Roman Farm Management
Marcus Porcius Cato
Part 3 out of 6
pigs in two. Weanling pigs, from the fact that they are considered fit
to be offered for sacrifice at that age, were formerly called _sacres_
as Plautus calls them when he says, "What's the price of sacred
pigs?" In like manner stall fed cattle, which are being fattened
for the public sacrifices, are called _opimi_.
"The fourth consideration relates to the health of the cattle, a
subject as important as it is complex, for a single beast which may be
sick or infected and ailing often brings a great calamity on an entire
herd. There are two degrees of the healing art, one which requires
consultation with a surgeon, as for men: the other which the skilful
shepherd can himself practise, and this consists of three parts,
namely: the consideration of what are the causes, the symptoms and the
treatment which should be followed in relation to each malady. The
common causes of disease in cattle are excess of heat or of cold,
overwork, or its opposite lack of exercise, or, if when they have been
worked, you give them food and drink at once without an interval of
rest. The symptoms of fever due to heat or overwork are a gaping
mouth, heavy humid breath and a burning body. The cure when such is
the malady is this: bathe the animal with water, rub it with a warm
mixture of oil and wine, put it on a nourishing diet, blanket it
as protection against chills and give it tepid water when it is
thirsty. If this treatment does not suffice, let the blood, chiefly
from the head.
"So there are different causes and different symptoms of the maladies
peculiar to each kind of cattle, and the flock master should have them
all written down.
"It remains to speak of the ninth head (c), which I mentioned, and this
relates to the number of cattle to be kept and so concerns both of the
"For whoever buys cattle must consider the number of herds and how many
in each herd he can feed on his land, lest his pastures prove short or
more than he need, as so in either case the profit be lost. Further
more, one should know how many breeding ewes there are in the flock,
how many rams, how many lambs of each sex, how many culls to be weeded
out. Thus, if a ewe has more lambs at a birth than she can nourish,
you should do what some shepherds practise--take part of them away
from her, which is done to the end that those remaining may prosper."
"Beware!" put in Atticus, "that your generalisations do not lead
you astray, and that your insistence on the rule of nine does not
contradict your own definition of small and large cattle: for how can
all your principles be applied to mules and to shepherds, since those
with respect to breeding certainly cannot be followed so far as they
are concerned. As to dogs I can see their application. I admit even
that men may be included in them, because they have their wives on
the farm in winter, and indeed even in their summer pasture camps,
a concession which is deemed beneficial because it attaches the
shepherds to their flocks, and by begetting children they increase the
establishment and with it the profit on your investment."
"If Scrofa's number cannot be measured with a carpenter's rule," said
I, "neither can many other generalisations, as, for instance, when we
say that a thousand ships sailed against Troy, or that a certain court
of Rome consists of a hundred judges (_centumviri_). Leave out, if you
wish, the two chapters relating to breeding in so far as mules are
"But why should we," exclaimed Vaccius, "for it is related that on
several occasions at Rome a mule has had a foal."
To back up what Vaccius had said, I cited Mago and Dionysius as
writing that when mules and mares conceive they bear in the twelfth
month. "If," I added, "it is considered a prodigy in Italy when a mule
has a foal, it is not necessarily so in all countries. For is it not
true that swallows and swans breed in Italy, which do not lay in other
lands, and don't you know that the Syrian date palm, which bears fruit
in Judea, does not yield in Italy?"
"If you prefer," said Scrofa, "to make out the entire eighty-one
chapters without any on the care of mules during the breeding season,
there are subjects with which you can fill this double vacancy by
adding those two kinds of extraordinary profit which is derived from
live stock. One of these is the fleece which men shear or pull from
sheep and goats, the other, which is more widely practised, that
from milk and cheese: the Greek writers indeed actually treat this
separately under the title [Greek: turopoiia], and have written
extensively about it."
II. "And now, since I have completed my task and the economy of live
stock husbandry has been defined, do you, men of Epirus, requite us
by expounding the subject in detail, so that we may see of what the
shepherds of Pergamis and Maledos are capable."
At this challenge, Atticus (who then was known as T. Pomponius but now
as Q. Caecilius retaining the same cognomen) began as follows:
"I gather that I must make the beginning since you seem to turn your
eyes upon me: so I will speak of those cattle which you, Varro, have
called primitive, for you say that sheep were the first of the wild
beasts of the field which were captured and domesticated by man.
"In the first place you should buy good sheep, and they are so judged
primarily in respect of their age, that they are not what is known
as aged nor yet undeveloped lambs, because neither can yield you any
profit, the one no longer, the other not yet: but you may deem that
age which holds out a promise preferable to that whose only future is
death. So far as concerns conformation, a sheep should have a round
barrel, wool thick and soft and with long fibre, and, while heavy all
over the body, it should be thickest on the back and neck, and yet the
belly also should be covered, for unless the belly was covered our
ancestors were wont to call a sheep _apica_ and throw it out. They
should have short legs, and, if they are of the Italian breed, long
tails, or short tails if they come from Syria. The most important
point to guard is that your flock is headed by a good sire. The
quality of a ram can usually be determined from his conformation and
from his get. So far as concerns conformation, a ram should have a
face well covered with wool, horns twisted and converging on the
muzzle, tawny eyes, woolly ears, a deep chest, wide shoulders and
loin, a long and large tail. You should see also whether he has a
black or a spotted tongue, for such rams usually get black or
spotted lambs. You may judge them by their get, if their lambs are of
good quality. In buying sheep we practise the formalities which the
law requires, following them more or less strictly in particular
cases. Some men in fixing a price per head stipulate that two late
lambs or two toothless ewes shall be counted as one. In other respects
the traditional formula is employed thus: the buyer says to the
seller, "Do you sell me these sheep for so much?" And the seller
answers, "They are your sheep," and states the price. Whereupon the
buyer stipulates according to the ancient formula: "Do you guarantee
that these sheep, for which we have bargained, are in such good health
as sheep should be; that there is none among them one-eyed, deaf or
bare-bellied; that they do not come out of an infected flock and that
I will take them by good right and title?"
"Even when this is done the title to the flock does not pass until
they have been counted, but, nevertheless, the purchaser can hold the
seller to the bargain if he does not make delivery, even though the
purchase money has not passed, and by a like right the seller can hold
the buyer if he does not pay up.
"I will next speak about those other four subjects which Scrofa
outlined, namely: the feeding, breeding, raising and physicking of
sheep. In the first place, one should see that provision is made for
feeding the flock throughout the entire year, as well indoors as out.
The stable should be in a suitable location, protected against the
wind, looking rather to the East than the South, on cleared and
sloping ground so that it can be easily swept out and kept clean, for
moisture not only rots the wool of the sheep but their hoofs as well
and causes scab. When sheep have stood for several days you should
strew the stable with new bedding, so that they may be more
comfortable and be kept cleaner, and thus eat with more appetite. You
should also contrive stalls separated from the others in which you may
segregate the ewes about to yean, as well as any which may be ailing.
This precaution is practicable, however, only with sheep fed at the
steading, but those who graze their sheep in the mountain pastures and
far from cover, carry with them wicker hurdles or nets, and other such
conveniences with which they contrive folds for such separation. Sheep
indeed are grazed far and wide so that often it happens that their
winter quarters are many miles from their summer pastures."
"I know that to be true," said I, "for my flocks winter in Apulia and
spend the summer in the mountains above Reate: thus the public cattle
drifts between these two localities balance the separated pastures, as
a yoke balances two baskets."
Atticus resumed: "When sheep are fed continually in the same locality
distinction must be made in the times of feeding them according to the
seasons: thus in summer they are driven out to pasture at day break
because then the dewy grass is more appetizing than at midday, when
it is dry. At sunrise they are driven to water, to make them more
lickerish on their return. About noon and during the heat of the
day they are permitted to lie in the shade of rocks or under broad
spreading trees until the fresher evening air invites them to feed
again until sunset. A sheep should always graze with the sun behind
it, because its head is very sensitive to heat. At sunset the flock
should be given a short rest and then driven again to water, and so
brought back to feed again until it is dark, for at that time of day
the grass has renewed its pleasant savour. This routine is usually
followed from the rising of the Pleiades until the autumn equinox.
"After the harvest it is of two-fold advantage to turn the flock in on
the stubble, as they will fatten on the shattered grain and improve
the land for next year's planting by spreading their manure in the
"The rules for pasturing sheep in winter and spring differ from the
summer rules in this, that at those seasons the flock is not driven
to pasture until the hoar frost has evaporated and they feed all day
long, one watering about noon being enough.
"This is about all there to say on the subject of feeding sheep, so I
pass to the consideration of breeding. The rams which you are about
to use for breeding should be separated from the flock for two months
before the season, and fed heavily by giving them a ration of barley
when they come into the stable from the pasture: it will make them
stronger for their duty.
"The best breeding season is from the setting of Arcturus to the
setting of Aquila, (May-July) because lambs begotten later are apt
to be born runts, and weak. As a ewe is pregnant for one hundred and
fifty days, this arrangement causes her to drop her lambs at the end
of autumn when the temperature is mild and the grass is renewed by the
first rains. During the breeding season the flock should drink only
the same kind of water, since a change not only makes spotted wool but
injures the offspring. When all the ewes have been stinted, the rams
should be separated from them again, because it injures ewes to be
teased while they are pregnant. Ewe lambs should never be bred before
they are two years old, as they cannot earlier produce strong lambs,
but will themselves degenerate: indeed, it is better to keep them
until the third year. To this end some shepherds protect their ewe
lambs from the ram by tying baskets made of rushes or something of
that kind over their rumps, but it is better to feed them apart from
"I come now to the consideration of how lambs should be raised.
"When the ewes begin to yean they are driven into a stable which has
stalls set apart for the purpose, where the new born lambs can be
placed near a fire to strengthen them, and there the ewes are kept two
or there days until the lambs know their dams and are able to feed
themselves. Thereafter the lambs are still kept up but the ewes are
driven out to pasture with the flock, being brought back to them in
the evening to be suckled and then once more separated, lest the lambs
be trampled by the ewes at night. In the morning before the ewes go
out to pasture they are given access to their young again until the
lambs are satisfied with milk. After about ten days have elapsed the
lambs are picketed out of doors, being tethered with fibre or such
other light material, to stakes planted some distance apart so that
the little fellows may not injure themselves as they frisk together
"If a lamb will not suck, it should be held up to the teat and its lips
greased with butter or suet, and so made to smell at the milk. A few
days later some soft vetch or tender grass may be given them before
they go out to pasture and after they come in. And so they are nursed
until they are four months old.
"There are some shepherds who do not milk the ewes during the nursing
period, but those who do not milk them at all do better, as thus they
bear more wool and more lambs.
"When the lambs are weaned great attention is necessary to prevent them
from wasting away in their longing for the dam: they should be tempted
to eat by giving them appetizing food, and care should be taken that
they do not suffer from cold or heat. When at last they have forgotten
the taste of milk and no longer yearn for the dam, they may be driven
out with the flock.
