Title: Beyond the Pleasure Garden: Urban Agriculture in the Ancient Mediterranean
Abstract: Urban agriculture has sparked considerable interest in recent years, along with the proliferation of community gardens and even organic restaurants which serve produce grown on-site. Urban food production is not a new trend, however. In the late first century AD, the Roman poet Martial wrote regarding his tiny apartment window garden: “You have given me, Lupus, a suburban farm, but I have a bigger farm in my window’__wherein a cucumber cannot lie straight, nor a snake harbor its whole length.” It is unclear whether Martial really did attempt window gardening, but other Romans, including apartment-dwellers made serious efforts to augment their diets with home-produced foods. For many inhabitants of the ancient city, urban agriculture contributed greatly to their food security and quality of life. It was not just an elite pastime which occurred on sumptuous estates in and around the city. Nor were pleasure gardens strictly ornamental. Inhabitants rich and poor produced their own food, even in areas not usually considered conducive to agriculture. Ancient cities were more than parasitic entities devouring goods from suburban and rural areas. They were significant producers in their own right. In addition to exploring the methods and implications of urban agriculture, the project demonstrates the advantages of moving beyond analyzing production according to a rural-suburban-urban construct by highlighting an often-overlooked area of interaction: agricultural production in densely populated areas. Challenging the urban/rural dichotomy using the case of urban agriculture has the potential to fundamentally change the way scholars study the social, economic and environmental history of ancient Rome.