William Spalding.

Italy and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) online

. (page 33 of 35)
Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 33 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

which their union wrought were lamentable and uni-
versal. The production of grain in Italy at length
scarcely repaid the cost, and it was seldom grown at all
except to be cut green as fodder for the cattle : the im-
portation of foreign com was incessant, and Rome was

• Varro De Re Rustica, lib. i. cap. 2.


again and again on the brink of annihilation by famine.*
The slave-labourers, likewise, wanted both skill q,nd
zeal, and every department of husbandry decayed rapidly
in their hands.

The agricultural writers of Rome divided their sub-
ject into three branches. The first and most profitable
was the grazing of cattle, sheep, and goats ; the next,
which was peculiar to those times, consisted in the
feeding of certain small animals for the shambles ; and
the third and least lucrative was the tillage of the
ground, including both field-husbandry and the culti-
vation of gardens and orchards.t

Tlie ancient grazing, when pursued on a large scale,
was exceedingly like that of modern Italy. Most of
the animals were pastured during the w^inter on the
sheltered grounds of the plains, and shifted for the
summer to the woody sides of the Apennines. Sheep
and goats were by far the most common, and were kept
for the sake of their wool and hair ; for linen, long
unknown in the country, was little used for clothing
till late in the empire, and goat-hair and wool were uni-
versally worked into sailcloths, ropes, and such other
ai-ticles as are now made of flax or hemp. The native
breed of sheep composed the migrating flocks, Avhich
were far the most numerous. Another variety yield-
ing finer wool, originally derived from Magna Graecia,
and afterwards recruited from France, were considered
more delicate : they were fed in the stall, covered with
housings, not allowed to travel, and otherwise treated in
a manner differing widely from modern practice.:}; The
pasturages were, in some cases, private ground, belong-
ing to the o^^^lers of the sheep, or hired by them ; but
more frequently they consisted of the extensive public

* Columella, lib. i. Prooem. Taciti Annal. lib. iii. cap. 63, 54;
lib. xii. cap. 43. Plinii Hist. Nat. lib. xviii. cap. 6,

j- Varro De Re Rustica, lib. iii. cap. 1. Columella De Re Rus-
tica, lib. vi. Prooem. Plinii Hist. Nat. lib. xviii. cap. 5.

X Varro De Re Rustica, lib. ii. cap. 2. Columella De Re
Rustica, lib, vii. cap. 2.


lands, found in every province, and usually rented
from the municipalities. The shepherds, like their
modem representatives in the same regions, were all
mounted on horseback ; and when, after the battle of
Cannae, the Romans bought slaves and made soldiers
of them, the troops thus raised included 270 Apulian
herdsmen, who were drafted into the cavalry, and did
gallant service.* The horned cattle were not nume-
rous, being only reared for the plough, and as victims
for sacrifice. Horses were scarcely considered necessary,
except for the chariot-races and for mounting soldiers ;
mules were used for the draught in every way, and for
the pack-saddle ; but asses were seldom bred, except by
the traders, who had troops of them for carrying agri-
cultural produce to the neighbouring towns. All these
animals were migratory like the native sheep. Swine
were kept on the farms and in the woods ; their flesh
was more generally consumed for food than any other ;
and it, with that of a few calves, lambs, and kids, fur-
nished, during several centuries, the only articles of
animal sustenance which the Romans allowed to intrude
on their vegetable diet. The ancient Italians, like the
modern ones, fed their cattle as much as possible on
the leaves of trees ; and the elm was every where planted
as a fence, because its leaves were best relished.

The rearing of small animals for the shambles was not
systematized till the imperial times ; the farm-yards
and their towers at first containing only our common
barn-door fowls and pigeons. There next appeared
geese, ducks, teal, peacocks, and swans ; and dormice,
hedgehogs, and snails, were also fattened as delicacies.
Aviaries were built, the birds, among which thrushes
were the favourites, being intended for the table ; and
besides these were reared quails, turtle-doves, blackbirds,
partridges, beccaficos, cranes, and pheasants. Parks, far
smaller than ours, enclosed various sorts of wild animals,

• Le Beau Sur la Legion Roraaine, Memoire xi : Memoires
de I'Acaderaie d'Inscriptions, tome xxxv. p. 203.


also for the kitchen ; the most ordinary species being
roe- deer, wild-boars, rabbits, and hares. Ponds of vast
size were filled with fishes, both freshwater and marine.

