Roman Agriculture

The Roman Empire (27 B.C.E. to 476 CE) stretched from Europe to the Middle East and parts of Northern Africa. This meant that the empire...

Roman Agriculture

Earlier this year, we spent some time as a team in Rome, which got us thinking about how ancient societies provided for their vast populations.

The Roman Empire (27 B.C.E. to 476 CE) stretched from Europe to the Middle East and parts of Northern Africa. This meant that the empire existed across many geographical locations, which resulted in different focuses on farming due to varieties in climate. However, the foundations for Roman agriculture began way before the empire was established. In earlier periods of Roman civilization (known as the era of the Roman Republic (509 BCE to 27 B.C.E.), the majority of Romans commonly engaged in essential agricultural work.

Most rural communities engaged in small self-sufficient farms known as latifundium, trading; in small commodities such as grains, olives, and grapes. These farms were primarily run by slave workers who their estate masters oversaw. The conversion of the Republic into an Empire saw a significant shift in demand for essential foodstuffs due to a growing urban population. This resulted in the development of commercial farming markets fuelled by long-distance trade with the empire’s many outposts.

For the most part, local Roman agriculture was elementary and often did not turn many profits. Roman farmers had to rely on the whims of the arid and unpredictable conditions of Mediterranean weather, which meant erratic rainfall. Small farms often focused on growing wheat, olive oil, and grapes for self-sufficiency rather than selling on the open market. Interestingly, the start and end of farming seasons were determined by stars and constellations, which indicated the changing seasons.

As we know, the growth of the empire led to much of its agricultural practices moving across the world. Much of Rome’s grain was imported from North Africa, specifically Egypt. This meant that the Roman Empire was interested in controlling the Mediterranean Sea to ensure that supplies could move quickly from Africa to Italy.

Thankfully, the days of ancient slave-based agricultural practices are over. However, it is essential to reflect on these practices to see how our global networks of trade work today. Trade patterns across vast geographical terrains are integral to our global economy. Although farmers are no longer solely reliant on the whims of the weather, we still face fluctuations brought about by unforeseen circumstances such as war, gravely affecting the world’s food supplies. The successes of the Roman Empire are impressive, but we still have a long way to go! CropSafe hopes to be a part of the agricultural history books in the future.

June 1, 2022

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