Leisure and Labor in a Pompeian Garden: The Casa Della Regina Carolina Project, Pompeii, 2022 - 2023 Field Seasons (20 min)


Caitie Barrett, Cornell University, Kathryn Gleason, Cornell University, Lee Graña, Independent Scholar, Annalisa Marzano, Università di Bologna, and Kaja Tally-Schumacher, Cornell University


This paper presents preliminary results from the 2022–2023 field seasons of the Casa della Regina Carolina (CRC) Project, at house VIII.3.14 in Pompeii. This work and two prior field seasons (2018–2019) were conducted with permission from the Italian Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. This project documents an elite Pompeian dwelling via total station, LiDAR survey, GPR, and photogrammetry and excavates its large garden in order to explore the ways that planted space shaped Pompeian domestic life. We understand the household as a complex assemblage that included not only the built environment and its human inhabitants, but also the plants and animals that shared this patch of urban ecology. We thus ask how the simultaneously material and living worlds of Roman gardens shaped the social, economic, and ritual practices of their inhabitants.

Our preliminary results shed light on three major themes: (1) Elite socializing and competitive display. The garden and adjacent rooms were heavily remodeled after the 62 C.E. earthquake, seemingly in the service of elite commensality. (2) Multisensory and embodied experience. People visiting this garden would have viewed the colorful plantings and the eye-catching architectural showpiece of the central shrine, listened to gurgling water and the calls of birds and insects, smelled and tasted fruits and flowers, and enjoyed the cool shade from the trees and high enclosure walls. (3) Labor and nonelite experience. The people active in this garden included not only the house owners and their guests, but also the enslaved and/or nonelite laborers for whom this was a working space. This garden thus testifies not only to the social strategies of its former owners, but also the work, expertise, and lived human experience of those people whose labor, time, and bodies were responsible for the garden’s creation and ongoing maintenance.