garden of Hesperides seems to be motivated by theoretical
more than actual purposes. With this respect, it should be
pointed out that for historical and phytogeographic reasons,
the famous mala aurea in the Hesperides’garden clearly
could not possibly be orange trees, which came from the East
much later: ﬁrst, the bitter orange tree with the Arabs, and
then, the sweet orange tree with the Portuguese colonies.
Several reasons, instead, are in favor of identifying the fruit
trees as quinces (Cydonia oblonga).
Thoroughly incomplete and most of all unacceptable for
most of the proposed binomials is Penso’s identiﬁcation 
only describing eight species, of which the following are
judged to be incorrect: Abies alba (mistaken for Picea ex-
celsa), Chamomilla recutita (cfr. Anthemis), Malus domes-
tica (cfr. Cydonia oblonga), Plantago major, P. lanceolata
(cfr. Phyllitis scolopendrium), and Prunus persica (cfr. Pu-
The identiﬁcation by Gabriel  is, instead, basically
correct, though somewhat incomplete, with the only excep-
tion of Vinca major, which appears not to be reasonable.
Furthermore, among the proposed binomials, the following
different species are suggested: Chrysanthemum carina-
tum = Chrysanthemum coronarium; Rosa damascena =
Rosa centifolia; and Viola salvatica = Viola reichenba-
chiana.To avoid any ambiguity, a few terms expressed by the
author in a common nomenclature are given here a precise
deﬁnition: spruce = Picea excelsa; pine = Pinus pinea; oak =
Quercus ilex and Q. robur gr.; palms = Phoenix dactylifera.
Although not formally deﬁned, other names referred to are
not ambiguous, i.e., laurels, myrtles, oleanders, their genera
corresponding to a single species.
Beside the scientiﬁc problem of accurately deﬁning the
typology of the plants represented, an attempt should now be
made toward decoding the message underlying the decora-
tion. It is no doubt unlikely for a place of such a high value
and signiﬁcance that nature would be represented as a mere
description of an idyllic and bountiful landscape; or as an
ornament to satisfy a mere esthetic enjoyment. The careful
and orderly sequence of trees, plants, and birds no doubt
hides a key which might not only help reading but also be a
fundamental support that cannot be renounced.
As preliminary remarks for a critical evaluation of the
symbolic signiﬁcance of the paintings, the results achieved
on particular items can be summarized and pointed out as
•The ﬂora does not look very rich as a whole and its
elements appear as a repetitive trend.
•Most species are autochthonous, while the “exotic”ele-
ments generally originate from the Eastern Mediterra-
nean basin or paleotropical regions, only in one instance
is a northern species clearly present.
•The species represented lack a seasonal consistency, in
that some are depicted as in springtime while some
others are in autumn.
•The naturalistic description of the species is not rigor-
ous, their identiﬁcation often being made on a few diag-
nostic elements, e.g., trees and shrubs are often identiﬁ-
able through their fruits.
•The layout of the plants does not appear to be casual:
some species are given special emphasis, which is some-
times attained through their location on a visual plane,
some others through their more or less evident recur-
•The depiction of the garden rules out any anthropomor-
phic representations (statues, hermae, etc.). The only
built up elements are the marble balustrades and “incan-
nunciate”, these being thatches made with reeds, bow-
ers so to say. Nature with its painted plants and birds
commands the whole scene.
Consequent to the considerations above, it would appear
appropriate to review some of the interpretations of these
paintings only from a descriptive and illusory point of view,
while a symbolistic purpose is clearly evident. With this
respect, note that Förtsch’s thesis  is the only one explic-
itly advanced to identify in the plant sequence a precise
pattern of gloriﬁcation of the fecundity of the Augustan
Starting from the present botanical identiﬁcation, we sug-
gested that this thesis should be revised better in the light
of the symbolism that can be associated to the more relevant
species and to the aforementioned considerations.
We are grateful to the Archaeological Bureau of the Mu-
seo delle Terme (Dr. ssa Barbera) and of Palazzo Massimo
(Dr. ssa Sapelli) and to the Central Bureau of the Ministry for
Cultural Heritage (Dr. ssa Di Mino), for their support in the
analysis of the pictures. We are also grateful to the CNR
(Com 15) for the ﬁnancial support in the study of botanical
iconography in the Roman archaeology.
 C. Calci, G. Messineo, La Villa di Livia a Prima Porta (Eds.), Soprint-
endenza Archeologica di Roma, De Luca,, Roma, 1984, pp. 7–20.
 Plinio, Einaudi, Naturalis historia, vol. 3, 1985.
 Suetonious, Vitae Caesarum.
 M. Cagiano De Azevedo, La sala dipinta della Villa di Livia a Prima
Porta, Bollettino dell’Istituto Centrale del Restauro XII (1953) 11–46.
 M. Möller, Die Botanik in den Fresken derVilla Livia. Mitt. Deutsch,
Arch. Inst. Röm. Abteilung (1890) 78–80.
 M. Gabriel, Livia’s Garden Room at Prima Porta I.A.G. Qb 185a New
 G. Penso, Le piante medicinali nell’arte e nella storia, Ciba Geigy,,
154 G. Caneva, L. Bohuny / Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 149–155