The tillage of the ground, to which we next come,
was injured by several misapprehensions, the conse-
quences of which the husbandmen often exerted much
industry in remedying. The great fault was a prejudice,
expressed very strongly by the Latin writers, that agri-
culture ought to be kept quite distinct from the rear-
ing of cattle.* The great extent of the public domain
was another check. The plough was bad, and, till the
best days of the empire were over, the whole process
was performed by means of oxen. The secret of pre-
venting deterioration by changing the seed-corn was still
undiscovered. The reaping was executed awkwardly
by two separate operations ; and the grain, instead of
being threshed, was either passed under heavy rollers,
or trodden out by cattle on such open floors as are still
to be seen in Italy. Water-mills, though sometimes
used, were not common, while those moved by wind were
quite unknown ; and the corn was ground in small mills,
turned by a slave or an ass, and usually attached to the
bakers' shops. Manures, both animal and vegetable,
were industriously collected. Of mineral ones the
Romans made little use, though they knew that marl
was applied in Gaul and Britain, and some of their
agriculturists at length introduced lime.

Most of the large estates were cultivated by the pro-
prietor on his own account. On extensive farms, the
common practice was, that the ordinary labour should
be executed by slaves kept on the ground ; but that, for
the occasional work, including in particular hay-making,
vintage, and corn-harvest, the owner hired free labourers,
who chiefly came down from the Apennines, as the
mountaineers do at the present day in Italy, as well as
in our owd. island. It was one of the taunts flung on

* Varro De Re Rustica, lib. ii. ProcEm. Columella De Re
Rustica, lib. vi. Prooem.


Vespasian, that his earliest ancestor known at Rome
was a Gaul from beyond the Po, who had become
wealthy by furnishing on contract bands of those poor
highlanders to the landowners of Latium.* The slaves
on a large manor were accurately classed and trained in
different departments ; the males being usually employ-
ed in the field-labour, while the females, confined within
doors, manufactured clothing and other articles for the
establishment or for sale.

Leases became more common under the emperors,
and were of two kinds. There was, first, the tenant who
paid a fixed rent in money or produce ; but from this
class of occupiers it is very clear that besides such pay-
ment personal services were commonly exacted : and,
in the later times of the empire, the leaseholder usually
received the apparatus of the vintage and oil manufac-
ture as what we call in Scotland steelbow.f The other
kind of tenant was the Colonus partiarius, the metayer
of France, who can be traced in Italy from the time of
Cato down to the present day. This class paid as rent
a part of each crop, the proportions being different for
corn, wine, and oil, and varying infinitely in different
quarters ; but it may be confidently inferred, from the
large share usually exacted, that the landlord must gene-
rally, as among the modern Italians, have supplied the
live stock for tilling the land.

In the early times of the republic the Romans had no
other grain besides barley, which, after the introduction
of various sorts of wheat, they no longer cultivated, ex-
cept for the cattle. Oats, unknown till the period of the
empire, were used only as fodder. Draining and irriga-
tion were extensively practised, both for the arable land
and the pastures. The grass meadows were usually
sown with clover, to which vetches were added in re-
newing old pasture-lands ; and, for the same uses, there

* Suetonius in Vespasiano, cap. ii.

i* Schneider's Rei Rusticae Scriptores (Lips. 1794) ; Com-
mentar. in Catonis cap. 136-137. Columella, lib. i. cap. 7. Dig.
lib. xix. tit. 2 leg. 19, Locati, conducti.


•were also sown lucerne, fenugreek, and other plants,
among which was the cytisus, a shrub not yet identi-
fied. But these artificial kinds of fodder seldom, and
the grass-lands never, were included in the ordinary
course of cropping on the farm. The occupier, raising
no more food for cattle than his own working animals
required, let out his meadows to graziers, who culti-
vated them for themselves. In a system like this, the
rotations on the arable land Avere of necessity exceedingly
imperfect ; and indeed the common course, and the
only one which the greater part of the land was con-
sidered capable of bearing, consisted of a year's cropping
and a year's bare fallow alternately. In some districts
the fallow was introduced every third year only ; and on
the very finest soils, which were hardly to be discovered
except in the volcanic region of Campania, it was found
possible to dispense with it altogether, by substituting
the use of fertilizing agents, and following a carefiil
rotation of three or four 3^ears.*

