed. Although landscape architecture would not be formally recognized as a discipline for centuries, the Romans had a well-developed tradition of landscape architecture, as well as individuals—the toparius—whom scholars can identify as proto-landscape architects. Ancient Greece had gardens, although on a more limited scope and scale than the Romans, within houses and sacred groves. Alexander the Great’s conquests in the East transformed the garden traditions of the Mediterranean. His visits to major gardens and palaces of the Persian Empire brought him into direct contact with the complex gardening traditions, horticultural practices, and plants of western Asia, which were then transmitted to the Mediterranean. His successors and subsequent Hellenistic rulers constructed elaborate palatial gardens. Philosophical gardens, which had developed in the late classical period, remained popular during the Hellenistic era, although there is no archaeological evidence for such gardens. Rome, the ascendant power at the end of the first millennium BCE, had an indigenous domestic garden tradition, where ownership of a garden was viewed as essential to the identity of the Roman citizen. The Romans developed the most extensive garden tradition of antiquity. Roman gardens ranged from domestic, villa, and palatial gardens to public parks and gardens associated with temples or sanctuaries. Garden and landscape paintings were an integral part of Roman houses and villas. Until the second half of the twentieth century, the study of Roman gardens was primarily a textual endeavor; however, W. F. Jashemski pioneered the use of garden archaeology at Pompeii and its environs. Archaeology is vital to the study of Roman gardens and landscape architecture because it provides direct information about landscape architecture, garden design, plantings, and use. While ancient sources are still critical to interpreting the physical remains of Roman gardens, archaeological discoveries enable scholars to consider sophisticated questions about design, plants, and horticultural techniques, as well as the meanings, purpose, and function of Roman gardens. Most studies examine Roman landscape design and theory in the context of specific gardens, because there are no surviving treatises about Roman landscape design or theory. As such, these issues will be considered alongside the discussions of different types of gardens.

Scholarly Overviews of Roman Gardens and Landscape Architecture

There are both academic and popular books that provide overviews of Roman gardens and landscape architecture. There are a significant number of important scholarly works on Roman gardens. Grimal 1984 is vital for the study of Roman gardens, as it established the intellectual framework of the field, especially around the horti. Purcell 1996 (cited under Domestic Gardens) and Purcell 2001 (cited under The Horti of Rome) challenged some of Grimal’s assertions. Jashemski, et al. 2018 (and the publication’s associated website) is now the standard reference work for Roman gardens and is the best introduction to the wide range of Roman gardens and the archaeological evidence for gardens. It draws upon Jashemski 1979–1992, which remains seminal for the study of the gardens of Pompeii and its environs. The individual chapters in Gleason 2013 provide thoughtful studies of important aspects of Greek and Roman gardens, such as design, garden typology, and plants. Several of the papers in Coleman 2014 are important for understanding aspects of Roman gardens. von Stackelberg 2009 applies spatial theory to the study of Roman gardens and was the first to establish a theoretical framework for the study of Roman gardens. Primarily utilizing textual evidence, Spencer 2010 also takes a theoretical approach to Roman landscape and examines the meanings of landscape in the Roman world. For a comprehensive bibliography on Greek and Roman gardens and to understand connections between Roman gardens to those of the Greek and Hellenistic worlds, see Macaulay 2021.

  • Coleman, Kathleen, ed. Le jardin dans l’Antiquité: Introduction et huit exposés suivis de discussions. Vandoeuvres, Switzerland: Fondation Hardt pour l’étude de l’antiquité classique, 2014.

    Conference proceedings with excellent essays. The introduction (Coleman) frames the discussion and several papers deal with aspects of Roman gardens: Herod the Great’s gardens, their design and connections to Roman gardens (Taylor); gardens, military conquests, and elite representation (Marzano); concept of the boundary in Roman gardens (Bergman); the garden and divinity (Caneva); and early Christians and their real and imagined gardens (Lane Fox). Taylor and Bergmann are particularly useful for thinking about designing and bounding space.

  • Gardens of the Roman Empire.

    This website (launched in spring 2021) serves as the catalogue to Jashemski, et al. 2018. It aims to document all known Roman gardens (1200+); a team of scholars continues to expand and update the website regularly.

  • Gleason, Kathryn L., ed. A Cultural History of Gardens in Antiquity. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

    The essays in this important collection discuss major themes in the study of ancient gardens, including design (Gleason), typologies (Nielsen), plantings (Landgren), use and reception (Macaulay-Lewis), meaning (von Stackelberg), verbal and visual representations of gardens (Littlewood and von Stackelberg, Kearns), and the relationship between the garden and the larger landscape (Cook and Foulk). Gleason’s chapter is especially useful for thinking about design, as is Landgren’s, which summarizes much of her unpublished doctoral dissertation (Landgren 2004, cited under Plants).

  • Grimal, Pierre. Les jardins romains à la fin de la république et aux deux premiers siècles de l’empire: Essai sur le naturalisme romain. 3d ed. Paris: Fayard, 1984.

    The first scholarly analysis of Roman gardens and horti, the peri-urban estates around the city of Rome. Drawing primarily on ancient sources, this book is still essential, as it established the scholarly approach to the study of the horti. Grimal proposed two now much debated ideas: that the horti were parks and that Rome was surrounded by a green belt. The 1969 and 1984 editions do not include major revisions to original 1943 text.

  • Jashemski, Wilhelmina F. The Gardens of Pompeii: Herculaneum and the Villas Destroyed by Vesuvius. 2 vols. New Rochelle, NY: Caratzas, 1979–1992.

    The foundational study of gardens in Campania, primarily based on the author’s excavations of gardens. Composed of interpretative essays and a catalogue, it is most extensive treatment of many different types of gardens, including commercial, kitchen, domestic gardens, and others.

  • Jashemski, Wilhelmina F., Kathryn L. Gleason, Kim J. Hartswick, and Amina-Aicha Malek, eds. Gardens of the Roman Empire. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    Seminal work on Roman gardens, with thematic essays by leading scholars in the field. Part I focuses on the types of gardens; Part II on the experience of gardens in art and literature; and Part III dedicated to “Making the Garden,” or constructing Roman gardens. Part III is of particular interest to those interested in the design and construction of ancient gardens.

  • Macaulay, E. R. “Greek and Roman Gardens.” Rev. ed. In Oxford Bibliographies in Classics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.

    This bibliography, first published in 2013, summarizes much of the scholarship about Greek and Roman gardens. A good starting place for students and scholars new to the study of ancient gardens and for understanding Roman gardens and their connections to Greek and Hellenistic garden traditions.

  • Spencer, Diana. Roman Landscape: Culture and Identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    Although aimed at undergraduates, this book provides an excellent introduction to Roman landscape. Spencer primarily uses textual evidence to explore the Roman conceptualization and production of landscape, as well as gardens and horti, and the application of applied landscape theory. Includes a useful bibliography.

  • von Stackelberg, Katharine T. The Roman Garden: Space, Sense, and Society. London: Routledge, 2009.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203875193

    The first work to apply modern spatial theory to the Roman garden; von Stackelberg includes detail and insightful discussions of key garden terms—hortus, horti, ars topiaria, and viridarium, among others—in the first chapter.

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