For other uses, see Columella (disambiguation).
Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella

Portrait of Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella from Jean de Tournes, Insignium aliquot virorum icones, Lyon, 1559
Born 4 AD
Gades, Hispania Baetica
Died c. 70 AD
Citizenship Roman
Notable works Res rustica
Statue of Columella, holding a sickle and an ox-yoke, in the Plaza de las Flores, Cádiz

Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (/ˌkɒljəˈmɛlə/; 4 – c. 70 AD) is the most important writer on agriculture of the Roman empire. Little is known of his life. He was probably born in Gades, Hispania Baetica (modern Cádiz), possibly of Roman parents. After a career in the army (he was tribune in Syria in 35), he took up farming. His Res rustica in twelve volumes has been completely preserved and forms an important source on Roman agriculture, together with the works of Cato the Elder and Varro, both of which he occasionally cites. A smaller book on trees, De arboribus, is usually attributed to him.

Columella used many sources no longer extant, to which he is one of the few references; these include Aulus Cornelius Celsus, the Carthaginian writer Mago, Tremellius Scrofa, and many Greek sources. His uncle Marcus Columella, "a clever man and an exceptional farmer" (VII.2.30), had conducted experiments in sheep breeding, crossing colourful wild rams, introduced from Africa for gladiatorial games, with domestic sheep,[1] and may have influenced his nephew's interests. Columella owned farms in Italy; he refers specifically to estates at Ardea, Carseoli, and Alba,[2] and speaks repeatedly of his own practical experience in agriculture.

Previously known only in fragments, the complete treatise of Columella was among those discovered in monastery libraries in Switzerland and France by Poggio Bracciolini and his assistant Bartolomeo di Montepulciano during the Council of Constance, between 1414 and 1418.[3]

In 1794 the Spanish botanists Jose Antonio Pavón y Jimenez and Hipólito Ruiz López named a genus of Peruvian asterid Columellia in his honour.[4]

Res rustica

The book is presented as advice to a certain Publius Silvinus.

Structure of Res rustica ("Agriculture"):

Book 10 is written entirely in dactylic hexameter verse, in imitation of, or homage to, Virgil. It may initially have been intended to be the concluding volume, books 11 and 12 being perhaps an addition to the original scheme.[5]

A complete but anonymous translation into English was published by Millar in 1745.[6] Excerpts had previously been translated by Bradley.[7]

De arboribus

The short work De arboribus, "On Trees", is in manuscripts and early editions of Columella placed as book 3 of Res rustica.[8] However it is clear from the opening sentences that it is part of a separate (and earlier?) work. As the anonymous translator of the Millar edition notes (p. 571), there is in De arboribus no mention of the Publius Silvinus to whom the Res rustica is addressed.[6] A recent critical edition of the Latin text of the Res Rustica of Columella includes it, but as incerti auctoris, by an unknown hand.[9] Cassiodorus mentions sixteen books of Columella, which has led to the suggestion that De arboribus formed part of a work in four volumes.[8]

Principal early editions

The earliest editions of Columella group his works with those on agriculture of Marcus Priscus Cato, Marcus Terentius Varro and Palladius Rutilius Tullius Aemilianus. Some modern library catalogues follow Brunet in listing these under "Rei rusticae scriptores" or "Scriptores rei rusticae".[10]

See also


  1. Diderot, Denis, Jean Le Rond d' Alembert (eds.) (1765). Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers ... Neufchatel: S. Faulche. p. 179, vol. 9 JU–MAM. Retrieved June 2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  2. "De re rustica (English translation) III.9.2". Loeb Classical Library edition, 1941. Retrieved June 2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  3. Shepherd, William (1802). The life of Poggio Bracciolini. London, Liverpool: T. Cadell, Jun., & W. Davies. pp. iv, 487.
  4. Michaud, Joseph Fr., Eugène Ernest Desplaces, Louis Gabriel Michaud (1854). Biographie universelle (Michaud) ancienne et moderne ... (in French). Madame C. Desplaces. p. 668, vol. 8. Retrieved June 2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  5. Kenney, E.J. (ed); W.V. Clausen (1982). The Cambridge history of classical literature, vol. 2: Latin literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 973. ISBN 0-521-21043-7.
  6. 1 2 Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (1745). L. Junius Moderatus Columella of Husbandry, in Twelve Books: and his book, concerning Trees. Translated into English, with illustrations from Pliny, Cato, Varro, Palladius and other ancient and modern authors. London: A. Millar. pp. xiv, 600.
  7. Bradley, Richard (1725). A Survey of the Ancient Husbandry and Gardening collected from Cato, Varro, Columella, Virgil, and others, the most eminent writers among the Greeks & Romans: wherein many of the most difficult passages in those authors are explain'd ... Adorn'd with cuts, etc. London: B. Motte. p. 373.
  8. 1 2 Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1837). Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. C. Knight. p. 380, volumes 7–8. Retrieved June 2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  9. Rodgers, R.H. (ed.) (2010). L. Iuni Moderati Columellae Res rustica. Incerti auctoris Liber de arboribus (in Latin). Oxonii [Oxford, England]: E Typographeo Clarendoniano. ISBN 978-0-19-927154-2. Retrieved June 2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  10. Brunet, Jacques-Charles (1843). Manuel du libraire et de l'amateur de livres, vol 4., R–Z (in French) (4th ed.). Paris: Silvestre. p. 238. Retrieved May 2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. Orsini, Fulvio (1587). Notae ad M. Catonem, M. Varronem, L. Columellam de re rustica. Ad kalend. rusticum Farnesianum & veteres inscriptiones Fratrum Arvalium. Iunius Philargyrius in Bucolica & Georgica Virgilij. Notae ad Servium in Bucol. Georg. & Aeneid. Virg. Velius Longus de orthographia : ex bibliotheca Fulvi Ursini (full text online, two copies). Romae: in aedib. S.P.Q.R.: apud Georgium Ferrarium.

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