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The Afterlife of Paradise: Near Eastern Origins of the Ancient Roman Garden

Annette Giesecke, University of Delaware, Fellow 2019–2020

In the course of my time at Dumbarton Oaks, I advanced research for my current book project on the debt of lavish ancient Roman villa gardens, such as those of Pliny the Younger and of the emperor Hadrian at Tivoli, to Near Eastern “pleasure” gardens and designed landscapes on a grand scale, all of these being earthworks designed to capture and promulgate their creators’ sociopolitical persona or agenda. My focus these past months has been Pasargadae, Iran, the garden capital founded by Cyrus the Great, who in the sixth century BCE established the far-flung Persian Empire. While engaging in large-scale geopolitics, Cyrus created a mirror of his multiethnic empire in microcosm on the fertile Murghab Plain consisting not of one but of a series of “paradises”— gardens ranging in “type” from ornamental plantings and orchards to hunting parks. Access to the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives’ collection of early twentieth-century archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld’s notebooks, drawings, and photographs of his travels through and fieldwork in Persia provided invaluable information about Pasargadae and its environs prior to contemporary archaeological investigations.