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Tour of Italy for the Financially Challenged - logo6.6k

Agriculture in the Roman Empire
(1 of 3)
The Patricians (groupname)
Ital333, Prof. Barbara Nucci, March 1999

A Chronology of
Events in Italy

60,000 BC - 1300 AD

1300 AD - 1998 AD




Baths of Baiae;
Observations and Inferences
The Casamari Abbey
The First 400 Years
Agriculture in the
Roman Empire
Pope Julius II

Eleonora Pimentel
The Parthenopean Republic

The Effect of Mussolini's 
Pronatalist View on Women


     The Roman Empire at its largest stage stretched north to Britain, south to Africa and as far east as Syria and Judea.  Thirty-two provinces enabled the Empire to partake in trade with each other for luxury goods as well as vast amounts of agricultural products.  Agriculture stimulated the economy and saved the Empire from starvation.  Also, the management of estates and farms kept people busy and it aided the poor with the introduction of alimenta.  The provinces with their varied climates produced numerous goods that became a chief source of income for everyone under the Empire.  Most inhabitants survived on the produce of their local area.  However, the goods produced throughout the Empire supported its capital in Rome as well as the armies that were settled throughout the provinces (Scarre, 1995 p.80). The Empire's success in delivery of goods relied on the roads and ports that were built by the Empire.  For example, roads and ports delivered the much needed grain shipped in from Egypt and Africa (Scarre, 1995 p. 80).

     The Roman Empire grew many different crops in its territories.  Because of the differences in climates, some things could only be grown in certain places.  Italy had two main territories--that of the peninsula and the northern part above the Apennines.  The olive tree, which was found only on the peninsula, the vine and fig tree were the major crops grown by the regions along the Apennines of Italy.  The northern part of Italy had the fertile Po Valley.  The Po valley district was very productive in agriculture.  This area was full of trees and woodlands, which produced enough acorns to feed the many herds of swine that provided most of the meat for the area.  This area also produced large amounts of grain, millet and nuts (Cornell & Matthews, 1982 p. 11).  These products were produced on imperial lands as well as private farms.

      The early Empire had many hut villages that relied on their own crops for support.  The chief crops of these villages were emmer wheat, barley, peas and beans (Cornell & Matthews, 1982 p. 19).  One of the principle producers of grain was Egypt.  Egypt was also "the center of the cultivation of the papyrus plant and of the manufacture therefrom of the paper of antiquity" (Lewis and Reinhold, 1990 p. 83).  According to Pliny, North Africa was a major producer of wheat (Lewis & Reinhold, 1990 p. 84).  Roman roads were many times difficult to use when trying to deliver goods.  Most goods received by Rome were from Afiica and Egypt because it was cheaper and faster to deliver these imports by ship than bringing them from other faraway countries by road.  Instead, the roads were used mainly for the transfer of local goods to be sold at markets in much smaller quantities (Cornell & Matthews, 1982 p. 114).  It was still difficult however to transport crops to Rome by way of ship because of the warm and moist conditions that were conducive to the spoiling of the grains aboard ships (Lewis & Reinhold p. 63).

       Africa was expected to supply corn to Rome although this was not always to their advantage (Cornell & Matthews, 1982 p. II 8).  This resulted in a development of a program of public works, organized by the state.  The city of Rome's corn supply was distributed to its citizens at a fixed price subsidized by the government.  This program of doles of cheap corn stayed in place until Augustus reorganized the idea.  Under him, free rations of corn dole were given to the male citizens of Rome who were registered citizens and it was restricted to a maximum of 200,000 men (Cornell & Matthews, 1982 p. 114).  A portion of this supply was also set aside to feed the soldiers (Lewis & Reinhold, 1990 p. 63).  According to Stevenson, Rome's supply of corn, also known as annona, was a main factor of its economy and its survival.  The annona was eventually placed under a manager called the praefectus annonae.  This office, which was initially held in Rome, under the Emperor Augustus, spread to the Roman provinces in the municipal towns (Cary, et al., 1949 p. 55).  Overall, the management of corn supply was a duty recognized by all under the Empire.

     The management of all agricultural goods also included the management of land imperial and private.  Under the Roman Empire, the practice of tenancy farming evolved.  Large estates, is both private and government owned, eventually suffered from shortages of agricultural workers.  For a landowner, the only options were to have either slaves or tenant farmers work the land.  Under the late Empire, there were not as many slaves available, so many landowners opted to employ tenant farmers.  Tenant farmers were persons who worked a small portion of a large estate for various provisions, dependent on where they lived.  In the beginning, tenant farming was a voluntary occupation.  Later in the Empire, under Emperor Constantine, tenant farmers were obligatorily tied to the land they worked.


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