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Urban Gardening in Early Medieval Italy

In this project, Dr Caroline Goodson investigates places of agriculture in the cities of Italy in the early Middle Ages, such as vegetable gardens, orchards and vineyards, among churches, monuments, houses and city walls.

Funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship programme,  this project explores the social structures which governed urban food growing, and the implications of this new 'foodway' for the economy and politics of early medieval Italy. It investigates both archaeological evidence and textual sources. The excavation records of Italian cities includes significant evidence for open spaces previously considered abandoned while new palaeobotany permits the reconstruction of early medieval ecologies. From medieval Italy we have some of the richest charter evidence in all of Europe, and these permit us to see the ownership and shapes of individual townhouses with gardens, and to examine the strategies employed by city dwellers to ensure access to fresh food.

“Scholars have previously taken the evidence for urban gardening as a sign of just how deprived the early medieval economy was, that the ancient baths, theatres, and fora should be given over to cabbage patches and apple trees,” says Dr Goodson.

“I take a different approach. I see the presence of urban gardening as evidence for the importance of controlling food resources in this period. To own a plot of cultivated land in a city – whether it was a separate plot, like an allotment, or a garden and orchard next to a house – was a very important safeguard against the instability of rural crop yields, or the irregularity of markets. A few early medieval gardens have been excavated in Rome, Naples, and Florence, and in some cases palaeobotanical and paleopedological analysis permits us to know what was grown there, and what the soil was made of.

“The identification of how gardens came to be in the city, and who owned them, and what they did with them provides us with an entirely new view of society and politics in medieval cities and converging economic interests around them.”

For more information go to the Leverhulme webpage (embed link:

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