Mosaics from the fabled Gardens of Lucullus, one of the pioneering influences on gardening, have been brought to light after 2,000 years by archaeologists in Rome.
The vast terraced gardens, or Horti, covered what is now the built-up area above the Spanish Steps. The first known attempt in the West to “tame nature” through landscaping, the gardens were laid out around a patrician villa in the middle of the 1st century BC by Lucius Licinius Lucullus, one of Ancient Rome’s most celebrated generals, after he retired in disillusion from war and politics.
They became a benchmark for all Roman pleasure gardens, and were taken over and developed by Roman emperors. The 1st-century mosaics decorated the nymphaeum, an artificial grotto with water features. One depicts a corpulent cupid riding a dolphin and another a wolf’s head in green and gold.
They were found nine metres (30ft) below street level during renovation work on the Hertzian Library (Biblioteca Hertziana), the German art history institute near the Spanish Steps run by the Max Planck Society.
Excavations below the library have also brought to light a marble head of Venus, perhaps a relic of the statues that once adorned the nymphaeum. Maria Antonietta Tomei, of the Rome Superintendency for Archaeology, said when workers began demolishing the interior of the building to modernise it “the architecture of the Ancient Roman garden appeared before our eyes. It seems like a dream.”
Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, director of the British School at Rome and a leading classical scholar, said Lucullus had invented the concept of the pleasure garden when he quit public life in disgust after his rival Pompey “robbed him of the credit for Rome’s conquests in the East”.
The historian Plutarch observed that Lucullus “abandoned public affairs either because he saw that they were out of control and diseased or, some say, because he had had his fill of glory and felt entitled to fall back on a life of ease and luxury”. Ironically, Pompey was himself outmanoeuvred by Julius Caesar in the struggle for power that marked the end of the Roman Republic.
Lucullus is said to have been inspired by Persian and Mesopotamian gardens that he saw during his military campaigns in Asia Minor.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
From the Times: