Classics Greek and Roman Gardens
Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0134


Gardens were a fundamental feature of the classical world. In ancient Greece, while gardens were not included within houses, sacred groves and plants, especially trees, were ever-present elements of the Greek landscape throughout Antiquity. Much of our knowledge of Greek gardens and cultivated flora comes primarily from literature and paintings; few gardens have been recovered archaeologically. The transformative catalyst in the development of gardens in classical Antiquity was Alexander the Great’s conquests in the East. He visited some of the major palaces and the gardens of the Persian emperors and satraps and saw firsthand the well-established, extensive garden tradition of the Near East. As a result of Alexander’s conquest, considerable horticultural knowledge (and possibly specimen plants) from the East came back to the Mediterranean region, brought there by his armies and successors. These monumental, palatial gardens were created and flourished under the Hellenistic rulers. Gardens associated with philosophers also developed in the late classical and Hellenistic eras, although we lack archaeological evidence for these gardens. Rome, the newest power in the Mediterranean, also had a well-established, indigenous domestic garden tradition in which the ownership of a garden was fundamental to the identity of the Roman citizen. The Romans had the most diverse garden tradition in the ancient world, and it included domestic, villa, and palatial gardens as well as public parks and gardens associated with temples or sanctuaries. A rich tradition of garden and landscape painting also existed. Until the second half of the 20th century, the study of gardens lagged behind other fields of classical studies, largely due to a lack of archaeological evidence for gardens. However, the advent of garden archaeology, largely pioneered by W. F. Jashemski at Pompeii and its environs, has greatly increased our knowledge of ancient Roman gardens. Archaeology is vital to the study of Greek and Roman gardens as it expands our knowledge of garden design and plantings, although ancient sources remain essential to the interpretation of these remains. Garden archaeology is now being conducted across the whole Roman world. However, its application in the Greek world has lagged. The new archaeological discoveries have made it possible for scholars to now consider complex questions about design, plants, and horticulture as well as the meaning, purpose, and function of gardens in the ancient world.

General Overviews

No single volume provides an overview of Greek and Roman gardens. No textbooks or handbooks on Greco-Roman gardens are available. Greek and Roman gardens have been studied typically by either Hellenists or Romanists. Carroll 2003 is the best introduction to ancient gardens as it discusses the gardens of Greece, Rome, Egypt, and the Near East. Di Pasquale and Paolucci 2007 also looks at gardens of these ancient civilizations and has excellent illustrations of artistic objects recovered from the gardens. The individual chapters in Gleason 2013 provide thoughtful studies of important aspects of Greek and Roman gardens, such as design, garden typology, and plants. The articles in Coleman 2014 discuss specific aspects of gardens from ancient Egypt through Late Antiquity.

  • Carroll, Maureen. 2003. Earthly paradises: Ancient gardens in history and archaeology. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.

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    This general, readable account of gardens from Egypt, the Near East, Greece, and Rome is the best overview and introduction. While a popular book, it incorporates recent scholarship and is organized thematically.

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

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    Intellectually stimulating proceedings at a conference 19–23 August 2013 held under the auspices of the Fondation Hardt with an introduction and eight highly focused essays on topics ranging from real and painted Egyptian gardens to the real and imagined gardens of early Christians.

  • di Pasquale, Giovanni, and Fabrizio Paolucci. 2007. Il giardino antico da Babilonia a Roma: Scienza, arte e natura. Livorno, Italy: Sillabe.

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    This beautifully and extensively illustrated exhibition catalogue contains short articles on gardens from ancient Mesopotamia to Rome. The catalogue (pp. 187–333) highlights the diversity of decorative objects displayed in gardens.

  • Gleason, Kathryn L. 2013. A cultural history of gardens in antiquity. London: Bloomsbury.

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    The essays in this important collection discuss major themes in the study of ancient gardens, including design, typologies, plantings, use and reception, meaning, verbal and visual representations of gardens, and the relationship between the garden and the larger landscape.

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