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There is another method, which has been invented both in Gaul and Britain, of enriching earth by the agency of itself, being * * * * and that kind known as marl.1 This soil is looked upon as containing a greater amount of fecundating principles, and acts as a fat in relation to the earth, just as we find glands existing in the body, which are formed by a condensation of the fatty particles into so many kernels. (7.) This mode of proceeding, too, has not been overlooked by the Greeks; indeed, what subject is there that they have not touched upon? They call by the name of leucargillon2 a white argillaceous earth which is used in the territory of Megara, but only where the soil is of a moist, cold nature.

It is only right that I should employ some degree of care and exactness in treating of this marl, which tends so greatly to enrich the soil of the Gallic provinces and the British islands. There were formerly but two varieties known, but more recently, with the progress of agricultural knowledge, several3 others have begun to be employed; there being, in fact, the white, the red, the columbine, the argillaceous, the tufaceous, and the sandy marls. It has also one of these two peculiarities, it is either rough or greasy to the touch; the proper mode of testing it being by the hand. Its uses, too, are of a twofold nature—it is employed for the production of the cereals only, or else for the enrichment of pasture land as well. The tufaceous4 kind is nutrimental to grain, and so is the white; if found in the vicinity of springs, it is fertile to an immeasurable extent; but if it is rough to the touch, when laid upon the land in too large a quantity, it is apt to burn up the soil. The next kind is the red marl, known as acaunumarga,5 consisting of stones mingled with a thin sandy earth. These stones are broken upon the land itself, and it is with considerable difficulty during the earlier years that the stalk of the corn is cut, in consequence of the presence of these stones; however, as it is remarkably light, it only costs for carriage one-half of the outlay required in using the other varieties. It is laid but very thinly on the surface, and it is generally thought that it is mixed with salt. Both of these varieties, when once laid on the land, will fertilize it for fifty6 years, whether for grain or for hay. (8.) Of the marls that are found to be of an unctuous na- ture, the best is the white. There are several varieties of it: the most pungent and biting being the one already mentioned. Another kind is the white chalk that is used for cleaning7 silver; it is taken from a considerable depth in the ground, the pits being sunk, in most instances, as much as one hundred feet. These pits are narrow at the mouth, but the shafts enlarge very considerably in the interior, as is the case in mines; it is in Britain more particularly that this chalk is employed. The good effects of it are found to last full eighty years; and there is no instance known of an agriculturist laying it twice on the same land during his life.8 A third variety of white marl is known as glisomarga;9 it consists of fullers' chalk 10 mixed with an unctuous earth, and is better for promoting the growth of hay than grain; so much so, in fact, that between harvest and the ensuing seed-time there is cut a most abundant crop of grass. While the corn is growing, however, it will allow no other plant to grow there. Its effects will last so long as thirty years; but if laid too thickly on the ground, it is apt to choke up the soil, just as if it had been covered with Signine11 cement. The Gauls give to the columbine marl in their language the name of eglecopala;12 it is taken up in solid blocks like stone, after which it is so loosened by the action of the sun and frost, as to split into laminæ of extreme thinness; this kind is equally beneficial for grass and grain. The sandy13 marl is employed if there is no other at hand, and on moist slimy soils, even when other kinds can be procured.

The Ubii are the only people that we know of, who, having an extremely fertile soil to cultivate, employ methods of enriching it; wherever the land may happen to be, they dig to a depth of three feet, and, taking up the earth, cover the soil with it in other places a foot in thickness; this method, however, to be beneficial, requires to be renewed at the end of every ten years. The Ædui and the Pictones have rendered their lands remarkably fertile by the aid of limestone, which is also found to be particularly beneficial to the olive and the vine.14 Every marl, however, requires to be laid on the land immediately after ploughing, in order that the soil may at once imbibe its properties; while at the same time, it requires a little manure as well, as it is apt, at first, to be of too acrid a nature, at least where it is not pasture land that it is laid upon; in addition to which, by its very freshness it may possibly injure the soil, whatever the nature of it may be; so much so, indeed, that the land is never fertile the first year after it has been employed. It is a matter of consideration also for what kind of soil the marl is required; if the soil is moist, a dry marl is best suited for it; and if dry, a rich unctuous marl. If, on the other hand, the land is of a medium quality, chalk or columbine15 marl is the best suited for it.

1 A natural mixture of argilla and calcareous stones, or subcarbonate of chalk. Fée remarks, that the ancients were not acquainted with the proper method of applying it. Marl only exercises its fertilizing influence after being reduced to dust by the action of the atmosphere, by absorbing the oxygen of the air, and giving to vegetation the carbonic acid that is necessary for their nourishment.

2 "White argilla." This, Fée thinks, is the calcareous marl, three varieties of which are known, the compact, the schistoid, and the friable.

3 At the present day there are only two varieties of marl recognized, the argillaceous and the calcareous; it is to the latter, Fée thinks, that the varieties here mentioned as anciently recognized, belonged.

4 The Marga terrea of Linnæus. It abounds in various parts of Europe.

5 From the Greek, meaning "not bitter marl."

6 Marl does not begin to fertilize till several years after it has been laid down; hence, it is generally recommended to marl the land a little at a time, and often. If the ground is fully marled, it requires to be marled afresh in about eight or ten years, and not fifty, as Pliny says.

7 "Argentaria." Used, probably, in the same way as whitening in modem times. See B. xxxv. c. 58.

8 An exaggeration, no doubt.

9 Probably meaning "smooth marl;" a variety, Fée thinks, of argillaceous marl, and, perhaps, the potter's argillaceous marl, or potter's argil. He suggests, also that it may have possibly been the Marga fullonum saponacea lamellosa of Valerius; in other words, fullers' earth.

10 Creta fullonia.

11 See B. xxxv. c. 46.

12 This would rather seem to be a name borrowed from the Greek, ἀιγλήεις, "shining," and πελιὸς, "white." Notwithstanding the resemblance, however, it is just possible that it may have been derived from the Gallic. Fée queries whether this is the schistoid calcareous marl, or the schistoid argillaceous marl, the laminæ of which divide with great facility, and the varieties of which display many colours.

13 A variety of the terreous marl.

14 It has the effect of augmenting their fruitfulness, and ameliorating the quality of the fruit. Lime is still considered an excellent improver for strong, humid soils.

15 From this passage, Fée thinks that the Columbine marl must have been of the white, slightly sparkling kind.

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  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), DOMUS
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ALBA POMPEIA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), REA´TE
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