Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online

Home | Prev | Next | Contents


"There is another division of the year," said Stolo, "which takes account of both the sun and the moon, namely: into six seasons, because almost all the cultivated fruits of the earth come to maturity and reach the vat or the granary after five successive agricultural operations and are put to use by a sixth, and these are, first, the preparing (praeparandum); second, the planting (serendum); third, the cultivating of the growing crop (nutricandum); fourth, the ingathering (legendum); fifth, the storing (condendum), and sixth, the consuming (promendum)."


Of tillage

In the matter of preparation there are different things to be done for different crops, as, if you wish to make an orchard or an arbustum, you trench and grub and plough; if you plant grain, you plough and harrow; while, if you cultivate trees, you mulch their roots by breaking the earth with a mattock, more or less according to the nature of the tree, for some trees, like the cypress, have a small, and others like the plane tree have a large, root system (for example, that in the Lyceum at Athens described by Theophastus, which, when it was still a young tree, had a spread of roots to the extent of 33 cubits). If you break the ground with a plough and cattle, it is well to work the land a second time before you sow your seed. So, if you are making a meadow the preparation is to close it to the stock, and this is usually done when the pear tree is in bloom: if it is an irrigated meadow the preparation is to turn in the water at the proper time.

Of manuring

  1. As part of this same operation should be considered what places in a field need manure and what kind of manure you can use to the greatest advantage, for the several kinds have different qualities. Cassius says that the best manure is that of birds, except swamp and sea birds,[89] but the best of all is, he claims, the manure of pigeons because it is the hottest and causes the land to ferment. This ought to be sown on the land like seed, not distributed in heaps like the dung of cattle. I myself think the best manure is that from aviaries in which thrushes and blackbirds are kept, because it is not only good for the land but serves as a fattening food for cattle and hogs: for which reason those who farm aviaries pay less rent when the owner stipulates that the manure is to be used on the farm, than those to whom it is a perquisite. Cassius advises that the manure next in value to that of doves is human feces, and third that of goats and sheep and asses. The manure of horses is of the least value on corn land, but on meadows it is the best, because, like the manure of other draught animals fed on barley, it brings a heavy stand of grass. The manure pit should be near the barn in order that it may be available with the least labour. If you plant a stake of oak wood in the manure pit it will not harbour serpents.


Of the four methods of propagating plants

  1. The second operation, namely that of propagating, must be considered in relation to the proper time for sowing each kind of seed, for this concerns the aspect of the field you are to sow and the season fitting for what you are to plant. Do we not see some things grow best in the spring, others in summer, some in autumn, and others again in winter? For each plant is sowed or propagated or harvested in season according to its nature: so while most trees are grafted most successfully in spring, rather than the autumn, yet figs may be grafted at the summer solstice, and cherries even in winter.

And since there are four methods of propagation of plants, by nature and by the several processes of art, namely: transplanting from one place to another, as is done in layering vines, what is called cuttage or propagating quick sets cut from trees, and graftage, which consists in transferring scions from one tree to another, let us consider at what season and in what locality you should do each of these things.

a. Seeding, and here of seed selection

XL. In the first place, the seed, which is the principle of all germination, is of two kinds, that which is not appreciable by our senses and that which is. Seed is hidden from us when it is disseminated in the air, as the physicist Anaxagoras holds, or is distributed over the land by the surface water, as Theophrastus maintains. The seeds which the farmer can see should be studied with the greatest care. There are some varieties, like that of the cypress, which are so small as to be almost invisible, for those nuts which the cypress bears, that look like little balls covered with bark, are not the seed but contain it. Nature gave the principle of germination to seed, the rest of agriculture was left for the experience of man to discover, for in the beginning before the interference of man plants were generated before they were sown, afterwards those seeds which were collected by man from the original plants did not generate until after they had been sown.

