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The Gardens of Sallust

The Gardens of Sallust
A Changing Landscape

In this ambitious work, Kim Hartswick undertakes the first comprehensive history of the Gardens of Sallust from Roman times to the present, as well as its influence on generations of scholars, intellectuals, and archaeologists.

January 2004
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233 pages | 8.5 x 11 | 115 b&w figures |

Pleasure gardens, or horti, offered elite citizens of ancient Rome a retreat from the noise and grime of the city, where they could take their leisure and even conduct business amid lovely landscaping, architecture, and sculpture. One of the most important and beautiful of these gardens was the horti Sallustiani, originally developed by the Roman historian Sallust at the end of the first century B.C. and later possessed and perfected by a series of Roman emperors. Though now irrevocably altered by two millennia of human history, the Gardens of Sallust endure as a memory of beauty and as a significant archaeological site, where fragments of sculpture and ruins of architecture are still being discovered.

In this ambitious work, Kim Hartswick undertakes the first comprehensive history of the Gardens of Sallust from Roman times to the present, as well as its influence on generations of scholars, intellectuals, and archaeologists. He draws from an astonishing array of sources to reconstruct the original dimensions and appearance of the gardens and the changes they have undergone at specific points in history. Hartswick thoroughly discusses the architectural features of the garden and analyzes their remains. He also studies the sculptures excavated from the gardens and discusses the subjects and uses of many outstanding examples.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I. Topography and History
    • Location and Topography
    • Boundaries
    • The Original Owner: C. Sallustius Crispus
    • Inheritors of Sallust's Gardens
    • Imperial Properties
    • Plantings in Garden Estates
    • The Hortus as Self-Display
    • Post-antique Period
      • The Ludovisi
      • Josef Spithoever
    • The 1880's "Building Fever" and Its Aftermath
  • Part II. The Architecture of the Gardens
    • The Destailleur Plan and Pertinent Ancient Remains
    • The "Vestibule" in the Piazza Sallustio
    • An Obelisk
    • Wall(s) of Niches
    • A Cryptoporticus
    • The So-called Circus of Flora
    • Temples of Venus
  • Part III. Sculptural Finds
    • Artemis, Iphigenia, and a Hind
    • Niobids
    • Gauls
    • The World of Dionysos
    • "Nymphs" and Candelabra
    • The Ludovisi and Boston "Thrones"
      • Ludovisi "Throne": Discovery and Early Theories
      • Boston "Throne": Discovery and Early Reports
      • Use and Reuse
    • Egyptian Sculptures
    • Sculptures Found in 1888 Near the Via Boncompagni
    • Orestes and Electra
  • Addendum: The Templum Gentis Flaviae and the Three Temples of Fortune
  • Afterword
  • Notes
  • Abbreviations of Periodicals and Series
  • Bibliographic Abbreviations
  • Illustration Credits
  • Index

Kim J. Hartswick is Academic Director of the CUNY Baccalaureate Program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.


Readers interested in horticulture will be greatly disappointed because although this study deals with one of the most beautiful of ancient garden estates in Rome, a discussion of the plantings forms only a minor part. This situation is not only because the author is not a horticulturist (in fact, does not even have a "green thumb") but primarily because direct evidence for such plantings in the gardens of Sallust is utterly lacking. Indeed, my interest in these gardens and the resulting present study are completely serendipitous.

Several years ago I began investigating the dramatic lowering in date of presumably "fixed" monuments of the Greek archaic period proposed by E. D. Francis and Michael Vickers. Their arguments included a Greek statue of a Crouching Amazon in the Conservatori Museum (Fig. 3.14) found in 1888 in Rome near the via Boncompagni, about twenty-five meters from the via Quintino Sella in an area known in antiquity as the horti Sallustiani. Thinking it important to learn more about the findspot of this statue, I soon became aware that a thorough study of these famous gardens had never been published. Although not being versed in garden history, I abandoned my original project to devote my research to the horti Sallustiani.

Since then, several studies by others have been published on the gardens of Sallust, including pertinent essays in the Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae, two articles by F. Astolfi in issues of Forma Urbis, and an important symposium on Horti Romani published in 1998 in which, particularly, Emilia Talamo and Mette Moltesen have studies devoted to the horti Sallustiani. All these have been enormously important in bringing to light various aspects of the gardens; yet a more complete account, up to now, has been lacking.

Over the years my investigations have led me not only to a better understanding of the importance of garden history in the study of ancient sculpture but also to the necessity of leaping beyond the temporal boundaries of ancient Rome to comprehend better the dynamic quality of antiquity. Indeed, interconnections among space, time, human society, and texts only recently have become priorities in the study of gardens and landscapes. Furthermore, unlike immovable architectural monuments that can be positioned securely, gardens are in constant flux, forever changing and with sometimes unclear boundaries. These insecurities are particularly true with the study of ancient gardens that, as in the case with the horti Sallustiani, may be completely destroyed and, therefore, can only be imagined. It is only through such interdisciplinary and post-structuralist perspectives that the meaning and appearance of ancient gardens can be attempted.

It is difficult, therefore, to understand as fully as possible any ancient monument, and in particular an ancient garden, without acknowledging that it has undergone numerous changes and meanings during its lifetime. These transformations are not merely obstructions--things to be discarded or ignored in our evaluation of the "original"--but important aspects to be accepted as part of the natural evolution of ancient monuments. In the case of the horti Sallustiani, the substantial changes that occurred in antiquity are in fact overshadowed by their later transformations into the present urban fabric of modern Rome. It is only by including these later changes that the ancient gardens of Sallust can be fairly evaluated and that my original intention--to understand the context of the ancient sculptures found there--can be even remotely realized.

Even when a garden is well preserved, such as that of the sixteenth-century villa Lante at Bagnaia, the original appearance is not always clear, and the meaning of the decorative schemes is sometimes open to interpretation. If this is the case with an almost intact Renaissance garden, then it must be admitted that a complete understanding of the horti Sallustiani cannot be a viable goal. Acknowledging the limitations of such a project ought not, however, to discourage an evaluation of what we do know or, at least may reasonably surmise, about these ancient gardens.

The horti Sallustiani were among the most important and beautiful of all the imperial horti in ancient Rome. Yet, because of the modern expansion of the city after 1871 (when Rome began to be developed as capital of unified Italy), the ancient topography has been irrevocably altered with the filling of the valley between the Pincio and Quirinal hills where these horti existed. The study of the gardens is hampered not only by these modern operations but also by the history of this area after A.D. 410, when the Goths, under the leadership of Alaric, invaded Rome, entering the city at the gates of the horti Sallustiani. After that time the gardens appear to have been abandoned, and the magnificent sculptural displays and luxury pavilions were pillaged, destroyed, or left to ruin. Vandalism, earthquakes, fires, and the ubiquitous limekilns must also have wrecked havoc on these ancient remains just as they had on other parts of the city. Only in the fifteenth century was the area revitalized with the (re)building of an aqueduct, and by the seventeenth century, it was considered prime real estate. But, even as late as the nineteenth century it is reported that within the walls of Rome the northern and eastern parts were abandoned and that the city was still concentrated along the banks of the Tiber.

Only with the knowledge of the history of this area down to modern times can an attempt be made to understand these ancient gardens. There is, in fact, a considerable body of material that can be collected pertaining to the gardens, including literary, epigraphic, and physical evidence, which all must be evaluated separately as well as collectively. Ancient literary testimony is sparse, and so archaeology has proven to be the best method to employ. Numerous finds were recorded beginning in the fifteenth century and especially during the modern reconfiguration of the area in the nineteenth. Drawings, etchings, and plans of the site before the filling of the valley help in determining topographical markers and at times give a context for the recorded finds.

The history of the site forms the parameters of the first chapter that deals not only with the ancient testimonia but with the later developers of this area. The second chapter is an analysis of the physical remains as they exist today or as they are believed to have existed. This latter aspect is particularly intriguing because it tells us perhaps more about the manner in which scholars debate archaeological issues and less about the gardens themselves. In the third chapter are several "case studies" of sculptures that most likely were decorative elements within these ancient gardens. The discovery of these sculptures and the opinions of scholars concerning their subjects and uses within these gardens are explored. Finally, a short addendum concerns a topographical problem that is intriguing as a vehicle for highlighting a scholarly debate that has yet to be resolved.

By exploring such material my goal is twofold: (1) to determine how these gardens were viewed and interpreted by later scholars--somewhat a "history of scholarship" approach--and the impact that these interpretations have had on our modern perspectives of the subject, and in particular of ancient Roman topography, and (2) to give as complete a picture as possible of these gardens by exploring the architectural remains and sculptural decorations, with an emphasis on the many pieces of statues discovered over the centuries. The arrangement and titles of chapters give the impression of being discrete subjects; however, their contents intertwine my two objectives. The reason for this approach is that it is necessary to have knowledge of a variety of subjects, for example, literary testimonies, ancient and modern topography, medieval and Renaissance guidebooks, archaeological reports, and the nineteenth-century art market, to attempt an understanding of certain topographical markers or of pieces of ancient sculpture or architectural remains.

As a result, this study takes into account the pertinent ancient sources as well as the later reports, conclusions, and identifications that sometimes shed light on the subject and at other times cloud our view. It is not a definitive study but a series of wanderings through the physical and intellectual landscapes of the horti Sallustiani that I hope will prompt further explorations into this fascinating subject.



“In several aspects this book will be a standard for the next decades.”
Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“I know of no study quite like Kim Hartswick’s treatment of the Horti Sallustiani, although I hope that it will soon stand as a model for other scholars. . . . The wealth of factual knowledge that has gone into this study is immense. . . . This is a marvelous piece of truly new scholarship.”
Ingrid D. Rowland, Getty Research Institute, author of The Culture of the High Renaissance: Ancients and Moderns in Sixteenth-Century Rome


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