agricultural writers

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Agricultural manuals, written by practising landowners, flourished at Rome from Porcius Cato 1 (c.160 bc) to Palladius (c.mid‐5th cent. ad), enjoying higher status than other technical literature. Greece had produced notable works (Varro knew more than 50), but written mostly from a philosophical or scientific viewpoint; and an influential (lost) Punic work by Mago had been translated into both Greek and Latin. Agriculture, as gradually defined and systematized, embraced, in Varro's work (c.37 bc), arable cultivation, livestock, arboriculture, market gardens, luxury foods, slave management, and villa construction. A century later, Columella doubted whether one man could know it all, and, from the early empire onwards, specialized works appeared. While Varro criticized Theophrastus for excessive theory, modern scholars have doubted the practicality of the Roman writers. Recent rural archaeology has given grounds for greater confidence. The villa excavated at Settefinestre has substantiated in remarkable detail the recommendations of Varro and Columella, as has the discovery of a large vineyard at Pompeii. But the agricultural writers describe not just one ideal type of estate. Crop by crop they discuss various methods of cultivation, according to species, soil, topography, and custom—a regional diversity confirmed by archaeological survey. See also agriculture, roman.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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