Cato the Censor (Elder): On Agriculture (d. 149 BC)

On where to sow your crops you should work to these rules. A fat and fertile ground, with no trees, can be a wheat field. One that tends to be cloudy  should be sown with rape, radish, broomcorn millet, foxtail millet. In rich and hot ground grow pickling olives: choose from radius maior, Sallentina, orcites, posea, Sergiana, Colminiana, albiceres whichever people say does best in your district. Plant this type of olive 25 or 30 feet apart. For an olive plantation the ground must face the Favonius and be sunny: no other will suit, but the Liciniana olive can be planted in a rather cooler and leaner soil. If you plant this last variety in a fat or hot ground the crop will be good for nothing, the tree will exhaust itself in cropping and will be plagued with red moss.

By field margins and roadways plant elms and some poplars, so that you have the boughs for sheep and oxen and wood to hand when you need it.  Where these are river banks, or in waterlogged soil, you can plant poplar stands and reed beds. These are planted as follows: turn over with a spade,  plant reed rhizomes three feet apart. Plant wild asparagus crowns there too: reeds and asparagus go together in the digging, in the burning and because  one shades the other meanwhile. Plant Greek willows around the reed bed, then you will have something to tie the vines to the reeds with! . . .

In a property close to the City orchard planting is especially useful: timber and sticks can be marketed, and are there for the owner’s use too. . . .

Fruit: both strutea and cotonea quinces; Scantiana, Quiriniana and other apples for conserving; mustea quinces; pomegranates, pig’s urine or pig’s dung to be put to the roots to feed the fruit; pears, volaema, Aniciana sementiva, which are good for preserving in must, Tarentina, mustea, cucurbitiva and others; plant or graft as many as you can fit in;orchites and posia olives, which are best preserved, young, in brine, or crushed with mastic. Orchites, black and dried, can alternatively be kept in salt for five days, then, the salt discarded, placed in the sun for two days; or preserved in grape syrup without salt. . .

Marisca figs to be planted on a clayey, open ground. Africanae, Herculaneae, Sacontinae, hibernae, black tellanae with long pedicles, to be planted on a rather fat or well-manured ground.

Let the grass grow long, irrigated if possible, dry if not, for your supply of hay.

Close to the City be sure to grow all kinds of vegetables; all kinds of flowers for wreaths; grape-hyacinths; myrtles, coniugulum, white and black;

Delphic, Cypriot and forest bay; walnuts, filberts, hazelnuts, almonds. A market garden, especially if it is all that one has, must be planted for maximum


In well-watered, damp, shady places, near streams, willows can be planted: make sure that they are productive, whether for the owner’s use or for sale. By all means have an irrigated hayfield if you have water; if not, grow as much hay dry as you can. . . .

Autumn Sowing; More Notes on Where to Plant

I return to sowing. Sow first in the coldest, wettest field. The last sowing should be made in the hottest field. Avoid working carious land.

Red earth, grey earth, ground that is heavy, stony, sandy, and also that is not watery: lupins will do well there.

In chalk and mud and red earth and in watery ground, it is best to sow emmer.

Fields that are dry and not weedy, open and not shaded: sow durum wheat there.

Sow beans in fields that are strong and not prone to fail.

Sow vetch and fenugreek in your least weedy fields.

You should sow bread wheat and durum wheat in open, high fields where the sun shines longest.

Sow lentil in stony ground or red earth that is not weedy.

Sow barley in a newly cleared field or in one that can be sown every year.

You should sow three-month wheat in a field that you were unable to sow early, or a field that is fat enough to be sown every year.

Sow turnip, field rape and radish in a well-manured field or a fat field.

Memoranda on Crops and Manuring

Manure for crops:

You can spread pigeon dung on pasture, garden or arable field.

Store goat, sheep, ox and all other dung carefully.

Spread amurca, or water trees with it: around larger heads, dose 1 amphora; smaller, 1 urna; add half of water. Trench beforehand, but not deeply.

Bad for crops:

To dig carious ground.

Chickpea is bad, because it is pulled up, and because it is salty.

Barley, fenugreek, bitter vetch, all suck the field dry; so do all crops that are pulled up.

Do not put olive stones to the crop.

Legumes that feed cereals:

Lupin, beans, vetch.

Sources of manure:

Straw, lupin, chaff, beanstalks, pods, holm-oak and oak foliage.

In Winter

Pull out danewort, hemlock, from the crop, and herba alta and sedge from the willow bed. Lay this stinking foliage as litter for sheep and oxen.

Sieve the debris from the olive stones, put in a tank, add water, turn over well with a shovel. Use this mixture to manure trenched olives; also use burnt olive stones.

If a vineyard is poor, chop up its shoots and plough them or dig them in at the spot.


Questions: Why do you think Cato's advice to farmers was often followed? Do you see any patterns in his recommendations?