previous next

3% of the text is displayed below. If you wish to view the entire text, please click here


AGRICULTU´RA agriculture.

Authorities.--When we remember that agriculture, in the most extended acceptation of the term, was for many centuries the chief, we may say almost the sole, peaceful occupation followed by any large portion of the free population in those European nations which first became highly civilised, we shall not be surprised to find that Varro (R. R. 1.1.7 foll.) was able to mention upwards of fifty Greek writers who had contributed to this science. But although the Homeric poems are filled with a series of the most charming pictures derived from the business of a country life; although Hesiod supplies abundance of wise saws and pithy aphorisms, the traditional wisdom accumulated during many successive generations; although Xenophon has bequeathed to us a most graceful essay on the moral beauty of rustic pursuits, interspersed with not a few instructive details; and although much that belongs to the Natural History of the subject will be found treasured up in the vast store-houses of Aristotle and Theophrastus, yet nothing which can be regarded in the light of a formal treatise upon the art, as exhibited in the pastures and cornfields of Hellas, has descended to us, except a volume, divided into twenty books, commonly known as the Geoponica (*gewponika/), whose history is somewhat obscure, but which, according to the account commonly received, was drawn up at the desire of Constantine VI. (A.D. 780-802) by a certain Cassianus Bassus, and consists of extracts from numerous writers, chiefly Greek, many of whom flourished in the second, third, and fourth centuries. This collection is systematically arranged, and comprehends all the chief branches; but it has never been considered of much value, except in so far as it tends to confirm or illustrate the statements found elsewhere. The information conveyed by it is, upon many points, extremely meagre, the materials were worked up at a late period by an editor with whose history and qualifications for his task we are altogether unacquainted, while the most important quotations are taken from authors of whom we know little or nothing, so that we cannot tell whether their precepts apply to the same or to different climates, whether they give us the fruit of their own experience, or, as we have great reason to suspect in many instances, were themselves mere compilers.

The Romans, during the brightest periods of their history, were devotedly attached to the only lucrative profession in which any citizen could embark with honour; and from the first dawn until the decline of their literature, rural economy formed a favourite theme for composition both in prose and verse. The works of the Sasernae, father and son, those of Tremellius Scrofa, of Julius Hyginus, of Cornelius Celsus, of Julius Atticus, and of Julius Graecinus, have perished; but we still possess, in addition to Virgil, four “Scriptores de Re Rustica,” two at least of whom were practical men. We have, in the first place, 162 chapters from the pen of the elder Cato (B.C. 234-149), a strange medley, containing many valuable hints for the management of the farm, the olive garden, and the vineyard, thrown together without order or method, and mixed up with medical prescriptions, charms for dislocated and broken bones, culinary receipts, and sacred litanies, the whole forming a remarkable compound of simplicity and shrewdness, quaint wisdom and blind superstition, bearing, moreover, a strong impress of the national character; in the second place, we have the three books of Varro (B.C. 116-28), drawn up at the age of eighty, by one who was not only the most profound scholar of his age, but likewise a soldier, a politician, an enthusiastic and successful farmer; in the third place, the thirteen books of Columella (A.D. 40 [?]), more minute than the preceding, especially in all that relates to the vine, the olive, gardening, and fruit-trees, but evidently proceeding from one much less familiar with his subject; and, lastly, the fourteen books of Palladius (a writer of the fourth century who closely copies Columella), of which twelve form a farmer's calendar, the different operations being ranged according to the months in which they ought to be performed. Besides the above, a whole book of Pliny and many detached chapters are devoted to matters connected with the labours of the husbandman; but in this, as in the other portions of that remarkable encyclopaedia, the assertions must be received with caution, since they cannot be regarded as exhibiting the results of original investigation, nor even a very correct representation of the opinions of others.

We ought not here to pass over unnoticed the great work of Mago the Carthaginian, who, as a native of one of the most fertile and carefully cultivated districts of the ancient world, must have had ample opportunities for acquiring knowledge. This production, extending to twenty-eight books, had attained such high fame that, after the destruction of Carthage, it was translated into Latin by orders of the senate; a Greek version, with additions from the Greek authorities and omissions, was executed by Cassius Dionysius of Utica, and published in twenty books during the century before the commencement of our era; and this, again, was a few years afterwards condensed into six books by Diophanes of Nicaea, and presented to King Deiotarus. In what follows, Cato, Varro, and Columella will be our chief supports, although references will be made to and illustrations drawn from the other sources indicated above. (Varr. R. R. 1.1; Col. R. R. 1.1; Plin. Nat. 18.9 foll.; Proleg. ad Geopon. in ed. Niclas; cf. Teuffel, Roman Lit. i. p. 73 foll.)

