Abstract: Urban Gardening in Early Medieval Italy


It is a commonplace assumption that the medieval cities were 'ruralised' by the presence of vegetable patches, fields, and livestock. Historians and archaeologists have often taken evidence for agricultural cultivation in urban spaces as indicators of the breakdown of medieval urban fabric and economies, but urban food gardens were not simply by-products of decline or devolution. They were created because people living in the city wanted fresh fruits and vegetables and made space to grow them. The evidence from Italy makes clear that residential properties with access to cultivated spaces were controlled by urban elites, both private and ecclesiastical. The study of these urban vineyards, veg patches, and fields, through their textual and archaeological records, provides us a small window onto shifting social structures within medieval cities, the rises and falls in small-scale markets, and emerging ideals of charity. A considerable amount of recent urban archaeology, along with revisiting older excavations from the cities of Italy make it now possible to observe urban food provisioning in early medieval Italy and to relate the phenomenon of urban gardening with shifting power structures in the city. 


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Arthur, Paul (2002) Naples, from Roman Town to City-state: An Archaeological Perspective (Archaeological Monographs of the British School at Rome) (London).

Christie, N. (2006) From Constantine to Charlemagne; An Archaeology of Italy, AD 300–800. (Aldershot).

Gelichi, Sauro. “The cities,” in Cristina La Rocca (Ed.), Italy in the Early Middle Ages: 476-1000 (Short Oxford History of Italy (Oxford), pp. 167-88.

Ward-Perkins, Bryan (1997) “Continuitists, Catastrophists, and the Towns of Post-Roman Northern Italy,” Papers of the British School at Rome 67, pp. 157–76.

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