The leguminous plants, which were usually intro-
duced in these modes of tillage, were the lupin, the
common bean (which the poor mixed in flour with their
wheaten bread), the vetch, the kidney-bean, and the
pea. The Romans also cultivated in large fields, and
ranked as articles of farm produce, roses and violets ;
both being used for perfumes, for giving their flavour
to wine and oil, and the former not only for chaplets
but for seasoning food. The most famous rose-gardens
were those of Campania and the neighbourhood of
Prseneste. The simple arrangements of the kitchen-
garden, described by Cato, speedily disappeared ; a
sort of green-houses and forcing-frames became ex-
tremely common ; and Pliny mentions hotbeds for
cucumbers, which, moving on wheels, could always be
turned to face the sun.t From the date of the earliest
foreign conquests there was a continual introduction of
new exotics of this kind, chiefly Asiatic, one of these

* VaiTO, lib. i. cap. 44. Columella, lib. ii. cap. 9. Virgilii
Georpic. lib. i. v. 71. Plinii Hist. Nat. lib. xviii. cap. 21, 23.
f Plinii Hist. Nat. lib. xix. cap. 5.


being tlie melon. The plants used in modem manu-
factures were little cultivated ; but the best flax was
grown in Lombardy and the Bolognese, the best hemp
among the Sabine mountains ; and the poor people near
the towTis, particularly about Rome, gained something
by raising madder and teazle.

The importation of fruit-trees was still more exten-
sive than that of herbs. In Julius Caesar's days, the
Romans had none but standard-trees in their orchards ;
and the following list comprehends all, or nearly all, the
common sorts of fruit : figs (much used as a cheap
food), walnuts, apples and pears, filberts, quinces,
myrtle-berries, service-berries, and chestnuts. The
common plum, the damson, and other wild plants
native to the soil, but long neglected, were after-
wards carefully improved, and all orchards began to
abound in those foreign trees which were first im-
ported towards the end of the republic. Among these
were the lemon and other species of the genus citrus ;
the cherry was brought from Pontus by Lucullus
in the year of the city 680, and found its way to Britain
about a centur}'' afterwards ; the almond was another
such exotic ; and the Latin names confessed the foreign
origin of the pomegranate (Malum Punicum), and the
peach (M. Persicum).

But the vine and the olive continued to be the only
fruit-trees extensively reared. Pliny reckoned a hun-
dred and ninety-five principal sorts of wine, eighty of
which were good, and four-fifths of the eighty were of
Italian growth. By far the most common method of
cultivating the grape was the primitive one (which still
keeps its hold in the country), of training the plants to
trees, the ends of the vine-branch being thence carried
down towards the ground, and fixed to long props, or
else led along from one trunk to another by horizontal
poles. The ground between the trees which supported
the vines was sown with grain or vegetables. Some
vines however were kept low, and propped like the
modern French ones ; others were carried round a ring
of poles; and the poorest peasants allowed theirs to




trail on the ground. There were many modes of ai-ti-
ficially preparing the wines, and giving them foreign
flavours : the passum was made from raisins ; the sapa
and defrutum were made (like the modern Italian vino
cotto, and the Frencli vin cuit) from grape-juice boiled
before it was allowed to ferment. The ancients were
quite unacquainted with the process of distillation. After
the year of the city 500, the olive oil of Italy was cheap
and abundant ; and, till the second or third century of
the empire, it was considered the best in Europe, and
was exported largely.

Forest-trees were little attended to ; but there were
many natural forests, chiefly of oak, elm, beech, larch,
and pine, which were preserved for their timber.
Copse- wood was also grown for fuel ; and osiers were
planted in millions, being used for binding the vines,
and for making baskets, as well as many other domestic

From the rural economy of the Romans we turn to
consider their progress in the mechanical arts, and the
state of their foreign trade.*

But, as an introduction to this inquiry, we ought,
perhaps, to require a minute answer to the question
which occurs, as to the habits of expense common in
the nation, and the direction which those habits in
different periods assumed. After the earliest con-
quests abroad, this feature of the national character
underwent several marked changes. The first stage was
that in which the plunder of the wars was faithfully