"A ram lamb should not be altered until he is five months old, nor yet
in very hot or very cold weather. Those which you wish to keep for
rams should be chosen as far as possible from dams who are in the
habit of having twin lambs.
"Most of these recommendations apply equally to those fine wool sheep
which are called _pellitae_, because they are jacketed with skins, as
is done at Tarentum and in Attica, to protect their wool from fouling,
for by this precaution the fleece is kept in better plight for dyeing,
washing or cleaning. Greater diligence is required to keep clean the
folds and stables of such sheep than is necessary for the ordinary
breeds: so they are paved with stone to the end that no urine may
stand anywhere in the stable.
"Sheep eat whatever is put before them--fig leaves, marc, even straw.
Bran should be fed to them in moderation, lest they eat either too
much or too little of it, in either of which cases it is bad for the
digestion, but clover and alfalfa agree with them best and make both
fat and milk with the utmost facility.
"So far as concerns the health of the flock, there are many things
I might add, but, as Scrofa has said, the flock master keeps his
prescriptions written down in a book and carries with him what he
needs in the way of physic.
"It remains to speak of the number of sheep in a flock. Some make this
more, some less, for there is no natural limit. In Epirus almost all
of us have a rule not to allow more than one hundred short wool sheep
or fifty fine wool jacketed sheep to a shepherd."
III. As Atticus stopped, Cossinius took him up. "Come, my dear
Faustulus," he cried, "you have bleated long enough. Take now from me,
as from a late born Homeric Melanthius, a small offering from my
flock of goats, and at the same time learn a lesson in brevity. He
who wishes to form a flock of goats should consider in choosing them:
first of all that they are of an age capable of breeding, and that for
some time to come, for a tiro is more useful for that purpose than a
veteran. As to conformation, see to it that they are strong and large,
with a smooth body and thick coat: but beware of the short haired
goat, for there are both kinds. The she goat should have two
excrescences, like little teats, hanging under the muzzle: those which
have them are fecund: the larger the udder the more milk and butter
fat she will yield. The qualities of a buck are that his coat should
be largely white: his crest and neck short and his gullet long. You
will have a better flock if you buy at one time goats which have been
accustomed to run together, rather than by putting together a lot of
goats picked up here and there.
"Concerning breeding, I refer to what Atticus has said about sheep,
with this difference: that while you select a breed of sheep which are
slow of foot, because they are of quieter disposition, all goats are
as excitable as they are agile. Of, this last characteristic Cato
records in his book _Origines_: 'In the mountains of Socrate and
Fiscellus there are wild goats which leap from rock to rock a distance
of more than sixty feet.' For as the sheep which we feed are sprung
from wild sheep, so the goats which we herd are sprung from wild
goats: and it is from them that the island of Caprasia, near the coast
of Italy, gets its name.
"As it is recognized that the best breed of goats is one which bears
two kids at a birth, breeding bucks are chosen from such a race
whenever possible. Some fanciers even take the trouble to import bucks
from the island of Melia, where are bred what are considered the
largest and most beautiful specimens of the race.
"I hold that the formula for buying sheep cannot altogether apply to
goats because no sane man ever guaranteed that goats are without
malady, for the fact is that they are forever in a fever. For this
reason the usual stipulation has had a few words cut out of it for use
in respect of goats, and, as Manilius gives it in his treatise on the
law of Sales, runs as follows: 'Do you guarantee that these goats are
well today; that they are able to drink, and that I will get good
title to them?'
"There is a wonderful fact concerning goats which has been stated
by certain ingenious shepherds and is even recorded in the book of
Archelaus, namely, that they do not breathe through their nostrils,
like other animals, but through their ears.
"Upon Scrofa's four considerations which relate to the care of goats
I have this to say. The flock is better stabled in the winter if its
quarters look toward the Southeast, because goats are very sensitive
to cold. So also, as for most cattle, the goat stable should be paved
with stone or brick that the flock may be less exposed to damp and
mud. When the flock passes the night out of doors, a place should be
selected having the same exposure and the fold strewn with leaves to
protect the flock from fouling themselves.
"There is not much difference in the method of handling goats in the
pasture from sheep, but goats have this characteristic, that they
prefer the mountain woodland pastures to meadows, for they feed
eagerly on the brushwood and in cultivated places crop the shrubbery;
indeed, their name _caprae_ is derived from _carpere_, to crop. For
this reason it is customary to stipulate in farm leases that the
tenant shall not graze any goat on the leased land, for their teeth
are the enemies of all planted crops: wherefore the astrologers were
careful to station them in the heavens outside of the pale of the
twelve signs of the zodiac, but there are two kids and a goat not far
"So far as concerns breeding, it is the custom to separate the bucks
from the pastured flock at the end of autumn and confine them apart,
as has been said with respect to rams. The nannies which conceive at
this time drop their kids in four months, and so in the spring. In
what regards rearing the kids, it is enough to say that when they are
three months old they are raised and may join the flock. What shall I
say of the health of these animals who never have any? yet the flock
master should have written down what remedies are used for certain of
their maladies and especially for the wounds which often befall them
by reason of their constant fighting among themselves and their
feeding in thorny places. It remains to speak of number: this is
less to the herd in the case of goats than with sheep because of the
wantonness and wandering habit of the goat: sheep, on the other hand,
are wont to flock together and keep in one place.
"For another reason it is the custom in Gaul to divide the goats into
many flocks rather than concentrate them in large ones, because a
pestilence quickly takes possession of a large herd and sweeps it to
destruction. About fifty goats is considered to be a large enough
"The experience of Gaberius, a Roman of the equestrian order, will
illustrate the reason for this: for he, who had a thousand jugera of
land near Rome, met one day a certain goatherd leading ten goats to
town, and heard him say that he made a denier a day out of each
goat, whereupon Gaberius bought a thousand goats, hoping that he might
thereby derive from his property an income of a thousand deniers a
day: but so it fell out that he lost all his goats after a brief
illness. On the other hand, among the Sallentini and near Casinum they
graze their goats in flocks of one hundred.
"Almost the same difference of opinion exists as to the relative number
of bucks to nannies, for some, and I am among them, allow a buck to
every ten nannies, but others, like Menas, make it fifteen, and some
even twenty, like Murrius."
IV. "And now," concluded Cossinius, "which of you Italian swine
breeders will stand forth and tell us of his herd? Surely he should be
able to speak with the most authority whose cognomen is Scrofa."
At this pleasantry, Tremelius turned upon Cossinius and said: "You seem
to be ignorant why I am called Scrofa, but, in order that our friends
sitting beside you may understand, you should know my family did not
always bear this swinish cognomen, nor am I of the race of Eumaeus. The
first of us to be called Scrofa was my grandfather who, when he was
quaestor under the praetor Licinius Nerva, and was left in command of
the army in the province of Macedonia during the absence of the praetor,
it so happened that the enemy thought they had an opportunity to gain a
victory and began to attack the camp. My grandfather, in exhorting the
soldiers to take up their arms and go out against the enemy, exclaimed
that he would soon scatter them as a sow (scrofa) does her pigs, and he
was as good as his word. For in that battle he so overwhelmed and
discomfited the enemy, that on account of it the praetor Nerva was
hailed Imperator and my grandfather obtained his cognomen and so was
called Scrofa. So, while neither my great grandfather nor any of my
ancestors of the Tremelian family was ever called Scrofa, yet as I am
not less than the sixth of our family in succession who has attained
praetorian rank, it ill becomes me to run away in the face of your
challenge, so I will tell you what I know about swine. Indeed from my
youth I have been devoted to agriculture, so that I am perhaps as well
acquainted with that animal as is any of you great stockmen: for who of
us cultivates a farm but keeps hogs, and who has not heard his father
say that that man is either lazy or a spendthrift who hangs in the meat
house a flitch of bacon obtained from the butcher rather than from his
"He who wishes to have a proper herd of swine ought to choose them, in
the first place, of the right age, and in the second place, of good
conformation: which means large everywhere except in the head and feet
and of a solid colour rather than spotted: but the boar should have
without fail a thick neck in addition to these other qualities. Swine
of good breed may be known from their appearance, if both boar and sow
are of good conformation; from their get, if they have many pigs at
a birth; and from their origin, if you buy them in a place with a
reputation for producing fat rather than lean hogs. The usual formula
for buying runs thus: 'Do you warrant that these hogs are in good
health; that I shall take good title to them; that they have committed
no tort, and that they do not come out of a diseased herd?'
"Some add a particular stipulation that they are not affected with
"In the matter of pasture, a marshy place is well fitted for hogs,
because they delight not only in water, but in mud, the reason for
which appears in the tradition that when a wolf has fallen upon a hog
he always drags the carcass into the water because his teeth cannot
endure the natural heat of hog flesh.
"Swine are fed mostly on mast, though also on beans, barley and other
kinds of corn, which not only make them fat but give the meat an
agreeable relish. In summer they go out to pasture early in the
morning and before the heat of the day: at midday they are brought
into some shady place, preferably where there is water: in the
afternoon, when the heat has abated, they are fed again. In the winter
time they do not go out to pasture until the hoar frost has evaporated
and the ice has melted.
"In the matter of breeding, the boar should be separated from the herd
for two months before the season, which should be arranged between
the rising of the west wind and the vernal equinox, for thus it will
befall that the sows (which are big for four months) will have their
litters in summer when forage is plenty. Sows should not be bred under
a year old, but it is better to wait until the twentieth month so that
they may have pigs at two years. They are said to breed regularly for
seven years after the first litter. During the breeding season they
should be given access to muddy ditches and sloughs, so that they may
wallow in the mud, which is the same relaxation to them that a bath
is to a man. When all the sows are stinted, the boars should be
segregated again. A boar is fit for service at eight months and so
continues until his prime, after which his vigor decreases until he is
fit only for the butcher to make of his flesh a dainty offering for
the people. Our name for the hog, _sus_, is called [Greek: hus]
in Greek, but formerly it was [Greek: thus], derived from [Greek:
thuein], meaning to offer as a sacrifice, for it seems that victims
were chosen from the race of swine for the earliest sacrifices;
evidence of which remains in the tradition that pigs are sacrificed
at the initiation to the mysteries of Ceres, that when a treaty
is ratified peace begins with the slaughter of a pig, and that in
solemnizing a marriage the ancient kings and mighty men of Etruria
caused the bride and the bridegroom to sacrifice a pig at the
beginning of the ceremony, a practice which the earliest Latins and
the Greek colonists in Italy seem also to have followed: nam et
nostrae mulieres, maxime nutrices, naturam qua feminae sunt
in virginibus appellant porcum, et graecae [Greek: choiron],
significantes esse dignum insigni nuptiarum.
"The hog is said to be created by nature for the food of man and
so life and salt perform the same functions for him, as they both
preserve his flesh.
