chapter  7
26 Pages

Where was the ‘wilderness’ in Roman times?

ByCATHERINE DELANO SMITH

Wilderness is, of course, largely what people think it is (Nash 1981, 6). As a concept it has had a long history. One ‘Wilderness’ Act (1962, establishing a National Wilderness Preservation System in the USA) defines a wilderness region as one which ‘shows no significant ecological disturbance from on-site human activity’. Another stipulates that a wilderness should retain something of ‘its primaeval character’ (Nash 1981, 5). However defined, the concept of wilderness is a binary one, conveying the notion of a scale between two poles, and thus two extremes. It invokes polar­ ized contrasts and provokes oppositions: wilderness against civilization; the wild against the tame; places of disorder, confu­ sion, and savageness against controlled and orderly places; places usually (but not always) hostile and alien as opposed to pleasant, reassuring places. Above all, wilderness represents nature untamed as opposed to nature tamed.1