* Meursius De Luxu Romanorum, and Kobierzyckius De Luxu
Romanorum ; ap. Grjevium, torn, viii. De Pastoret Sur le Com-
merce et le Luxe des Romains, et sur leurs Lois Coniinerciales et
Somptuaires ; Memoires de I'lnstitut Royal, Classe d'Histoire,
tomes iii. v. vii. Heeren, Historical Researches into the Politics,
Intercourse, and Trade of the Principal Nations of Antiquity (trans-
lations) : The African Nations, 2 vols. 1832 ; The Asiatic Nations,
3 vols. 1833. Mengotti Del Commercio de' Romani dalla Prima
Guerra Punica a Costantino; in vol. xliii. of the Collection of
the Italian Writers on Political Economy 48 volumes. Milan,


preserved for the state ; and the statues, jewels, precious
metals, and marbles of Sicily, Greece, and Macedon,
adorned the public edifices of the city. The Scipios,
Marcellus, ]\Iummius, Paulus -iEmilius, and Flamininus,
were all remorseless spoilers, but none of them pillaged
on his own account : on the contrary, they all lived
frugally and died poor. In the next era, the generals
and provincial governors plundered for themselves, as
Avell as for the public ; the love of splendid buildings,
furniture, and works of art, now developed itself fully ;
and there appeared magnificent private houses and
delightful gardens. Marius and Sylla were robbers, the
latter, indeed, one of the worst the republic ever saw ;
and the evil was at its height in those wai's that pre-
ceded the contest between Caesar and Pompey. Pecu-
lation and wealth had then three noted representatives ;
the infamous Verres in Sicily ; Lucullus, the conqueror
of Mithridates, whose Roman and Neapolitan palaces
were the most gorgeous works of the commonwealth ;
and the unfortunate triumvir Crassus, who was wont to
say that no man should be called rich if he could not
maintain an aimy from his ordinary income. There
still, however, reigned great personal plainness, which
even in the succeeding age was exemplified in Augustus
and his son-in-law Agrippa. But the Romans were
now rapidly approaching the habits which they reached
under Tiberius, when those who gave the law in extra-
vagance lavished their v>^ealth most willingly on clothing
and food. Apicius the epicure belonged to this age,
v/hen the male sex were seen, likewise, to adopt the
materials of the female dress ; for Tiberius had to pro-
hibit the wearing of silks by men, which, joined with
other most effeminate fashions, speedily became universal.
In the last age of the period now under review, the per-
sonal example of the emperors checked these forms of
luxury, though they were never quite suppressed, being
already ingrafted on the character of the people. The
pomp of architecture and art, as we have already dis-
covered, flourished through all changes ; and the ideas
of imperial projectors became more and more gigantic.


Caligula was unable to execute his plan of building a
city on the summit of the Alps ; * but his palace on tlie
Palatine and his enormous bridge, in themselves not
unfit preparatives for such extravagant undertakings,
were worthily emulated by Nero's Golden House and
the Tiburtine Villa of Hadrian.

Such habits could not be satisfied by the natural
resources of Italy, nor by the skill of its inhabitants.
The soil, indeed, besides those articles of agricultural
produce which have been above described, supplied some
of the less mipoi-tant materials which are still derived
from it ; such as sulphur, saffron, and the iron of the
mines in Lombardy. For using the native wool, as well
as the finer varieties from foreign lands, large manu-
factories were established in all parts of the country ;
there were also considerable iron- works, chiefly in the
north ; and the branches of skilled industry required
for the common uses of life, maintained themselves at
the height they had already reached in other nations,
but did not gain a single step. The results of the useful
arts, in a few of the most durable materials, are exem-
plified in many extant specimens of ancient furniture
and utensils ; and the most instructive fact derived from
inspecting such relics is, the great difference between the
ornamental articles and those which are merely useful.
In the foi-mer, designed for the rich, the utmost me-
chanical dexterity is displayed ; in the latter, which were
to be sold to the poor, or, at all events, to be kept out
of sight, every thing is coarse, clumsy, and ill finished.
Beautiful lamps, braziers, and vases, are to be found
without number ; but a well-made hinge, a neat lock
and key, or an accurately fitted hand-mill, are things
quite unknown. Those manufactures flourished most
which were connected with the fine arts ; and these,
chiefly in the hands of foreigners, as directors if not as
workmen, spread out in an infinite variety of depart-
ments. But, with ail these aids, many articles of every-

• Suetonius in Caligula, nap. 21. 52.


day use were still drawn from distant shores ; and com-
merce necessarily extended itself.