"The Gauls are reputed to put up not only the largest quantity but
the best quality of pork: evidence of its quality being that even now
hams, sausage, bacon and shoulders are imported every year from
Gaul to Rome: while Cato writes concerning the amount of pork cured by
the Gauls: 'In (northern) Italy the Insubres are wont to put up three
or four thousand cuts of pork [the bulk of which can be appreciated
from the fact that among that people] the hog some times grows so
fat that it is not able to stand on its feet or to walk, so that it
is necessary to put it on a cart to move it any where.' Atilius the
Spaniard, who is a truthful man and learned in many things, tells of
a hog which was killed in further Spain or Lusitania from which two
chops, sent to the Senator L. Volumnius, were found to weigh three and
twenty pounds, the fat on them being so thick that it measured a foot
and three fingers from the skin to the bone."
"I can testify to some thing not less extraordinary than what you have
related," said I, "for in Arcadia I saw with my own eyes a hog which
was so fat that not only was it unable to get up but a shrew mouse
having eaten a hole in its back had there made its nest and was
rearing a family. I have heard that this same thing happened in the
country of the Veneti."
"Usually," resumed Scrofa, "the fecundity of a sow may be learned from
her first litter, for in later litters she does not vary much from the
number of pigs in the first.
"In the matter of rearing young swine, which we call _porculatio_ it
is customary to leave pigs with the sow for two months, and then when
they are able to feed themselves to separate them. Pigs born in the
winter are apt to be runts on account of the cold and because the sow
refuses to suckle them, partly by reason of her lack of milk at that
season and partly to protect her teats from the teeth of the hungry
"Each sow should suckle her pigs in her own stye, because a sow will
not drive strange pigs away from her, and it results that if the
litters are mingled the breed deteriorates. The year is naturally
divided for the sow into two parts, because they breed twice a year,
being heavy in pig for four months and suckling for two. The stye
should be built about three feet deep and a little more in width and
such a height from the ground as will permit a pregnant sow to get out
without straining herself, as that might cause her to abort. A good
measure of the proper height from the ground is what is necessary to
enable the swineherd to keep watch that no little pigs are crushed by
the sow, and to clean out the bedding easily. There should be a door
to the stye with the lower sill elevated a foot and a palm high so as
to prevent the pigs from following the sow when she goes out. As often
as the swineherd cleans out the stye he should strew the floor with
sand, or some thing else to absorb moisture.
"When a sow has had her pigs she should be fed liberally to enable her
to make milk: for this the ration is usually two pounds of boiled
barley, indeed some feed this both at morning and at night if other
feed is lacking. When pigs are taken from their dam they are sometimes
called _delici_ or weanlings being then no longer _lactantes_ or
"Pigs are considered to be clean ten days after birth, and for that
reason were then called by the ancients sacred, as being then first
fit for sacrifice: and so in the _Menaechmi_ of Plautus, when a
character thinking some one in Epidamnus to be out of his wits and
seeking to purify him, asks: 'How much are sacred pigs here.'
"If the farm affords them, pigs should be fed grape husks and stalks.
"After they have lost the name of _lactantes_ the shoats are called
_nefrendes_ because they are not yet able to break down (_frendere_
that is _frangere_) the bean stalks. _Porcus_ is the ancient Greek
name for them but is fallen into disuse, for the Greeks now call them
"While she is giving suck the sow should be watered twice a day to
promote the flow of milk. A sow should bear as many pigs as she has
teats: if she has less it is considered that she is unprofitable, but
if more, a prodigy. In this respect there is the ancient tradition
that the sow of Aeneas bore thirty white (_albos_) pigs at
Lavinium, which portended that after thirty years the inhabitants
of Lavinium would found the town of Alba: indeed, vestiges of this sow
and of her pigs may still be seen at Lavinium where there is a brazen
image of them now in the public square, and the true body of the sow
is shown by the priests, preserved in pickle.
"Sows are able at first to suckle eight little pigs, but as they grow
larger half of them are usually taken away by experienced swineherds,
because the sow cannot supply milk enough for all, and too many pigs
fed together do not prosper in any event. A sow should not be driven
out of the stye for ten days after having her litter except for
water, but after that time she is permitted to graze in a paddock so
conveniently near at hand that she may return to the stye frequently
to suckle the pigs. When the pigs are large enough they are permitted
to follow the sow to pasture, but at home they should be penned apart
from the sow and fed by themselves until they overcome their yearning
for the dam, which usually happens in ten days. The swineherd should
train his shoats to do every thing at the sound of the trumpet. This
training is begun by letting the shoats hear the trumpet outside
their pens and then at once come out to a place where barley has been
scattered broad cast (for thus less is wasted than if the feed is
put in heaps and more of the shoats can get to it easily). By such
education it is possible to collect pasturing hogs at the sound of a
trumpet and prevent their being lost when scattered in the woods.
"Boars are altered most successfully when they are a year old, but in
no case should this be done when they are less than six months old.
After the operation they are no longer called boars, but barrows.
"Concerning the health of swine, I will say one thing only by way of
example: if the sow is not able to supply milk the sucking pigs should
be fed, until they are three months old, on roasted wheat (for when it
is raw it loosens the bowels) or on barley boiled in water.
"As to number: it is considered that ten boars to an hundred sows is
enough; some even reduce this proportion.
"The practice varies as to the number to a herd, but my judgment is
that a hundred is a moderate number: some make it more, say 150: some
feed two herds together, and some do even more than that. A small herd
is less expensive than a large one because the swineherd requires less
assistance. A swinefeeder should fix the number to be fed as a herd on
a principle of utility, not by the number of boars he may happen to
have, for that is determined by nature."
So far Scrofa.
_Of neat cattle_
V. At this point we were joined by the Senator Q. Lucienus, a man as
learned as he is agreeable and intimate with us all. "Hail, my fellow
citizens of Epirus," he exclaimed in Greek, "and you, my dear
Varro, 'shepherd of men,' for I have already greeted Scrofa this
While one saluted him, another reproached him for having come so late
to our club.
"I will see to that, my merry men, for I am about to offer you my back
and a scourge: or else, Murrius, you who are my friend: come with me
while I pay a forfeit to the goddess Pales, so that you may bear me
witness if our friends here seek to make me do it again."
"Tell him," said Atticus, turning to Murrius, "what we have been
talking about and what is still on the programme, so that when his
turn comes he may be prepared. In the meantime we will take up the
second order of domestic live stock and proceed to a discussion of the
"In this," said Vaccius, "my name would seem to assign me a part,
since cows (_vaccae_) are included in that category. Wherefore I will
tell what I know about neat cattle, so that he who knows less may
learn, while he who knows more may correct me when I fall down."
"Be careful what you do, Vaccius," said I, "for the genus _Bos_ is
of the first importance among cattle, certainly in Italy, which is
thought to have taken its very name from that family, for, as Timaeus
records, in ancient Greece a bull was called [Greek: italos], whence
is derived our word _vitula_, and from this Italy is supposed to have
taken its name because of the number and beauty of its breed, of
cattle (_vituli_). Others claim that the name comes from that of
the famous bull Italus which Hercules drove out of Sicily into this
"The ox is indeed the companion and fellow labourer of man and the
minister of Ceres: wherefore the ancients, holding him inviolable,
made it a capital offence to kill an ox. Both Attica and
Peloponnesus bear witness of the regard in which the ox was held: for
he who first yoked oxen to the plough is celebrated at Athens under
the name Buzyges and at Argos under that of Homogyros."
"I know," replied Vaccius, "the importance of the ox and that his
very name is used to signify that quality, as in words like [Greek:
bousukon](big fig), [Greek: boupais](a big boy), [Greek: boulimos] (a
ravenous hunger),[Greek: boopis] (large eyed), and again that a certain
large grape is called _bumamma_ (cow teat). Furthermore, I know it was
the form of a bull that Jupiter assumed when he wooed Europa and bore
her across the sea from Phoenicia: that it was a bull which protected
the children of Neptune and Melanippe from being crushed in a stable
by a herd of cattle: I know too that the bees which give the sweetest
honey are generated from the carcase of an ox, whence the Greeks call
them [Greek: bougeneis] (born of an ox), an expression which Plautius
latinized on the occasion where the praetor Hirrius, was accused at
Rome of having libeled the Senate. 'But be of good cheer, I will
give you at least as great satisfaction as did he who wrote the
"In the first place there are said to be four ages of cattle,
during which they are known by the successive designation of calf
(_vitulus_), yearling (_juvencus_), prime (_novellus_) and aged
(_vetulus_). These designations are further divided according to sex,
as bull-calf and heifer-calf, or bull and cow.
"A cow which is sterile is called _taura_: when pregnant, _horda_,
from which last name a certain festival is called the _hordicalia
(Fordicidia_) because cows in calf are sacrificed upon it.
"He who wishes to buy a herd of neat cattle should take care first that
they are of an age to produce, rather than past breeding; that they
are well set up, clean limbed, square bodied, large, with black horns
and broad brows, large black eyes, hairy ears, flat cheek bones,
snub-nosed, not hump-backed but rather with the back bone slightly
roached, wide nostrils, blackish lips, a neck muscular and long with
dew laps hanging from it, the barrel large and well ribbed, the
shoulders broad and the quarters good, a tail sweeping the heels,
the end being frizzled in a heavy brush, the legs rather short and
straight with knees projecting a little and well separated, the feet
narrow and not inclined to spread in walking, the hoofs not being
splayed but consisting of light and even bones, and a hide which is
not rough and hard to the touch. The best colour is black, next red,
third chestnut and last white: for a white coat indicates weakness, as
black indicates endurance: of the other two colours red is more common
than chestnut, and both than black and white. In addition you should
be particular that the bull is of good breed, which is determined
from his conformation and his get, as calves usually reproduce the
qualities of their sire. And, finally, it is of importance whence they
come. Gallic cattle are considered in Italy to be the best for work,
while on the other hand Ligurian cattle are worthless. The foreign
cattle of Epirus are not only better than all the Greek cattle but
even than the Italian: nevertheless, there are those who choose
Italian cattle for victims and to serve as offerings to the gods on
account of their size: and without doubt they may be preferred for
such holy offices, so great is the distinction of their majestic bulk
and their candid coats: and they are the more suitable for such use
because white cattle are not so common in Italy as in Thrace at the
gulf of Melas, where there are few of any other colour.
"When cattle are bought already broken for work we stipulate thus: 'Do
you guarantee these cattle to be in good health and warrant me against
liability for any tort committed by them?'
"When we buy them unbroken, we say: 'Do you guarantee these yearlings
to be in good health and to come out of a healthy herd, and warrant me
against liability for tort?'
"When butchers buy for the shambles they use a fuller formula
recommended by Manilius: but those who buy for the altar do not
usually stipulate for health in their victims.
"Neat cattle pasture best in groves where there is brushwood and much
leafage: and so when they are wintered by the sea they are driven up
to pasture in summer in the hills where shrubbery abounds.