Seed should be examined to ascertain that it is not sterile by age, that it is clean, particularly that it is not adulterated with other varieties of similar appearances: for age has such effect upon seed as in some respects to change its very nature, thus it is said that rape will grow from old cabbage seed, and vice versa.[90]

b. Transplanting

In respect of transplanting, care should be taken that it is done neither too soon nor too late. The fit time, according to Theophrastus, is spring and autumn and midsummer, but the same rule will not apply in all places and to all kinds of plants: for in dry and thin clay soil, which has little natural moisture, the wet spring is the time, but in a rich and fat soil it is safe to transplant in autumn. Some limit the practice of transplanting to a period of thirty days.

c. Cuttage

In respect of cuttage, which consists in planting in the ground a live cutting from a tree, it behooves you especially to see that this is done at the proper time, which is before the tree has begun to bud or bloom: that you take off the cutting carefully rather than break it from the parent tree, because the cutting will be more firmly established in proportion as it has a broad footing which can readily put out roots: and that it is planted promptly before the sap dries out of it.

In propagating olives select a truncheon of new grown wood about a foot in length and the same size at each end: some call these clavolae and others call them taleae.

d. Graftage

In respect of graftage, which consists in transferring growing wood from one tree to another, care must be taken in selecting the tree from which the scion is taken, the tree on which it is grafted, and the time and the manner in which it is done: for the pear cannot be grafted on an oak, even though it may upon the apple. In this operation many men who have great faith in the sayings of the soothsayers give heed to their warning that as many kinds of grafts there may be on a tree so many bolts of lightning will strike it, because a bolt of lightning is generated by each graft (ictu).[91]

If you graft a cultivated pear upon a wild pear tree no matter how good it may be, the result will not be as fortunate as if you had grafted on another cultivated pear. Having regard for the result, on what ever kind of tree you graft, if it is of exactly the same kind, as, for instance, apple on apple, you should take care that the scion comes from a better tree than that on which it is grafted.

e. A "new" method--inarching

There is another operation recently suggested,[92] for propagating one tree from another, when the trees are neighbours. From the tree from which you wish to take a scion a branch is trained to that on which you wish to make the graft and the scion is bound upon an incision in a branch of the stock. The place of contact of both scion and stock is cut away with a knife so that the bark of one joins evenly with the bark of the other at the point of exposure to the weather. Care should be taken that the growing top of the scion is pointed straight upwards. The following year when the graft has knitted, the scion may be cut from its parent tree.

Of when to use these different methods

XLI. The most important consideration in propagating is, however, the time at which you do it: thus things which formerly were propagated in the spring now are propagated in summer, like the fig, whose wood is not heavy and so craves heat, as a consequence of which quality figs cannot be grown in cold climates. For the same reason water is dangerous to a new fig graft because its soft wood rots easily. For these reasons it is now considered that midsummer is the best season to propagate figs. On the other hand it is the custom to tie a pot of water above a graft of hard wood trees so that it may drip on the graft and prevent the scion from drying up before it has been incorporated with the stock. Care must be taken that the bark of the scion is kept intact, and to that end it should be sharpened but so that the pith (medulla) is not exposed. To prevent the rain or the heat from injuring it from without, it should be smeared with clay and bound with bark. It is customary to take off the scion of a vine three days before it is to be grafted so that the superfluity of moisture may drain out before the scion is inserted, or, if the graft is already in place, an incision is made in the stock a little below the graft from which the adventitious moisture may drain off: but this is not done with figs and pomegranates, for in all trees of a comparatively dry nature the graft is made immediately. Indeed, some trees, like the fig, are best grafted when the scion is in bud.

Of the four kinds of propagation which I have discussed, that of graftage is preferred in respect of those trees which, like the fig, are slow in developing: for the natural seeds of the fig are those grains seen in the fruit we eat and are so small as scarcely to be capable of sprouting the slenderest shoots. For all seeds which are small and hard are slow in germinating, while those which are soft are more spontaneous, just as girls grow faster than boys. Thus by reason of their feminine tenderness the fig, the pomegranate and the vine are quicker to mature than the palm, the cypress and the olive, which are rather dry than humid by nature. Wherefore we some times propagate figs in nurseries from cuttings rather than attempt to raise them from seed: unless there is no other way to secure them, as happens when one wishes to send or receive seed across the sea. For this purpose the ripe figs which we eat are strung together and when they have dried out are packed and shipped wheresoever we wish, and thereafter being planted in a nursery they germinate. In this way the Chian, the Chalcidian, the Lydian, the African and other foreign varieties of figs were imported into Italy.

For the same reason olives are usually propagated in nurseries from truncheons such as I have described, rather than from its seed, which is hard like a nut and slow to germinate.

