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Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

The seminar text for my Roman History course over the last fortnight has been the opening of the third book of Varro’s Rerum Rusticarum, the convoluted argument about the nature of the ‘true’ villa and the disputed legitimacy of pastio villatica. It’s a great passage for opening up questions about the nature of the work – the unexpected use of dialogue in a supposedly practical handbook of agriculture, as a means of raising problematic ethical and political questions (ancient sock puppets!) without necessarily trying to resolve them – and about how Roman aristocrats thought about the world at the end of the first century BCE; in particular, how one negotiates tensions between inherited values (the ‘farmers are the best citizens and soldiers’ ideology offered by e.g. Cato, harking back to exemplary early Romans like Cincinnatus) and the realities of a globalised economy in which money pervades every area of society and politics. Pastio villatica – the raising of bees, birds, snails, dormice, game etc. in the vicinity of the villa – is good insofar as it’s productive (rather than the purely consumptive villas where the wealthy relax and show off their wealth), but it’s bad insofar as it’s intimately bound to the development of luxurious tastes in the city, founded on the corrupting influx of wealth from the acquisition of empire – and hence involves precisely the sort of risky pursuit of profit that Cato had condemned in merchants and money-lenders. (more…)

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Discussions of the relationship between London and the rest of the UK (as in John Harris’ Grauniad article this morning) always take me back to my doctoral research. A couple of years into the project – good grief, have twenty years passed since then? – it slowly dawned on me how far far my study of the impact of ancient Rome on the rest of Italy was clearly being shaped by the experience of growing up in a small town in the shadow of London, having most of the life sucked out of it by the metropolis. The thesis eventually offered a slightly more subtle and nuanced account of the different facets of the impact of Rome on its hinterland (or, as I would be inclined to put it today, the ways in which the Italian countryside was transformed by the same processes of economic and social change that were driving the expansion of Rome), not least because the prevailing theoretical discourse of wonderfully dynamic and progressive Producer Cities versus nasty parasitical Consumer Cities was so absurdly simplistic – but underlying it all was still my basic loathing of Surrey and my sense that this was pretty well all bound up with the looming presence of London. (more…)

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