"These are my breeding rules:
"For a month before breeding I cut down the food and drink of the cows
because it is deemed that they breed more certainly when they are
thin. On the other hand, I fatten the bulls up on grass and straw and
hay for two months before the breeding season, and during that time I
keep them apart from the cows. Like Atticus, I have two for seventy
cows, one a yearling, the other two years old. When that constellation
has risen which the Greeks call Lyra, and we Romans, Fides, I turn
the bull into the herd again. The bull indicates whether a male or a
female calf has been conceived by the side on which he leaves the cow:
if male, on the right; if female, on the left. "Why this is so," said
Vaccius, turning to me, "I leave to you who read Aristotle."
"A cow should not be served under two years, so that she may have her
first calf in the third year: it would be better in the fourth. Most
cows bear for ten years, some even more. The most suitable time for
stinting cows is during the forty days following the rising of the
Dolphin, or even a little later, for thus they will drop their calves
at the most temperate season of the year, for a cow goes ten months
pregnant. On this subject I have come upon an extraordinary statement
in a book that a bull which has just been altered can get a cow with
"Breeding cows should be pastured where there is abundant grass and
plenty of water, and care should be taken to protect them from
crowding too close together, and from being struck, or from fighting
with one another: moreover, to protect them against being worried in
summer by cattle flies and those minute insects which get under their
tails, some farmers shut them up during the heat of the day in pens,
which should be strewn with leaves or some other bedding on which they
can rest comfortably. In summer they are driven to water twice a day,
in winter once. Against the time when they are due to drop their
calves you should arrange to give them access to fresh forage near the
stable which they can eat with appetite as they go out, for at that
time they are very dainty about their food. A watch out must be kept
to prevent their frequenting chilly places, for cold depresses the
vitality as much as hunger.
"These are the rules for raising neat cattle: the suckling calves
should not be suffered to sleep with their dams, for they might crush
them, but should be given access to them in the morning and when they
return from pasture. When the calves are weaned the dams should be
comforted by having green stuff thrown into their stalls for them to
eat. The floor of a calf stable, like most others, should be paved
with stone to keep their hoofs from rotting. The calves may be
pastured with their dams after the autumn equinox. Bull calves should
not be altered before they are two years old, as they recover with
difficulty if the operation is performed sooner, while if it is done
later they are apt to be stubborn and useless.
"As in the case of other cattle, the herd should be gone over every
year and the culls thrown out because they occupy the room of those
which might be profitable. If a cow loses her calf she should be given
another to nurse, taken from a cow which has not a sufficient supply
of milk. Calves six months old are fed wheat bran and barley meal and
young grass, and care should be taken that they are watered morning
"The rules for taking care of the health of neat cattle are many. I
have those which Mago has recorded written out and I take care that my
herdsman reads them frequently.
"I have already said that a yearling and a two-year old bull should be
provided for every sixty cows, though some have more or less cows in
the herd: thus Atticus has two bulls for every seventy cows. Some
observe one rule as to the number of cattle to the herd, some another.
I am among those who think that one hundred is enough, but Atticus
here, like Lucienus, has one hundred and twenty."
So far Vaccius.
VI. While Vaccius was speaking, Murrius had returned with Lucienus and
"I propose to tell about asses as well I may, because I am from Reate
where the best and the largest are found; indeed, I have sold to the
Arcadians themselves asses of this race and of my own breeding. He who
wishes to establish a good herd of asses should see in the first place
that he procures jacks and jennies of prime age so that they may breed
as long as possible, strong, well made in all parts, of full body and
of a good breed, that is to say derived from those localities whence
the best specimens come; thus the Peloponnesians, so far as possible,
buy asses bred in Arcadia and we in Italy those from the valley of
Reate. For if the best of those delicious fish we call _muraenae
flutae_ are taken on the coast of Sicily and the best sturgeons at
Rhodes, it does not follow that they are of equal delicacy in all
"There are two kinds of asses, one wild, which is called the onager,
of which there, are many herds in Phrygia and Lycaonia; the other
domestic, as they are all over Italy. The onager is fit for use for
breeding because he is easily tamed and once domesticated never
reverts to a wild life.
"Because their young take after their parents, it is important to
choose both jack and jenny of good conformation. The conditions of
buying and selling asses are much the same as for other kinds of
cattle and include stipulations as to their health and against tort.
They are best fed on corn and barley bran. The jennies are bred before
the solstice so that they may have their foals at the same season in
the following year, for their period of gestation is twelve months.
The jennies should be relieved from work while in foal for fatigue at
that time injures the offspring: but the jacks, on the contrary, are
worked all the time, because it is lack of exercise which is bad for
"In the matter of rearing, practically the same rules apply to asses as
to horses. The foals are not separated from their dams for the first
year after they are born: during the second year they are permitted
to stay with their dams at night, but they should then be tied with a
loose halter or some other such restraint. In the third year you begin
to break them for whatever service they are intended.
"As to the number: they are not usually kept in herds unless it may be
for transport service; generally they are used to turn the mill, or
for carrying about the farm, or even for the plough where the soil
is light, as in Campania. Herds of asses are some times employed by
merchants, like those who transport wine, or oil, or corn, or any
other commodity, from Brundisium or Apulia to the sea, by pack
VII. Here Lucienus took up the discourse. "It is my turn," he said,
"to open the barrier and drive in my horses: and they are not only
stallions, of which, like Atticus, I keep one for every ten breeding
mares, but mares as well, such as Q. Modius Equiculus, that gallant
soldier, was wont to esteem for use even in war nearly as much as
"He who wishes to have such studs of stallions and mares as may be seen
in Peloponnesus and in Apulia should first consider age and see that
he obtains them not less than three nor more than ten years old. The
age of a horse, as also of nearly all animals whose hoofs are not
cloven, even horned animals, may be known from the condition of the
teeth: thus at thirty months of age a colt is said to lose the milk
incisors from the middle of his mouth, two above and two below. At the
beginning of the fourth year, in like manner he sheds the same number,
being the incisors adjoining those previously lost, and at that age
also the teeth called canine begin to appear. At the beginning of the
fifth year he loses two more incisors, and at that time the new teeth
show hollow. In the sixth year the new teeth begin to fill out their
cavities, and by the seventh usually all have been renewed and the
permanent mouth is made. What is the age of a horse beyond this point
it is not possible to determine accurately, except that when the teeth
project and the eye brows are white and have hollows under them, it is
considered that a horse is sixteen years old.
"A breeding mare should be of medium size, for it is not fitting that
they should be either very large or very small, but the quarters and
belly should be broad.
"A breeding stallion on the other hand should be chosen with a large
body, well made and all his parts in harmony. What sort of horse it
will turn out to be can be determined from the points of the foal, for
it should exhibit a small head: limbs well knit together: a black eye,
wide nostrils: ears well pricked: a mane which is thick, dark and
curly, of fine hairs and falling on the right side of the neck: a
breast broad and well developed: strong shoulders: a moderate belly:
the loins flat and rising to the quarters: long shoulder blades: a
back bone well doubled [with ridges of meat] but if these are not
prominent in no event should the bone itself stand out: a tail large
and curly: legs straight and even and rather long: knees round and
small and not turned in as you look at them: hard hoofs: veins visible
all over the body (for a horse of this kind is fit for treatment when
he is sick).
"The breed is of the greatest importance, for there are many. In this
respect the celebrated breeds take the names of the countries from
which they come: thus in Greece we have the Thessalian breed: in Italy
the Apulian from Apulia, and the Rosean from Rosea.
"It is a sign that they will make good horses if, when at pasture
with the herd, the colts contend with one another for superiority in
running or in any thing else, or if when a stream is to be crossed
they leap it at the head of the herd and do not look back for the
"Horses are bought in almost the same manner as cattle or asses,
because they change ownership by similar formalities, all of which are
set forth in the book of Manilius.
"Horses should be pastured whenever possible in meadows of grass, and
in the stable and stall they are fed on hay.
"When a mare has foaled she should be fed on barley and watered twice a
"In the matter of breeding, the period of service is from the vernal
equinox to the solstice so that the foal may come at a suitable
season, for they are supposed to be born on the tenth day of the
twelfth month after the mare was stinted. Those which are born after
the time are usually defective and unfit for use. When the season has
come the stallion should be admitted to the mare twice a day, in the
morning and in the evening, under the direction of the _origa_ (so the
studgroom is called), for a mare held in hand is stinted more quickly,
nor does the stallion waste his seed by excess of ardor. When a mare
is stinted she makes it known by defending herself. If the stallion
shows an aversion for a mare, her parts should be smeared when she
is in heat with the marrow of a shrimp macerated in water to the
consistency of honey, and the stallion allowed to smell of it.
"Although it may seem incredible, what I am about to relate is true and
should be remembered. Once upon a time a studgroom tried to make a
stallion cover his mother, but could never get him to come near her:
so one day the groom muffled the stallion's head and put him to his
mother successfully: but when the bandage was removed and the stallion
saw what he had done, he fell upon the groom and killed him with his
"When the mares have been stinted it must be seen to that they are
worked only in moderation and are kept out of cold places, because
cold is of the greatest prejudice to a mare in that condition. For
this reason the floor of their stable should be kept dry and the
windows and doors should be kept shut: and furthermore the mares
should be separated one from another by long poles fastened back from
the manger so that they may not fight.
"Mares in foal should neither be over-fed nor starved.
"There are some who breed their mares only every other year and claim
they get better colts, on the same principle that as corn land is
exhausted by continuous cropping, so is a mare which is bred every
"The foal should be led out to pasture with its dam on the tenth day
after it is born, so to avoid burning its tender hoofs by standing
on manure in the stable. When five months old a colt should be fed,
whenever he is brought into the stable, a ration of barley meal whole
with its bran, or any other product of the earth which he will eat
with appetite. When they are a year old they may be fed barley in the
grain mixed with bran, and this should be kept up as long as they
suckle, for they should not be weaned until they have completed the
second year. From time to time while they are still with their dams
they should be handled so that they may not be wild after they are
separated. To the same end it is well to hang bridles in their stalls
so that while they are still colts they may become accustomed to the
sight of them and the sound of their clanking as well. When a colt has
learned to come to an outstretched hand you should put a boy on his
back, for the first two or three times stretched out flat on his
belly, but afterwards sitting upright. The time to do this is when
the colt is three years old, for then he has his full growth and is
beginning to develop muscles.
"There are those who say that a colt may be broken at eighteen months,
but it is better to wait until the third year. Then is the time too
to begin to feed him that mixture of grain in the milk which we call
_farrago_, for this is very good for a horse as a purgative. It
should be fed for ten days to the exclusion of all other food. On the
eleventh day and until the fourteenth you should feed barley, adding a
little to the ration every day for four days and then maintaining that
quantity for the ten days succeeding: during this period the horse
should be exercised moderately, and when in a sweat rubbed down with
oil. If it is cold a fire should be lit in the stable.
