Agriculture Ancient Rome
land cato allotment acres
AGRICULTURE ANCIENT ROME In ancient Rome each citizen received, at first, an allotment of about two English acres. After the expulsion of the kings this allotment was increased to about six acres. These small inheritances must, of course, have been cultivated by hard labour. On the increase of the Roman territory the allotment was increased to fifty, and afterwards even to five hundred acres. Many glimpses into their methods of cultivation are found in those works of Roman authors which have survived the ravages of time. Cato speaks of irrigation, frequent tillage, and manuring, as means of fertilising the soil. Mr Hoskyn, from whose valuable contribution to the History of Agriculture we have drawn freely in this historic summary, quotes the following interesting passage from Pliny, commenting on Virgil :1 - " Our poet is of opinion that alternate follows should be made, and that the land should rest entirely every second year. And this is, indeed, both true and profitable, provided a man have land enough to give the soil this repose. But how, if his extent be not sufficient 3 Let him, in that case, help himself thus. Let him sow next year's wheat-crop on the field where he has just gathered his beans, vetches, or lupines, or such other crop as enriches the ground. For, indeed, it is worth notice that some crops are sown for no other purpose but as food for others, a poor practice in my estimation." In another place he tells us, "Wheat, the liter it is reaped, the better it casts; but the sooner it is reaped, the fairer the sample. The best rule is to cut it down before the grain is got hard, when the car begins to have a reddish-brown appearance. 'Better two days too soon than as many too late,' is a good old maxim, and might pass for an oracle." The following quotation from the same author is excellent: - " Cato would have this point especially to be considered, that the soil of a farm be good and fertile; also, that near it there be plenty of labourers, and that it be not far from a large town: moreover, that it have sufficient means for transporting its produce, either by water or land. Also, that the house be well built, and the land about it as well managed. But I observe a great error and self-deception which many men commit, who hold opinion that the negligence and ill-husbandry of the former owner is good for his successor or after-purchaser. Now, I say, there is nothing more dangerous and disadvantageous to the buyer than land so left waste and out of heart ; and therefore Cato counsels well to purchase land of one who has managed it well, and not rashly and hand-over-head to despise and make light of the skill and knowledge of another. He says, too, that as well land as men, which are of great charge and expense, how gainful soever they may seem to be, yield little profit in the end, when all reckonings are made. The same Cato being asked, what was the most assured profit rising out of land 3 made this answer, - ' To feed stock well.' Being asked again, ' What was the next ?' he answered, To feed with moderation.' By which answer he would seem to conclude that the most certain and sure revenue was a low cost of production. To the same point is to be referred another speech of his, That a good husbandman ought to be a seller rather than a buyer ;' also, that a man should stock his ground early and well, but take long time and leisure before he be a builder ;' for it is the best thing in the world, according to the proverb, to make use, and derive profit, from other men's follies.' Still when there is a good and convenient house on the farm, the master will be the closer occupier, and take the more pleasure in it ; and truly it is a good saying, that the master's eye is better than his heel.'" "It is curious," says Mr Hoskyn, "to read such passages as these, and to find the very same subjects still handled, week after week, in fresh and eager controversy in the agricultural writings and periodicals of the present day, eighteen centuries after those opinions were written."
In the later ages of the empire agriculture was neglected, and those engaged in it regarded with contempt. Many fair regions once carefully cultivated, and highly productive, were abandoned to nature, and became a scene of desolation, the supplies of overgrown Rome being drawn from Egypt, Sicily, and other provinces, which became notable as the granaries of the empire.