Of seeding alfalfa

XLII. You should take care not to plant alfalfa[93] in soil which is either too dry or half wet,[94] but in good order. The authorities say that if the soil is in proper condition a modius (peck) and a half of alfalfa seed will suffice to sow a jugerum of land. This seed is sowed broad-cast on the land like grass and grain.

Of seeding clover and cabbage

XLIII. Snail clover (cytisus) and cabbage is sowed in beds well prepared and is transplanted from them and set out so that the plants are a foot and a half apart, also cuttings are taken from the stronger plants and set out like those which were raised from seed.

Of seeding grain

XLIV. The quantity of seed required for one jugerum is, of beans, four modii, of wheat five modii, of barley six modii, and of spelt ten modii: in some places a little more or a little less; if the soil is rich, more; if it is thin, less. Wherefore you should observe how much it is the custom to sow in your locality in order that you may do what the region and the quality of the soil demands, which is the more necessary as the same amount of seed will yield in some localities ten for one, and in others fifteen for one, as in Etruria. In Italy also, in the region of Sybaris it is said that seed yields as much as one hundred for one, and as much is claimed for the soil of Syria at Gadara, and in Africa at Byzacium.[95]

It is also important to consider whether you will sow in land which is cropped every year which we call restibilis, or in fallow land (vervactum), which is [ploughed in the spring and so] allowed an interval of rest."

"In Olynthia," said Agrius, "they are said to crop the land every year but to get a greater yield every third year."

"A field ought to lie fallow every other year," said Stolo, "or at least be planted with some crop which makes less demand upon the soil."


"Tell us," said Agrius, "about the third operation which relates to the cultivation and the nourishment of the crops."

Of the conditions of plant growth

"All things which germinate in the soil," replied Licinius, "in the soil also are nourished, come to maturity, conceive, are pregnant and in due time bear fruit or ear, so each fruit after its kind yields seed similar to that from which it is sprung. Thus if you pluck a blossom or a green pear from a pear tree, or the like from any other tree, nothing will grow again in that place during the same year, because a tree cannot have two periods of fruition in the same season. They produce only as women bear children, when their time has come."

XLV. Barley usually sprouts in seven days after it has been sowed, and wheat not much later, while the legumes almost always sprout in four or five days, except the bean, which is somewhat later. Millet and sesame and the other similar grains sprout in the same time unless some thing in the nature of the soil or the weather retards them. If the locality is cold, those plants which are propagated in the nursery and are tender by nature ought to be protected from the frosts by coverings of leaves or straw, and, if rains follow, care should be taken that water is not permitted to stand any where about them, for ice is a poison to tender roots under ground, as to sprouts above, and prevents them from developing normally. In autumn and winter the roots develop more than does the leaf of the plant because they are nourished by the warmth of the roof of earth, while the leaf above is cut down by the frosty air. We can learn this by observation of the wild vegetation which grows without the intervention of man, for the roots grow more rapidly than that which springs from them, but only so far as they are actuated by the rays of the sun. There are two causes of the growth of roots, the vitality of the root itself by which nature drives it forward, and the quality of the soil which yields a passage more easily in some conditions than in others.

Of the mechanical action of plants

XLVI. In their effect upon plants such natural forces as I have mentioned produce some curious mechanical results. Thus it is possible to determine the time of the year from the motion of the leaves of certain trees like the olive, the white poplar and the willow, for when the summer solstice has arrived their leaves turn over. Not less curious is the habit of that flower which is called the heliotrope, which in the morning looks upon the rising sun and, following its journey to its setting, never turns away its face.

Of the protection of nurseries and meadows

XLVII. Those plants, which, like olives and figs, are grown in the nursery from cuttings and are of a tender nature, should be protected by sheds built of two planks fastened at each end: moreover they should be weeded, and this should be done while the weeds are still young, for after they have become dry they offer resistance, and more readily break off in your hand than yield to your pull. On the other hand the grass which springs in the meadows and gives you hope of forage not only should not be rooted out while it is growing, but should not even be walked upon; hence both the flock and the herd should be excluded from the meadow at this time and even man himself should keep away, for grass disappears under the foot and the track soon becomes a path.