"As some horses are suitable for military service, some for the cart,
some for breeding, some for racing, and others for the carriage, it
follows that the methods of handling and looking after them all are
not the same. Thus the soldier chooses some and rears and trains them
for his particular use, and so in turn does the charioteer and the
circus rider. Nor does he who wishes a cart horse choose the same
conformation or give the same training as to a horse intended for the
saddle or the carriage: for as the one desires mettle for military
service, the other prefers a gentle disposition for use on the road.
It was to provide for this difference of use that the practice of
castrating horses was inaugurated, for horses that are altered are of
a quieter disposition: they are called geldings, as hogs in the same
state are called barrows and chickens are called capons.
"As to medicine for the horse, there are so many symptoms of their
maladies and so many cures that the studgroom must have them written
down: indeed, on this account in Greece the veterinarians are mostly
called [Greek: hippiatroi] (horse leeches)."
VIII. While we were talking a freedman came from Menas and said that
the sacrificial cakes were cooked and every thing ready for the
sacrifice--that whoever wishes to take part had only to come.
"But I will not suffer you to go," I protested, "until you have
fulfilled your promise and given me the third chapter of our subject,
that concerning mules and dogs and shepherds."
"What is to be said about mules," replied Murrius, "may be said
briefly. Mules and hinnies are mongrels and grafts as it were on a
stock of a different species, for a mule is got by an ass out of a
mare, and a hinny by a horse out of a she ass. Both have their uses,
but neither is fit to reproduce its kind. For this purpose it is the
custom to put a newborn ass colt to nurse to a mare because mares'
milk will make it more vigorous: it is considered better than asses'
milk, or indeed than any other kind of milk. Later they are fed on
straw, hay and barley. The foster mother must be given good attention
also, as she must bring up her own colt in addition to her service as
a wet nurse. An ass raised in this way is fit to get mules when he is
three years old, nor will he contemn the mares because he has become
used to their kind. If you use him for breeding earlier he will
quickly exhaust himself and his get will be poor.
"If you have no ass foal to have brought up by a mare and you wish a
breeding jackass, you should buy the largest and handsomest you can
find; the best breed, as the ancients said, was that of Arcadia, but
nowadays we who know maintain that the breed of Reate is best: where
breeding jacks have brought thirty and even forty thousand sesterces
"Jacks are bought like horses, with the same stipulations and
guarantees. We feed them principally on hay and barley, increasing the
ration at the breeding season so as to infuse strength into their get
by means of their food. The breeding season is the same as for horses,
and, like them again, we have the jack handled by a studgroom.
"When a mare has dropped a mule colt or filly we bring it up with care.
Those which are born in marshy and swampy country have soft hoofs, but
if they are driven up into the mountain in summer, as we do at Reate,
their hoofs become hardened.
"In buying mules you must consider age and conformation, the one that
they may be able to work under a load, the other that the eye may have
pleasure in looking at them: for a team of two good mules is capable
of drawing any kind of a wagon on the road.
"You, my friend from Reate," Murrius added, turning to me, "can vouch
for what I have said, as you yourself have herds of breeding mares at
home and have bred and sold many mules.
"The get of a horse out of a she ass is called a hinny: he is smaller
in the body and usually redder in colour than a mule, and has ears
like a horse, but mane and tail like an ass. Hinnies are carried by
the dam twelve months, like a horse, and, like the horse too, they are
raised and fed, and their age can be told by their teeth."
_Of herd dogs_
IX. "It remains," said Atticus, "to speak of the last of the
quadrupeds on our programme, that is to say, of dogs, which are of the
greatest importance to us who feed the woolly flock, for the dog is
the guardian of such cattle as lack the means to defend themselves,
chiefly sheep and goats. For the wolf is wont to lie in wait for
them and we oppose our dogs to him as defenders. Hogs can defend
themselves, as well pigs, boars, barrows and sows, for they are near
akin to the wild boar, which we know often kills dogs in the woods,
with their tusks. What shall I say of large cattle? I know of an
instance of a herd of mules pastured together, which, when they were
attacked by a wolf, joined in forming a circle about him and killed
him with blows of their hoofs: and again, bulls often stand together,
rump to rump, and drive off wolves with their horns. But of dogs there
are two kinds, hunting dogs, which are used against wild beasts and
game, and herd dogs, which are used by the shepherd. I will discuss
the latter methodically, following Scrofa's nine heads.
"Of the first importance is the choice of dogs of suitable age, for
puppies and old dogs cannot protect themselves, much less the sheep,
and so often become themselves the prey of wild beasts.
"In appearance they should be handsome, of good size, with black or
tawny eyes: a symmetrical nose: lips blackish or ruddy, neither drawn
back above nor hanging underneath: a short muzzle, showing two teeth
on either side, those of the lower jaw projecting a little, those
above rather straight and not so apparent, and the other teeth, which
are covered by the lips, very sharp: a large head, ears large and
turned over: a thick crest and neck: long joints: straight legs,
rather bowed than knock-kneed: feet large and well developed, so that
in walking they may spread out: toes slightly splayed: claws hard and
curved: the pad of the foot neither horny nor hard but as it were
puffed and soft: short-coupled: a back bone neither projecting nor
roached: a heavy tail: a deep bark, and wide gaping chops. The colour
to be preferred is white because it gives the dog a lion-like aspect
in the dark. Finally, the females should have large teats equally
distributed. Care should be taken that they are of good breed, such
as those called for their place of origin, Laconian, Epirot and
Sallentian. Be careful not to buy a sheep dog from a professional
hunter or a butcher, because the one is apt to be lazy about following
the flock, while the other is more likely to make after a hare or a
deer which it might see, than to tend the sheep.
"It is better either to buy, from a shepherd, dogs which are accustomed
to follow sheep or dogs which are without any training at all. While a
dog does readily whatever he has been trained to do, his affection is
apt to be stronger for the shepherds than for the flock.
"Once P. Aufidius Pontianus of Amiternum bought certain flocks of sheep
in further Umbria, the dogs which herded them being included in
the bargain, but not the shepherds, who were, however, to make the
delivery at the Saltus of Metapontum and the market of Heraclea: when
these shepherds had returned home, their dogs, longing for their
masters, a few days later of their own will came back to the shepherds
in Umbria, having made several days journey without other food than
what the fields afforded. Nor had any one of those shepherds done what
Saserna advises in his books on agriculture,
'Whoever wishes to be followed by a dog should throw him a cooked
"It is of importance that all your dogs should be of the same breed,
for when they are related they are of the greatest aid to one another.
"Now as to Scrofa's fourth consideration, that concerning the manner of
buying: this is accomplished by delivery by the former owner to the
"The same stipulations as to health and against liability for tort are
made as in the case of cattle, leaving out whatever is inapplicable to
dogs. Some make a price on dogs at so much per head, others stipulate
that the puppies shall go with the mother, others that two puppies
shall count as one dog--as two lambs usually count as a sheep. Usually
it is provided that all the dogs which have been accustomed to be
together should be included in the bargain.
"The food appropriate for dogs is more like that of man than of sheep,
for they are fed on scraps and bones rather than on grass and leaves.
Care must be taken that they are fed regularly, for, if food is not
provided, hunger will lead them in search of it away from the
flock, unless, indeed, they shall find it in one another, thereby
contradicting the old proverb, or perchance they may realize the
fable of Actaeon and turn their teeth against their master himself.
You would do well to feed them on barley bread soaked in milk, because
when they have become accustomed to that diet they will not readily
desert the flock. They should never be suffered to taste the flesh of
a carrion sheep lest the relish should tempt them to indulge in such
food again. They may be fed also broth made out of bones, or bones
themselves when broken up, for that makes their teeth stronger and the
mouth wider: and thereby the jaws are stretched, while the zest of the
marrow makes the dog fiercer. They should be accustomed to take their
food in the day time where the flock is feeding and at night where the
flock is folded.
"In the matter of breeding it is the practice to line the bitch at the
beginning of spring, for then she is said to be in heat, that is to
say, to show a readiness for breeding. When they are lined at this
season they pup about the solstice, for they go three months. While
they are in pup they should be fed barley bread rather than wheat
bread, for it is more nourishing and makes more milk.
"In the matter of bringing up the puppies after birth: if there are
many in the litter you should choose those you wish to keep and
destroy the others: the fewer you keep the better they will be
nourished, for then their portion of the mother's milk will be larger.
"Chaff or some thing else of that sort should be spread under them,
because the better they are bedded the more easily they are brought
up. Puppies open their eyes twenty days after birth. During the
first two months they are not separated from their mother, but wean
themselves gradually. A number of puppies should be kenneled together,
where they may be encouraged to fight, which will make them fiercer,
but they should never be suffered to tire themselves since weariness
develops cowardice. They should also be accustomed to be tied, at
first with a light leash, and if they attempt to gnaw it they should
be punished by whipping, so that they may not get the habit. On rainy
days their kennels should be bedded with leaves or grass, for two
reasons: that they may not soil themselves or suffer from cold. Some
castrate their puppies thinking them less likely to leave the flock,
but others do not, thinking that the operation makes them less fierce.
Some rub their ears and between their toes with a suffusion of bitter
almonds steeped in water because flies, ticks and fleas usually
develop sores in those parts, unless it is your practice to so anoint
them. To protect them from wounds from wild beasts we place collars on
them, of the kind which we call _melium_, which is a girth around the
neck made from strong leather studded with nails and lined with soft
leather to protect the neck from being chafed by the hard iron heads
of the nails: for if a wolf or other wild beast is once wounded by
these nails all the other dogs are safe from his attack, even if they
have no collars.
"The number of dogs to be kept is determined by the size of the flock,
usually one dog for every shepherd is considered enough, but the
practice varies. Thus there should be more in localities where wild
beasts are plentiful, and those increase the number also who are wont
to drive their flocks over the long forest drift ways to their summer
or their winter feeding grounds.
"But two dogs are enough for a flock kept on a farm: in which case
they should be male and female, for they are more attached and, by
emulation, fiercer, and if one is sick for a protracted time the flock
will not be without a dog."
Here Atticus looked around as if to enquire whether he had omitted any
"This is the silence," said I, "which summons another player on the
X. "The rest of this act," I added, "relates to how many and what kind
of shepherds are necessary."
Cossinius took the cue. "For large cattle," he said, "men of full age
are required; for small cattle boys will do: but in either case those
who drive their flocks and herds on the drift ways must be stouter
than those who remain on the farm and return to the steading every
"So in the wood pastures _(saltus)_ it behooves one to have young men
and usually armed men, while on the farm boys or even girls may tend
the flock. Those who use the distant feeding grounds should require
their shepherds to feed their flocks together all day, but at night
to remain each one with his own flock. They should all be under
the supervision of one flock master, who should be older and more
experienced than the others, because they will obey more cheerfully
one who surpasses them in age and knowledge; and yet the flock master
should be of such years that he may not be prevented by age from hard
work: for neither old men nor boys can endure the steeps of the drift
ways, nor the ardours and roughness of the mountains, which must be
suffered by those who follow flocks, especially cattle and goats, to
whom the rocks and the forests are pleasant grazing places.
