Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Just a Little Landscape History - Varro On Agriculture (1st century)

Varro, On Agriculture (1st century)

Marcus Terentius Varro (116 BC-27 BC) was a Roman scholar & writer. Varro was recognized as an important source for the study of early agriculture & gardening by many other ancient authors, among them Cicero, Pliny the Elder, Virgil in the Georgics, Columella, Aulus Gellius, Macrobius, Augustine, & Vitruvius.
Varro, On Agriculture

Book I

“So far as concerns the natural situation,” said Stolo, “it seems to me that Cato was quite right when he said that the best farm was one that was situated at the foot of a mountain, facing south.” Scrofa continued: “with regard to the conformation due to cultivation, I maintain that the more regard is had for appearances the greater will be the profits: as, for instance, if those who have orchards plant them in quincunxes, with regular rows and at moderate intervals. Thus our ancestors, on the same amount of land but not so well laid out, made less wine and grain than we do, and of a poorer quality; for plants which are placed exactly where each should be take up less ground and screen each other less from the sun, the moon, and the air. You may prove this by one of several experiments; for instance, a quantity of nuts which you can hold in a modius measure with their shells whole, because the shells naturally keep them compacted, you can scarcely pack into a modius and a half when they are cracked. As to the second point, trees which are planted in a row are warmed by the sun and the moon equally on all sides, with the result that more grapes and olives form, and that they ripen earlier; which double result has the double consequence that they yield more must and oil, and of greater...

“Especial care should be taken, in locating the steading, to place it at the foot of a wooded hill, where there are broad pastures, and so as to be exposed to the most healthful winds that blow in the region. A steading facing the east has the best situation, as it has the shade in summer and the sun in winter. If you are forced to build on the bank of a river, be careful not to let the steading face the river, as it will be extremely cold in winter, and unwholesome in summer. Precautions must also be taken in the neighbourhood of swamps, both for the reasons given, and because there are bred certain minute creatures which cannot be seen by the eyes, which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose and there cause serious diseases...

“Now I shall speak of the enclosures which are constructed for the protection of the farms as a whole, or its divisions. There are four types of such defences: the natural, the rustic, the military, and the masonry type; and each of these types has several varieties. The first type, the natural, is a hedge, usually planted with brush or thorn, having roots and being alive, and so with nothing to fear from the flaming torch of a mischievous passer-by. The second type, the rustic, is made of wood, but is not alive. It is built either of stakes planted close and intertwined with brush; or of thick posts with holes bored through, having rails, usually two or three to the panel, thrust into the openings; or of trimmed trees placed end to end, with the branches driven into the ground. The third, or military type, is a trench and bank of earth; but the trench is adequate only if it can hold all the rain water, or has a slope sufficient to enable it to drain the water off the land. The bank is serviceable which is close to the ditch on the inside, or so steep that it is not easy to climb. This type of enclosure is usually built along public roads and along streams. At several points along the Via Salaria, in the district of Crustumeria, one may see banks combined with trenches to prevent the river from injuring the fields. Banks built without trenches, such as occurs in the district of Reate, are sometimes called walls. The fourth and last type of fence, that of masonry, is a wall, and there are usually four varieties: that which is built of stone, such as occurs in the district of Tusculum; that of burned brick, such as occurs in the Ager Gallicus; that of sun-dried brick, such as occurs in the Sabine country; and that formed of earth and gravel in moulds, such as occurs in Spain and the district of Tarentum...

“Furthermore, if there are no enclosures, the boundaries of the estate are made more secure by the planting of trees, which prevent the servants from quarrelling with the neighbours, and make it unnecessary to fix the boundaries by lawsuits. Some plant pines around the edges, as my wife has done on her Sabine farms; others plant cypresses, as I did on my place on Vesuvius; and still others plant elms, as many have done near Crustumeria. Where that is possible, as it is there because it is a plain, there is no tree better for planting; it is extremely profitable, as it often supports and gathers many a basket of grapes, yields a most agreeable foliage for sheep and cattle, and furnishes rails for fencing, and wood for hearth and furnace.”

Varro, Marcus Terentius. On Agriculture. Transl. W.D. Hooper and H.B. Ash. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999