Agriculture

Agriculture in ancient Rome was not only a necessity, but was idealized among the social elite as a way of life. Cicero considered farming the best of all Roman occupations. In his treatise On Duties, he declared that "of all the occupations by which gain is secured, none is better than agriculture, none more profitable, none more delightful, none more becoming to a free man." When one of his clients was derided in court for preferring a rural lifestyle, Cicero defended country life as "the teacher of economy, of industry, and of justice" (parsimonia, diligentia, iustitia). Cato, Columella, Varro and Palladius wrote handbooks on farming practice.

The staple crop was spelt, and bread was the mainstay of every Roman table. In his treatise De agricultura ("On Farming", 2nd century BCE), Cato wrote that the best farm was a vineyard, followed by an irrigated garden, willow plantation, olive orchard, meadow, grain land, forest trees, vineyard trained on trees, and lastly acorn woodlands. Though Rome relied on resources from its many provinces acquired through conquest and warfare, wealthy Romans developed the land in Italy to produce a variety of crops. "The people living in the city of Rome constituted a huge market for the purchase of food produced on Italian farms."

Land ownership was a dominant factor in distinguishing the aristocracy from the common person, and the more land a Roman owned, the more important he would be in the city. Soldiers were often rewarded with land from the commander they served. Though farms depended on slave labor, free men and citizens were hired at farms to oversee the slaves and ensure that the farms ran smoothly. Farming practices In the 5th century BCE, farms in Rome were small and family-owned. The Greeks of this period, however, had started using crop rotation and had large estates. Rome's contact with Carthage, Greece, and the Hellenistic East in the 3rd and 2nd centuries improved Rome's agricultural methods. Roman agriculture reached its height in productivity and efficiency during the late republic and early empire.

Farming Practices

In the 5th century BCE, farms in Rome were small and family-owned. The Greeks of this period, however, had started using crop rotation and had large estates. Rome's contact with Carthage, Greece, and the Hellenistic East in the 3rd and 2nd centuries improved Rome's agricultural methods. Roman agriculture reached its height in productivity and efficiency during the late republic and early empire.

Farm sizes in Rome can be divided into three categories. Small farms were from 18–108 iugera. (One iugerum was equal to about 0.65 acres or a quarter of a hectare). Medium-sized farms were from 80–500 iugera. Large estates (called latifundia) were over 500 iugera.

In the late Republican era, the number of latifundia increased. Wealthy Romans bought land from peasant farmers who could no longer make a living. Starting in 200 BCE, the Punic Wars called peasant farmers away to fight for longer periods of time.

Cows provided milk, and oxen and mules did the heavy work on the farm. Sheep and goats were cheese producers, and were prized for their hides. Horses were not widely used in farming, but were raised by the rich for racing or war. Sugar production centered on beekeeping, and some Romans raised snails as luxury food.

The Romans had four systems of farm management: direct work by owner and his family; tenant farming or sharecropping in which the owner and a tenant divide up a farm's produce; forced labour by slaves owned by aristocrats and supervised by slave managers; and other arrangements in which a farm was leased to a tenant.

Cato the Elder (also known as "Cato the Censor") was a politician and statesman in the mid-to-late Roman Republic and described his view of a farm of 100 iugera. He claimed such a farm should have "a foreman, a foreman's wife, ten laborers, one ox driver, one donkey driver, one man in charge of the willow grove, one swineherd, in all sixteen persons; two oxen, two donkeys for wagon work, one donkey for the mill work." He also said that such a farm should have "three presses fully equipped, storage jars in which five vintages amounting to eight hundred cullei can be stored, twenty storage jars for wine-press refuse, twenty for grain, separate coverings for the jars, six fiber-covered half amphorae, four fiber-covered amphorae, two funnels, three basketwork strainers, [and] three strainers to dip up the flower, ten jars for [handling] the wine juice..."