Thursday, 30 April 2015

Caroline Goodson: Materiality and Monastic Observance: Vegetable Gardening in Late Antique Italy

Among the many changes to life in late antique Italy was the rise in town houses which included productive food gardens. Letters of Pope Gregory I describe several properties which were endowed with food gardens in order to the support the religious households located in the middle of Rome, where they were unable -- or chose not -- to buy onions and lettuces at market. These houses that Gregory’s letters describe find echoes in other cities of Italy in the sixth century. Urban gardening in late antiquity was not simply a by-product of a breakdown in urban density and the disappearance of markets for everyday foods, the widely recognised phenomenon of 'ruralisation' of the city. Two intellectual elements also played roles in the phenomenon, lending it a conceptual justification: the legacy of estate management and the value of self-sufficiency for religious communities especially monastic ones and — to a lesser degree — the value of the garden for medicinal purposes and the developing role of religious households as places of curing and sustenance. This paper will discuss the evidence for clerical and monastic fruit and vegetable production in the cities of Italy, evaluating the change in functions of the cities against other cases of episcopal or monastic sponsorship of urban production.

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