M. Stephen Spurr

in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics

Published online March 2016 | e-ISBN: 9780199381135 | DOI:

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  • Economic History
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  • Greek and Roman Archaeology


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Latifundia (large estates) ‘have ruined Italy and are now ruining the provinces’. *Pliny (1) the Elder (HN 18. 35) put latifundia at the centre of debate about the development of the Roman rural economy. But what were latifundia? Divergent modern definitions abound and confuse: large pastoral ranches beginning in the 3rd cent. bce; slave-staffed oil- and wine-producing villas (either single properties or the scattered estates of one owner) first described by M. *Porcius Cato(1)c. 160 bce (see villa; slavery); any property above 500 iugera (125 ha.: 309 acres) of whatever period: all of which ‘ruined’ Italy by forcing *peasants from the land. Others dismiss Pliny's remark as generalized nostalgia and refer to archaeological surveys that not only emphasize the diversity of rural settlement but also show that villas and peasant farms often existed side by side. Yet if Pliny is allowed credence, the term latifundia applies strictly to extensive unitary estates, resulting from an aggregation of properties, too large to farm according to the labour-intensive methods of cultivation of the slave-staffed villas recommended by the *agricultural writers (HN 18.

Article.  616 words. 

Subjects: Economic History ; Historical Geography ; Greek and Roman Archaeology

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