Of the structure of a wheat plant

XLVIII. A corn plant consists of a culm bearing at its head a spike, which, when it is not mutilated, has, as in barley and wheat, three parts, namely: the grain, the glume and the beard, not to speak of the sheath which contains the spike while it is being formed. The grain is that solid interior part of the spike, the glume is its hull and the beard those long thin needles which grow out of the glume. Thus as the glume is the pontifical robe of the grain, the beard is its apex. The beard and the grain are well known to almost every one, but the glume to very few: indeed I know only one book in which it is mentioned, the translation which Ennius made of the verses of Evhemerus. The etymology of the word gluma seems to be from glubere, to strip, because the grain must be stripped from this hull: and by a like derivation the hull of the fig which we eat is called a glume. The beard we call arista because it is the first part of the corn to dry (arescere), while we call the grain granum from the fact that it is produced (gerere), for we plant corn to produce grain, not glumes or beards, just as vines are planted to produce grapes, not tendrils. The spike, which, by tradition, the country people call speca, seems to get its name from spes, hope. For men plant with hope of the harvest. A spike which has no beard is called polled (muticus), for, when the spike is first forming, the beard, like the horns of a young animal, is not apparent but lies hid like a sword in its scabbard under a wrapping of foliage which hence is called the sheath. When the spike is mature its taper end above the grain is called the frit, while that below, where the spike joins the straw culm, is called the urruncum.

XLIX. When Stolo drew breath, no one asked any questions, and so, believing that enough had been said on the subject of the care of the growing crops, he resumed.


"I will now speak about the gathering of the crops."

Of the hay harvest

And first of the meadows: when the grass ceases to grow and begins to dry out with the heat, then it should be cut with scythes and, as it begins to cure, turned with forks. When it is cured it should be tied in bales and hauled into the steading; then what hay was left lying should be raked together and stacked, and, finally, when this has all been done, the meadow should be gleaned, that is, gone over with the sickle to save what ever grass escaped the mowing, such as that left standing on tussocks. From this act of cutting (sectare) I think that the word sicilire (to glean with a sickle) is derived.

Of the wheat harvest

  1. The word harvest (messis) is properly used with respect to the ingathering of those crops which are reaped, and from this action (metere) its name is derived, but it is mostly used in respect of corn. There are three methods of harvesting corn, one as in Umbria, where they cradle the straw close to the earth and shock up the sheaves as they are cut: when a sufficient number of shocks has been made, they go over them again and cut each sheaf between the spikes and the straw, the spikes being thrown into baskets and sent off to the threshing floor, while the straw is left in the field and stacked. A second method of harvesting is practised in Picenum, where they have a curved wooden header[96] on the edge of which is fixed an iron saw: when this instrument engages the spikes of grain it cuts them off, leaving the straw standing in the field, where it is afterwards cut. A third method of harvesting, which is used in the vicinity of Rome and in most places, is to cut the straw in the middle and take away the upper part with the left hand (whence the word to reap [metere] is, I think, derived from the word medium--connoting a cutting in the middle). The lower part of the straw which remains standing is cut later,[97] while the rest, which goes with the grain, is hauled off in baskets to the threshing floor and there in an airy place is winnowed with a shovel (pala) from which perhaps the chaff (palea) takes its name. Some derive the name of straw (stramentum) from the fact that it stands (stare), as they think the word stamen is also derived, while others derive it from the fact that it is spread (strare), because straw is used as litter for cattle.

The grain should be harvested when it is ripe: it is considered that under normal conditions and in an easy field one man should reap almost a jugerum a day and still have time to carry the grain in baskets to the threshing floor.

The threshing floor

LI. The threshing floor should be on high ground so that the wind can blow upon it from all directions. It should be constructed of a size proportioned to your crops, preferably round and with the centre slightly raised so that if it rains the water may not stand on it but drain off as quickly as possible, and there is no shorter distance from the centre to the circumference of a circle than a radius:[98] it should be paved with well packed earth, best of all of clay, so that it may not crack in the sun and open honeycombs in which the grain can hide itself, and water collect and give vent to the burrows of mice and ants. It is the practice to anoint the threshing floor with amurca,[99] for that is an enemy of grass and a poison to ants and to moles. Some build up and even pave their threshing floor with rock to make it permanent, and some, like the people of Bagiennae, even roof it over because in that country storms are prevalent at the threshing season. In a hot country where the threshing floor is uncovered it is desirable to build a shelter near by where the hands can resort in the heat of the day.