"So far as concerns the conformation of the men chosen for these
occupations, they should be strong and swift and active, with ready
limbs not only able to follow the cattle but to defend them from the
incursions of wild beasts and of brigands: men who can load the packs
on the sumpter beasts: can run and throw a javelin.
"Every nation is not fit for tending cattle, especially the Basculi and
the Turduli [of Spain]. The Gauls are the best of all, particularly
for draught cattle.
"In the matter of the purchase of shepherds, there are six usual
methods of obtaining lawful title to a slave: (i) by inheritance, (2)
by due form of mancipation, which is delivery of possession by one
who has the legal right, (3) by the legal process called surrender in
court (_cessio in jure_) from one who has that right, the transfer
taking place where it should, (4) by prescriptive use (_usucapion_),
(5) by purchase of a prisoner of war "under the crown" (6) by auction
at the distribution of some one's property by order of court under the
process known as _bonorum emptio_.
"The _peculium_ or personal property of the slave usually passes with
him to a new master unless it is specially excepted in the terms of
sale: there is also the usual guaranty as to the health of the slave
and that he has committed no theft or tort for which his master is
legally responsible, and, unless the purchase is by mancipation, the
bargain is bound by an obligation of double indemnity, or in the
amount of the purchase price alone, if that is the agreement.
"The shepherds should take their meals separately during the day, each
one with his flock, but in the evening they should meet at a common
supper under the supervision of the flock master. It should be the
duty of the flock master to see that every thing is provided which may
be required by the flock or by the shepherds, chiefly the victuals
for the men and medicine for the flock: for which the master should
provide beasts of burden, either horses or some thing else which can
carry a load on its back.
"As to what relates to the breeding of shepherds, it is easy, so far as
concerns those who remain on the farm all the time because they can
have a fellow servant to wife at the farmstead, for Venus Pastoralis
demands no more. Some hold that it is expedient also to furnish
women for those who pasture the flocks in the Saltus and the
forests and have no residence but find their shelter from the rain
under improvised sheds: that such women following the flocks and
preparing the food for the shepherds keep the men better satisfied and
more devoted to their duty. But they must needs be strong though not
deformed, and not less capable of work then the men themselves, as
they are in many localities and as may be seen throughout Illyricum,
where the women feed the flocks or carry in wood for the fire and cook
the food, or keep watch over the household utensils in their cottages.
"As to the method of raising their children, it suffices to say that
the shepherd women are usually both mothers and nurses at the same
At this Cossinius looked at me and said: "I have heard you relate
that, when you were in Liburnia, you saw women big with child bringing
in fire wood and at the same time carrying a nursing child, or even
two of them, thus putting to shame those slender reeds, the women of
our class, who are wont to lie abed under mosquito bars for days at a
time when they are pregnant."
"That is true," I replied, "and the contrast is even more marked in
Illyricum, where it often happens that a pregnant woman whose time has
come will leave her work for a little while and return with a new born
child which you would think she had found rather than borne.
"Not only this, the custom of that country permits the girls as much as
twenty years of age, whom they call virgins, to go about unprotected
and to give themselves to whomever they wish and to have children
"As to what pertains to the health of man and beast," resumed
Cossinius, "and the leech craft which may be practised without the aid
of a physician, the flock master should have the rules written down:
indeed, the flock master must have some education, otherwise he can
never keep his flock accounts properly.
"As to the number of shepherds, some make a narrow, some a broad,
allowance. I have one shepherd for every eighty long wool sheep:
Atticus here has one for every hundred. One can reduce the number
of men required in respect of large flocks (like those containing
a thousand head or more) much more readily than in respect of
comparatively small flocks, like Atticus' and mine, for I have only
seven hundred head of sheep, and you, Atticus, have, I believe, eight
hundred, though we are alike in providing a ram for every ten ewes.
Two men are required to care for a herd of fifty mares: and each of
them should have a mare broken for riding to serve as a mount in those
localities where it is the custom to drive the mares to pasture, as
often happens in Apulia and Lucania."
_Of milk and cheese and wool_
XI. "And now that we have fulfilled our promise, let us go," said
"Not until you have added some thing," I cried, "concerning that
supplemental profit from cattle which was promised; namely, of milk
and cheese and the shearing of wool."
So Cossinius resumed:
"Ewes' milk, and, after it, goats' milk, is the most nourishing of all
liquids which we drink. As a purgative, mares' milk ranks first, and,
after it, in order, asses' milk, cows' milk and goats' milk, but
the quality depends upon what has been fed to the cattle, upon the
condition of the cattle, and upon when it is milked.
"So far as concerns the food of the cattle, milk is nourishing which
is made from barley and stover and other such kinds of dry and hard
"So far as concerns its purgative qualities, milk is good when made
from green stuff, especially if it is grass containing plants which,
taken by themselves, have a purgative effect upon the human body.
"So far as concerns the condition of the cattle, that milk is best
which comes from cattle in vigorous health and from those still young.
"So far as concerns the time of milking, that milk is best which comes
neither from a 'stripper' nor from a recently fresh dam.
"The cheese made of cows' milk is the most agreeable to the taste but
the most difficult to digest: next, that of ewes' milk, while the
least agreeable in taste, but the most easily digested, is that of
"There is also a distinction between cheese when it is soft and new
made and when it is dry and old, for when it is soft it is more
nourishing and digestible, but the opposite is true of old and dry
"The custom is to make cheese from the rising of the Pleiades in spring
to their rising in summer, and yet the rule is not invariable, because
of difference in locality and the supply of forage.
"The practice is to add a quantity of rennet, equal to the size of an
olive, to two _congii_ of milk to make it curdle. The rennet taken
from the stomachs of the hare and the kid is better than that from
lambs, but some use as a ferment the milk of the fig tree mixed with
vinegar, and some times sprinkled with other vegetable products.
In parts of Greece this is called [Greek: opos], elsewhere [Greek:
"I am prepared to believe," I said, "that the fig tree standing beside
the chapel of the goddess Rumina was planted by shepherds for the
purpose you mention, for there is it the practice to make libations of
milk rather than of wine or to sacrifice suckling pigs. For men used
to use the word _rumis_ or _ruma_ where we now say _mamma_, signifying
a teat: hence even now suckling lambs are called _subrumi_ from the
teat they suck, just as we call suckling pigs _lactantes_ from _lac_,
the milk that comes from the teat."
"If you sprinkle your cheese with salt it is better to use the mineral
than the marine kind.
"Concerning the shearing of sheep, the first thing to be looked into
before you begin is that the sheep are not suffering from scab or
sores, as it is better to wait, if necessary, until they are cured
"The time to shear is between the vernal equinox and the summer
solstice, when the sheep begin to sweat (it is the sweat which gives
new clipped wool its name _sucida_). As soon as the sheep are sheared
they are smeared with a mixture of wine and oil, some add white
wax and hogs' grease. If they are sheep which are kept blanketed, the
inside of the blanket should be anointed with this mixture before it
is put on again.
"If the sheep has suffered any wound during the shearing, it should be
treated with liquid tar.
"Long wool sheep are usually sheared about the time of the barley
harvest: in some places before the hay harvest.
"Some men shear their sheep twice a year, as in hither Spain, investing
double work because they think they get more wool, just as some men
mow their meadows twice a year. Careful shepherds are wont to shear on
a mat so as not to lose any of the wool. A clear day should be chosen
for the shearing and it is usually done between the fourth and the
tenth hours (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) since wool sheared in the hot sun is
softer, heavier and of better colour by reason of the sweat of the
sheep. Wool which has been collected and packed in bags is called
_vellera_ or _velamina_, words derived from _vellere_, to pull, whence
it may be concluded that the practice of pulling wool is older than
shearing. Those who pull the wool today make a practice of starving
their sheep for three days before, because when they are weak the wool
yields more readily."
"Speaking of shearing," I said, "it is reported that the first
barbers were brought into Italy from Sicily in the year 453 after the
foundation of Rome (B.C. 300) by P. Ticinius Menas, as appears from
the inscription in the public square of Ardea. The statues of the
ancients show that formerly there were no barbers because most of them
have long hair and a heavy beard."
"As the wool of the sheep serves to make clothes, so the hair of
goats is employed: on ships, in making military engines and certain
implements of industry. Certain nations, indeed, are clad in goat
skins, as in Gaetulia and Sardinia. Their use for this purpose by
the ancient Greeks is apparent, because old men in the tragedies are
called [Greek: diphtheriai], from the fact that they were clad in
goat skins: and it is the custom also in our comedies to dress rustic
characters in goat skins, like the youth in the _Hypobolimaeus_ (the
Counterfeit) of Caecilius, and the old man in the _Heautontimorumenos_
(the Self Tormentor) of Terence.
"It is the practice to shear goats in the greater part of Phrygia
because there the goats have heavy coats, of which cilicia (so called
because the practice of shearing goats began in the city of that name)
and other hair cloth materials of that kind are made."
With this Cossinius stopped, and, while he was waiting for criticism
of what he had said, Vitulus' freedman, coming into town from the
gardens [of his master] turned to us and said, "I was on my way to
your house to invite you to come early so as not to shorten the
And so, my dear Turranius Niger, we separated: Scrofa and I going to
the gardens of Vitulus; the others, some home and some to see Menas.
THE HUSBANDRY OF THE STEADING
_Introduction: the antiquity of country life_
There are two modes of human life, my dear Pinnius, which are
manifestly as different in the time of their origin as they are in
their habitat, that of the country and that of the town. Country life
is much the more ancient, for time was when men lived altogether in
the country and had no towns: indeed, the oldest town in Greece,
according to the tradition, is the Boeotian Thebes, which was founded
by King Ogyges, and in our own land that of Rome, founded by King
Romulus of which now it may be affirmed with confidence, as was not
possible when Ennius wrote:
"'Tis seven hundred years, or more or less,
Since first illustrious Rome began her sway,
With hallowed augury."
Now, if it is admitted that Thebes was founded before the deluge,
which is known by Ogyges' name, its age is not more than about
twenty-one hundred years: and if that period is compared with the
lapse of time since men began to cultivate the land and to live in
huts and hovels, knowing naught of city walls and gates, it is evident
that life in the country preceded life in town by a tale of immemorial
years. Nor is this to be wondered at since 'God made the country and
man made the town.' While the tradition is that all the arts were
invented in Greece within a thousand years, there never was a time
when the earth could not be cultivated. And, as life in the country
is the more ancient, so it is the better life: for it was not without
good reason that our ancestors were wont to plant colonies of citizens
in the country, because by them they were both fed in times of peace
and protected in times of war: nor was it without significance that
they called both the Earth and Ceres by the common name of Mother and
esteemed that those who worshipped her lead a life at once pious and
useful and were the sole representatives left on earth of the race of
Saturn. A proof of this is that the mysteries peculiar to the cult of
Ceres were called _Initia_, the very name indicating that they related
to the beginning of things.