Division of the Subject.

Rural Economy may be treated of under two distinct heads--

A. Agriculture proper (Agricultura), or the art of tilling the soil.

B. The management of stock (Pastio.


Agriculture proper teaches the art of raising the various crops necessary for the sustenance and comfort of man and of the domestic animals, in such a manner that the productive energies of the soil may be fully developed but not exhausted or enfeebled, and teaches, further, how this may be accomplished with the least possible [p. 1.56]expenditure of capital. The crops to which the Greeks and Romans chiefly directed their attention were--
  • 1. Different kinds of grain, such as wheat and barley; leguminous vegetables cultivated for their seeds, such as beans, peas, and lupines; herbs cut green for forage, such as grass, tares, and lucerne ; and plants which furnished the raw material for the textile fabrics, such as hemp and flax.
  • 2. Fruit trees, especially the vine, the olive, and the fig.
  • 3. Garden stuffs.--For the second of these divisions we refer to the articles OLEA and VINEA; and we shall not touch at all upon gardening, since the minute details connected with this topic are of little or no service in illustrating the classics generally.

Agriculture in its restricted sense comprehends a knowledge--

  • I. Of the subject of our operations, that is, the farm (fundus, praedium), which must be considered: a. with reference to its situation and soil (quo loco et qualis), and b. with reference to the dwelling-house and steading (villa et stabula.
  • II. Of the instruments (instrumenta) required to perform the various operations (quae in fundo opus sint ac debeant esse culturae causa,) these instruments being twofold: a. men (homines); and b. the assistants of men (adminicula hominum), viz. domestic animals (boves, equi, canes, &c.), together with tools (instrumenta), properly so called, such as ploughs and harrows. (Varro, 1.18.)
  • III. Of the operations themselves, such as ploughing, harrowing, and sowing (quae in fundo colendi causa sint facienda), and of the time when they are to be performed (quo quidquid tempore fieri conveniat). (Varro, 1.5.)
  • IV. Of the object of these operations, viz. the different plants considered with reference to their species, varieties, and habits. Under this head we may also conveniently include what is termed the rotation of crops; that is, the order in which they ought to succeed each other upon the same ground.


a. Cognitio fundi., Knowledge of the Farm.

In selecting a farm, the two points which first demanded attention were: 1. The healthiness of the situation (salubritas), a matter of the greatest anxiety in Italy, where the ravages of malaria appear to have been not less fatal in ancient than they have proved in modern times; and, 2. The general fertility of the soil. It was essential to be fully satisfied upon both of these particulars; for to settle in a pestilential spot was to gamble with the lives and property of all concerned (non aliud est atque alea domini vitae et rei familiaris: Varro, 1.4, 5); and no man in his senses would undertake to till land which was not likely to yield a fair return for his outlay of money and labour (fructus pro impensa ac labore.) The next object of solicitude was a good aspect. The property was, if possible, to have a southerly exposure (Cato, 1.3), to be sheltered by a wooded hill from the sweep of boisterous and cutting winds (Varro, 1.12), and not to be liable to sudden misfortunes (ne calamitosum siet), such as inundations or violent hail-storms. It was highly important that it should be in the vicinity of a populous town (oppidum validum,) or, if not, that it should be readily accessible either by sea or by a navigable stream (amnis qua naves ambulant), or by a good well-frequented road (via bona celebrisque); that there should be an abundant supply of water (bonum aquarium) ; that it should be so situated that the proprietor, if he did not live upon the estate, might be able to give active and constant personal superintendence; and, finally, that it should be moderate in size, so that every portion might be brought into full cultivation (laudato ingentia rura, Exiguum colito: Verg. G. 2.412).


These preliminary matters being ascertained, the soil might be considered in reference: a. to its general external features (forma); b. to its internal qualities (qualis sit terra.

a. In so far as its external features were concerned it might be flat (solum campestre), or upland rolling ground (collinum), or high lying (montanum), or might comprise within its limits all three, which was most desirable, or any two of them. These variations would necessarily exercise important influence on the climate, on the description of crops which might be cultivated with advantage, and on the time chosen for performing the various operations, the general rule being that as we ascend the temperature falls, that corn and sown crops in general (segetes) succeed best on plains, vineyards (vineae) on gentle slopes, and timber trees (silvae) upon elevated sites, and that the different labours of the rustic may be commenced earlier upon low than upon high ground. When flat, it was better that it should incline gently and uniformly in one direction (aequabiliter in unam partem vergens) than be a dead level (ad libellam aequus), for in the latter case, the drainage being necessarily imperfect, it would have a tendency to become swampy; but the worst form was when there were converging slopes, for there the water collected into pools (lacunas). (Varro, 1.6.)

