Agriculture in Antiquity

To understand Roman agriculture, it is best to use the systems concept developed by modern geographers and agronomists. Thus, we can approach agriculture in Antiquity at a plot level (land system), at a farm level (production system), or at a regional level (agrarian system). This approach emphasises the interactions between the natural surroundings and the socio-cultural sphere, agricultural techniques and the production economy.

Agrarian systems in Antiquity were based on the connection between cereal-growing and animal husbandry. A two-field rotation system was used for arable lands, the ager, which were alternately planted with grain crops and left fallow. Cattle played a key role as draft animals and as a means of transportation, but also in providing manure for the ager from adjacent untilled grazing land, or saltus. Wine-growing, arboriculture and cultivation of edible plants took place in the hortus. In the allocation of plots on a farm, those farthest from the centre were those of the silva (forest), where wood for construction and fuel was gathered.

This basic model was followed in most regions of the Roman Empire, and historians have explored the question of yield levels in Antiquity. Landed estates were agricultural businesses that combined food self-sufficiency with the development of crops grown for speculative reasons.

Medias

Interactive document - Rustic calendar from Saint-Romain-en-Gal

Rustic calendar from Saint-Romain-en-Gal

Panel depicting ploughing and planting, Autumn. Late 2nd–early 3rd century CE mosaic.
Musée d'archéologie nationale de Saint-Germain-en-Laye no. 83116 © RMN / Jean Schormans
Interactive document - Asymmetrical plough coulter

Asymmetrical plough coulter

Forest of Compiègne (Oise).
Musée d'archéologie nationale no. 28998 © RMN / Thierry Le Mage
Interactive document - Ploughshare

Ploughshare

Côte-d'Or.
Musée d'archéologie nationale no. 1478 © RMN / Thierry Le Mage
Interactive document - Rustic calendar from Saint-Romain-en-Gal

Rustic calendar from Saint-Romain-en-Gal

Panel depicting apple-picking, Autumn. Late 2nd–early 3rd century CE mosaic.
Musée d'archéologie nationale de Saint-Germain-en-Laye no. 83116 © RMN / Jean Schormans
Interactive document - Spade fitting

Spade fitting

Forest of Compiègne (Oise).
Musée d'archéologie nationale no. 29021a © RMN / Thierry Le Mage
Interactive document - Pick-hoe

Pick-hoe


Musée d'archéologie nationale no. 19592 © RMN / Thierry Le Mage
Interactive document - Flat-tanged serrated billhook

Flat-tanged serrated billhook

Andrésy (Yvelines).
Musée d'archéologie nationale no. 63655 © RMN / Thierry Le Mage
Interactive document - Rustic calendar from Saint-Romain-en-Gal

Rustic calendar from Saint-Romain-en-Gal

Panel depicting a harvest festival, Summer. Late 2nd–early 3rd century CE mosaic.
Musée d'archéologie nationale de Saint-Germain-en-Laye no. 83116 © RMN / Jean Schormans
Interactive document - Faux

Faux

Forest of Compiègne (Oise).
Musée d'archéologie nationale no. 29036a © RMN / Thierry Le Mage
Interactive document - Shears

Shears

Forest of Compiègne (Oise).
Musée d'archéologie nationale no. 15926 © RMN / Thierry Le Mage
Interactive document - The systems of fallowing and light draught ploughing, associated with animal breeding and pasturing

The systems of fallowing and light draught ploughing, associated with animal breeding and pasturing

After Marcel Mazoyer and Laurence Roudart. According to the authors, the "agricultural revolution" in Antiquity involved exploiting a cultivated ecosystem whose potential was still limited.
© Marcel Mazoyer and Laurence Roudart
Interactive document - Organisational diagram of a ploughing/breeding agrarian system according to Pierre Ouzoulias, based on analysis of Latin historical sources

Organisational diagram of a ploughing/breeding agrarian system according to Pierre Ouzoulias, based on analysis of Latin historical sources

The intensive nature of Roman grain-growing can be seen in the existence of grain fields, hay storage in barns, the use of manure to enrich the fields and the use of straw for bedding.
Fig_1-5-2_Syst_agraire_GSW197b.jpg