A further proof that country life was earlier than that of town is
found in the name of the town of Thebes, which was bestowed from the
character of its situation rather than from the name of its founder:
for in the ancient language, and among the Aeolians who had their
origin in Boeotia, a small hill is called _tebas_ without the
aspirate; and in the Sabine country, where Pelasgians from Greece
settled, they still have the same locution: witness that hill called
Tebae which stands in the Sabine country on the via Salaria not far
from the mile stone of Reate. At first agriculture was conducted on so
small a scale that it had little distinction, since those who followed
it, being sprung from shepherds, at once sowed their corn and
pastured their flocks on the same land, but as later this art grew in
importance the husbandry of live stock was separated, and it befel
that some men were called farmers and others shepherds.
The art of feeding live stock should really be divided into two
branches, as is not yet fully appreciated, one relating to the stock
kept at the steading, the other to the stock pastured in the fields.
The latter, which is designated by the name _pecuaria_, is well known
and highly esteemed so that rich men, either lease or buy much
pasture land in order to carry it on: the other, which is known as
_villatice_, has, because it seemed to be of less importance, been
treated by some as an incident of the husbandry of agriculture, when
in fact it should be made a part of the husbandry of live stock: nor
has it been described separately and at length by any one, so far as I
And so, as I think that there are three branches of farm management
which are undertaken for profit, namely: agriculture, live stock and
the industries peculiar to the steading, I have planned three books,
of which I have already written two, the first concerning the
husbandry of agriculture, which I dedicated to my wife Fundania, and
the second concerning the husbandry of live stock to Turranius Niger:
the third, relating to the profits of those industries which are
carried on at the steading, I now send herewith to you; for the fact
that we are neighbours and entertain a mutual affection seems to
demand that it should be dedicated to you above all others.
Although you have a villa, which is remarkable for the beauty of its
workmanship within and without, and for the splendour of its mosaic
pavements, still you deem it to be bare unless you have the walls
decorated also with books: so in like manner that your villa may be
more distinguished by the profits you derive from it than by the
character of its construction, and that I may be of assistance to that
end, so far as may be, I have sent you this book, which is a summary
of some conversations which we have had on the subject of what makes
the perfectly equipped villa: and so I begin as follows:
_Of the definition of a Roman villa_
II. The Senator Q. Axius, my fellow tribesman, and I had cast our
votes at the comitia for the election of aediles, and, although it was
the heat of the day, we wished to be on hand when the candidate whom
we were supporting should go home. So Axius said to me: "What would
you think of taking shelter in the _villa publica_ while the votes
are being sorted rather than in the booth of our candidate." "I hold,"
said I, "not only with the proverb that bad advice is worst for him
who gives it, but that good advice is good for both the giver and the
And so we made our way to the _villa publica_, where we found Appius
Claudius, the Augur, seated on a bench waiting for any call for his
services by the Consul: on his left was Cornelius Merula (blackbird)
of the Consular family of that name, and Fircellius Pavo (pea-cock)
of Reate, and on his right Minutius Pica (mag-pie) and M. Petronius
Passer (sparrow). When we had approached them Axius, smiling, said to
Appius: "May we come into your aviary where you are sitting among the
"By all means," replied Appius, "and especially you who set before me
such birds as still make my mouth water, when I was your guest a few
days ago at your Reatine villa on my way to lake Velinus to settle the
controversy between the people of Interamna and Reate.
"But" he added, "is not this villa, which our ancestors constructed,
simpler and so better than that elaborate one of yours at Reate: do
you see any where here any furniture of citrus wood or ormolu, any
decorations of vermillion or blue, any tessellations or mosaic work,
all of which on the other hand were displayed in your house? And while
this is open to the entire people, yours is available to you alone:
this is the resort for the citizens after the comitia in the Campus
Martius, and for all alike, while yours is reserved for mares and
asses. And furthermore it should be considered that this building is
useful in carrying on the public business, for here the consuls review
the army on parade, here the arms are inspected, here the censors
enumerate the people."
"Tell me," retorted Axius, "which is useful, this villa of yours
giving on the Campus Martius, more extravagantly arrayed with objects
of art than all Reate put together, so bedizened is it with pictures
and garnished with statues, or mine where there is no trace of the
artists Lysippus or Antiphilus, but there are many of the farm hand
and the shepherd?
"And since there can be no villa where there is no farm and that well
cultivated, how can you call this house of yours a villa which has no
land appurtenant to it and no cattle or horses? Again, tell me, pray,
how does your villa compare with that of your grandfather and great
grandfather, for one cannot see at yours, as one could always see at
theirs, cured hay in the mows, the vintage in the cellar, and the
harvest in the granary? Because, forsooth, a house is situated out of
town, it is no more a villa for that reason than the houses of those
who dwell beyond the Porta Flumentaria or in the Aemiliana suburb."
"Since it appears that I do not know what a villa is," replied Appius,
smiling, "I wish you would be good enough to instruct me, so that I
may not make a fool of myself, as I am planning to buy from M. Seius
his villa at Ostia: for if a mere house is not a villa unless it is
equipped with a jackass costing forty thousand sesterces ($2,000),
like that you showed me at your place, I fear that I would be making
a mistake in buying Seius' house on the shore at Ostia in the belief
that it is a villa. But it was our friend Merula here who put me in
mind of buying this house, for he told me that he had spent several
days there and that he had never seen a more delightful villa, and yet
he saw there no paintings, nor any bronze or marble statues, neither
did he see any wine press, or oil mill, or oil jars."
"And what kind of a villa is this," said Axius, turning to Merula,
"where there are neither the ornaments of a town house nor the
utensils of a farm?"
"Do you consider," said Merula, "that your house on the bank of
Velinus, which neither painter nor architect has ever seen, is any
less a villa than the one you have in Rosea so elegantly decorated
with the work of an architect and which you share with your famous
Axius admitted, with a nod, that a simple farm house was as much
entitled to be called a villa as any house which united the
characteristics of both town and country, and asked what he deduced
"What?" said Merula. "Why, if your estate in Rosea is to be approved
by reason of the husbandry which you carry on, and is properly called
a villa because there cattle are fed and stabled, then, by the same
reasoning, all those houses should be called villas in which large
profits are derived from husbandry: for what difference does it make
whether you derive your profit from sheep or from birds? Is the income
any sweeter which comes from cattle in which bees are generated, than
from the bees themselves, such as work in their hives at the villa of
Seius? Do you sell to the butcher the hogs which you raise at your
farm for more than Seius sells his wild boars to the meat market?"
"Am I any less able," replied Axius, "to have these things at my farm
at Reate: is Sicilian honey made at Seius' place and only Corsican
honey at Reate, and does the mast which he buys for his wild boars
make them fat while that which I get for nothing from my woods makes
"But," said Appius, "Merula does not deny that you _can_ carry on at
your villa the kind of husbandry which Seius does at his, yet I myself
have seen that you don't.
"For there are two kinds of husbandry of live stock: one in the fields,
as of cattle; and the other at the steading, as of chickens and
pigeons and bees and other such things which are usually kept at a
"About the latter, Mago the Carthaginian, and Cassius Dionysius and
others have treated specially in different parts of their books, and
it would seem that Seius has read their precepts and so has learned
how to make more profit from his villa alone by such husbandry than
others make out of an entire farm."
"Certainly," agreed Merula, "for I have seen there great flocks of
geese, chickens, pigeons, cranes and pea-cocks: also dormice, fish,
wild boars and other such game. The freedman who keeps his books
which Varro has seen, assured me when he was doing the honours in the
absence of his master, that Seius derives an income of more than fifty
thousand sesterces ($2,500) per annum from his villa."
As Axius seemed astonished, I asked him: "Surely you know the estate
of my aunt in the Sabine country which is at the twenty-fourth mile
stone from Rome on the via Salaria."
"Of course, I do," Axius replied, "for it is there that I am wont to
divide the day in summer on my way from Reate to town and to spend the
night when I come thence in winter."
"Well," I continued, "in that villa there is an aviary from which
I know that there were taken in one season five thousand thrushes,
which, at three deniers apiece, means that that department of the
establishment brought in a revenue of sixty thousand sesterces that
year, or twice the yield of the entire two hundred jugera of your farm
"What, sixty thousand," exclaimed Axius, "sixty thousand: you are
making game of me!"
"Sixty thousand," I affirmed, "but in order that you might realize
such a lucky throw you will require either a public banquet or a
triumph on the scale of that of Scipio Metellus, or club dinners,
which indeed have now become so frequent as to raise the price of
provisions of the market."
"You will perchance expect this return every year," said Merula, "so I
trust that your aviary may not lead you into a loss. But surely in such
good times as these it could not happen that you would fail, except
rarely, for what year is there that does not see such a feast or a
triumph, or club dinners, such as now-a-days consume victuals without
number. Nay," he added, "it seems that in our habit of luxury such a
public banquet is a daily occurrence within the gates of Rome."
To supplement the examples of such profits: L. Albutius, a learned
man and, as you know, the author of certain satires in the manner of
Lucilius, has said that the returns from feeding live stock on his
Alban farm are always less than his income from his villa, for the
farm yields less than ten thousand sesterces and the villa more than
twenty. He even maintains that if he should establish a villa near
the sea in such a place as he might choose he could derive from it
an income of more than a hundred thousand sesterces. Did not M. Cato
recently sell forty thousand sesterces worth of fishes from the fish
ponds of Lucullus after he had accepted the administration of his
"My dear Merula," exclaimed Axius, "take me, I beg of you, as your
pupil in the art of the husbandry of the steading."
"I will begin," replied Merula, "as soon as you promise me a minerval
in the form of a dinner."
"You shall have it," said Axius, "both today, and hereafter as well,
off those delicacies you will teach me to rear."
"I fear," replied Merula, "that what you may offer me at the beginning
of your experience with villa feeding will be dead geese or deceased
"And what difference will it make to you," retorted Axius, "if I do
serve you fish or fowl which has come to an untimely end: for in no
event could you eat them unless they were dead: but I beg you," he
added, "matriculate me in the school of villa husbandry and expound to
me the theory and the practice of it."
Merula accepted the invitation cheerfully.
_Of the Roman development of the industries of the steading_
III. "In the first place," he said, "you should know what kind of
creatures you may raise or feed in or about a villa, either for your
profit or for your pleasure. There are three divisions for this study:
poultry houses, warrens and fish ponds.
"I include under the head of poultry houses the feeding of all kinds of
fowls which are usually kept within the walls of a steading: under the
head of warrens not merely what our great grandfathers meant--places
where rabbits were usually kept--but any enclosure adjoining a villa
in which game animals are enclosed to be fed. In like manner I include
under the head of fish ponds all those places in which fish are kept
at a villa either in fresh or salt water.
