That which is gained by war may be wrested from the grasp by war again, but it is not so with the conquests made by the plough; while the Romans lost many battles, they scarcely ever on making peace ceded Roman soil, and for this result they were indebted to the tenacity with which the farmers clung to their fields and homesteads. The strength of man and of the state lies in their dominion over the soil; the greatness of Rome was built on the most extensive and immediate mastery of her citizens over her soil, and on the compact unity of the body which thus acquired so firm a hold.

System Of Joint Cultivation

We have already indicated(2) that in the earliest times the arable land was cultivated in common, probably by the several clans; each clan tilled its own land, and thereafter distributed the produce among the several households belonging to it. There exists indeed an intimate connection between the system of joint tillage and the clan form of society, and even subsequently in Rome joint residence and joint management were of very frequent occurrence in the case of co-proprietors.(3) Even the traditions of Roman law furnish the information that wealth consisted at first in cattle and the usufruct of the soil, and that it was not till later that land came to be distributed among the burgesses as their own special property.(4) Better evidence that such was the case is afforded by the earliest designation of wealth as "cattle-stock" or "slave-and-cattle-stock" (-pecunia-, -familia pecuniaque-), and of the separate possessions of the children of the household and of slaves as "small cattle" (-peculium-) also by the earliest form of acquiring property through laying hold of it with the hand (-mancipatio-), which was only appropriate to the case of moveable articles;(5) and above all by the earliest measure of "land of one's own" (-heredium-, from -herus-lord), consisting of two -jugera- (about an acre and a quarter), which can only have applied to garden-ground, and not to the hide.(6) When and how the distribution of the arable land took place, can no longer be ascertained. This much only is certain, that the oldest form of the constitution was based not on freehold settlement, but on clanship as a substitute for it, whereas the Servian constitution presupposes the distribution of the land. It is evident from the same constitution that the great bulk of the landed property consisted of middle-sized farms, which provided work and subsistence for a family and admitted of the keeping of cattle for tillage as well as of the application of the plough. The ordinary extent of such a Roman full hide has not been ascertained with precision, but can scarcely, as has already been shown,(7) be estimated at less than twenty -jugera-(12 1/2 acres nearly).

Culture Of Grain

Their husbandry was mainly occupied with the culture of the cereals. The usual grain was spelt (-far-);(8) but different kinds of pulse, roots, and vegetables were also diligently cultivated.

Culture Of The Vine

That the culture of the vine was not introduced for the first time into Italy by Greek settlers,(9) is shown by the list of the festivals of the Roman community which reaches back to a time preceding the Greeks, and which presents three wine-festivals to be celebrated in honour of "father Jovis," not in honour of the wine-god of more recent times who was borrowed from the Greeks, the "father deliverer." The very ancient legend which represents Mezentius king of Caere as levying a wine-tax from the Latins or the Rutuli, and the various versions of the widely-spread Italian story which affirms that the Celts were induced to cross the Alps in consequence of their coming to the knowledge of the noble fruits of Italy, especially of the grape and of wine, are indications of the pride of the Latins in their glorious vine, the envy of all their neighbours. A careful system of vine-husbandry was early and generally inculcated by the Latin priests. In Rome the vintage did not begin until the supreme priest of the community, the -flamen- of Jupiter, had granted permission for it and had himself made a beginning; in like manner a Tusculan ordinance forbade the sale of new wine, until the priest had proclaimed the festival of opening the casks. The early prevalence of the culture of the vine is likewise attested not only by the general adoption of wine-libations in the sacrificial ritual, but also by the precept of the Roman priests promulgated as a law of king Numa, that men should present in libation to the gods no wine obtained from uncut grapes; just as, to introduce the beneficial practice of drying the grain, they prohibited the offering of grain undried.

Culture Of The Olive

The culture of the olive was of later introduction, and certainly was first brought to Italy by the Greeks.(10) The olive is said to have been first planted on the shores of the western Mediterranean towards the close of the second century of the city; and this view accords with the fact that the olive-branch and the olive occupy in the Roman ritual a place very subordinate to the juice of the vine. The esteem in which both noble trees were held by the Romans is shown by the vine and the olive-tree which were planted in the middle of the Forum, not far from the Curtian lake.

The Fig

The principal fruit-tree planted was the nutritious fig, which was probably a native of Italy. The legend of the origin of Rome wove its threads most closely around the old fig-trees, several of which stood near to and in the Roman Forum.(11)

Management Of The Farm

It was the farmer and his sons who guided the plough, and performed generally the labours of husbandry: it is not probable that slaves or free day-labourers were regularly employed in the work of the ordinary farm. The plough was drawn by the ox or by the cow; horses, asses, and mules served as beasts of burden. The rearing of cattle for the sake of meat or of milk did not exist at all as a distinct branch of husbandry, or was prosecuted only to a very limited extent, at least on the land which remained the property of the clan; but, in addition to the smaller cattle which were driven out together to the common pasture, swine and poultry, particularly geese, were kept at the farm-yard.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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