Home  »  library  »  prose  »  On Agriculture

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

On Agriculture

By Cato the Elder (234–149 B.C.)

  • From ‘De Agricultura’
  • [The following extract gives a vivid glimpse of the life on a Latian farm. The Roman gentleman may be regarded as an “absentee landlord,” giving this advice to his agent. The “family” is, of course, made up of slaves.]

  • THESE shall be the bailiff’s duties. He shall keep up good discipline. The holidays must be observed. He shall keep his hands from other people’s property, and take good care of his own. He shall act as umpire for disputes in the family. If any one is guilty of mischief, he shall exact return in good measure for the harm done. The family is not to suffer, to be cold, to be hungry. He is to keep it busy, as thus he will more easily restrain it from mischief and thieving. If the bailiff does not consent to evil-doing there will be none. If he does allow it, the master must not let it go unpunished. For kindness he is to show gratitude, so that the same one may be glad to do right in other matters. The bailiff must not be a saunterer; he must always be sober; he mustn’t go out to dinner. He must keep the family busy; must see to it that the master’s commands are carried out. He mustn’t think he knows more than the master. The master’s friends he must count as his own. He is to pay no attention to any one, unless so bidden. He is not to act as priest except at the Compitalia or at the hearthside. He is to give no one credit save at the master’s orders. When the master gives credit he must exact payment. Seed-corn, kitchen utensils, barley, wine, oil, he must lend to no one. He may have two or three families from whom he borrows, and to whom he lends, but no more. He must square accounts with his master often. The mechanic, the hireling, the sharpener of tools, he must never keep more than a day. He mustn’t buy anything without the master’s knowledge, nor hide anything from the master, nor have any hanger-on. He should never consult a soothsayer, prophet, priest, or Chaldean…. He should know how to do every farm task and should do it often, without exhausting himself. If he does this, he will know what is in the minds of the family and they will work more contentedly. Besides, if he works he will have less desire to stroll about, and be healthier, and sleep better. He should be the first to get up and the last to go to bed; should see that the country house is locked up, that each one is sleeping where he belongs, and that the cattle are fed.