"Each of these divisions may be separated into at least two parts: thus
the first, that with respect to poultry houses, should be treated with
reference to a classification of fowls as between those which are
content on land alone, such as pea-cocks, turtle doves, thrushes; and
those which require access to water as well as land, such as geese,
widgeons and ducks. So the second division, that relating to game, has
two different classifications: one which includes the wild boar, the
roe buck and hares; the other bees, snails and dormice.
"The third, or aquatic division, likewise has two classifications, one
including fresh water fish, the other salt water fish.
"In order to secure and maintain a supply of these six classes of stock
it is necessary to provide a force of three kinds of artificers,
namely: fowlers, hunters and fishermen, or else you may buy breeding
stock from such men, and trust to the diligence of your servants to
rear and fatten their offspring until they are ready for market.
Certain of them, such as dormice, snails and chickens, may, however,
be obtained without the aid of a hunter's net, and doubtless the
business of keeping them began with the stock native to every farm:
for the breeding even of chickens has not been a monopoly of the Roman
augurs, to make provision for their auspices, but has been practised
by all farmers from the beginning of time. From such a start in the
kind of husbandry we are now discussing, the next step was to provide
masonry enclosures near the steading to confine game, and these served
as well for shelter for the bee-stand, for originally the bees were
wont to make their hives under the eaves of the farm house itself.
"The third division, that of keeping fish, had its origin in simple
fresh water ponds in which fish taken in the streams were kept.
"There have been two steps in the development of each of these three
conveniences; the earlier distinguished by the ancient simplicity,
the later by our modern luxury. The earlier stage was that of our
ancestors, who had but two places for keeping poultry: one the court
yard of the steading in which chickens were fed and their profit
derived from eggs and pullets, the other above ground, for their
pigeons were kept in the dormers or on the roof of the farm house.
"Now-a-days, on the contrary, what our ancestors called hen-houses are
known as _ornithones_, and serve to house thrushes and pea-cocks
to cater to the delicate appetite of the master: and indeed such
structures now have larger roofs than formerly sufficed to cover an
entire farm house.
"Such has been the progress in respect of warrens also: your father,
Axius, never saw any game but rabbits, nor did there exist in his time
any such extensive enclosures as now are made, many jugera in extent,
to hold wild boars and roe bucks. You can witness," he said, turning
to me, "that you found many wild boars in the warren of your farm at
Tusculum, when you bought it from M. Piso."
In respect of the third class, who was there who used to have any kind
of a fish pond, except of fresh water, stocked merely with cat fish
and mullets, while today our elegants declare that they would as soon
have a pond stocked with frogs as with those fish I have named. You
will recall the story of Philippus when he was entertained at Casinum
by Ummidius: a pickerel caught in your river, Varro, was put before
him, he tasted it and forthwith spat it out, exclaiming "May I perish,
but I thought it was fish!"
As the luxury of this age has enlarged our warrens, so has it carried
our fish ponds even to the sea itself and has herded shoals of sea
fish into them. Have not Sergius Orata (goldfish) and Licinius Murena
(lamprey) taken their cognomens from fishes for this reason? And who
does not know the fame of the fish ponds of Philippus, of Hortensius,
and of the brothers Lucullus?
"Where, then, Axius, do you wish me to begin?"
IV. "I prefer," replied Axius, "that you should begin with the
sequel--_postprincipia_, as they say in the camps--that is, with
the present day rather than with the past, because the profits from
pea-cocks are greater than those from hens, I will not dissemble that
I wish to hear first of _ornithones_ because the thrushes which are
kept in them make the very name sound like money: indeed, the 60,000
sesterces of Fircelina have consumed me with avarice."
"There are two kinds of _ornithones_," replied Merula; "one for
pleasure, like that so much admired which our friend Varro here has at
his villa near Casinum: the other for profit, such as are maintained
commercially, some even indoors in town, but chiefly in the Sabine
country which abounds in thrushes. There is a third kind, consisting
of a combination of the two I have mentioned, such as Lucullus
maintained at his Tusculan villa, where he contrived a dining room
under the same roof as his aviary to the end that he might feast
delicately, satisfying two senses, now by eating the birds cooked and
spread on a platter, now by seeing them flying about the windows: but
the truth is that he was disappointed, for the eyes did not take as
much pleasure from the sight of the flying birds as the nostrils were
offended by their odour."
_a. For profit_
V. "But, as I gather you would prefer, Axius, I will speak of that kind
of _ornithon_ which is established for profit, whence, but not where,
fat thrushes are served.
"For this purpose is built a dome, in the form of a peristyle, with
a roof over it and enclosed with netting, sufficiently large to
accommodate several thousand thrushes and blackbirds; indeed, some
also include other kinds of birds, such as ortolans and quail, which
sell for a good price when fat. Into this enclosure water should be
conducted through a conduit and so disposed as to wind through the
aviary in channels narrow enough to be cleaned easily (for if the
water spreads out it is quickly polluted and rendered unfit to drink)
and draining like a running stream to find its vent through another
conduit, so that the birds may not be exposed to the risk of mud. The
door should be low and narrow and well balanced on its hinges like
the doors they have in the amphitheatres where bulls are fought: few
windows and so placed that the birds cannot see trees and wild birds
without, for that makes the prisoners pine and grow thin. The place
should have only so much light as may be necessary to enable the birds
to see where they are to perch and to eat and drink. The doors and the
windows should be lightly stuccoed round about to keep out rats and
other such vermin.
"Around the wall of the building on the inside are fastened many
perches where the birds can sit, and another such convenience should
be contrived from poles set on the ground and leaning against the
walls and tied together with other poles fastened transversely at
regular intervals, thus giving the appearance of the rising degrees of
a theatre. Down on the ground near the drinking water you should place
the birds' food, which usually consists of little balls of a paste
made out of figs and corn meal: but for twenty days before you intend
to market your thrushes it is customary to feed them more heavily,
both by giving them more food and that chiefly of finer meal.
"In this enclosure there should also be cages with wooden floors which
may serve the birds as resting places supplementing the perches.
"Next to the aviary should be contrived a smaller structure, called the
_seclusorium_, in which the keeper may array the birds found dead, to
render an account of them to his master, and where he may drive the
birds which are ready for market from the larger aviary: and to this
end this smaller room is connected with the main cage by a large door
and has more light: and there, when he has collected the number he
wishes to market, the keeper kills them, which is done secretly, lest
the others might despond at the sight and themselves die before they
are ready for market.
"Thrushes are not like other birds of passage which lay their eggs in
particular places, as the swan does in the fields and the swallows
under the roof, but they lay anywhere: for, despite their masculine
name (_turdus_) there are female thrushes, just as there are male
blackbirds, although they have a purely feminine name (_merula_).
"All birds are divided as between those which are of passage, like
swallows and cranes, and those which are domestic, like chickens and
pigeons: thrushes are birds of passage and every year fly from across
the sea into Italy about the time of the autumn equinox, returning
about the spring equinox. At another season doves and quail do the
same in immense numbers, as may be seen in the neighbouring islands of
Pontia, Palmaria and Pandataria, for there they are wont to rest a few
days on their arrival and again before they set out across the sea
_b. For pleasure_
"So," said Appius to Axius, "if you enclose five thousand thrushes
in such an aviary as Merula has described and there happens to be a
banquet or a triumph, you will gain forthwith that sixty thousand
sesterces which you so keenly covet and be able to lend the money out
at good interest." And then, turning to me, he added, "Do you tell us
of that other kind of ornithon, namely: for pleasure merely, for it is
said that you have constructed one near Casinum which surpasses not
only the original built by the inventor of such flying cages, our
friend M. Laenius Strabo of Brundisium (who was the first to keep
birds confined in the chamber of a peristyle and to feed them through
the net), but also the vast structures of Lucullus at Tusculum."
"You know," I said, "that there flows through my estate near
Casinum a stream which is both deep and clear and fifty-seven feet
wide between the masonry embankments, so that it is necessary to use
bridges to get from one part of the property to the other. On the
upper reach of this stream is situated my Museum and at a distance
of 950 feet below is an island formed by the confluence of another
stream. Along the bank for this distance is an uncovered walk ten feet
broad and between this walk and the field is the location of my aviary
enclosed on both sides, right and left, with high masonry walls. The
_ornithon_ itself is built in the shape of a writing tablet with a
capital on it, the main quadrangle being forty-eight feet wide and
seventy-two feet long, the capital semi-circular with a radius of
twenty-seven feet. To this a covered walk or portico is joined, as
it were across the bottom of the page of the tablet, with passages
leading on either side of the _ornithon_ proper which contains the
cages, to the upper end of the interior quadrangle [_adjoining the
capital_]. This portico is constructed of a series of stone columns
between which and the main outside walls are planted dwarf shrubs,
a net of hemp being stretched from the top of the walls to the
architrave of the portico, and thence down to the stylobate or floor.
The exterior spaces thus enclosed are filled with all kinds of birds
which are fed through the net, water being provided by a small running
stream. On the interior sides of the porticos, and adjoining them at
the upper end of the interior quadrangle, are constructed on both
sides two narrow oblong basins. Between these basins a path leads
to the _tholus_, or rotunda, which is surrounded with two rows of
columns, like that in the house of Catulus, except that I have
substituted columns for walls. Beyond these columns at the end is
a grove of large transplanted trees forming a roof of leaves, but
admitting light underneath, as that is entirely cut off by the high
walls on the sides. Between the exterior row of columns of the
_tholus_, which are of stone, and the interior row, which are of pine,
there is a narrow space, five feet in width. The exterior columns are
filled in with a transparent net instead of walls, thus permitting the
birds to look out upon the grove and the wild birds there but without
escaping: the interior columns being filled in with the net of the
main aviary. The space between the two rows of columns thus enclosed
is equipped with perches for the birds in the form of many rods let
into all the columns in ascending array like the degrees of a theatre;
and here are enclosed all kinds of birds, but chiefly singing birds,
like nightingales and blackbirds, for whom water is conducted by means
of a small canal and food is supplied under the net. [_Under the
lantern of the tholus is a basin of water: and around this_] a foot
and nine inches below the stylobate or pedestal of the interior row
of columns, runs a stone platform. This is five feet in width and two
feet above the level of the basin, thus affording a space on which
my bird guests may hop about from the cushions to the little columns
[_which are there provided for them_].
"The basin is immediately surrounded with a quay a foot in width
adjoining [but below the level of] the platform and has a little
island in the middle. Around the platform and the quay are contrived
docks for ducks. On the island is a little column arranged to turn
on its axis and carrying a wheel-shaped table with hollow drum-like
dishes fashioned at the ends of the spokes two and a half feet wide
and a palm in depth. This is turned by a boy whose business that is,
so that meat and drink is put before all my bird guests in turn. From
the elevation of the platform, where mats are usually placed, the
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