previous next


The proper plan to be pursued is this:1 the farm-house must not be unsuitable for the farm, nor the farm for the house; and we must be on our guard against following the examples of L. Lucullus and Q. Scævola, who, though living in the same age, fell into the two opposite extremes; for whereas the farm-house of Scævola was not large enough for the produce of his farm, the farm of Lucullus was not sufficiently large for the house he built upon it; an error which gave occasion to the reproof of the censors, that on his farm there was less of ground for ploughing than of floor for sweeping. The proper arrange- ments for a farm-house are not to be made without a certain degree of skill. C. Marius, who was seven times consul, was the last person who had one built at Misenum;2 but he erected it with such a degree of that artistic skill which he had displayed in castrametation, that Sylla Felix3 even made the remark, that in comparison with Marius, all the others had been no better than blind.4

It is generally agreed, that a farm-house ought neither to be built near a marsh, nor with a river in front of it; for, as Homer5 has remarked, with the greatest correctness, unwholesome vapours are always exhaled from rivers before the rising of the sun. In hot localities, a farm-house should have a northern aspect, but where it is cold, it should look towards the south; where, on the other hand, the site is temperate, the house should look due east. Although, when speaking6 of the best kinds of soil, I may seem to have sufficiently discussed the characteristics by which it may be known, I shall take the present opportunity of adding a few more indications, employing the words of Cato7 more particularly for the purpose. "The dwarf-elder," says he, "the wild plum,8 the bramble, the small bulb,9 trefoil, meadow grass,10 the quercus, and the wild pear and wild apple, are all of them indicative of a corn land. The same is the case, too, where the land is black, or of an ashy colour. All chalky soils are scorching, unless they are very thin; the same, too, with sand, unless it is remarkably fine. These remarks, however, are more applicable to champaign localities than declivities."

The ancients were of opinion, that before everything, moderation should be observed in the extent of a farm; for it was a favourite maxim of theirs, that we ought to sow the less, and plough the more: such too, I find, was the opinion entertained by Virgil,11 and indeed, if we must confess the truth, it is the wide-spread domains that have been the ruin12 of Italy, and soon will be that of the provinces as well. Six proprietors were in possession of one half of Africa,13 at the period when the Emperor Nero had them put to death. With that greatness of mind which was so peculiarly his own, and of which he ought not to lose the credit, Cneius Pompeius would never purchase the lands that belonged to a neighbour. Mago has stated it as his opinion, that a person, on buying a farm, ought at once to sell his town house;14 an opinion, however, which savours of too great rigidity, and is by no means conformable to the public good. It is with these words, indeed, that he begins his precepts; a good proof, at all events, that he looks upon the personal inspection of the owner as of primary importance.

The next point which requires our care is to employ a farmsteward15 of experience, and upon this, too, Cato16 has given many useful precepts. Still, however, it must suffice for me to say that the steward ought to be a man nearly as clever as his master, though without appearing to know it. It is the very worst plan of all, to have land tilled by slaves let loose from the houses of correction, as, indeed, is the case with all work entrusted to men who live without hope. I may possibly appear guilty of some degree of rashness in making mention of a maxim of the ancients, which will very probably be looked upon as quite incredible—"That nothing is so disadvantageous as to cultivate land in the highest style of perfection." L. Tarius Rufus, a man who, born in the very lowest ranks of life, by his military talents finally attained the consulship,17 and who in other respects adhered to the old-fashioned notions of thriftiness, made away with about one hundred millions of sesterces, which, by the liberality of the late Emperor Augustus, he had contrived to amass, in buying up lands in Picenum, and cultivating them in the highest style, his object being to gain a name thereby; the consequence of which was, that his heir renounced18 the inheritance. Are we of opinion, then, that ruin and starvation must be the necessary consequence of such a course as this? Yes, by Hercules! and the very best plan of all is to let moderation guide our judgment in all things. To cultivate land well is absolutely necessary, but to cultivate it in the very highest style is mere extravagance, unless, indeed, the work is done by the hands of a man's own family, his tenants, or those whom he is obliged to keep at any rate. But besides this, even when the owner tills the land itself, there are some crops which it is really not worth the while to gather, if we only take into account the manual labour expended upon them. The olive, too, should never be too highly19 cultivated, nor must certain soils, it is said, be too carefully tilled, those of Sicily,20 for instance; hence it is, that new comers there so often find themselves deceived.21

1 Cato, c. 3. Varro and Columella give the same advice.

2 See B. iii. c. 9.

3 Sylla the Fortunate, the implacable enemy of Marius.

4 Because, though the last comer, he had obtained the best site in the locality.

5 Od. v. 469. If the river has a bed of sand and high banks, it is really advantageous than otherwise.

6 In B. xvii. c. 3.

7 Not to be found in his works which have come down to us.

8 Prunus spinosa of Linnæus

9 See B. xix. c. 30; probably one of the genus Allium sphæroce- phalum of Linnæus.

10 "Herba pratensis." It is not known with certainty to what plant he alludes. Fée suggests that it may be the Poa pratensis, or else a phleum, alopecurus, or dactylis. All the plants here mentioned by Pliny will thrive in a calcareous soil, and their presence, as Fée remarks, is of bad augury.

11 He alludes to the famous maxim in the Georgics, B. ii. 1. 412:— ——Laudato ingentia rura,
Exiguum colito——
"Praise a large farm, cultivate a small one."

12 By introducing slovenly cultivation.

13 That small part of it known to the Romans. Hardouin says that the province of Zeugitana is alluded to, mentioned in B. v. c. 3.

14 And reside on the farm.

15 Villicus.

16 De Re Rust. c. 5.

17 A.U.C. 737.

18 Probably because it entailed too great an expense. It may have been deeply mortgaged: otherwise it is not clear why the heir refused to take it, as he might have sold a part.

19 He means to say that it is so much labour lost, as it will take care of itself; but this is hardly in accordance with his numerous directions given in B. xv. Virgil, Geor. B. ii. 421, et seq., speaks of the olive as requiring no attention when it has once taken root.

20 See B. xvii. c. 3.

21 In throwing away money and labour upon land that does not require it.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Latin (Karl Friedrich Theodor Mayhoff, 1906)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

hide References (12 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: