Roman Farm Management - The Treatises Of Cato And Varro
by Marcus Porcius Cato
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[Transcriber's note: The extensive and lengthy footnotes have been renumbered and placed at the end of the book.]







The present editor made the acquaintance of Cato and Varro standing at a book stall on the Quai Voltaire in Paris, and they carried him away in imagination, during a pleasant half hour, not to the vineyards and olive yards of Roman Italy, but to the blue hills of a far distant Virginia where the corn was beginning to tassel and the fat cattle were loafing in the pastures. Subsequently, when it appeared that there was then no readily available English version of the Roman agronomists, this translation was made, in the spirit of old Piero Vettori, the kindly Florentine scholar, whose portrait was painted by Titian and whose monument may still be seen in the Church of Santo Spirito: in the preface of his edition of Varro he says that he undertook the work, not for the purpose of displaying his learning, but to aid others in the study of an excellent author. Victorius was justified by his scholarship and the present editor has no such claim to attention: he, therefore, makes the confession frankly (to anticipate perhaps such criticism as Bentley's "a very pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but don't call it Homer") and offers the little book to those who love the country, and to read about the country amidst the crowded life of towns, with the hope that they may find in it some measure of the pleasure it has afforded the editor.

The texts and commentaries used have been those of Schneider and Keil, the latter more accurate but the former more sympathetic.

F.H. BELVOIR, Fauquier County, Virginia.

December, 1912.


The call for a reprint of this book has afforded the opportunity to correct some errors and to make several additions to the notes.

In withholding his name from the title page the editor sought not so much to conceal his identity as to avoid the appearance of a parade in what was to him the unwonted field of polite literature. As, however, he is neither ashamed of the book nor essays the role of

A violet by a mossy stone Half hidden from the eye,

he now and here signs his name.


BELVOIR HOUSE, Christmas, 1917.



* * * * *



Introduction: Of the Dignity of the Farmer Of Buying a Farm Of the Duties of the Owner Of Laying out the Farm Of Stocking the Farm Of the Duties of the Overseer Of the Duties of the Housekeeper Of the Hands Of Draining Of Preparing the Seed Bed Of Manure Of Soil Improvement Of Forage Crops Of Planting Of Pastures Of Feeding Live Stock Of the Care of Live Stock Of Cakes and Salad Of Curing Hams






I. Introduction: the literary tradition of country life

Of the definition of Agriculture: II. a. What it is not III. b. What it is IV. The purposes of Agriculture are profit and pleasure V. The four-fold division of the study of Agriculture

I deg. Concerning the farm itself: VI. How conformation of the land affects Agriculture VII. How character of soil affects Agriculture VIII. (A digression on the maintenance of vineyards) IX. Of the different kinds of soils X. Of the units of area used in measuring land

Of the considerations on building a steading: XI. a. Size b. Water supply XII. c. Location, with regard to health XIII. d. Arrangement

Of the protection of farm boundaries: XIV. a. Fences XV. b. Monuments XVI. Of the considerations of neighbourhood

2 deg. Concerning the equipment of a farm: XVII. } & }Of agricultural labourers XVIII.} XIX. } & }Of draught animals XX. } XXI. Of watch dogs XXII. Of farming implements

3 deg. Concerning the operation of a farm: XXIII. Of planting field crops XXIV. Of planting olives XXV. } & } Of planting vines XXVI.}

4 deg. Concerning the agricultural seasons: XXVII. } & }Of the solar measure of the year, illustrated by XXVIII.}

A CALENDAR OF AGRICULTURAL OPERATIONS throughout the year, in eight seasons, viz:

XXIX. 1 deg. February 7-March 24 XXX. 2 deg. March 24-May 7 XXXI. 3 deg. May 7-June 24 XXXII. 4 deg. June 24-July 21 XXXIII. 5 deg. July 21-September 26 XXXIV. 6 deg. September 26-October 28 XXXV. 7 deg. October 28-December 24 XXXVI. 8 deg. December 24-February 7 XXXVII. Of the influence of the moon on Agriculture to which is added

ANOTHER CALENDAR OF SIX AGRICULTURAL SEASONS with a commentary on their several occupations, viz:

CHAPTER 1 deg. Preparing time: Of tillage, XXXVIII. Of manuring,

XXXIX. 2 deg. Planting time: Of the four methods of propagating plants, viz:

XL. a. Seeding and here of seed selection b. Transplanting c. Cuttage d. Graftage, and e. A "new" method, inarching XLI. Of when to use these different methods XLII. Of seeding alfalfa XLIII. Of seeding clover and cabbage XLIV. Of seeding grain

3 deg. Cultivating time: XLV. Of the conditions of plant growth XLVI. Of the mechanical action of plants XLVII. Of the protection of nurseries and meadows XLVIII. Of the structure of a wheat plant

XLIX. 4 deg. Harvest time: Of the hay harvest

L. Of the wheat harvest LI. The threshing floor LII. Threshing and winnowing LIII. Gleaning LIV. Of the vintage LV. Of the olive harvest

5 deg. Housing time: LVI. Of storing hay LVII. Of storing grain LVIII. Of storing legumes LIX. Of storing pome fruits LX. Of storing olives LXI. Of storing amurca

LXII. 6 deg. Consuming time: LXIII. Of cleaning grain LXIV. Of condensing amurca LXV. Of racking wine LXVL. Of preserved olives LXVIL. Of nuts, dates and figs LXVIII. Of stored fruits LXIX. Of marketing grain

Epilogue: the dangers of the streets of Rome



Introduction:—the decay of country life

I. Of the origin, the importance and the economy of live stock husbandry II. Of sheep III. Of goats IV. Of swine V. Of neat cattle VI. Of asses VII. Of horses VIII. Of mules IX. Of herd dogs N. Of shepherds XI. Of milk and cheese and wool



I. Introduction: the antiquity of country life II. Of the definition of a Roman villa III. Of the Roman development of the industries of the steading IV. Of aviaries V. a. for profit b. for pleasure (including here the description of Varro's own aviary) VI. Of pea-cocks VII. Of pigeons VIII. Of turtle doves IX. Of poultry X. Of geese XI. Of ducks XII. Of rabbits XIII. Of game preserves XIV. Of snails XV. Of dormice XVI. Of bees XVII. Of fish ponds




Quaecunque autem propter disciplinam ruris nostrorum temporum cum priscis discrepant, non deterrere debent a lectione discentem. Nam multo plura reperiuntur, apud veteres, quae nobis probanda sint, quam quae repudianda.


The study of the Roman treatises on farm management is profitable to the modern farmer however practical and scientific he may be. He will not find in them any thing about bacteria and the "nodular hypothesis" in respect of legumes, nor any thing about plant metabolism, nor even any thing about the effects of creatinine on growth and absorption; but, important and fascinating as are the illuminations of modern science upon practical agriculture, the intelligent farmer with imagination (every successful farmer has imagination, whether or not he is intelligent) will find some thing quite as important to his welfare in the body of Roman husbandry which has come down to us, namely: a background for his daily routine, an appreciation that two thousand years ago men were studying the same problems and solving them by intelligent reasoning. Columella well says that in reading the ancient writers we may find in them more to approve than to disapprove, however much our new science may lead us to differ from them in practice. The characteristics of the Roman methods of farm management, viewed in the light of the present state of the art in America, were thoroughness and patience. The Romans had learned many things which we are now learning again, such as green manuring with legumes, soiling, seed selection, the testing of soil for sourness, intensive cultivation of a fallow as well as of a crop, conservative rotation, the importance of live stock in a system of general farming, the preservation of the chemical content of manure and the composting of the rubbish of a farm, but they brought to their farming operations some thing more which we have not altogether learned—the character which made them a people of enduring achievement. Varro quotes one of their proverbs "Romanus sedendo vincit," which illustrates my present point. The Romans achieved their results by thoroughness and patience. It was thus that they defeated Hannibal and it was thus that they built their farm houses and fences, cultivated their fields, their vineyards and their oliveyards, and bred and fed their live stock. They seem to have realized that there are no short cuts in the processes of nature, and that the law of compensations is invariable. The foundation of their agriculture was the fallow[1] and one finds them constantly using it as a simile—in the advice not to breed a mare every year, as in that not to exact too much tribute from a bee hive. Ovid even warns a lover to allow fallow seasons to intervene in his courtship.

While one can find instruction in their practice even today, one can benefit even more from their agricultural philosophy, for the characteristic of the American farmer is that he is in too much of a hurry.

The ancient literature of farm management was voluminous. Varro cites fifty Greek authors on the subject whose works he knew, beginning with Hesiod and Xenophon. Mago of Carthage wrote a treatise in the Punic tongue which was so highly esteemed that the Roman Senate ordered it translated into Latin, but, like most of the Greeks,[2] it is now lost to us except in the literary tradition.

Columella says that it was Cato who taught Agriculture to speak Latin. Cato's book, written in the middle of the second century B. C, was the first on the subject in Latin; indeed, it was one of the very first books written in that vernacular at all. Of the other Latin writers whose bucolic works have survived, Varro and Virgil wrote at the beginning of the Augustan Age and were followed by the Spanish Columella under Tiberius, and by Pliny (with his Natural History) under Titus. After them (and "a long way after," as Mr. Punch says) came in the fourth century the worthy but dull Palladius, who supplied the hornbook used by the agricultural monks throughout the Dark Ages.

MARCUS PORCIUS CATO (B.C. 234-149), known in history as the elder Cato, was the type of Roman produced by the most vigorous days of the Republic. Born at Tusculum on the narrow acres which his peasant forefathers had tilled in the intervals of military service, he commenced advocate at the country assizes, followed his fortunes to Rome and there became a leader of the metropolitan bar. He saw gallant military service in Spain and in Greece, commanded an army, held all the curule offices of state and ended a contentious life in the Senate denouncing Carthage and the degeneracy of the times.

He was an upstanding man, but as coarse as he was vigorous in mind and in body. Roman literature is full of anecdotes about him and his wise and witty sayings.

Unlike many men who have devoted a toilsome youth to agricultural labour, when he attained fame and fortune he maintained his interest in his farm, and wrote his De re rustica in green old age. It tells what sort of farm manager he himself was, or wanted to be thought to be, and, though a mere collection of random notes, sets forth more shrewd common sense and agricultural experience than it is possible to pack into the same number of English words. It remains today of much more than antiquarian interest.

MARCUS TERENTIUS VARRO (B.C. 116-28) whom Quintilian called "the most learned of the Romans," and Petrarch "il terzo gran lume Romano," ranking him with Cicero and Virgil, probably studied agriculture before he studied any thing else, for he was born on a Sabine farm, and although of a well to do family, was bred in the habits of simplicity and rural industry with which the poets have made that name synonymous. All his life he amused the leisure snatched from his studies with intelligent supervision of the farming of his several estates: and he wrote his treatise Rerum Rusticarum in his eightieth year.[3]

He had his share of active life, but it was as a scholar that he distinguished himself.[4] Belonging to the aristocratic party, he became a friend and supporter of Pompey, and, after holding a naval command under him in the war against the Pirates in B.C. 67, was his legatus in Spain at the beginning of the civil wars and there surrendered to Caesar. He was again on the losing side at the battle of Pharsalia, but was pardoned by Caesar, who selected him to be librarian of the public library he proposed to establish at Rome.[5] From this time Varro eschewed politics and devoted himself to letters, although his troubles were not yet at an end: after the death of Caesar, the ruthless Antony despoiled his villa at Casinum (where Varro had built the aviary described in book Three), and like Cicero he was included in the proscriptions which followed the compact of the triumvirs, but in the end unlike Cicero he escaped and spent his last years peacefully at his villas at Cumae and Tusculum.

His literary activity was astonishing: he wrote at least six hundred books covering a wide range of antiquarian research. St. Augustine, who dearly loved to turn a balanced phrase, says that Varro had read so much that it is difficult to understand when he found time to write, while on the other hand he wrote so much that one can scarcely read all his books. Cicero, who claimed him as an intimate friend, describes (Acad. Ill) what Varro had written before B.C. 46, but he went on producing to the end of his long life, eighteen years later: "For," says Cicero, "while we are sojourners, so to speak, in our own city and wandering about like strangers, your books have conducted us, as it were, home again, so as to enable us at last to recognize who and whence we are. You have discussed the antiquities of our country and the variety of dates and chronology relating to it. You have explained the laws which regulate sacrifices and priests: you have unfolded the customs of the city both in war and peace: you have described the various quarters and districts: you have omitted mentioning none of the names, or kinds, or functions, or causes of divine or human things: you have thrown a flood of light on our poets and altogether on Latin literature and the Latin language: you have yourself composed a poem of varied beauties and elegant in almost every part: and you have in many places touched upon philosophy in a manner sufficient to excite our curiosity, though inadequate to instruct us."

Of Varro's works, beside the Rerum Rusticarum, there have survived only fragments, including a considerable portion of the treatise on the Latin language: the story is that most of his books were deliberately destroyed at the procurement of the Church (something not impossible, as witness the Emperor Theodosius in Corpus Juris Civilis. Cod. Lib. I, tit. I, cap. 3, Sec. I) to conceal St. Augustine's plagiarism from them; yet the De Civitate Dei, which is largely devoted to refuting Varro's pagan theology, is a perennial monument to his fame. St. Augustine says (VI, 2): "Although his elocution has less charm, he is so full of learning and philosophy that ... he instructs the student of facts as much as Cicero delights the student of style."

Varro's treatise on farm management is the best practical book on the subject which has come down to us from antiquity. It has not the spontaneous originality of Cato, nor the detail and suave elegance of Columella. Walter Harte in his Essays on Husbandry (1764) says that Cato writes like an English squire and Varro like a French academician. This is just comment on Cato but it is at once too much and too little to say of Varro: a French academician might be proud of his antiquarian learning, but would balk at his awkward and homely Latin, as indeed one French academician, M. Boissier, has since done. The real merit of Varro's book is that it is the well digested system of an experienced and successful farmer who has seen and practised all that he records.

The authority from which Virgil drew the practical farming lore, for which he has been extolled in all ages, was Varro: indeed, as a farm manual the Georgics go astray only when they depart from Varro. It is worth while to elaborate this point, which Professor Sellar, in his argument for the originality of Virgil, only suggests.[6]

After Philippi the times were ripe for books on agriculture. The Roman world had been divided between Octavian and Antony and there was peace in Italy: men were turning "back to the land."

An agricultural regeneration of Italy was impending, chiefly in viticulture, as Ferrero has pointed out. With far sighted appreciation of the economic advantages of this, Octavian determined to promote the movement, which became one of the completed glories of the Augustan Age, when Horace sang

Tua, Caesar, aetas Fruges et agris rettulit uberes.

Varro's book appeared in B.C. 37 and during that year Maecenas commissioned Virgil to put into verse the spirit of the times; just as, under similar circumstances, Cromwell pensioned Samuel Hartlib. Such is the co-incidence of the dates that it is not impossible that the Rerum Rusticarum suggested the subject of the Georgics, either to Virgil or to Maecenas.

There is no evidence in the Bucolics that Virgil ever had any practical knowledge of agriculture before he undertook to write the Georgics. His father was, it is true, a farmer, but apparently in a small way and unsuccessful, for he had to eke out a frugal livelihood by keeping bees and serving as the hireling deputy of a viator or constable. This type of farmer persists and may be recognized in any rural community: but the agricultural colleges do not enlist such men into their faculties. So it is possible that Virgil owed little agricultural knowledge to his father's precepts or example. Virgil perhaps had tended his father's flock, as he pictures himself doing under the guise of Tityrus; certainly he spent many hours of youth "patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi" steeping his Celtic soul with the beauty and the melancholy poetry of the Lombard landscape: and so he came to know and to love bird and flower and the external aspects of

wheat and woodland tilth and vineyard, hive and horse and herd,

but it does not appear that he ever followed the plough, or, what is more important, ever laid off a ploughgate. As a poet of nature no one was ever better equipped (the highest testimony is that of Tennyson), but when it came to writing poetry around the art of farm management it was necessary for him to turn to books for his facts. He acknowledges (Geo. I, 176) his obligation only to veterum praecepta without naming them, but as M. Gaston Boissier says he was evidently referring to Varro "le plus moderne de tous les anciens."[7] Virgil evidently regarded Varro's treatise as a solid foundation for his poem and he used it freely, just as he drew on Hesiod for literary inspiration, on Lucretius for imaginative philosophy, and on Mago and Cato and the two Sasernas for local colour.

Virgil probably had also the advantage of personal contact with Varro during the seven years he was composing and polishing the Georgics. He spent them largely at Naples (Geo. IV, 563) and Varro was then established in retirement at Cumae: thus they were neighbours, and, although they belonged to different political parties, the young poet must have known and visited the old polymath; there was every reason for him to have taken advantage of the opportunity. Whatever justification there may be for this conjecture, the fact remains that Varro is in the background every where throughout the Georgics, as the "deadly parallel" in the appended note will indicate. This is perhaps the most interesting thing about Varro's treatise: instructive and entertaining as it is to the farmer, in the large sense of the effect of literature on mankind, Virgil gave it wings—the useful cart horse became Pegasus.

As a consequence of the chorus of praise of the Georgics, there have been those, in all ages, who have sneered at Virgil's farming. The first such advocatus diaboli was Seneca, who, writing to Lucilius (Ep. 86) from the farm house of Scipio Africanus, fell foul of the advice (Geo, I, 216) to plant both beans and millet in the spring, saying that he had just seen at the end of June beans gathered and millet sowed on the same day: from which he generalized that Virgil disregarded the truth to turn a graceful verse, and sought rather to delight his reader than to instruct the husbandman. This kind of cheap criticism does not increase our respect for Nero's philosophic minister.[8] Whatever may have been Virgil's mistakes, every farmer of sentiment should thank God that one of the greatest poems in any language contains as much as it does of a sound tradition of the practical side of his art, and here is where Varro is entitled to the appreciation which is always due the schoolmaster of a genius.


At the beginning of the first Georgic (1-5) Virgil lays out the scope of the poem as dealing with three subjects, agriculture, the care of live stock and the husbandry of bees. This was Varro's plan (R.R. I, I, 2, and I, 2 passim) except that under the third head Varro included, with bees, all the other kinds of stock which were usually kept at a Roman steading. Varro asserts that his was the first scientific classification of the subject ever made. Virgil (G. I, 5-13) begins too with the invocation of the Sun and the Moon and certain rural deities, as did Varro (R.R. I, I, 4). The passages should be compared for, as M. Gaston Boissier has pointed out, the difference in the point of view of the two men is here illustrated by the fact that Varro appeals to purely Roman deities, while Virgil invokes the literary gods of Greece. Following the Georgics through, one who has studied Varro will note other passages for which a suggestion may be found in Varro, usually in facts, but some times in thought and even in words, viz: Before beginning his agricultural operations a farmer should study the character of the country (G. I, 50: R.R. I, 6), the prevailing winds and the climate (G. I, 51: R.R. I, 2, 3), the farming practice of the neighbourhood (G. I, 52: R.R. I, 18, 7), "this land is fit for corn, that for vines, and the other for trees," (G. I, 54: R.R. I, 6, 5). He should practise fallow and rotation (G. I, 71: R.R. I, 44, 2), and compensate the land by planting legumes (G. I, 74: R.R. I, 23); he should irrigate his meadows in summer (G. I, 104: R.R. I, 31, 5), and drain off surface water in winter (G. I, 113: R.R. I, 36). Man has progressed from a primitive state, when he subsisted on nuts and berries, to the domestication of animals and to agriculture (G. I, 121-159: R.R. II, 1, 3). The threshing floor must be protected from pests (G. I, 178: R.R. I, 51). Seed should be carefully selected (G. I, 197: R.R. 40, 2); the time for sowing grain is the autumn (G. I, 219: R.R. I, 34). "Everlasting night" prevails in the Arctic regions (G. I, 247: R.R. I, 2, 5); the importance to the farmer of the four seasons (G.I. 258; R.R. I, 27) and the influence of the Moon (G.I. 276: R.R. I, 37).

The several methods of propagating plants described (G. II, 9-34: R.R. I, 39), but here Varro follows Theophrastus (H.P. II, 1); trees grow slowly from seed (G. II, 57; R.R. I, 41, 4); olives are propagated from truncheons (G. II, 63; R.R. I, 41, 6). "The praise of Italy" (G. II, 136-176: R.R. I, 2, 6), where trees bear twice a year (G. II, 150: R.R. I, 7, 6). Certain plants affect certain soils (G. II, 177: R.R. I, 9). A physical experiment (G. II, 230; R.R. I, 7); the advantage of the quincunx in planting (G. II, 286: R.R. I, 7). Fence the vineyard to keep out live stock (G. II, 371: R.R. I, 14); the goat a proper sacrifice to Bacchus (G. II, 380: R.R. I, 2, 19). Be the first to put your vine props under cover (G. II, 409: R.R. I, 8, 6).

The points of cattle (G. III, 50: R.R. II, 5, 7); their breeding age (G. III, 61: R.R. II, 5, 13); segregate the bulls before the breeding season (G. III, 212: R.R. II, 5, 12). Recruit your herd with fresh blood (G. III, 69: R.R. II, 5, 17). How to break young oxen (G. III, 163: R.R. I, 20).

Of breeding live stock, the males should be fat, the females lean (G. III, 123-129: R.R. II, 5, 12).

The points of a horse (G. III, 79: R.R. II, 7, 5). Mares fecundated by the wind (G. III, 273: R.R. II, 1, 19). The care of the brood mare (G. III, 138: R.R. II, 7, 10). The bearing of a spirited colt in the field (G. III, 75: R.R. II, 7, 6); the training of a colt, "rattling bridles" in the stable (G. III, 184: R.R. II, 7, 12).

Supply bedding for the sheep (G. III, 298: R.R. II, 2, 8), the goat stable should face southeast (G. III, 302: R.R. II, 3, 6). Goats' hair used for military purposes (G. III, 313: R.R. II, 11, 11.) Goats affect rough pasture (G. III, 314: R.R. II, 3, 6). A shepherd's daily routine (G. III, 322; R.R. II, 2, 10-11). The life of shepherds in the saltus (G. III, 340: R.R. II, 10, 6). Beware of a ram with a spotted tongue (G. III, 387: R.R. II, 2, 4). Anoint sheep as a precaution against scab (G. III, 448: R.R. II, 11, 7).

The location of the bee-stand: a drinking pool with stones in it (G. IV, 26: R.R. III, 16, 27); planted round with bee plants (G. IV, 25: R.R. III, 16, 13), and free from an echo (G. IV, 50: R.R. III, 16, 12). When saving a swarm sprinkle bees balm and beat cymbals (G. IV, 62: R.R. III, 16, 7 and 30). Bees at war obey their leaders 'as at the sound of a trumpet,' but may be quelled by the bee-keeper (G. IV, 70-87: R.R. III, 16, 9 and 35). Keep the mottled king and destroy the black one (G. IV, 90: R.R. III, 16, 18); the "old Corycian" and the brothers Veiani (G. IV, 125: R.R. III, 16, 10): the bees' care of their king (G. IV, 212: R.R. III, 16, 8). Take off the honey twice in the season (G. IV, 221: R.R. III, 16, 34); the generation of bees from the carcase of an ox (G. IV, 281: R.R. II, 5, 5) and cf. the wisdom on this subject attributed to Varro by the Geoponica (XV, 2).


Introduction: of the dignity of the farmer

The pursuits of commerce would be as admirable as they are profitable if they were not subject to so great risks: and so, likewise, of banking, if it was always honestly conducted. For our ancestors considered, and so ordained in their laws, that, while the thief should be cast in double damages, the usurer should make four-fold restitution. From this we may judge how much less desirable a citizen they esteemed the banker than the thief. When they sought to commend an honest man, they termed him good husbandman, good farmer. This they rated the superlative of praise.[9] Personally, I think highly of a man actively and diligently engaged in commerce, who seeks thereby to make his fortune, yet, as I have said, his career is full of risks and pitfalls. But it is from the tillers of the soil that spring the best citizens, the stanchest soldiers; and theirs are the enduring rewards which are most grateful and least envied. Such as devote themselves to that pursuit are least of all men given to evil counsels.

And now, to get to my subject, these observations will serve as preface to what I have promised to discuss.

Of buying a farm

(I)[10] When you have decided to purchase a farm, be careful not to buy rashly; do not spare your visits and be not content with a single tour of inspection. The more you go, the more will the place please you, if it be worth your attention. Give heed to the appearance of the neighbourhood,—a flourishing country should show its prosperity. "When you go in, look about, so that, when needs be, you can find your way out."

Take care that you choose a good climate, not subject to destructive storms, and a soil that is naturally strong. If possible, your farm should be at the foot of a mountain, looking to the South, in a healthy situation, where labour and cattle can be had, well watered, near a good sized town, and either on the sea or a navigable river, or else on a good and much frequented road. Choose a place which has not often changed ownership, one which is sold unwillingly, that has buildings in good repair.

Beware that you do not rashly contemn the experience of others. It is better to buy from a man who has farmed successfully and built well.[11]

When you inspect the farm, look to see how many wine presses and storage vats there are; where there are none of these you can judge what the harvest is. On the other hand, it is not the number of farming implements, but what is done with them, that counts. Where you find few tools, it is not an expensive farm to operate. Know that with a farm, as with a man, however productive it may be, if it has the spending habit, not much will be left over.[12]

Of the duties of the owner.

(II) When you have arrived at your country house and have saluted your household, you should make the rounds of the farm the same day, if possible; if not, then certainly the next day. When you have observed how the field work has progressed,[13] what things have been done, and what remains undone, you should summon your overseer the next day, and should call for a report of what work has been done in good season and why it has not been possible to complete the rest, and what wine and corn and other crops have been gathered. When you are advised on these points you should make your own calculation of the time necessary for the work, if there does not appear to you to have been enough accomplished. The overseer will report that he himself has worked diligently, but that some slaves have been sick and others truant, the weather has been bad, and that it has been necessary to work the public roads. When he has given these and many other excuses, you should recall to his attention the program of work which you had laid out for him on your last visit and compare it with the results attained. If the weather has been bad, count how many stormy days there have been, and rehearse what work could have been done despite the rain, such as washing and pitching the wine vats, cleaning out the barns, sorting the grain, hauling out and composting the manure, cleaning seed, mending the old gear, and making new, mending the smocks and hoods furnished for the hands. On feast days the old ditches should be mended, the public roads worked, briers cut down, the garden dug, the meadow cleaned, the hedges trimmed and the clippings collected and burned, the fish pond cleaned out. On such days, furthermore, the slaves' rations should be cut down as compared with what is allowed when they are working in the fields in fine weather.

When this routine has been discussed quietly and with good humour and is thoroughly understood by the overseer, you should give orders for the completion of the work which has been neglected.

The accounts of money, supplies and provisions should then be considered. The overseer should report what wine and oil has been sold, what price he got, what is on hand, and what remains for sale. Security should be taken for such accounts as ought to be secured. All other unsettled matters should be agreed upon. If any thing is needed for the coming year, it should be bought; every thing which is not needed should be sold. Whatever there is for lease should be leased. Orders should be given (and take care that they are in writing) for all work which next it is desired to have done on the farm or let to contract. You should go over the cattle and determine what is to be sold. You should sell the oil, if you can get your price, the surplus wine and corn, the old cattle, the worn out oxen, and the cull sheep, the wool and the hides, the old and sick slaves, and if any thing else is superfluous you should sell that. The appetite of the good farmer is to sell, not to buy.[14]

(IV) Be a good neighbour. Do not roughly give offence to your own people. If the neighbourhood regards you kindly, you will find a readier market for what you have to sell, you will more easily get your work done, either on the place or by contract. If you build, your neighbours will aid you with their services, their cattle and their materials. If any misfortune should overtake you (which God forbid!) they will protect you with kindly interest.[15]

Of laying out the farm

(I) If you ask me what is the best disposition to make of your estate, I would say that should you have bought a farm of one hundred jugera (about 66 acres) all told,[16] in the best situation, it should be planted as follows: 1 deg. a vineyard, if it promises a good yield, 2 deg. an irrigated garden, 3 deg. an osier bed, 4 deg. an olive yard, 5 deg. a meadow, 6 deg. a corn field, 7 deg. a wood lot, 8 deg. a cultivated orchard, and 9 deg. a mast grove[17].

(III) In his youth, the farmer ought, diligently to plant his land, but he should ponder before he builds. Planting does not require reflection, but demands action. It is time enough to build when you have reached your thirty-sixth year, if you have farmed your land well meanwhile. When you do build, let your buildings be proportioned to your estate, and your estate to your buildings[18]. It is fitting that the farm buildings should be well constructed, that you should have ample oil cellars and wine vats, and a good supply of casks, so that you can wait for high prices, something which will redound to your honour, your profit and your self-respect.

(IV) Build your dwelling house in accordance with your means. If you build well in a good situation and on a good property, and furnish the house suitably for country life, you will come there more often and more willingly[19]. The farm will then be better, fewer mistakes will be made, and you will get larger crops. The face of the master is good for the land.[20]

(VI) Plant elm trees along the roads and fence rows, so that you may have the leaves to feed the sheep and cattle, and the timber will be available if you need it. If any where there are banks of streams or wet places, there plant reeds; and surround them with willows that the osiers may serve to tie the vines.

(VII) It is most convenient to set out the land nearest the house as an orchard, whence fire wood and faggots may be sold and the supply of the master obtained. In this enclosure should be planted every thing fitting to the land and vines should be married to the trees.[21]

(VIII) Near the house lay out also a garden with garland flowers and vegetables[22] of all kinds, and set it about with myrtle hedges, both white and black, as well as Delphic and Cyprian laurel.

Of stocking the farm

(X) An olive farm of two hundred and forty jugera (160 acres) ought to be stocked as follows: an overseer, a house keeper, five labourers, three ox drivers, one swineherd, one ass driver, one shepherd; in all thirteen hands: three pair of oxen,[23] three asses with pack saddles, to haul out the manure, one other ass to turn the mill, and one hundred sheep.[24]

Of the duties of the overseer.[25]

(V) These are the duties of the overseer: He should maintain discipline. He should observe the feast days. He should respect the rights of others and steadfastly uphold his own. He should settle all quarrels among the hands; if any one is at fault he should administer the punishment. He should take care that no one on the place is in want, or lacks food or drink; in this respect he can afford to be generous, for he will thus more easily prevent picking and stealing.[26]

Unless the overseer is of evil mind, he will himself do no wrong, but if he permits wrong-doing by others, the master should not suffer such indulgence to pass with impunity. He should show appreciation of courtesy, to encourage others to practise it. He should not be given to gadding or conviviality, but should be always sober. He should keep the hands busy, and should see that they do what the master has ordered. He should not think that he knows more than his master. The friends of the master should be his friends, and he should give heed to those whom the master has recommended to him. He should confine his religious practices to church on Sunday, or to his own house.[27]

He should lend money to no man unbidden by the master, but what the master has lent he should collect. He should never lend any seed reserved for sowing, feed, corn, wine, or oil, but he should have relations with two or three other farms with which he can exchange things needed in emergency. He should state his accounts with his master frequently. He should not keep any hired men or day hands longer than is necessary. He should not sell any thing without the knowledge of the master, nor should he conceal any thing from the master. He should not have any hangers-on, nor should he consult any soothsayer, fortune teller, necromancer, or astrologer. He should not spare seed in sowing, for that is bad economy. He should strive to be expert in all kinds of farm work, and, without exhausting himself, often lend a hand. By so doing, he will better understand the point of view of his hands, and they will work more contentedly; moreover, he will have less inclination to gad, his health will be better, and he will sleep more refreshingly.

First up in the morning, he should be the last to go to bed at night; and before he does, he should see that the farm gates are closed, and that each of the hands is in his own bed, that the stock have been fed. He should see that the best of care is taken of the oxen, and should pay the highest compliments to the teamsters who keep their cattle in the best condition. He should see to it that the ploughs and plough shares are kept in good repair. Plan all the work in ample time, for so it is with farm work, if one thing is done late, every thing will be late.

(XXXIX) When it rains try to find some thing to do indoors. Clean up, rather than remain idle. Remember that while work may stop, expenses still go on.

Of the duties of the housekeeper

(CXLIII) The overseer should be responsible for the duties of the housekeeper. If the master has given her to you for a wife, you should be satisfied with her, and she should respect you. Require that she be not given to wasteful habits; that she does not gossip with the neighbours and other women. She should not receive visitors either in the kitchen or in her own quarters. She should not go out to parties, nor should she gad about.[28] She should not practise religious observances, nor should she ask others to do so for her without the permission of the master or the mistress. Remember that the master practises religion for the entire household. She should be neat in appearance and should keep the house swept and garnished. Every night before she goes to bed she should see that the hearth is swept and clean. On the Kalends, the Ides, the Nones, and on all feast days, she should hang a garland over the hearth. On those days also she should pray fervently to the household gods. She should take care that she has food cooked for you and for the hands. She should have plenty of chickens and an abundance of eggs.[29] She should diligently put up all kinds of preserves every year.

Of the hands

(LVI) The following are the customary allowances for food: For the hands, four pecks of meal for the winter, and four and one-half for the summer. For the overseer, the housekeeper, the wagoner, the shepherd, three pecks each. For the slaves, four pounds of bread for the winter, but when they begin to cultivate the vines this is increased to five pounds until the figs are ripe, then return to four pounds.

(LVII) The sum of the wine allowed for each hand per annum is eight quadrantals, or Amphora, but add in the proportion as they do work. Ten quadrantals per annum is not too much to allow them to drink.

(LVIII) Save the wind fall olives as much as possible as relishes for the hands. Later set aside such of the ripe olives as will make the least oil. Be careful to make them go as far as possible. When the olives are all eaten, give them fish pickles and vinegar. One peck of salt per annum is enough for each hand.

(LIX) Allow each hand a smock and a cloak every other year. As often as you give out a smock or cloak to any one take up the old one, so that caps can be made out of it. A pair of heavy wooden shoes should be allowed every other year.

Of draining

(XLIII) If the land is wet, it should be drained with trough shaped ditches dug three feet wide at the surface and one foot at the bottom and four feet deep. Blind these ditches with rock. If you have no rock then fill them with green willow poles braced crosswise. If you have no poles, fill then with faggots. Then dig lateral trenches three feet deep and four feet wide in such way that the water will flow from the trenches into the ditches.

(CLV) In the winter surface water should be drained off the fields. On hillsides courses should be kept clear for the water to flow off. During the rainy season at the beginning of Autumn is the greatest risk from water. When it begins to rain all the hands should go out with picks and shovels and clear out the drains so that the water may flow off into the roads, and the crops be protected.

Of preparing the seed bed

(LXI) What is the first principle of good agriculture? To plough well. What is the second? To plough again; and the third is to manure. When you plough corn land, plough well and in good weather, lest you turn a cloddy furrow. The other things of good agriculture are to sow seed plentifully, to thin the young sprouts, and to hill up the roots with earth.

(V) Never plough rotten land[30] nor drive flocks or carts across it.

If care is not taken about this, the land so abused will be barren for three years.

Of manure

(V) Plan to have a big compost heap and take the best of care of the manure. When it is hauled out see that it is well rotted and spread. The Autumn is the time to do this.

(XXXVII) You can make manure of litter, lupine straw, chaff, bean stalks, husks and the leaves of ilex and of oak.[31]

(XXX) Fold your sheep on the land which you are about to seed, and there feed them leaves.[32]

Of soil improvement

(XXXVII) The things which are harmful to corn land are to plough the ground when it is rotten, and to plant chick peas which are harvested with the straw and are salt. Barley, fenugreek and pulse all exhaust corn land, as well as all other things which are harvested with the straw. Do not plant nut trees in the corn land. On the other hand, lupines, field beans and vetch manure corn land.[33]

(VI) Where the soil is rich and fertile, without shade, there the corn land ought to be. Where the land lies low, plant rape, millet, and panic grass.

Of forage crops

(VIII) If you have a water meadow you will not want forage, but if not then sow an upland meadow, so that hay may not be lacking.

(LIII) Save your hay when the times comes, and beware lest you mow too late. Mow before the seed is ripe. House the best hay by itself, so that you may feed it to the draft cattle during the spring ploughing, before the clover is mature.

(XXVII) Sow, for feed for the cattle, clover, vetch, fenugreek, field beans and pulse. Sow these crops a second and a third time.

Of planting

(XXXIV) Wherever the land is cold and wet, sow there first, and last of all in the warmest places.

Of pastures

(L) Manure the pastures in early spring in the dark of the moon, when the west wind begins to blow. When you close your pastures (to the stock) clean them and root out all weeds.

Of feeding live stock

(XXX) As long as they are available, feed green leaves of elm, poplar, oak and fig to your cattle and sheep.

(V) Store leaves, also, to be fed to the sheep before they have withered.[34]

(XXX) Take the best of care of your dry fodder, which you house for the winter, and remember always how long the winter may last.

(IV) Be sure you have well constructed stables furnished with substantial stalls and equipped with latticed feed racks. The intervals between the bars of the racks should be one foot. If you build them in this way, the cattle will not waste their food.

(LIV) This is the way that provender should be prepared and fed: When the seeding is finished, gather mast and soak it in water. Feed a measure of it every day to each steer; or if they have not been worked it will be sufficient to let them pasture the mast beds. Another good feed is a measure of grape husks which you shall have preserved in jars. By day turn the cattle out and at night feed twenty-five pounds of hay to each steer. If hay is short, feed the leaves of the ilex and ivy.[35] Stack the straw of wheat, barley, beans, vetch and lupine, indeed all the grain straws, but pick out and house the best of it. Scatter your straw with salt and you can then feed it in place of hay. When in the spring you begin to feed (more heavily to prepare for work), feed a measure of mast or of grape husks, or a measure of ground lupines, and fifteen pounds of hay. When the clover is ripe, feed that first. Gather it by hand so that it will bloom a second time, for what you harvest with the sickle blooms no more. Feed clover until it is dry, then feed vetch and then panic grass, and after the panic grass feed elm leaves. If you have poplar, mix that with the elm so that the elm may last the longer. If you have no elm feed oak and fig leaves.

Nothing is more profitable than to take good care of your cattle.

Cattle should not be put out to graze except in winter when they are not worked; for when they eat green stuff they expect it all the time, and it is then necessary to muzzle them while they plough.

Of the care of live stock

(V) The flocks and herds should be well supplied with litter and their feet kept clean. If litter is short, haul in oak leaves, they will serve as bedding for sheep and cattle. Beware of scab among the sheep and cattle. This comes from hunger and exposure to rain.

(LXXII) To prevent the oxen from wearing down their hoofs, anoint the bottom of the hoof with liquid pepper before driving them on the highroad.

(LXXIII) Take care that during the summer the cattle drink only sweet and fresh water. Their health depends on it.

(XCVI) To prevent scab among sheep, make a mixture of equal parts of well strained amurca,[36] of water in which lupine has been steeped, and of lees of good wine. After shearing, anoint all the flock with this mixture, and let them sweat profusely for two or three days. Then dip them in the sea. If you have no sea water, make salt water and dip then in that. If you will do this they will suffer no scab, they will have more and better wool and they will not be molested by ticks.

(LXXI) If an ox begins to sicken, give him without delay a raw hen's egg and make him swallow it whole. The next day make him drink from a wooden bowl a measure of wine in which has been scraped the head of an onion. Both the ox and his attendant should do these things fasting and standing upright.

(CII) If a serpent shall bite an ox, or any other quadruped, take a cup of that extract of fennel, which the physicians call smyrnean, and mix it with a measure of old wine. Inject this through his nostrils and at the same time poultice the wound with hogs' dung.[37] You can treat a man the same way.

(CLX) If a bone is dislocated it can be made sound by this incantation. Take a green reed four or five feet long, split it down the middle and let two men hold the pieces against your hips. Begin then to chant as follows:

"In Alio. S.F. Motas Vaeta, Daries Dardaries Astataries Dissunapiter"

and continue until the free ends of the reed are brought slowly together in front of you. Meanwhile, wave a knife above the reeds, and when they come together and one touches the other, seize them in your hand and cut them right and left. These pieces of reed bound upon a dislocated or fractured bone will cure it.[38]

But every day repeat the incantation, or in place of it this one:

"Huat Hanat Huat Ista Pista Sista Domiabo Damnaustra"[39]

Of cakes and salad[40]

(LXXV) This is the recipe for cheese cake (libum): Bray well two pounds of cheese in a mortar, and, when this is done, pour in a pound of corn meal (or, if you want to be more dainty, a half pound of flour) and mix it thoroughly with the cheese. Add one egg and beat it well. Pat into a cake, place it on leaves and bake slowly on a hot hearth stone under a dish.

(CXIX) This is the recipe for olive salad (epityrum): Select some white, black and mottled olives and stone them. Mix and cut them up. Add a dressing of oil, vinegar, coriander, cumin, fennel, rue and mint. Mix well in an earthen ware dish, and serve with oil.

(CXXI) This is the recipe for must cake (mustaceus): Sprinkle a peck of wheat flour with must. Add anise, cumin, two pounds of lard, a pound of cheese and shredded laurel twigs. When you have kneaded the dough, put laurel leaves under it and so bake.

Of curing hams

(CLXII) This is the way to cure hams in jars or tubs: When you have bought your hams trim off the hocks. Take a half peck (semodius) of ground Roman salt for each ham. Cover the bottom of the jar or tub with salt and put in a ham, skin down. Cover the whole with salt and put another ham on top, and cover this in the same manner. Be careful that meat does not touch meat. So proceed, and when you have packed all the hams, cover the top with salt so that no meat can be seen, and smooth it out even. When the hams have been in salt five days, take them all out with the salt and repack them, putting those which were on top at the bottom. Cover them in the same way with salt and press them down.

After the twelfth day remove the hams finally, brush off the salt and hang them for two days in the wind. On the third day wipe them off clean with a sponge and rub them with (olive) oil. Then hang them in smoke for two days, and on the third day rub them with a mixture of (olive) oil and vinegar.

Then hang them in the meat house, and neither bats nor worms will touch them.[41]





Introduction: the literary tradition of country life


Had I leisure, Fundania, this book would be more worthy of you, but I write as best I may, conscious always of the necessity of haste: for, if, as the saying is, all life is but a bubble, the more fragile is that of an old man, and my eightieth year admonishes me to pack my fardel and prepare for the long journey.

You have bought a farm and wish to increase its fertility by good cultivation, and you ask me what I would do with it were it mine. Not only while I am still alive will I try to advise you in this, but I will make my counsel available to you after I am dead. For as it befel the Sibyl to have been of service to mankind not alone while she lived, but even to the uttermost generations of men after her demise (for we are wont after so many years still to have solemn recourse to her books for guidance in interpretation of strange portents), so may not I, while I still live, bequeath my counsel to my nearest and dearest.[42] I will then write three books for you, to which you may have recourse for guidance in all things which must be done in the management of a farm.

And since, as men say, the gods aid those who propitiate them, I will begin my book by invoking divine approval, not like Homer and Ennius, from the Muses, nor indeed from the twelve great gods of the city whose golden images stand in the forum, six male and as many female, but from a solemn council of those twelve divinities who are the tutelaries of husbandmen.

* * * * *

First: I call upon Father Jupiter and Mother Earth, who fecundate all the processes of agriculture in the air and in the soil, and hence are called the great parents.

Second: I invoke the Sun and the Moon by whom the seasons for sowing and reaping are measured.

Third: I invoke Ceres and Bacchus because the fruits they mature are most necessary to life, and by their aid the land yields food and drink.

Fourth: I invoke Robigus and Flora by whose influence the blight is kept from crop and tree, and in due season they bear fruit (for which reason is the annual festival of the robigalia celebrated in honour of Robigus, and that of the floralia in honour of Flora).[43]

Next: I supplicate Minerva, who protects the olive; and Venus, goddess of the garden, wherefore is she worshipped at the rural wine festivals.

And last: I adjure Lympha, goddess of the fountains, and Bonus Eventus, god of good fortune, since without water all vegetation is starved and stunted and without due order and good luck all tillage is in vain.

* * * * *

And so having paid my duty to the gods, I proceed to rehearse some conversations[44] concerning agriculture in which I have recently taken part. From them you will derive all the practical instruction you require, but in case any thing is lacking and you wish further authority, I refer you to the treatises of the Greeks and of our own countrymen.

The Greek writers who have treated incidentally of agriculture are more than fifty in number. Those whom you may consult with profit are Hieron of Sicily and Attalus Philometor, among the philosophers; Democritus the physicist; Xenophon the disciple of Socrates; Aristotle and Theophrastus, the peripatetics; Archytas the pythagorean; likewise the Athenian Amphilochus, Anaxipolis of Thasos, Apollodorus of Lemnos, Aristophanes of Mallos, Antigonus of Cyme, Agathocles of Chios, Apollonius of Pergamum, Aristandrus of Athens, Bacchius of Miletus, Bion of Soli, Chaeresteus and Chaereas of Athens, Diodorus of Priene, Dion of Colophon, Diophanes of Nicaea, Epigenes of Rhodes, Evagon of Thasos, Euphronius of Athens, and his name sake of Amphipolis, Hegesias of Maronea, the two Menanders, one of Priene, the other of Heraclaea, Nicesius of Maronea, Pythion of Rhodes. Among the rest whose countries I do not know, are Andiotion, Aeschrion, Aristomenes, Athenagoras, Crates, Dadis, Dionysius, Euphiton, Euphorion, Eubulus, Lysimachus, Mnaseas, Menestratus, Plentiphanes, Persis, and Theophilus.

All those whom I have named wrote in prose, but there are those also who have written in verse, as Hesiod of Ascra and Menecrates of Ephesus.

The agricultural writer of the greatest reputation is, however, Mago the Carthaginian[45] who wrote in the Punic tongue and collected in twenty-eight books all the wisdom which before him had been scattered in many works. Cassius Dionysius of Utica translated Mago into Greek in twenty books (and dedicated his work to the praetor Sextilius), and notwithstanding that he reduced Mago by eight books he cited freely from the Greek authors whom I have named. Diophanes made a useful digest of Cassius in six books, which he dedicated to Deiotarus, King of Bithynia. I have ventured to compress the subject into the still smaller compass of three books, the first on the husbandry of agriculture, the second on the husbandry of live stock and the third on the husbandry of the steading.

From the first book I have excluded all those things which I do not deem to relate immediately to agriculture: thus having first limited my subject I proceed to discuss it, following its natural divisions. My information has been derived from three sources, my own experience, my reading, and what I have heard from others.

Of the definition of agriculture

a. What it is not

II. On the holiday which we call Sementivae I came to the temple of Tellus at the invitation of the Sacristan (I was taught by my ancestors to call him Aeditumus but the modern purist tells me I must say Aedituus). There I found assembled C. Fundanius, my father-in-law, C. Agrius, a Roman Knight and a disciple of the Socratic school, and P. Agrasius, of the Revenue service: they were gazing on a map of Italy painted on the wall. "What are you doing here?" said I. "Has the festival of the seed-sowing drawn you hither to spend your holiday after the manner of our ancestors, by praying for good crops?" "We are here," said Agrius, "for the same reason that you are, I imagine—because the Sacristan has invited us to dinner. If this be true, as your nod admits, wait with us until he returns, for he was summoned by his chief, the aedile, and has not yet returned though he left word for us to wait for him."

"Until he comes then," said I, "let us make a practical application of the ancient proverb that 'The Roman conquers by sitting down.'"

"You're right," cried Agrius, and, remembering that the first step of a journey is the most difficult,[46] he lead the way to the benches forthwith and we followed. When we were seated Agrasius spoke up. "You who have travelled over many lands," said he, "have you seen any country better cultivated than Italy?"

"I, for one, don't believe," replied Agrius, "that there is any country which is so intensely cultivated. By a very natural division Eratosthenes has divided the earth into two parts, that facing South and that facing North: and as without doubt the North is healthier than the South, so it is more fertile, for a healthy country is always the most fertile. It must be admitted then that the North is fitter for cultivation than Asia, and particularly is this true of Italy; first, because Italy is in Europe, and, second, because this part of Europe has a more temperate climate than the interior. For almost everlasting winter grips the lands to the North of us. Nor is this to be wondered at since there are regions within the Arctic Circle and at the pole where the sun is not seen for six months at a time. Yea, it is even said that it is not possible to sail a ship in those parts because the very sea is frozen over."

"Would you think it possible," said Fundanius, "for any thing to grow in such a region, and, if it did grow, how could it be cultivated? The tragedian Pacuvius has spoken sooth where he says:

'Should sun or night maintain e'er lasting reign, Then all the grateful fruits of earth must die, Nipped by the cold, or blasted by the heat.'

Even here in this pleasant region, where night and day revolve punctually, I am not able to live in summer unless I divide the day with my appointed midday nap. How is it possible to plant or to cultivate or to harvest any thing there where the days and nights are six months long. On the other hand, what useful thing is there which does not only grow but flourish in Italy? What spelt shall I compare with that of Campania? What wheat with that of Apulia? What wine with that of Falernum? What oil with that of Venafrum? Is not Italy so covered with fruit trees that it seems one vast orchard? Is Phrygia, which Homer calls [Greek: ampeloessa], more teeming with vines, or is Argos, which the same poet calls [Greek: polupuros] more rich in corn?[47] In what land does one jugerum produce ten, nay even fifteen, cullei of wine, as in some regions of Italy? Has not M. Cato written in his book of Origines 'That region lying this side of Ariminium and beyond Picenum, which was allotted to colonists, is called Roman Gaul. There in several places a single jugerum of land produces ten cullei of wine.' Is it not the same in the region of Faventia where the vines are called tre centaria because a jugerum yields three hundred amphorae of wine," and, looking at me, he added, "indeed L. Martius, your chief engineer, said that the vines on his Faventine farm yielded that much.[48] The Italian farmer looks chiefly for two things in considering a farm, whether it will yield a harvest proportioned to the capital and labour he must invest, and whether the location is healthy. Whoever neglects either of these considerations and despite them proposes to carry on a farm, is a fool and should be taken in charge by a committee of his relatives.[49] For no sane man is willing to spend on an agricultural operation time and money which he knows he cannot recoup, nor even if he sees a likely profit, if it must be at the risk of losing all by an evil climate.

