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CATO'S DE AGRICULTURA
Introduction: of the dignity of the farmer
The pursuits of commerce would be as admirable as they are profitable
if they were not subject to so great risks: and so, likewise, of
banking, if it was always honestly conducted. For our ancestors
considered, and so ordained in their laws, that, while the thief
should be cast in double damages, the usurer should make four-fold
restitution. From this we may judge how much less desirable a citizen
they esteemed the banker than the thief. When they sought to commend
an honest man, they termed him good husbandman, good farmer. This they
rated the superlative of praise. Personally, I think highly of a
man actively and diligently engaged in commerce, who seeks thereby to
make his fortune, yet, as I have said, his career is full of risks and
pitfalls. But it is from the tillers of the soil that spring the best
citizens, the stanchest soldiers; and theirs are the enduring rewards
which are most grateful and least envied. Such as devote themselves to
that pursuit are least of all men given to evil counsels.
And now, to get to my subject, these observations will serve as
preface to what I have promised to discuss.
Of buying a farm
 When you have decided to purchase a farm, be careful not to buy
rashly; do not spare your visits and be not content with a single tour
of inspection. The more you go, the more will the place please you,
if it be worth your attention. Give heed to the appearance of the
neighbourhood,--a flourishing country should show its prosperity.
"When you go in, look about, so that, when needs be, you can find your
Take care that you choose a good climate, not subject to destructive
storms, and a soil that is naturally strong. If possible, your farm
should be at the foot of a mountain, looking to the South, in a
healthy situation, where labour and cattle can be had, well watered,
near a good sized town, and either on the sea or a navigable river, or
else on a good and much frequented road. Choose a place which has
not often changed ownership, one which is sold unwillingly, that has
buildings in good repair.
Beware that you do not rashly contemn the experience of others. It
is better to buy from a man who has farmed successfully and built
When you inspect the farm, look to see how many wine presses and
storage vats there are; where there are none of these you can judge
what the harvest is. On the other hand, it is not the number of
farming implements, but what is done with them, that counts. Where you
find few tools, it is not an expensive farm to operate. Know that with
a farm, as with a man, however productive it may be, if it has the
spending habit, not much will be left over.
Of the duties of the owner.
When you have arrived at your country house and have saluted your
household, you should make the rounds of the farm the same day, if
possible; if not, then certainly the next day. When you have observed
how the field work has progressed, what things have been done, and
what remains undone, you should summon your overseer the next day, and
should call for a report of what work has been done in good season and
why it has not been possible to complete the rest, and what wine and
corn and other crops have been gathered. When you are advised on these
points you should make your own calculation of the time necessary
for the work, if there does not appear to you to have been enough
accomplished. The overseer will report that he himself has worked
diligently, but that some slaves have been sick and others truant,
the weather has been bad, and that it has been necessary to work the
public roads. When he has given these and many other excuses, you
should recall to his attention the program of work which you had
laid out for him on your last visit and compare it with the results
attained. If the weather has been bad, count how many stormy days
there have been, and rehearse what work could have been done despite
the rain, such as washing and pitching the wine vats, cleaning out
the barns, sorting the grain, hauling out and composting the manure,
cleaning seed, mending the old gear, and making new, mending the
smocks and hoods furnished for the hands. On feast days the old
ditches should be mended, the public roads worked, briers cut down,
the garden dug, the meadow cleaned, the hedges trimmed and the
clippings collected and burned, the fish pond cleaned out. On such
days, furthermore, the slaves' rations should be cut down as compared
with what is allowed when they are working in the fields in fine
When this routine has been discussed quietly and with good humour and
is thoroughly understood by the overseer, you should give orders for
the completion of the work which has been neglected.
The accounts of money, supplies and provisions should then be
considered. The overseer should report what wine and oil has been
sold, what price he got, what is on hand, and what remains for sale.
