Gardens played a significant role in the lives of ancient Romans, providing spaces for recreation, business transactions, euergetism and the immortalisation of memory, to name a few. While such topics have been afforded generous attention in garden study, the productive roles of urban gardens have largely been ignored (beyond brief acknowledgements of their importance for understanding local trade, the wider economy and the everyday lives of Romans).To fill this lacuna in scholarship, this study will provide a critical framework for better understanding the role of productive activities in gardens and their effect on urban development and the local economy, as well as the everyday lives of ‘ordinary’ Romans. This will take the form of an interdisciplinary study, combining an analysis of literary, art and archaeological evidence. The towns destroyed by Vesuvius in the 79 A.D. eruption will form the basis of this study, with special interest in the towns that participated in the Campanian nundinae. This choice is driven by the availability of evidence (at its richest between 62 A.D. and 79 A.D.), but also because of the key role Campania played in the economy of the City of Rome. In chronological terms, the late Republic and early Imperial period will be focused on, a period commonly held to exhibit sustained economic growth, or at least improved living standards, as well as providing an abundance of evidence for study.
This project will advance the understanding of productive gardens established by Wilhelmina F. Jashemski in a broader social and economic context, with the aim to prove the vital and regular role they played in everyday life in the Roman Empire. This approach will enlighten us further on local trade, living conditions, appetites and the exploitation of finite resources, thus helping to inform contemporary society on approaches to food sustainability.