Gardens of Lucullus

From Academic Kids

The Gardens of Lucullus (Horti Lucullani) on the Pincian Hill on the edge of Rome introduced the Persian garden to Europe, about 60 BCE. The Villa Borghese still covers 17 acres (69,000 m²) of green on the site, now in the heart of Rome, above the Spanish Steps. Pompey called Lucullus, derisively, 'the Roman Xerxes' so it was well understood in Rome that this new luxury of gardening was Persian in origin. Cassius Dio referred to them as the horti Asiatici. The fabled gardens of Lucullus were among the most influential examples in the history of gardening.

Lucullus' villas in the hills at Tusculum, near modern Frascati, and at Naples were also set in lavish garden settings. Plutarch, 'Lucullus' ch. 37 mentions "the chambers and galleries, with their sea-views, built at Naples by Lucullus, out of the spoils of the barbarians."

Lucullus had firsthand experience of Persian gardening style, in the satraps' gardens of Anatolia ('Asia' to the Romans) and in Mesopotamia and Persia itself. As Plutarch pointed out, "Lucullus [was] the first Roman who carried an army over Taurus, passed the Tigris, took and burnt the royal palaces of Asia in the sight of the kings, Tigranocerta, Cabira, Sinope, and Nisibis, seizing and overwhelming the northern parts as far as the Phasis, the east as far as Media, and making the South and Red Sea his own through the kings of the Arabians."

Plutarch, like most of Lucullus' Roman contemporaries, thought these occupations of Lucullus' retirement unbecoming to a Roman, and mere play:

"For I give no higher name to his sumptuous buildings, porticos and baths, still less to his paintings and sculptures, and all his industry about these curiosities, which he collected with vast expense, lavishly bestowing all the wealth and treasure which he got in the war upon them, insomuch that even now, with all the advance of luxury, the Lucull an gardens are counted the noblest the emperor has. Tubero, the stoic, when he saw his buildings at Naples, where he suspended the hills upon vast tunnels, brought in the sea for moats and fish-ponds round his house, and pleasure-houses in the waters, called him Xerxes in a gown. He had also fine seats in Tusculum, belvederes, and large open balconies for men's apartments, and porticos to walk in, where Pompey coming to see him, blamed him for making a house which would be pleasant in summer, but uninhabitable in winter; whom he answered with a smile, "You think me, then, less provident than cranes and storks, not to change my home with the season."

Though a Lucullan feast has passed into proverb, Lucullus was not a mere conspicuous consumer. He formed a fine library and kept it open to scholars, wrote himself and supported writers.

His garden, which became the favorite playground of Claudius' Empress Messalina (after she forced the current owner, Valerius Asiaticus, to commit suicide), was filled with Greek sculpture, both originals and copies of “old masters”. The statue of the knife sharpener which the Medici removed to Florence was found in this garden. This statue depicts the executioner who is getting ready to flay Marsyas.

Lucullus is memorialized with a strain of Swiss chard.

External link

  • LacusCurtius website (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Italy/Lazio/Roma/Rome/_Texts/PLATOP*/Horti_Luculliani.html): in Samuel Ball Platner, Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome: Horti Lucullani
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