"But there are here present those who can discourse on this subject with more authority than I, for I see C. Licinius Stolo and Cn. Tremelius Scrofa approaching. It was the ancestor of the first of these who brought in the law for the regulation of land-holding; for the law which forbade a Roman citizen to own more than 500 jugera of land was proposed by that Licinius who acquired the cognomen of Stolo on account of his diligence in cultivating his land: he is said to have dug around his trees so thoroughly that there could not be found on his farm a single one of those suckers which spring up from the ground at the roots of trees and are called stolones. Of the same family was that other C. Licinius who, when he was tribune of the people, 365 years after the expulsion of the Kings, first transferred the Sovereign function of law making from the Comitium to the Forum, thus as it were constituting that area the 'farm' of the entire people.[50] The other whom I see come hither is Cn. Tremelius Scrofa, your colleague on the Committee of Twenty for the division of the Campanian lands, a man distinguished by all the virtues and considered to be the Roman most expert in agriculture.[51]

"And justly so," I exclaimed, "for his farms are a more pleasing spectacle to many on account of their clean cultivation than the stately palaces of others;[52] when one goes to visit his country place, one sees granaries and not picture galleries, as at the 'farm' of Lucullus.[53] Indeed," I added, "the apple market at the head of the Sacred Way is the very image of Scrofa's fruit house."

As the new comers joined us, Stolo inquired: "Have we arrived after dinner is over, for we do not see L. Fundilius who invited us."

"Be of good cheer," replied Agrius, "for not only has that egg which indicates the last lap of the chariot race in the games at the circus not yet been removed, but we have not even seen that other egg which is the first course of dinner.[54] And so until the Sacristan returns and joins us do you discourse to us of the uses or the pleasures of agriculture, or of both. For now the sceptre of agriculture is in your hands, which formerly, they say, belonged to Stolo."

"First of all," began Scrofa, "we must have a definition. Are we to be limited in discussing agriculture to the planting of the land or are we to touch also on those other occupations which are carried on in the country, such as feeding sheep and cattle. For I have observed that those who write on agriculture, whether in Greek or Punic or Latin, wander widely from their subject."

"I do not think that those authors should be imitated in that," said Stolo, "for I deem them to have done better who have confined the subject to the straitest limits, excluding all considerations which are not strictly pertinent to the subject. Wherefore the subject of grazing, which many writers treat as a part of agriculture, seems to me to belong rather to a treatise on live stock. That the occupations are different is apparent from the difference in the names of those we put in charge of them, for we call one the farmer (villicus) and the other the herdsman (magister pecoris). The farmer is charged with the cultivation of the land and is so called from the villa or farm house to which he hauls in the crops from the fields and from which he hauls them away when they are sold. Wherefore also the peasants say vea for via, deriving their word for the road over which they haul from the name of the vehicle in which they do the hauling, vectura, and by the same derivation vella for villa, the farm house to and from which they haul. In like manner the trade of a carrier is called vellatura from the practice of driving a vectura, or cart."

"Surely," said Fundanius, "feeding cattle is one thing and agriculture is another, but they are related. Just as the right pipe of the tibia is different from the left pipe, yet are they complements because while the one leads, it is to carry the air, and the other follows, it is for the accompaniment."

"And, to push your analogy further, it may be added," said I, "that the pastoral life, like the tibia dextra, has led and given the cue to the agricultural life, as we have on the authority of that learned man Dicaearchus who, in his Life of Greece from the earliest times, shows us how in the beginning men pursued a purely pastoral life and knew not how to plough nor to plant trees nor to prune them; only later taking up the pursuits of agriculture; whence it may be said that agriculture is in harmony with the pastoral life but is subordinate to it, as the left pipe is to the right pipe."

"Beware," exclaimed Agrius, "of pushing your musical analogy too far, for you would not only rob the farmer of his cattle and the shepherd of his livelihood but you would even break the law of the land in which it is written that a farmer may not graze a young orchard with that pestiferous animal which astrology has placed in the heavens near the Bull."

"See here, Agrius," said Fundanius, "let there be no mistake about this. The law you cite applies only to certain designated kinds of cattle, as indeed there are kinds of cattle which are the foes and the bane of agriculture such as those you have mentioned—the goats—for by their nibbling they ruin young plantations, and not the least vines and olives. But, because the goat is the greatest offender in this respect, we have a rule for him which works both ways, namely: that victims of his family are grateful offerings on the altar of one god but should never come near the fane of another; since by reason of the same hate one god is not willing even to see a goat and the other is pleased to see him killed. So it is that goats found among the vines are sacrificed to Father Bacchus as it were that they should pay the penalty of their evil doing with their lives; while on the contrary nothing of the goat kind is ever sacrificed to Minerva, because they are said to make the olive sterile even by licking it, for their very spittle is poison to the fruit. For this reason goats are never driven into the Acropolis of Athens, except once a year for a certain necessary sacrifice, lest the olive tree, which is said to have its origin there,[55] might be touched by a goat."

"No kind of cattle," said I, "are of any use to agriculture except those which aid in the cultivation of the land, as they do when they are yoked to the plough."

"If this was so," said Agrasius, "how could we afford to take cattle off the land, since it is from our flocks and herds that we derive the manure which is of the greatest benefit to our purely agricultural operations."

"On your argument of convenience," said Agrius, "we might claim that slave dealing was a branch of agriculture, if they were agricultural slaves which we dealt in. The error lies in the assumption that because cattle are good for the land, they make crops grow on the land. It does not follow, for by that reasoning other things would become part of agriculture which have nothing to do with it: as for example spinsters and weavers and other craftsmen which you might keep on your farm."

"Let us then agree," said Scrofa, "to exclude live stock from our consideration of the art of agriculture. Does any one want to exclude any thing else?"

"Are we to follow the book of the two Sasernas," I inquired, "and discuss whether the manufacture of pottery is more related to agriculture than mining for silver or other metals? Doubtless the material comes out of the ground in both cases, but no one claims that quarrying for stone or washing sand has any thing to do with agriculture, so why bring in the potter? It is not a question of what comes out of the land, nor of what can be done profitably on a farm, for if it were it might as well be argued that had one a farm lying along a frequented road and a site on it convenient to travellers, it would be the farmer's business to build a cross-roads tavern. But surely, however profitable this might prove, it would not make the speculation any part of agriculture. It is not, I repeat, whether the business is carried on on account of the land, nor out of the land, that it may be classed as a part of agriculture, but only if from planting the land one gains a profit."

"You are jealous of this great writer," interrupted Stolo. "Because of his unfortunate potteries you rebuke him captiously and give him no credit for all the admirable things which he says about matters which certainly relate to agriculture."

At this sally, Scrofa, who knew the book and justly contemned it, smiled, whereupon Agrasius, who thought that he and Stolo alone knew the book demanded of Scrofa a quotation from it.

"Here is his recipe for getting rid of bugs," said Scrofa. "'Steep a wild cucumber in water and where-ever you sprinkle it the bugs will disappear,' and again, 'Grease your bed with ox gall mixed with vinegar.'"

Fundanius looked at Scrofa. "And yet Saserna gives good advice even if it is in a book on agriculture," he said.

"Yes, by Hercules," said Scrofa, "and especially in his recipe for removing superfluous hair, in which he bids you take a yellow frog and stew it down to a third of its size and then rub the body with what is left."[56]

"I would rather cite," said I, "Sasernas' prescription for the malady from which Fundanius suffers, for his corns make wrinkles on his brow."

"Tell me, pray, quickly," exclaimed Fundanius, "for I had rather learn how to root out my corns than how to plant beet roots."

"I will tell you," said Stolo, "in the very words he wrote it, or at least as I heard Tarquenna read it: 'When a man's feet begin to hurt he should think of you to enable you to cure him.'"

"I am thinking of you," said Fundanius, "now cure my feet."

"Listen to the incantation," said Stolo.

'May the earth keep the malady, May good health remain here.'

Saserna bids you chant this formula thrice nine times, to touch the earth, to spit and be sure that you do it all before breakfast."

"You will find," said I, "many other wonderful secrets in Saserna, all equally foreign to agriculture, and so all to be left where they are. But it must be admitted that such digressions are found in many other authors. Does not the agricultural treatise of the great Cato himself fairly bristle with them, as for instance his instructions how to make must cake and cheese cake, and how to cure hams?"

"You forget," said Agrius, "his most important precept: 'If you wish to drink freely and dine well in company, you should eat five leaves of raw cabbage steeped in vinegar, before sitting down to the table.'"

b. What agriculture is

III. "And so," said Agrasius, "as we have agreed upon and eliminated from the discussion all those things which agriculture is not, it remains to discuss what it is. Is it an art, and, if so, what are its principles and its purposes?"

Stolo turned to Scrofa and said: "You are our senior in age, in reputation and in experience, you should speak." And Scrofa, nothing loath, began as follows:

"In the first place, agriculture is not only an art but an art which is as useful as it is important. It is furthermore a science, which teaches how every kind of land should be planted and cultivated, and how to know what kind of land will produce the largest crops for the longest time.[57]"

The purposes of agriculture are profit and pleasure

IV. The elements with which this science deals are the same as those which Ennius says are the elements of the universe—water, earth, air and fire. Before sowing your seed it behooves you to study these elements because they are the origin of all growing things. So prepared, the farmer should direct his efforts to two ends: profit and pleasure,[58] one solid the other agreeable: but he should give the preference to the pursuit of profit.[59] And yet those who have regard for appearances in their farming, as for instance by planting their orchards and olive yards in orderly array, often add not only to the productiveness of the farm but as well to its saleability, and so doubly increase the value of their estate. For of two things of equal usefulness, who would not prefer to buy the better looking?

The farm which is healthiest is the most valuable, for there the profit is certain. On the other hand, on an unhealthy farm, however fertile it may be, misfortune dogs the steps of the farmer. For where the struggle is against Death, there not only is the profit uncertain, but one's very existence is constantly at risk: and so agriculture becomes a gamble in which the farmer hazards both his life and his fortune. And yet this risk can be diminished by forethought, for, when health depends upon climate, we can do much to control nature and by diligence improve evil conditions. If the farm is unhealthy by reason of the plight of the land itself, or of the water supply, or is exposed to the miasma which breeds in some localities, or if the farm is too hot on account of the climate, or is exposed to mischievous winds, these discomforts can be mitigated by one who knows what to do and is willing to spend some money. What is of the greatest importance in this respect is the situation of the farm buildings, their plan and convenience, and what is the aspect of their doors and gates and windows. During the great plague, Hippocrates the physician saved not merely one farm but many cities because he knew this. But why should I summon him as a witness: for when the army and the fleet lay at Corcyra[60] and all the houses were crowded with the sick and dying, did not our Varro here contrive to open new windows to the healthy North wind and close those which gave entrance to the infected breezes of the South, to change doors and to do other such things, and so succeed in restoring his comrades safe and sound to their native land?

The fourfold division of the study of agriculture

V. I have rehearsed the elements and the purposes of agriculture, it now remains to consider in how many divisions this science is to be studied."

"I have supposed these to be without number," said Agrius, "when I have read the many books which Theophrastus wrote on The History of Plants and The Causes of Vegetation.

"These books," said Stolo, "have always seemed to me to be fitter for use in the schools of the philosophers than in the hands of a practical farmer. I do not mean to say that they do not contain many things which are both useful and practical. However that may be, do you rather explain to us the divisions in which agriculture should be studied."

"There are four chapters for the study of agriculture, of the highest practical importance," resumed Scrofa, "namely:"

1 deg. What are the physical characteristics of the land to be cultivated, including the constitution of the soil;

2 deg. What labour and equipment are necessary for such cultivation;

3 deg. What system of farming is to be practised;

4 deg. What are the season? at which the several farming operations are to be carried out.

Each of these four chapters may be divided in at least two subdivisions:

The first into (a) a study of the soil, and (b) a survey of the buildings and stabling.

The second into an enquiry as to (c), the men who will carry on the farming operations, and (d) the implements they will require.

The third into (e) the kind of work to be planned, and (f) where that work is to be done.

The fourth into what relates (g) to the annual revolution of the sun, and (h) the monthly revolution of the moon.

I will speak of the four principal parts first, and then in detail of the eight subdivisions.


How conformation of the land affects agriculture

VI. Four things must be considered in respect of the physical characteristics of the farm: its conformation, the quality of the soil, its extent, and whether it is naturally protected. The conformation is either natural, or artificial as the result of cultivation, and may be good or bad in either case. I will speak first of natural conformation, of which there are three kinds: plain, hill and mountain—although there is a fourth kind made up of a combination of any two or all three of those mentioned, as may be seen in many places. A different system of cultivation is required for each of these three kinds of farms, for without doubt that which is suited for the hot plain would not suit the windy mountain, while a hill farm enjoys a more temperate climate than either of the other two kinds and so demands its own system of cultivation. These distinctions are most apparent when the several characteristic conformations are of large extent, as for example the heat and the humidity are greater in a broad plain, like that of Apulia, while on a mountain like Vesuvius the climate is usually fresher and so more healthy. Those who cultivate the lowlands feel the effects of their climate most in summer, but they are able to do their planting earlier in the spring, while those who dwell in the mountains suffer most from their climate in winter, and both sow and reap at later seasons. Frequently the winter is more propitious to those who dwell in the plains because then the pastures are fresh there and the trees may be pruned more readily. On the other hand the summer is more kindly in the mountains for then the upland grass is rich when the pastures of the plains are burnt, and it is more comfortable to cultivate the trees in a keen air.

A lowland farm is best when it is gently sloping rather than absolutely flat, because on a flat farm water cannot run off and so forms swampy places. But it is a disadvantage to have the surface too rolling because that causes the water to collect and form ponds.

Certain trees, like the fir and the pine, flourish most in the mountains on account of the eager air, while in this region where it is more temperate the poplars and the willows thrive best. Again the arbute and the oak prefer the more fertile lands, while the almond and the fig trees love the lowlands.[61] The growth on the low hills takes on more of the character of the plains, on the high hills that of the mountains. For these reasons the kind of crops to be planted must be suited to the physical characteristics of the farm, as grain for the plains, vines for the hills and forests for the mountains.

All these considerations should be weighed separately with reference to each of the three kinds of conformation.

VII. "It seems to me," said Stolo, "that, so far as concerns the natural situation of a farm, Cato's opinion is just. He wrote, you will recall, that the best farm was one which lay at the foot of a mountain looking to the South."

Scrofa resumed: "So far as concerns the laying out of the farm, I maintain that the more appearances are considered the greater will be the profit, as, for instance, orchards should be planted in straight lines arranged in quincunxes and at a reasonable distance apart. It is a fact that, because of their unintelligent plan of planting, our ancestors made less wine and corn to the acre than we do. The point is that if each plant is set with due reference to the others they occupy less land and are less likely to screen from one another the influence of the sun and the moon and the air. This may be illustrated by an experiment: you can press a parcel of nuts with their shells on into a measure having only two thirds of the capacity of what is required to contain them after they have been cracked, because the shells keep them naturally compacted. When trees are planted in rows the sun and the moon have access to them equally from all sides, with the result that more raisins and olives are developed and then mature more quickly, a double result with the double consequence of a larger crop of must and oil and a greater profit."

How character of soil affects agriculture

"We will now take up the second consideration in respect of the physical characteristics of a farm, namely: the quality of the soil, which partly, if not entirely, determines whether it is considered a good or a bad farm: for on this depends what crops can be planted and harvested and how they should be cultivated, as it is not possible to plant everything successfully on the same soil. For one soil is suitable for vines, another for corn, and others for other things. In the island of Crete, near Cortynia, there is said to be a plane tree which does not lose its leaves even in winter—a phenomenon due doubtless to the quality of the soil. There is another of the same kind in Cyprus, according to Theophrastus. Likewise within sight of the city of Sybaris (which is now called Thurii) stands an oak having the same characteristic. Again at Elephantine neither the vines nor the fig trees lose their leaves, something that never happens with us. For the same reason many trees bear fruit twice a year, as do the vines near the sea at Smyrna, and the apples in the fields of Consentinium. The effect of soil appears also from the fact that those plants which bear most profusely in wild places produce better fruit under cultivation. The same explanation applies to those plants which cannot live except in a marshy place, or indeed in the very water: they are even nice about the kind of water, some grow in ponds like the reeds at Reate, others in streams like the alders in Epirus, some even in the sea like the palms and the squills of which Theophrastus writes. When I was in the army, I saw in Transalpine Gaul, near the Rhine, lands where neither the vine, nor the olive, nor the pear tree grew, where they manured their fields with a white chalk which they dug out of the ground:[62] where they had no salt, either mineral or marine, but used in place of it the salty ashes obtained from burning a certain kind of wood."

Stolo here interrupted. "You will recall," he said, "that Cato in comparing the different kinds of soil, ranked them by their merit in nine classes according to what they would produce, of which the first was that on which the vine would grow a plentiful supply of good wine; the second that fit for an irrigated garden; the third for an osier bed; the fourth for an olive yard; the fifth for a meadow; the sixth for a corn field; the seventh for a wood lot; the eighth for a cultivated orchard, and the ninth for a mast grove."

"I know he wrote that," replied Scrofa, "but every one does not agree with him. There are some who put a good pasture first, and I am among them."

Our ancestors were wont to call them not prala, as we do, but parata (because they are always ready for use). The sedile Caesar Vopicus, in pleading a cause before the Censors, once said that the prairie of Rosea was the nurse of Italy, because if one left his surveying instruments there on the ground over night they were lost next day in the growth of the grass.[63]

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