The Garden Dining Spaces of Pompeii: An Archaeological Assessment

Author: ORCID icon
Dunkelbarger, Janet S., History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Smith, Tyler Jo, Art, University of Virginia
Dobbins, John J., Art, University of Virginia
Kondyli, Fotini, Art, University of Virginia
Meyer, Elizabeth A., History, University of Virginia

Reclining on masonry or wooden couches, around a central table and under the shade of a pergula, people in 1st-century AD Roman Pompeii dined in the gardens of domestic, commercial, and funerary properties. The current project is a comprehensive and updated examination of these garden dining spaces, utilizing archaeological, literary, and visual evidence from Pompeii and the wider Roman world, to understand the meaning of the meals hosted in the spaces and why the spaces were constructed in such diverse contexts. Contrary to earlier scholarship, the evidence of Pompeii’s garden dining spaces indicates that the spaces were created and/or used by both the elite and non-elite of Pompeian society for the purpose of religious ritual. The sacred nature of these spaces is demonstrated by the presence of the dining couches, altars, vegetation, water, and representations of divinities, and is supported by additional archaeological, literary, and visual evidence from the ancient Mediterranean world. Garden dining spaces were the product of ever-evolving religious practices in Pompeii in the 1st century AD, created to facilitate necessary rituals to communicate with the divine in order to receive protection and benefaction. Each space was a unique expression of religious practice and identity, but all drew from a shared knowledge and tradition. Moreover, Pompeii’s garden dining spaces reveal important information about Roman dining practices, the Roman garden, the Roman economy, and the connection between urban and extra-urban landscapes. Their evidence demonstrates that the non-elite reclined to dine more often than has been reported in previous scholarship, and that reclined dining and the Roman garden retained some sanctity into the early Imperial period. Additionally, the evidence reveals an economy of sacred spaces operated by the non-elite in support of the religious needs of the majority of the ancient urban population (the non-elite). Finally, garden dining spaces were not only inspired by numinous natural locations and sanctuaries outside the city walls, but also may have supported the funerary rituals that took place in the necropoleis outside the city gates.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Pompeii, garden, landscape, dining, religion, economy, urbanism
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