Cows provided milk while 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 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. There was much commerce between the provinces of the empire, and all regions of the empire were largely economically interdependent. Some provinces specialized in the production of grains including wheat, emmer, spelt, barley, and millet; others in wine and others in olive oil , depending on the soil type.
Columella writes in his Res Rustica , "Soil that is heavy, chalky, and wet is not unsuited to the growing for winter wheat and spelt.
Barley tolerates no place except one that is loose and dry. Greek geographer Strabo considered the Po Valley northern Italy to be the most important economically because "all cereals do well, but the yield from millet is exceptional, because the soil is so well watered.
Volcanic soil in Campania made it well-suited for wine production. In addition to knowledge of different soil categories, the Romans also took interest in what type of manure was best for the soil. The best was poultry manure, and cow manure one of the worst. Sheep and goat manure were also good. Donkey manure was best for immediate use, while horse manure wasn't good for grain crops, but according to Marcus Terentius Varro , it was very good for meadows because 'it promotes a heavy growth of grass plants like grass.
More land would be required to meet subsistence levels if the family farmed as sharecroppers. Such figures detail only the subsistence level. It is clear that large scale surplus production was undertaken in some provinces, such as to supply the cities, especially Rome, with grain, a process known as the Cura Annonae. Egypt , northern Africa, and Sicily were the principal sources of grain to feed the population of Rome, estimated at one million people at its peak.
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For yields of wheat, the number varies depending on the ancient source. Varro mentions seed-yield ratio for wheat as normal for wealthy landowners. Cicero indicates In Verrem a yield of as normal, and in exceptionally good harvest. Paul Erdkamp mentions in his book The Grain Market in the Roman Empire , that Columella was probably biased when he mentions a much lower yield of According to Erdkamp, Columella wanted to make the point that "grain offers little profit compared to wine.
Agriculture in ancient Rome
His argument induces him to exaggerate the profitability of vineyards and at the same time to diminish the yields that were obtained in grain cultivation. At best Columella provides a trustworthy figure for poor soils; at worst, his estimate is not reliable at all.
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An agricultural unit was known as a latus fundus mentioned by Varro as a great estate. Although that statement may ignore grain from Sicily, and overestimate the importance of Africa, there is little doubt among historians that Africa and Egypt were the most important sources of grain for Rome.
Grain made into bread was, by far, the most important element in the Roman diet. Several scholars have attempted to compute the total amount of grain need to supply the city of Rome. Rickman estimated that Rome needed 40 million modii , tonnes of grain per year to feed its population. David Mattingly and Gregory Aldrete  estimated the amount of imported grain at , tonnes for 1 million inhabitants;  This amount of grain would provide 2, calories daily per person not including other foods such as meats, seafood, fruit, legumes, vegetable and dairy.
In the Historia Augusta, it is stated Severus left 27 million modii in storage - considered to be a figure for the canon at the end of the 4th century and enough for , inhabitants at lbs of bread per person per annum . Pliny the Younger stated that for "long it was generally believed that Rome could only be fed and maintained with Egyptian aid".
However, he argued that "Now [that] we have returned the Nile its riches The Romans improved crop growing by irrigating plants using aqueducts to transport water. Mechanical devices aided agriculture and the production of food.
For example, extensive sets of mills existed in Gaul and Rome at an early date to grind wheat into flour. The most impressive extant remains occur at Barbegal in southern France , near Arles. Sixteen overshot water wheels arranged in two columns were fed by the main aqueduct to Arles, the outflow from one being the supply to the next one down in the series. The mills apparently operated from the end of the 1st century AD until about the end of the 3rd century.
There are also later references to floating water mills from Byzantium and to sawmills on the river Moselle by the poet Ausonius. The use of multiple stacked sequences of reverse overshot water-wheels was widespread in Roman mines. There is evidence from bas-reliefs that farmers in northern Gaul present day France used a kind of automatic harvester or reaper when collecting ripe grain crops. The machine, called the "vallus" or "gallic vallus", was apparently invented and used by the Treveri  people. It cut the ears of grain without the straw and was pushed by oxen or horses.
Possibly because the vallus was cumbersome and expensive, its adoption never became widespread and it fell into disuse after the 4th century CE. Aristocrats and common people could acquire land for a farm in one of three ways. The most common way to gain land was to purchase the land. Though some lower class citizens did own small pieces of land, they often found it too difficult and expensive to maintain. Because of the many difficulties of owning land, they would sell it to someone in the aristocracy who had the financial backing to support a farm.
Though there were some public lands available to the common person for use, aristocrats also tended to purchase those pieces of land, which caused a great deal of tension between the two classes. High ranking soldiers returning from war would often be given small pieces of public land or land in provinces as a way of paying them for their services. The last way to obtain land was through inheritance.
A father could leave his land to his family, usually to his son, in the event of his death. Wills were drawn out that specified who would receive the land as a way of ensuring that other citizens did not try to take the land from the family of the deceased. Though some small farms were owned by lower class citizens and soldiers, much of the land was controlled by the noble class of Rome. Land ownership was just one of many distinctions that set the aristocracy apart from the lower classes.
Aristocracy would "reorganize small holdings into larger more profitable farms in order to compete with other nobles. As Marcus Cato wrote "when they would praise a worthy man their praise took this form: 'Good husband good farmer'; it is from the farming class that the bravest men and the sturdiest soldiers come. Cato discusses many of the primary focuses of the farmer and how to distinguish a great piece of land.
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He notes that a good farmer must take precious time to examine the land, looking over every detail. Not only did the land need to be perfect for purchase, but the neighbors must maintain their farms as well because "if the district was good, they should be well kept. Careful planning went into every detail of owning and maintaining a farm in Roman culture. While the aristocracy owned most of the land in Rome, they often were not present at the farms.
With obligations as senators, generals, and soldiers at war, many of the actual landowners spent very little time working on their farms. The farms instead were maintained by slaves and freedmen paid to oversee those slaves. He was responsible for ensuring that the slaves were kept busy and for resolving conflicts between them. An overseer had to be dependable and trustworthy in that the land owner had to know that the person he hired to run the farm was not going to try to steal any of the produce from the farm.
Overseers were also responsible for ensuring that both servants and slaves were properly fed and housed, and that they were assigned work fairly and efficiently.
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They had to ensure that any orders given by the owner of the land were followed diligently and that everyone on the farm honored the gods completely and respectfully, which Romans believed was necessary to ensure a bountiful harvest. Good inscription evidence of how the system was organized is visible in the Lex Manciana. The majority of the work was done by servants and slaves. Slaves were the main source of labor. In Roman society, there were three main ways to obtain a slave. The first and possibly most common way to gain a slave was to buy one on the market.
Slaves were purchased at auctions and slaves markets from dealers or were traded between individual slave owners. Another way slaves were acquired was through conquest in warfare. The growth in the urban population, especially of the city of Rome, required the development of commercial markets and long-distance trade in agricultural products, especially grain, to supply the people in the cities with food.
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.
Related The Grain Market in the Roman Empire: A Social, Political and Economic Study
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