During the second and first centuries BC, the Romans conquered large parts of the Mediterranean world including the territories of Macedonia, Asia Minor and Egypt. Massive financial gains in combination with cultural encounters generated impulses, which transformed Roman ways of life and set new standards, particularly with regard to the Roman nobility. The changes also affected living spaces and houses, as in the case of the traditionally landowning nobility on the extra-urban central Italian landscape with its country houses, the so-called villae. Until then, the extra-urban landscapes were primarily used for agricultural production and constituted a source of income. Gradually, traditional farmhouses and their properties on the Italian landscapes evolved into magnificent prestige estates.
Subsequently, landscapes were altered to fit to the converted life styles, be it by levelling or terracing hills, draining grounds, creating infrastructures, laying out large gardens or just by large-scale villa construction. In addition, the way of life on the countryside at the villas tended to change. Thus, instead of only being working farmers controlling farm production, the owners also visited their villas to spend leisure time (otium), using the estates as places to relax, to read and write, to meet other nobiles and debate on politics, literature or economics, to feast or to enjoy art and architecture. Therefore, the Roman nobility created a new social and cultural space, physically shaped within the central Italian landscape.
This development is attested by different types of sources such as archaeological finds, today’s landscape and road network, and not least by ancient texts. Nevertheless, an extensive study of Roman villa landscapes based on the collection and analysis of a large number of references in ancient literary sources is lacking until now. As a result, the present Ph.D. project will not only provide a database of such sources but moreover present a prospect of different coeval perceptions and evaluations of villa landscapes. The results are likely to confirm the status of Italian villa landscapes as highly relevant social and cultural spaces. Nonetheless, the text-orientated research project on Roman villa landscapes can only provide a basis, which needs to be contrasted with and supplemented by data from archaeobotanical, archaeoecological, and archaeogeographical research on climate, soils, vegetation/plants in villa gardens, crops, land use, etc. Results from publications on related topics (villae in Roman provinces, perception of nature and landscapes in general) will be considered.