Overview

Columella

(c. 60 ad)


Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

(cf. CIL 9. 235) fl. ad 50, b. Gades (mod. Cádiz) in Spain (Rust. 8. 16. 9; 10. 185), author of the most systematic extant Roman agricultural manual (written c.ad 60–5) in twelve books. Book 1: introduction, layout of villa, organization of slave workforce; 2: arable cultivation; 3–5: viticulture (mainly) and other arboriculture; 6, 7: animal husbandry; 8, 9: pastio villatica (e.g. specialized breeding of poultry, fish and game, and bees); 10: horticulture (in hexameter verse); 11: duties of vilicus (slave estate-manager), calendar of farm work and horticulture; 12: duties of vilica (female companion of vilicus), wine and oil processing and food conservation. Another surviving book (the so-called Liber de arboribus) probably belonged to a shorter first version of the subject, while his works criticizing astrologers (11. 1. 31) and on religion in agriculture (if ever written, 2. 21. 5) are not extant. Columella defends the intensive slave-staffed villa—characterized by capital investment (1. 1. 18), close supervision by the owner (1. 1. 18–20), and the integration of arable and animal husbandry (6 praef.1–2)—against influential contrary views on agricultural management (1 praef. 1). His calculation of the profits of viticulture (3. 3. 8–15) has aroused lively modern debate. But that Columella treats vines at greater length than cereals reflects the complexity of viticulture not the supposed demise of Italian arable cultivation. He owned several estates near Rome (2. 3. 3; 3. 9. 2) but had firsthand knowledge of agriculture elsewhere in Italy (cf. 7. 2. 3) and in the provinces, especially southern Spain (cf. 2. 15. 4), Cilicia, and Syria (2. 10. 18). Continually aware of the effects of various climatic conditions, soils, and land formations (e.g. 2. 9. 2–7), he does not describe just one ideal estate. The serious nature of his work is further illustrated by the ample bibliography of Greek, Punic, and Roman authors (1. 1. 7–14), while his practical experience ensured a critical use of all sources. Columella's stylish prose, citations of Virgil, and book of verse were designed to give his work greater credibility among contemporary literary landowners, e.g. Seneca the Younger and his brother Gallio (3. 3. 3; 9. 16. 2); they do not undermine its practical worth.

M. Stephen Spurr

Subjects: Classical Studies.


Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »


Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.