Urban gardening in early medieval Italy

We are used to thinking of ancient Rome as densely populated with both monuments and people, but the Empire’s decline and fall caused large swathes to fall into ruin and abandonment. As the illustration below of the Forum of Caesar in the 9th century CE shows, once-grand marble public spaces in the heart of Rome were converted to vegetable gardens and vineyards. How people fed themselves during Rome’s early medieval period is the subject of fascinating new research by archaeologist Caroline Goodson of Cambridge University. Looking at archival records as well as botanical and soil samples, she is piecing together the complex picture of urban gardening in Italy between 600 and 1100 CE. During this period, control of food resources meant political power, and kings, noblemen, and churchmen filled the vacuum left by the emperors by building food networks to feed their supporters. By examining urban food cultivation, Goodson says, we gain “rich and unexplored information about medieval politics, societies and economics.” Her work this year is supported by a Leverhulme Trust award.

forumofcaesar gardens.jpg
Drawing: Maria Supino, reproduced from Roberto Meneghini and Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani, Roma nell'alto medioevo (Rome, 2004), fig. 99. By kind permission.