- Dominic W. Rathbone
By modern standards Roman agriculture was technically simple, average yields were low, transport was difficult and costly, and storage was inefficient. This limited urbanization (and hence ‘industrialization’) obliged the bulk of the population to live and work on the land. Nevertheless, in the late republic and earlier Principate agriculture and urbanization (see urbanism (Roman)) developed together to levels probably not again matched until the late 18th cent. Roman agriculture broadly fits the ahistoric pattern which is commonly seen as characteristic of the Mediterranean region: based on the triad of *cereals, vines (see wine) and *olives, at the mercy of a semi-arid *climate with low and unreliable rainfall, and dominated by small farms practising a polyculture aimed principally at self-sufficiency and safety. But two factors—the geophysical diversity of Italy (let alone of Rome's provinces), and the effects of political and social developments—led to historically important variations between areas and across time in the organization and practice of agriculture. Since the 1950s there has been an enormous growth in archaeological research—surface survey of rural areas, excavations of farmsteads, study of the ancient environment (through pollen, seeds, bones)—which is taking our knowledge and understanding of Roman agriculture far beyond what could be discovered from the evidence of the literary sources.
- Roman Material Culture