Amberly Publishing, £14.99
Review Amy Brunskill
This slim book offers an interesting introduction to Roman gardens, the mythology and history behind them, and the details of their design. Author Anthony Beeson (an expert in Roman iconography – see p.18 of this issue) states that gardens were part of ‘Romanitas’, the set of cultural and political beliefs and practices by which Romans defined themselves, and this point is made clearly and convincingly throughout the book. Roman gardens are presented through both their individual features and their overall designs as places of spiritual and symbolic importance, where nature was controlled, used, and presented in a carefully planned and deliberate manner.
It begins with a useful summary of information about the gods, goddesses, and mythical figures often associated with and featured in Roman gardens, which emphasises how deeply embedded religious beliefs and customs were in their design. This is a theme that reoccurs throughout the book in the different elements that made up Roman gardens. The features typical of the gardens are described in detail, with examples chosen from all over the Roman Empire, highlighting the planning that went into each aspect of garden design. This is further reinforced by discussions of gardens on a wider scale, focusing on the way in which they all incorporated nature,
from birds and fish, to plants and flowers, and, of particular importance, water, as a central part of design.
The book is most helpful in its capacity as a source of insight into gardens within the domestic sphere: as the heart of Roman homes, often central to the architecture and planning of these buildings. There is also some mention of funerary gardens and public gardens, which is very interesting; I would have welcomed even more. The book is well illustrated and contains many images that help to clearly demonstrate the features described, as well as a number of nice reconstruction drawings (many of which are by the author himself), which help the reader to picture these gardens in their prime. A fascinating story is told throughout the book, of gardens as a demonstration of Roman identity and behaviour, as well as the history and legacy of their design.