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Book description

Food-growing gardens first appeared in early medieval cities during a period of major social, economic, and political change in the Italian peninsula, and they quickly took on a critical role in city life. The popularity of urban gardens in the medieval city during this period has conventionally been understood as a sign of decline in the post-Roman world, signalling a move towards a subsistence economy. Caroline Goodson challenges this interpretation, demonstrating how urban gardens came to perform essential roles not only in the economy, but also in cultural, religious, and political developments in the emerging early medieval world. Observing changes in how people interacted with each other and their environments from the level of individual households to their neighbourhoods, and the wider countryside, Goodson draws on documentary, archival, and archaeological evidence to reveal how urban gardening reconfigured Roman ideas and economic structures into new, medieval values.


‘Caroline Goodson leads the reader on a fascinating journey through the cities of early medieval Italy exploring their complex landscape through archaeological and botanical evidence. She shows the enormous potential of gardens and orchard for economic and social history, by providing a vivid and original image of the interaction between nature and urban culture.’

Maria Cristina La Rocca - Università degli Studi di Padova

‘A distinctly original book, based on thorough integration of textual and archaeological sources. It refreshes a traditional topic in Italian medieval historiography, urban history, showing postclassical cities were places of agricultural production. Cultivating the City in Early Medieval Italy also brings out what was special about early medieval gardening practices in Italy by addressing the topic of urban gardening in a long duration, from imperial Roman times to the Year 1000. Its sustained discussion of that mysterious Dark Age phenomenon, the accumulation of ‘Dark Earth,’ is particularly exciting. For historians of city and countryside, early medieval archaeologists, and any who have wondered how gardens changed during the first millennium AD, this study provides many insights.’

Paolo Squatriti - University of Michigan

‘This highly original book offers important new insights into the transition from the ancient world to the Middle Ages. Clear, deeply learned, and full of surprises, it transforms what we thought we knew about early medieval urban economies and townscapes by unearthing what their inhabitants grew and ate.’

Julia Smith - University of Oxford

‘An arresting book because it confronts a real problem head on: does dark earth in post-Roman settlements signal abandonment or something much more positive like growing things to eat; and because it challenges us to believe that there were no markets in, of all places, early medieval Italian cities.’

Wendy Davies - University College London

‘The book impresses with its multi-perspectivity: besides archaeological and historical sources, the author draws on archaeobotanical studies on the diversity of plants, on economic-historical results on the circulation of coins and on climatological findings on weather changes.’

Karl Ubl Source: Historische Zeitschrift

‘This is a fascinating and beautifully written book whose significance merits wide use by scholars. Not only those who are interested in the quotidian realities of Italy and the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages but also readers who want to understand deeper and slower processes of change will find much of value here … Clearly this is an important work.’

Christopher Heath Source: Al-Masāq

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