University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


Ancient Roman houses (domus) were both public and private spaces and were used by the homeowner (dominus) to send messages of power to his guests and family members. Scholarly analysis of the rhetorical power of the architecture and decoration of the domus has largely overlooked the role of the garden within this context. It is generally assumed that the purpose of the garden was to provide a calm green space in the center of an urban home. The purpose of this paper is to challenge this overly simplistic reading of Roman gardens and to explore how the dominus might have used this space in a much more complicated way, to affirm his power in his home and in Roman social hierarchy by alternately reassuring and unsettling his guests. Consequently, this paper will first briefly examine the background of natural landscape in literature and myth, and then it will elucidate the rhetorical strategy of power in the Roman house through an overview of these buildings, followed by an examination of a specific example, the House of Octavius Quartio in Pompeii.