In Latin, the term hortus indicated a plot of land immediately contiguous to the house, where fruit and vegetables were grown. Excavations conducted at the Roman colonies of Cosa and Fregellae in central Italy have shown that, since the 3rd century B.C., each habitation had some open land behind it, divided into little fields.
In the Roman houses of the following centuries, the collocation of the green space behind the domus remained unchanged, but it was used for a different purpose. Starting from the 1st century B.C., in fact, the hortus became a place of pleasure and recreation, enclosed within monumental courtyards encircled by columns, the peristyles. In these spaces, consecrated to aesthetic enjoyment, decorative elements from Greek sacred gardens and gymnasiums were inserted in a verdant framework expertly designed by masters of the ars topiaria (the garden art), to create a man-made idyllic landscape, peopled by statues of satyrs, nymphs and other mythological forest-dwellers.