Agriculture, the art of cultivating the ground, and of obtaining from it the products necessary for the support of animal life. The change from a state of nature, in which the human race must have first lived, to the pastoral, or to any higher mode of living, must have been gradual, the work perhaps of ages. The race was doomed to toil, and necessity soon sharpened the power of invention. In the course of time, during which man multiplied and wandered about from place to place, the countries watered by the Euphrates, the Tigris, and the Kile were found to be most productive, and the dwellers in their valleys engaged in tilling the soil; while the dwellers in the hilly countries of Syria and the lands east of the Mediterranean, which were better adapted to grazing, became the owners of flocks and cattle. The chief riches of the early Jewish patriarchs consisted of cattle and fruits. Chaldea and Egypt, from the remotest recorded times, were noted as the lands of corn. The fertility of the valley of the Nile, a strip of country from 7 to 8 miles in width, gradually sloping down to the river, and extending from 400 to 500 miles, is well known.
It was overflowed from about the beginning of August to the end of October, and the subsiding waters left the richest possible top-dressing of slime and mud. Then the cultivator had only to cast the seed, turn on a herd of swine to tread it in, and await the harvest. The agriculture of a people must be influenced by the climate and natural features of the country. Its progress must also depend in a great degree on the density of the population. The processes employed must have been extremely simple at first,being confined without doubt to merely preparing the ground for seed, without any attempt to stimulate its productiveness. So far as we know, Egypt, Chaldea, and China were among the first nations which extended the limits of agricultural practice in ancient times. In these countries, probably, animal power was first applied to agriculture; and among the hieroglyphics on the ancient tombs of Egypt is found the representation of an implement resembling a pick, which was used as a plough. From Egypt a knowledge of agriculture extended to Greece, and we find it in a tolerably flourishing state 1,000 years before Christ, if we may believe the testimony of He-siod, who describes a plough consisting of a beam, a share, and handles.
We may infer that the early settlers of Sparta possessed a knowledge of draining, since the site of the city was surrounded by swamps and marshes, and must have been well drained before it could be made even habitable. In Greece the art of farming gradually advanced, until in the days of her glory it may be said to have attained in some provinces a high degree of perfection. The Greeks had fine breeds of cattle, horses, sheep, and swine; many of the implements of husbandry in use among them were not very unlike in principle those of modern construction; and extensive importations were made from foreign countries of sheep, swine, and poultry, for the purpose of improving the stock. The use and value of manures were known also. The Greek farmers composted with skill, and saved the materials for the compost with care. The importance of a thorough tillage was well understood by them; they ploughed three times with mules and oxen, and sometimes sub-soiled, and often mixed different soils, as sand and clay; they cultivated the apple, pear, cherry, plum, quince, peach, nectarine, and other varieties, together with figs, lemons, and many other fruits suited to the climate.
The names of several of their agricultural writers have come down to us, though the works of only a few of them are extant, and of these the treatise of Xenophon is the most valuable. But, in comparison with many other countries, Greece was not well fitted for tillage. Agriculture was not a source of pride with the Greeks, as it afterward became with the Romans. One cause of this was the fact that the land was tilled mainly by a subdued and menial race, the dominant race cultivating other arts, and caring more for building up their cities than for cultivating the soil. On the contrary, a high appreciation of agriculture seems to have been a fundamental idea among the early Romans. A tract of land was allotted to every citizen by the state itself, and each one was carefully restricted to the quantity granted. It was said by the orator Curius, that "he was not to be counted a good citizen, but rather a dangerous man to the state, who could not content himself with seven acres of land." The Roman acre being about one third less than ours, the law actually limited the possession to about five acres.
This, however, was only in the early days of Rome, and afterward, as the nation became more powerful, and extended its limits by conquest, the citizen was allowed to hold 50 acres, and still later he could be the holder of 500. The limitation of the freehold in the earlier history of the nation, in connection with the old Roman love of agriculture, led to a careful and exact mode of culture, probably with the spade, and hence large and abundant crops were obtained. No greater praise could be bestowed upon an ancient Roman than to give him the name of a good husbandman. Cincinnatus was called from the plough to fight the battles of his country, and Cato the censor, distinguished as an orator, a general, and a statesman, is most loudly commended for having written a book on farming. The Roman senate ordered the 28 books of Mago, the most voluminous writer on agriculture in Carthage, to be translated into Latin for the use of the Roman people. Rome had in later times, including a century previous to the Christian era, an agricultural literature unsurpassed by that of any other country, ancient or modern, with the exception perhaps of Germany, France, and England of the present day.
The works of her best writers, or such of them at least as have been transmitted to us, abound in sound maxims. "Our ancestors," says Cato, "regarded it as a grand point of husbandry not to have too much land in one farm, for they considered that more profit came by holding little and tilling it well." And Virgil says: " The farmer may praise large estates, but let him cultivate a small one." Speaking of the planting of trees as a means of protecting fields from high winds and storms, Pliny says: "Men should plant while young, and not build till their fields are planted; and even then they should take time to consider, and not be in too great haste. It is best, as the proverb says, to profit by the folly of others." The Roman farmers also paid much attention to the breeding of stock. Columella mentions the points of a good milch cow to be "a tall make, long, with very large belly, very broad head, eyes black and open, horns graceful, smooth, and black, ears hairy, jaws straight, dewlap and tail very large, hoofs and legs moderate." The same writer prescribes a curious treatment of working oxen, as follows: "After oxen get through ploughing, and come home heated and tired, they must have a little wine poured down their throats, and, after being fed a little, be led out to drink; and if they will not drink, the boy must whistle to make them." The Roman agriculturists whose works have come down to us are Cato, Varro, Virgil, Columella, Pliny, and Palladius. But there were obstacles in the nature and constitution of Roman society which made it impossible for the agriculture of Rome to reach a very high development.