The agriculture present within the Roman Empire was somewhat weak, based very much on trade to receive most of its resources. In ancient times, grain was a very important factor to a successful empire, being the greatest food source to Romans. At one point, the city of Rome was cut off from its supply of grain from Egypt by Vespasian, causing a short famine.
A system of private property owners in Rome created a market/economy of business men who weeded out the weak, and kept the most efficient farmers/lands in business. This system of private land owners was very prominent in southern Italy. The fact that during the Renaissance southern Italy didn’t split into many city-states, staying as a farming region with the exception of the major sea port of Naples shows that southern Italy was very agricultural.
The division of labor for roman agriculture included, five percent in cereals, six percent in wine, six percent in olive oil and thirteen percent in other areas of food production. For a total of thirty-five percent of the roman population, out of the estimated sixty-five million people of the time, about ten million worked as farmers. An average farm producing grain in Rome might be 200 jugera (roman measurement, especially for farmlands, representing a 240 by 120 ft with a total area of 28,800 square feet), under the management of 6 farmers and 2 helpers, with a production rate of 10,000 modii (about 22,900 gallons or 86,666 liters, another roman measurement). While 400 of this went to the laborers, 8000 could be sold for profit, feeding around 200 others. Another 400 would be stored as surplus.
“Bread basket” provinces of Rome became a great source of grain and other agricultural needs for the empire. Each province, depending upon its specialties due to different conditions, supported the Roman Empire agriculturally in many different ways. With the Mediterranean Sea under Roman control, a vast variety of sources for different products was possible for importation for maintaining the empire. It is quite well known that Egypt exported much grain to Rome, and while the nation was still allowed to rule their people as they saw fit, they were expected to send much grain to Rome. Thus, the idea of “bread basket” provinces was born because in essence, Rome controlled these nations, while leaving their beliefs in tact. This allowed for Rome to prosper based on importation of products from these provinces. This idea of importation of products from other nations, though disappearing throughout the medieval ages, would later prosper again during the Renaissance based on the Romans ways, though on a much larger scale.
Egypt, as one of many provinces controlled by Rome, was however one of very few of these provinces who were directly under the rule of the Emperor. The reasoning behind this was that one of the most important supplies that Rome brought in to its empire was grain. Therefore, it couldn't risk setting up a governor of Egypt who might turn on the empire. Instead, the Emperor of Rome had full authority over the region, preventing anything bad from befalling Rome.
Agricultural Tools and Systems
- The Plough- Kept the land fertile and increased the germination rate of crops, however not as much as the 3 field system would in the middle ages.
- Harvesting- An agriculture based on a seasonal system, where farmers harvested the crops of the season at the end of each season.
- Irrigation- Like civilizations in the past, Rome used the idea of bringing water to the crops through canals dug in the ground to keep their crops well watered.
- Hoeing and Weeding- Protection of the crops which the Romans had, keeping their production rates as high as possible with the current technologies.
- Husbandry- Taming of horses which could then be used in both military purposes and leisurely/royal purposes. However, this also included oxen, sheep, mules and donkeys, where the Romans bred each to bring out the best traits that would result in a better harvest. While sheep were used for milk and meat, oxen and the other hardier animals worked on the farms.
- Fishing- fish farms along with other sea foods allowed for in landers to have fresh sea foods on occasion. This was a stepping stone for later advances in sea food cultivation.
- Mills- Churning of grain into flours which could then be used to produce bread, cereals and other flour based products.
- Other Products- wineries, olive oils, spices, exotic meats, etc. The were also imported from other provinces regularly.
The Debutante for insight on Egypt