Threshing and winnowing

LII. The heaviest and best of the sheaves should be selected on the threshing floor and the spikes laid aside for seed. The grain is threshed from the spikes on the threshing floor, an operation which some perform by means of a sledge drawn by a yoke of oxen: this sledge consisting of a wooden platform, studded underneath with flints or iron spikes, on which either the driver rides or some heavy weight is imposed in order, as it is drawn around, to separate the grain from the chaff: others use for this purpose what is called the punic cart, consisting of a series of axle trees, equipped with toothed rollers, on which some one sits and drives the cattle which draw it, as they do in hither Spain and other places. Others cause the grain to be trodden out under the hoofs of a herd of driven cattle, which are kept moving by goading them with long poles.

When the grain has been threshed it should be tossed from the ground by means of a winnowing basket or a winnowing shovel when the wind is blowing gently, and this is done in such way that the lightest part, which is called the chaff, is blown away beyond the threshing floor, while the heavy part, which is the corn, comes clean into the basket.[100]


LIII. After the harvest is over the grain fields should be gleaned of shattered grain, and the straw left in the field should be gathered and housed, but if there is little to be gained by such work, and the expense is disproportionate, the stubble should be grazed: for in farming it is of the greatest importance that the expense of an operation shall not exceed the return from it.

Of the vintage

LIV. In vineyards the vintage should begin when the grape is ripe, but care must be taken with what kind of grapes and in what part of the vineyard you begin: for the early grapes and the mixed variety, which is called black, ripen some time before the others and should be gathered first, like the fruit grown on the side of the arbustum, or of the vineyard, which is exposed to the sun. During the gathering those grapes from which you expect to make wine should be separated from those reserved for the table: the choicer being carried to the wine press and collected in empty jars, while those reserved to eat are collected in separate baskets, transferred to little pots and stored in jars packed with marc, though some are immersed in the pond in jars daubed with pitch and some raised to a shelf in the store room.

The stems and the skins of the grapes which have been trodden out should be put under the press so that any must left in them may be added to the supply in the vat. When this marc ceases to yield a flow, it is chopped with a knife and pressed again, and the must expressed by this final operation is hence called _circumcisitum_[101] and is kept by itself because it smacks of the knife. The marc finally remaining is thrown into jars, to which water is added, thus preparing a drink which is called after-wine or grape juice, and is given to the hands in the winter instead of wine.

Of the olive harvest

LV. And now of the harvest of the olive yard.[102] You should pick by hand, rather than beat from the tree, all the olives which can be reached from the ground or from a ladder, because this fruit becomes arid when it has been struck and does not yield so much oil: and in picking by hand it is better to do so with the bare fingers rather than with a tool because the texture of a tool not only injures the berry but barks the branches and leaves them exposed to the frost. So it is better to use a reed than a pole to strike down the fruit which cannot be reached by hand, for (as the proverb is) the heavier the blow, the more need there is for a surgeon. He who beats his trees should beware of doing injury, for often an olive when it is struck away brings down with it from the branch a twig, and when this happens the fruit of the following year is lost: and this is not the least reason why it is said that the olive bears fruit, or much fruit, only every other year.

Like the grape, the olive serves a two-fold function after it is gathered. Some are set aside to be eaten and the rest are made into oil, which comforts the body of man not only within but without, for it follows us into the bath and the gymnasium. Those berries from which it is proposed to make oil are usually stored in heaps on tables for several days where they may mellow a little. Each heap in turn is carried in crates to the oil jars and to the trapetus, or pressing mill, which is equipped with both hard and rough stones. If the olives are left too long in the heap they heat and spoil and the oil is rancid, so if you are unable to grind promptly the heaps of olives should be ventilated by moving them. The yield of the olive is of two kinds, oil which is well known and amurca, of the use of which many are so ignorant that one can often see it streaming from the mill and wasting upon the ground where it not only discolours the soil, but in places where it collects even makes it sterile: while if applied intelligently it has many uses of the greatest importance to agriculture, as, for instance, by pouring it around the roots of trees, chiefly the olive itself, or wherever it is desired to destroy weeds.[103]


LVI. "Up to this moment," cried Agrius, "I have been sitting in the barn with the keys in my hands waiting for you, Stolo, to bring in the harvest."