b. In so far as its internal qualities were concerned, soil might be classed under six heads, forming three antagonistic pairs:--

  • 1. The deep and fat (pingue).
  • 2. The shallow and lean (macrum, jejunum).
  • 3. The loose (solutum).
  • 4. The dense (spissum).
  • 5. The wet (humidum, aquosum, uliginosum).
  • 6. The dry (siccum).
While the endless gradations and combinations of which the elementary qualities were susceptible produced all the existing varieties. These are named sometimes from their most obvious constituents: the stony (lapidosum), the gravelly (glareosum), the sandy (arenosum), the mortary (sabulosum), the chalky (cretosum), the clayey (argillosum); sometimes from their colour: the black (nigrum), the dark (pullum), the grey (subalbum), the red (rubicundum), the white (album); sometimes from their consistency: the crumbling (putre, friabile, cinericium), as opposed to the tenacious (densum, crassum, spissum); sometimes from their natural products: the grassy (graminosum, herbosum), the weedy (spurcum); sometimes from their taste: the salt (salsum), the bitter (amarum); rubrica seems to have been a sort of red chalky clay, but what the epithets rudecta and materina applied to earth (terra) by Cato may indicate it is hard to determine (Cato, 34; comp. Plin. H.N. 18.163 ff.), probably “poor” and “hard.” The great object of the cultivator being to separate the particles [p. 1.57]as finely as possible (neque enim aliud est colere quam resolvere et fermentare terram), high value was attached to those soils which were not only rich, but naturally pulverulent. Hence the first place was held by solum pingue et putre, the second by pinguiter densum, while the worst was that which was at once dry, tenacious, and poor (siccum pariter et densum et macrum). The ancients were in the habit of forming an estimate of untried ground, not only from the qualities which could be detected by sight and touch, but also from the character of the trees, shrubs, and herbage growing upon it spontaneously,--a test of more practical value than any of the others enumerated in the second Georgic (177-258).

When an estate was purchased, the land might be either in a state of culture (culta novalia), or in a state of nature (rudis ager.

The comparative value of land under cultivation, estimated by the crops which it was capable of bearing, is fixed by Cato (1), according to the following descending scale:--

  • 1. Vineyards (vinea), provided they yielded good wine in abundance.
  • 2. Garden ground well supplied with water (hortus irriguus).
  • 3. Osier beds (salictum).
hide References (145 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (145):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.36
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.370
    • Homer, Iliad, 13.589
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.550
    • Homer, Iliad, 5.499
    • Homer, Odyssey, 17.297
    • Homer, Odyssey, 8.124
    • Homer, Iliad, 10.351
    • Homer, Iliad, 11.67
    • Homer, Iliad, 13.588
    • Homer, Iliad, 13.704
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.540
    • Homer, Iliad, 20.495
    • Homer, Iliad, 21.77
    • Homer, Odyssey, 5.127
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.3.112
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.104
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.113
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.151
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.178
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.193
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.210
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.215
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.216
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.227
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.228
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.63
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.73
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.75
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.81
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.94
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.97
    • Vergil, Georgics, 2.204
    • Vergil, Georgics, 2.412
    • Vergil, Georgics, 4.39
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.112
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.119
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.155
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.181
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.21
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.212
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.225
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.47
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.70
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.71
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.77
    • Vergil, Georgics, 3.313
    • Vergil, Georgics, 3.387
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 10.46
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 10.51
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 17
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 17.39
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 17.41
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.10
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.47
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.49
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.76
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.83
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 10.104
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 10.43
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 11.11
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 17.34
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 17.49
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 17.50
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 17.53
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 17.56
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.109
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.116
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.123
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.124
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.125
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.53
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.62
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.70
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.75
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.85
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.88
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.9
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.97
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 19.2
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 9.37
    • Cicero, De Senectute, 15
    • Cicero, De Divinatione, 1.3
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 10.15
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 18.8
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 4.11
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 1.6
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 1.7
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 1.8
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.1
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.10
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.11
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.11.1
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.12
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.13
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.14
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.15
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.16
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.18
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.19
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.2
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.20
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.21
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.3
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.4
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.4.11
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.4.8
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.5
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.6
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.8
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.9
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.9.13
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 2.9.17
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 3.3.4
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 6.27
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 6.29
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 6.3
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 6.36
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 6.37
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 7.1
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 7.12
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 7.3
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 7.8
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 7.9
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 8.11
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 8.13
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 8.15
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 8.16
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 8.17
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 8.2
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 8.8
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 8.9
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 9.1
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 9.3
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 13.1
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 13.59
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 13.6
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 13.9
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.153
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 2.37
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 3.58
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 5.37
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.2
    • Ovid, Fasti, 5
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: