Ancient Roman Farming

The area in which ancient Rome was founded was very attractive to settlers because of the very fertile land. In fact, the majority of Romans who lived in Rome’s countryside just outside the city were farmers by trade.

Roman Farmers

The most common crop harvest by ancient Roman farmers was wheat, which can be made into bread and other grain-based foods. The wheat was plowed with a tool that is called an ard plow, which is a very heavy stick that is pulled along the fields by an ox.

Other farming tools later included a coulter, which is a tool that is used to mix soil. In addition to tools, Romans used slave labor to get work done in the wheat fields, because there were many slaves in Rome at this time, and it was free or very cheap for the farmers to use them.

Until the first century AD, wheat and grains had to be harvested by hand, and it could take a very long time, even with very many people working on it.

Farming Tools

In the first century AD, a tool was invented, the vallus, which could beat apart the wheat into its separate parts, the outer layer and the kernels of grain. This development made harvesting wheat in ancient Rome much easier.

Another tool that was invented for a similar purpose was the tribulum, which was made of wood and resembled a sled. This was also designed to be pulled over the wheat plants and separate the outer layers of wheat from the grain kernels on the inside.

Romans were also open to learning about farming techniques from other regions. For instance, the vallus was actually invented in France. They also used a tool called a Punic Cart, which was brought to Rome from some northern African regions.

The Punic Cart was very useful in rolling over the grain to press it down and make the harvesting easier. In each of these tools, the most important thing for the grain harvesting was the removal of the outer layer of the wheat, called the chaff.

Once the grain itself had been separated from the chaff, it was set aside to completely dry out. To help speed up the drying process, the Romans used an early heating system, called a hypocaust. This system closely resembles early central heating and was built into the floor.

Wheat

This was the same heating system that was used to heat up the Roman baths as well. To use it in farming, the wheat was laid out onto the floor to better receive the heat and become dry.

Once the wheat was completely dry, it was able to be stored in large buildings called granaries, which could house the grains long-term, allowing the people of Rome to make food from it even during seasons when new wheat couldn’t be harvested.

Although wheat was the most common crop of ancient Rome, due to its ability to feed many people for a long time, other commonly farmed crops included olives and grapes. Olives were pressed to make oil for baking and lamp lighting, and the grapes were usually made into wines.

Questions:

  1. Why was farming so popular in ancient Rome?
  2. What was the most common crop farmed in ancient Rome?
  3. What is an ard plow?
  4. What does a coulter do?
  5. Aside from grains, what were two other popular crops?

Answers:

  1. Farming was popular because of the very fertile land.
  2. The most common crop was wheat.
  3. Ard plows were very heavy sticks that were pulled along fields by an ox to crush grain.
  4. Coulters mix soil.
  5. Aside from grains, two other popular crops were olives and grapes.

Ancient Rome