It is curious to trace the revolutions of Roman
opinion regarding trade. Their laws always discouraged
it as an occupation for the higher classes, and the ages
we are now considering show as little knowledge of its
public advantages as those which had preceded. At
the end of the second Punic war, when the Carthagi-
nians delivered up a large ileet of merchant harks, the
conquerors, instead of founding commercial greatness
on this valuable acquisition, burned every one of the
vessels, and employed none of the mariners. They
destroyed the captured ships of Antiochus eleven years
afterwards, and in 585 gave away to their industrious
allies in Greece and its islands the mercantile navy of
the Illyrians.* A century later they undertook, for the
first time, a war which had the extension of commerce
for its purpose : this was Julius Caesar's invasion of
Britain, where for some time they seemed to expect
a second Spain or Sicily. In the reign of Augustus
trade and manufactures had nearly reached their utmost
limit. But the philosoj)hers would not be converted ;
and Cicero, wishing to speak well of commerce^ could
devise nothing more commendatory to say of it than
that it was one way, and not the most reputable, whereby
a person might acquire the position which the great
man himself was so vain of being supposed to occupy,
that of a wealthy country gentleman. t

The progress of commerce was impeded by mechanical
obstacles as weighty as the moral ones.:|: There was no
established or convenient trade in money. The naviga-
tion of the ancients was, in all its arrangements, nothing
better than a tedious creeping along the coasts. The
carriage of goods overland was entirely performed, so
far as regarded the rich Asiatic countries, by caravans

* Livii Histor. lib. xxx. cap. 43; lib. xxxviii. cap. 38, 39;
lib. xlv. cap. 43.

-f- Cicero De OfBciis, lib. i. cap. 41.

:J: Heeren, African Nations : Introduction, On Ancient Com-


like those of the middle ages ; — a mode of intercourse
evidently destitute of all the means that are indispen-
sable for the conveyance of bulky articles ; such, for
instance, as the rice, sugar, and saltpetre, which India
could have furnished to the Romans. Ancient commerce
may be described as having been confined chiefly to the
following commodities : corn, for the transportation of
which the facilities were imperfect ; wine, which was
exported to a limited extent ; oil, which travelled more
readily ; stuffs for clothing, chiefly the fine oriental
fabrics, but very little of the raw material ; and the
precious productions furnished by the East, as well as
by the mines of the Avhole known Avorld.

The exports of ancient Italy were always extremely
inconsiderable. So long as its manufactures maintained
some degree of prosperity, the country itself was its only
available market ; and of its natural productions, it
possessed none in an excess capable of forming the
basis of an extensive trade, except its wine, which was
sent abroad for a century or two, and its oil, which was
an article of foreign commerce during a period con-
siderably longer. When, therefore, we speak of the
commerce of ancient Italy, we mean its imports. The
most valuable of these was the foreign corn ; for which
the chief granaries, under the emperors, were Sicily,
Barbary, and Egypt. The first of these countries, be-
sides supporting long a considerable share of Grecian
skill in the arts, maintained its agriculture throughout
several centuries of the empire, and exported largely both
its wine and its oil. Smaller supplies of corn came from
Sardinia, Spain, ]\Iacedon, Asia Minor, Syria, and the
coasts of the Black Sea. The other objects of Roman
commerce, and the mercantile relations between Italy
and the various nations subject to its government or influ-
ence, will be best understood if we cursorily glance at
each of the principal states in succession.

The greatest part of Europe was open to Rome before
the fall of the republic. Greece and the surrounding
countries maintained with Italy a more extensive com-
merce than any other region of the west, furnishing

VOL. I. 2 A


metals wrought and unwrought, marbles, honey, wine,
wax, some minerals and spices, a little fine wool, and
the purple cloths of Laconia. Gaul yielded metals,
horses, fine wool from the territory of Narhonne, woollen
cloths, and salted provisions. Spain exported large quan-
tities of metals, and other minerals, with some wines.
Germany, and the remaining countries of continental
Europe, were in those ages unfit to supply almost any
exchangeable commodity. Britain, neglected by Au-
gustus, and reconquered by Claudius, still disappointed
its invaders ; but it yielded (besides some corn) timber,
cattle, furs, coarse pearls, and the valuable iron, tin, and
black lead of its mines. Ireland was long overlooked,
and Diodorus calls its inhabitants cannibals ; though the

Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 33 of 35)