"Lo, I am here at the threshold," replied Stolo. "Open the gates for me."

Of storing hay

In the first place, it is better to house your hay than to leave it stacked in the field, for thus it makes more palatable provender, as may be proven by putting both kinds before the cattle.

Of storing grain

LVII. But corn should be stored in an elevated granary, exposed to the winds from the east and the north, and where no damp air may reach it from places near at hand. The walls and the floors should be plastered with a stucco of marble dust or at least with a mixture of clay and chaff and amurca, for amurca will serve to keep out mice and weevil and will make the grain solid and heavy. Some men even sprinkle their grain with amurca in the proportion of a quadrantal to every thousand modii of grain: others crumble or scatter over it, for the same purpose, other vermifuges like Chalcidian or Carian chalk or wormwood, and other things of that kind. Some farmers have their granaries under ground, like caverns, which they call silos, as in Cappadocia and Thrace, while in hither Spain, in the vicinity of Carthage, and at Osca pits are used for this purpose, the bottoms of which are covered with straw: and they take care that neither moisture nor air has access to them, except when they are opened for use, a wise precaution because where the air does not move the weevil will not hatch. Corn stored in this way is preserved for fifty years, and millet, indeed, for more than a century.

On the ether hand again, in hither Spain and in certain parts of Apulia they build elevated granaries above ground, which the winds keep cool, not only by windows at the sides but also from underneath the floor.

Of storing legumes

LVIII. Beans and other legumes keep safe a long time in oil jars covered with ashes. Cato says the little Aminnean grape, as well as the large variety and that called Apician, keep very well when buried in earthen pots: or they may be preserved quite as well in boiled new wine, or in fresh after-wine. The varieties which keep best when hung up are the hard grapes and those known as the Aminnean Scantian.

Of storing pome fruits

LIX. The pome fruits, like the preserving sparrow apples, quinces and the varieties of apples known as Scantian, and 'little rounds' (orbiculata) and those which formerly were called winesap (mustea), and now are called honey apples (melimela), can all be kept safely in a cold and dry place when laid on straw, and so those who build fruit houses take care to have the windows give upon the north wind and that it may blow through them: but they should not be left without shutters for fear that the fruits should lose their moisture and become shrivelled by the effect of the continuous wind.

The vaults, the walls and the pavements of these fruiteries are usually laid in stucco to keep them cool: thus rendering them such pleasant resorts that some men even spread there their dining couches: as well they may, for if the pursuit of luxury impels some of us to turn our dining rooms into picture galleries in order to regale even our eyes with works of art [while we eat], should we not find still greater gratification in contemplating the works of nature displayed in a savory array of beautiful fruits, especially if this was not procured, as has been done, by setting up in your fruitery on the occasion of a party a supply of fruit purchased for the purpose in town?

Some think best to dispose their apples in the fruitery on concrete tables, others on beds of straw, and some even on flocks of wool.

Pomegranates are preserved by sticking their twigs in jars of sand, quinces and sparrow apples are strung together and hung up, but the late maturing Anician pears are best preserved in boiled must. Sorbs and pears also are some times cut up and dried in the sun, though the sorb may be easily preserved intact by keeping them in a dry place: turnips are cut up and preserved in mustard, while walnuts keep well in sand, as I have explained with respect to ripe pomegranates. There is a similar way of ripening pomegranates: put the fruit, while it is still green and attached to its branch, in a pot without a bottom, bury this in the earth and scrape the soil around the protruding branch so as to keep out the air, and when the pomegranates are dug up they will be found to be not only intact but larger than if they had hung all the time on the tree.

Of storing olives

LX. With respect to preserving olives, Cato advises that table olives, both the round and the bitter berried kinds, keep best in brine both when they are dry and when they are green, but if they are bruised it is well to put them in mastich oil. Round olives will retain their black colour if they are packed in salt for five days, and then, the salt having been brushed away, are exposed for two days in the sun: or they may be preserved in must boiled down to one-third, without the use of salt.

Of storing amurca

LXI. Experienced farmers do well to save their amurca as they do their oil and their wine. The method of preserving it is this: immediately after the oil has been pressed out, draw off the amurca and boil it down to one-third and, when it has cooled, store it in vats. There are other methods also, as that in which must is mingled with the amurca.


LXII. Since no one stores his crops except to bring them out again, it remains to make a few observations upon the sixth and last operation in our round of agriculture.

Crops which have been stored are brought out either to care for them, to consume them or to sell them, and as all crops are not alike there are different times for caring for them and for consuming them.

Of cleaning grain

LXIII. Grain is taken out of store to be cleaned, when the weevil begins to damage it. When this is apparent the grain should be laid out in the sun and bowls of water placed nearby and the weevil will swarm on this water and drown themselves. Those who store their grain in the pits which are called silos should not attempt to bring out the grain for some time after the silo has been opened because there is danger of suffocation in entering a recently opened silo. The corn which, during the harvest time, you stored in the ear and which you contemplate using for food, should be brought out during the winter to be crushed and ground in the grist mill.

Of condensing amurca

LXIV. When it flows from the oil mill, amurca is a watery fluid full of dregs. It is the custom to store it in this state in earthen jars and fifteen days later to skim off the scum from the top and transfer this to other jars, an operation which is repeated at regular intervals twelve times during the following six months, taking care that the last skimming is done on the wane of the moon. Then it is boiled in a copper kettle over a slow fire until it is reduced two-thirds, when it may be drawn off for use.

Of racking wine

LXV. When the must is stored in the vat to make wine, it should not be racked off while it is fermenting nor until this process has advanced so far that the wine may be considered to be made. If you wish to drink old wine, it is not made until a year is completed; when it is a year old, then draw it out. But if your vineyard contains that kind of grape which turns sour early, you should eat the fruit, or sell it before the succeeding vintage. There are kinds of wine, like that of Falernum, which improve the longer you keep them.

Of preserved olives

LXVI. If you attempt to eat white olives immediately after you have put them up and before they are cured your palate will reject them on account of their bitterness (and the same is true of the black olive) unless you dip them in salt to make them palatable.

Of nuts, dates and figs

LXVII. The sooner you use nuts, dates and figs after they have been stored, the more palatable they will be, for by keeping figs lose their flavour, dates rot and nuts dry up.

Of stored fruits

LXVIII. Fruits which are strung, such as grapes, apples and sorbs show by their appearance when they may be taken down for use, for by their change of colour and shrinking they reveal themselves as destined to the garbage pile unless they are eaten in time. Sorbs which have been laid by when they are already dead-ripe should be used promptly, but those which were picked green are slower to decay: for green fruit in the store house must there go through the process of ripening which was denied it on the tree.

Of marketing grain

LXIX. The spelt which you wish to have prepared for food should be taken out in the winter to be ground in the mill: but your seed corn should not be taken out until the fields are ready to receive it, a rule which obtains in respect of all kinds of seed. What you have for sale should be taken out at the appropriate time also, for some things which cannot be kept long without spoiling should be taken out and sold promptly, while others which keep should be retained so that you may sell when the price is high, for often commodities which are kept on hand a long time, will, if put on the market at the proper time, not only yield interest for the time you held them but even a double profit.

As Stolo was speaking, the freedman of the Sacristan ran up to us with his eyes full of tears and, begging our pardon for having kept us waiting so long, invited us to come to the funeral on the following day. We all sprang up and cried out together "What? To the funeral? Whose funeral? What has happened?"

The freedman, weeping, told us that his master had been struck down by a blow with a knife, but who did it he had been unable to discover by reason of the crowd, all that he heard being an exclamation that a mistake had been made. He added that when he had carried his master home and had sent the servants to call a doctor, whom they brought back with them quickly, he trusted that it might seem reasonable to us that he had waited to attend upon the doctor rather than come to notify us at once, and while he had not been able to be of any service to his master, who had given up the ghost in a few minutes, yet he hoped we might approve his conduct.

Accepting these excuses as amply justified, we descended from the temple bewildered more by the hazard of human life than surprised that such a fate should be possible at Rome:[104] and so we went our several ways.

Prev | Next | Contents

Links: - - - - -