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Kepos: Garden Spaces in Ancient Greece: Imagination and Reality

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posted on 2016-05-20, 11:43 authored by Margaret Helen Hilditch
This is the first examination of the significance of ancient Greek gardens. It analyses the use of the word κῆπος (kepos) using linguistic and contextual analysis, based on two databases of literary and epigraphic sources. It also uses iconographic, archaeological, ethnographical and palaeobotanical evidence to examine how Archaic and Classical gardens were perceived, the associations they invoked, and how ‘the garden’ functioned within the real Athenian landscape. Little is known about ancient Greek gardens, largely because the sources are so meagre, as is the research context. Consequently, inaccurate assumptions are made, based on Roman practice and influenced by contemporary perceptions. Understanding Greek garden practice is important because gardens are a vital part of a traditional society’s agrarian landscape. It is equally important to understand Greek perceptions of ‘the garden’, because they can illuminate societal attitudes towards both landscape and people: ‘the garden’ is easily co-opted as a symbol to express ideas about the surrounding culture and its beliefs. Therefore, the scanty sources that do exist relate more to ‘gardens of the mind’ than to real plots of land. Such gardens illuminate aspects of Greek perceptions, whilst their real counterparts play a vital role in negotiating overall city space. This study found that κῆπος was a shifting, elusive word and concept, having multiple uses and functioning in different ways, like the gardens themselves, which defy categorisation into discrete types. It is clear that conceptual and real garden spaces were constantly interacting and mutually reinforcing and that both the word and the real plots of land carried specific, long-enduring associations. The three essential ‘resonances’ were: of care for something highly valued; of luxury, privilege and eastern elements; and of the tempting yet risky presence of women. These, combined with the Greek landscape, made the garden an ambivalent, borderline space.



Foxhall, Lin; MacSweeney, Naoise

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Archaeology and Ancient History

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD


A number of images have been removed from the electronic copy of this thesis for copyright reasons. A list of the removed images is available below.



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    University of Leicester Theses