Security should be taken for such accounts as ought to be secured. All
other unsettled matters should be agreed upon. If any thing is needed
for the coming year, it should be bought; every thing which is not
needed should be sold. Whatever there is for lease should be leased.
Orders should be given (and take care that they are in writing) for
all work which next it is desired to have done on the farm or let to
contract. You should go over the cattle and determine what is to be
sold. You should sell the oil, if you can get your price, the surplus
wine and corn, the old cattle, the worn out oxen, and the cull sheep,
the wool and the hides, the old and sick slaves, and if any thing else
is superfluous you should sell that. The appetite of the good farmer
is to sell, not to buy.
Be a good neighbour. Do not roughly give offence to your own
people. If the neighbourhood regards you kindly, you will find a
readier market for what you have to sell, you will more easily get
your work done, either on the place or by contract. If you build, your
neighbours will aid you with their services, their cattle and their
materials. If any misfortune should overtake you (which God forbid!)
they will protect you with kindly interest.
Of laying out the farm
If you ask me what is the best disposition to make of your estate,
I would say that should you have bought a farm of one hundred jugera
(about 66 acres) all told, in the best situation, it should be
planted as follows: 1° a vineyard, if it promises a good yield, 2° an
irrigated garden, 3° an osier bed, 4° an olive yard, 5° a meadow, 6°
a corn field, 7° a wood lot, 8° a cultivated orchard, and 9° a mast
In his youth, the farmer ought, diligently to plant his land,
but he should ponder before he builds. Planting does not require
reflection, but demands action. It is time enough to build when you
have reached your thirty-sixth year, if you have farmed your land well
meanwhile. When you do build, let your buildings be proportioned to
your estate, and your estate to your buildings. It is fitting that
the farm buildings should be well constructed, that you should have
ample oil cellars and wine vats, and a good supply of casks, so that
you can wait for high prices, something which will redound to your
honour, your profit and your self-respect.
Build your dwelling house in accordance with your means. If you
build well in a good situation and on a good property, and furnish the
house suitably for country life, you will come there more often and
more willingly. The farm will then be better, fewer mistakes will
be made, and you will get larger crops. The face of the master is good
for the land.
Plant elm trees along the roads and fence rows, so that you may
have the leaves to feed the sheep and cattle, and the timber will be
available if you need it. If any where there are banks of streams or
wet places, there plant reeds; and surround them with willows that the
osiers may serve to tie the vines.
It is most convenient to set out the land nearest the house as
an orchard, whence fire wood and faggots may be sold and the supply of
the master obtained. In this enclosure should be planted every thing
fitting to the land and vines should be married to the trees.
Near the house lay out also a garden with garland flowers and
vegetables of all kinds, and set it about with myrtle hedges, both
white and black, as well as Delphic and Cyprian laurel.
Of stocking the farm
An olive farm of two hundred and forty jugera (160 acres) ought
to be stocked as follows: an overseer, a house keeper, five labourers,
three ox drivers, one swineherd, one ass driver, one shepherd; in all
thirteen hands: three pair of oxen, three asses with pack saddles,
to haul out the manure, one other ass to turn the mill, and one
_Of the duties of the overseer._
These are the duties of the overseer: He should maintain
discipline. He should observe the feast days. He should respect the
rights of others and steadfastly uphold his own. He should settle all
quarrels among the hands; if any one is at fault he should administer
the punishment. He should take care that no one on the place is in
want, or lacks food or drink; in this respect he can afford to
be generous, for he will thus more easily prevent picking and
Unless the overseer is of evil mind, he will himself do no wrong, but
if he permits wrong-doing by others, the master should not suffer
such indulgence to pass with impunity. He should show appreciation of
courtesy, to encourage others to practise it. He should not be given
to gadding or conviviality, but should be always sober. He should
keep the hands busy, and should see that they do what the master has
ordered. He should not think that he knows more than his master. The
friends of the master should be his friends, and he should give heed
to those whom the master has recommended to him. He should confine his
religious practices to church on Sunday, or to his own house.
He should lend money to no man unbidden by the master, but what the
master has lent he should collect. He should never lend any seed
reserved for sowing, feed, corn, wine, or oil, but he should have
relations with two or three other farms with which he can exchange
things needed in emergency. He should state his accounts with his
master frequently. He should not keep any hired men or day hands
longer than is necessary. He should not sell any thing without the
knowledge of the master, nor should he conceal any thing from the
master. He should not have any hangers-on, nor should he consult any
soothsayer, fortune teller, necromancer, or astrologer. He should not
spare seed in sowing, for that is bad economy. He should strive to be
expert in all kinds of farm work, and, without exhausting himself,
often lend a hand. By so doing, he will better understand the point of
view of his hands, and they will work more contentedly; moreover, he
will have less inclination to gad, his health will be better, and he
will sleep more refreshingly.
First up in the morning, he should be the last to go to bed at night;
and before he does, he should see that the farm gates are closed, and
that each of the hands is in his own bed, that the stock have been
fed. He should see that the best of care is taken of the oxen, and
should pay the highest compliments to the teamsters who keep their
cattle in the best condition. He should see to it that the ploughs
and plough shares are kept in good repair. Plan all the work in ample
time, for so it is with farm work, if one thing is done late, every
thing will be late.
When it rains try to find some thing to do indoors. Clean up,
rather than remain idle. Remember that while work may stop, expenses
still go on.
Of the duties of the housekeeper
(CXLIII) The overseer should be responsible for the duties of the
housekeeper. If the master has given her to you for a wife, you should
be satisfied with her, and she should respect you. Require that she
be not given to wasteful habits; that she does not gossip with the
neighbours and other women. She should not receive visitors either in
the kitchen or in her own quarters. She should not go out to parties,
nor should she gad about. She should not practise religious
observances, nor should she ask others to do so for her without the
permission of the master or the mistress. Remember that the master
practises religion for the entire household. She should be neat in
appearance and should keep the house swept and garnished. Every night
before she goes to bed she should see that the hearth is swept and
clean. On the Kalends, the Ides, the Nones, and on all feast days, she
should hang a garland over the hearth. On those days also she should
pray fervently to the household gods. She should take care that she
has food cooked for you and for the hands. She should have plenty of
chickens and an abundance of eggs. She should diligently put up all
kinds of preserves every year.
Of the hands
(LVI) The following are the customary allowances for food: For the
hands, four pecks of meal for the winter, and four and one-half for
the summer. For the overseer, the housekeeper, the wagoner, the
shepherd, three pecks each. For the slaves, four pounds of bread
for the winter, but when they begin to cultivate the vines this is
increased to five pounds until the figs are ripe, then return to four
(LVII) The sum of the wine allowed for each hand per annum is eight
quadrantals, or Amphora, but add in the proportion as they do work.
Ten quadrantals per annum is not too much to allow them to drink.
(LVIII) Save the wind fall olives as much as possible as relishes for
the hands. Later set aside such of the ripe olives as will make the
least oil. Be careful to make them go as far as possible. When the
olives are all eaten, give them fish pickles and vinegar. One peck of
salt per annum is enough for each hand.
(LIX) Allow each hand a smock and a cloak every other year. As often
as you give out a smock or cloak to any one take up the old one, so
that caps can be made out of it. A pair of heavy wooden shoes should
be allowed every other year.
(XLIII) If the land is wet, it should be drained with trough shaped
ditches dug three feet wide at the surface and one foot at the bottom
and four feet deep. Blind these ditches with rock. If you have no rock
then fill them with green willow poles braced crosswise. If you have
no poles, fill then with faggots. Then dig lateral trenches three feet
deep and four feet wide in such way that the water will flow from the
trenches into the ditches.
(CLV) In the winter surface water should be drained off the fields.
On hillsides courses should be kept clear for the water to flow off.
During the rainy season at the beginning of Autumn is the greatest
risk from water. When it begins to rain all the hands should go out
with picks and shovels and clear out the drains so that the water may
flow off into the roads, and the crops be protected.
Of preparing the seed bed
(LXI) What is the first principle of good agriculture? To plough well.
What is the second? To plough again; and the third is to manure. When
you plough corn land, plough well and in good weather, lest you turn
a cloddy furrow. The other things of good agriculture are to sow seed
plentifully, to thin the young sprouts, and to hill up the roots with
Never plough rotten land nor drive flocks or carts across it.
If care is not taken about this, the land so abused will be barren for
Plan to have a big compost heap and take the best of care of the
manure. When it is hauled out see that it is well rotted and spread.
The Autumn is the time to do this.
You can make manure of litter, lupine straw, chaff, bean
stalks, husks and the leaves of ilex and of oak.
Fold your sheep on the land which you are about to seed, and
there feed them leaves.
Of soil improvement
The things which are harmful to corn land are to plough the
ground when it is rotten, and to plant chick peas which are harvested
with the straw and are salt. Barley, fenugreek and pulse all exhaust
corn land, as well as all other things which are harvested with the
straw. Do not plant nut trees in the corn land. On the other hand,
lupines, field beans and vetch manure corn land.
Where the soil is rich and fertile, without shade, there the corn
land ought to be. Where the land lies low, plant rape, millet, and
Of forage crops
If you have a water meadow you will not want forage, but if not
then sow an upland meadow, so that hay may not be lacking.
(LIII) Save your hay when the times comes, and beware lest you mow too
late. Mow before the seed is ripe. House the best hay by itself, so
that you may feed it to the draft cattle during the spring ploughing,
before the clover is mature.
Sow, for feed for the cattle, clover, vetch, fenugreek, field
beans and pulse. Sow these crops a second and a third time.
Wherever the land is cold and wet, sow there first, and last
of all in the warmest places.
Manure the pastures in early spring in the dark of the moon, when
the west wind begins to blow. When you close your pastures (to the
stock) clean them and root out all weeds.
Of feeding live stock
As long as they are available, feed green leaves of elm, poplar,
oak and fig to your cattle and sheep.
Store leaves, also, to be fed to the sheep before they have
Take the best of care of your dry fodder, which you house for
the winter, and remember always how long the winter may last.
Be sure you have well constructed stables furnished with
substantial stalls and equipped with latticed feed racks. The
intervals between the bars of the racks should be one foot. If you
build them in this way, the cattle will not waste their food.
(LIV) This is the way that provender should be prepared and fed: When
the seeding is finished, gather mast and soak it in water. Feed a
measure of it every day to each steer; or if they have not been worked
it will be sufficient to let them pasture the mast beds. Another good
feed is a measure of grape husks which you shall have preserved in
jars. By day turn the cattle out and at night feed twenty-five pounds
of hay to each steer. If hay is short, feed the leaves of the ilex and
ivy. Stack the straw of wheat, barley, beans, vetch and lupine,
indeed all the grain straws, but pick out and house the best of it.
Scatter your straw with salt and you can then feed it in place of hay.
When in the spring you begin to feed (more heavily to prepare for
work), feed a measure of mast or of grape husks, or a measure of
ground lupines, and fifteen pounds of hay. When the clover is ripe,
feed that first. Gather it by hand so that it will bloom a second
time, for what you harvest with the sickle blooms no more. Feed clover
until it is dry, then feed vetch and then panic grass, and after the
panic grass feed elm leaves. If you have poplar, mix that with the elm
so that the elm may last the longer. If you have no elm feed oak and
Nothing is more profitable than to take good care of your cattle.
Cattle should not be put out to graze except in winter when they are
not worked; for when they eat green stuff they expect it all the time,
and it is then necessary to muzzle them while they plough.
Of the care of live stock
The flocks and herds should be well supplied with litter and their
feet kept clean. If litter is short, haul in oak leaves, they will
serve as bedding for sheep and cattle. Beware of scab among the sheep
and cattle. This comes from hunger and exposure to rain.
(LXXII) To prevent the oxen from wearing down their hoofs, anoint
the bottom of the hoof with liquid pepper before driving them on the
(LXXIII) Take care that during the summer the cattle drink only sweet
and fresh water. Their health depends on it.
(XCVI) To prevent scab among sheep, make a mixture of equal parts of
well strained amurca, of water in which lupine has been steeped,
and of lees of good wine. After shearing, anoint all the flock with
this mixture, and let them sweat profusely for two or three days. Then
dip them in the sea. If you have no sea water, make salt water and dip
then in that. If you will do this they will suffer no scab, they will
have more and better wool and they will not be molested by ticks.
(LXXI) If an ox begins to sicken, give him without delay a raw hen's
egg and make him swallow it whole. The next day make him drink from a
wooden bowl a measure of wine in which has been scraped the head of an
onion. Both the ox and his attendant should do these things fasting
and standing upright.
(CII) If a serpent shall bite an ox, or any other quadruped, take a
cup of that extract of fennel, which the physicians call smyrnean, and
mix it with a measure of old wine. Inject this through his nostrils
and at the same time poultice the wound with hogs' dung. You can
treat a man the same way.
(CLX) If a bone is dislocated it can be made sound by this
incantation. Take a green reed four or five feet long, split it down
the middle and let two men hold the pieces against your hips. Begin
then to chant as follows:
"In Alio. S.F. Motas Vaeta,
Daries Dardaries Astataries Dissunapiter"
and continue until the free ends of the reed are brought slowly
together in front of you. Meanwhile, wave a knife above the reeds, and
when they come together and one touches the other, seize them in your
hand and cut them right and left. These pieces of reed bound upon a
dislocated or fractured bone will cure it.
But every day repeat the incantation, or in place of it this one:
"Huat Hanat Huat
Ista Pista Sista
_Of cakes and salad_
(LXXV) This is the recipe for cheese cake (libum): Bray well two
pounds of cheese in a mortar, and, when this is done, pour in a pound
of corn meal (or, if you want to be more dainty, a half pound of
flour) and mix it thoroughly with the cheese. Add one egg and beat it
well. Pat into a cake, place it on leaves and bake slowly on a hot
hearth stone under a dish.
(CXIX) This is the recipe for olive salad (epityrum): Select some
white, black and mottled olives and stone them. Mix and cut them up.
Add a dressing of oil, vinegar, coriander, cumin, fennel, rue and
mint. Mix well in an earthen ware dish, and serve with oil.
(CXXI) This is the recipe for must cake (mustaceus): Sprinkle a peck
of wheat flour with must. Add anise, cumin, two pounds of lard, a
pound of cheese and shredded laurel twigs. When you have kneaded the
dough, put laurel leaves under it and so bake.
Of curing hams
(CLXII) This is the way to cure hams in jars or tubs: When you have
bought your hams trim off the hocks. Take a half peck (semodius) of
ground Roman salt for each ham. Cover the bottom of the jar or tub
with salt and put in a ham, skin down. Cover the whole with salt and
put another ham on top, and cover this in the same manner. Be careful
that meat does not touch meat. So proceed, and when you have packed
all the hams, cover the top with salt so that no meat can be seen, and
smooth it out even. When the hams have been in salt five days, take
them all out with the salt and repack them, putting those which were
on top at the bottom. Cover them in the same way with salt and press
After the twelfth day remove the hams finally, brush off the salt and
hang them for two days in the wind. On the third day wipe them off
clean with a sponge and rub them with (olive) oil. Then hang them in
smoke for two days, and on the third day rub them with a mixture of
(olive) oil and vinegar.
Then hang them in the meat house, and neither bats nor worms will