Domesticating Empire: Egyptian Landscapes in Pompeian Gardens
(Oxford University Press, 2019) is the first contextually-oriented monograph on Egyptian imagery in Roman households. Caitlín Eilís Barrett
, Associate Professor of Classics at Cornell University, draws on case studies from Flavian Pompeii to investigate the close association between representations of Egypt and a particular type of Roman household space: the domestic garden. Through paintings and mosaics portraying the Nile, canals that turned the garden itself into a miniature "Nilescape," and statuary depicting Egyptian themes, many gardens in Pompeii offered ancient visitors evocations of a Roman vision of Egypt. Simultaneously faraway and familiar, these imagined landscapes made the unfathomable breadth of empire compatible with the familiarity of home. In contrast to older interpretations that connect Roman "Aegyptiaca" to the worship of Egyptian gods or the problematic concept of "Egyptomania," a contextual analysis of these garden assemblages suggests new possibilities for meaning. In Pompeian houses, Egyptian and Egyptian-looking objects and images interacted with their settings to construct complex entanglements of "foreign" and "familiar," "self" and "other." Representations of Egyptian landscapes in domestic gardens enabled individuals to present themselves as sophisticated citizens of empire. Yet at the same time, household material culture also exerted an agency of its own: domesticizing, familiarizing, and "Romanizing" once-foreign images and objects. That which was once imagined as alien and potentially dangerous was now part of the domus itself, increasingly incorporated into cultural constructions of what it meant to be "Roman." Featuring brilliant illustrations in both color and black and white, Domesticating Empire
reveals the importance of material culture in transforming household space into a microcosm of empire.
Ryan Tripp is adjunct history faculty for the College of Online and Continuing Education at Southern New Hampshire University.