Related Sites & images
Piero de’ Crescenzi and the Medieval Villa
15th-century French illuminated manuscript of Piero de’ Crescenzi’s Liber ruralium commodorum
15th-century German printed book of Piero de’ Crescenzi’s Liber ruralium commodorum
16th-century Italian printed edition of Piero de’ Crescenzi’s Liber ruralium commodorum
Pliny, Letters on the Tuscan Villa
Varro, On Agriculture
Crescenzi, Liber ruralium commodorum
Important! Some links on this page will launch a pop window. To view the images you must adjust your browser settings to allow pop windows for the following url: lunaimaging.com. For more instructions, click here.
Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella, On Agriculture (First Century BCE)
I am of the opinion, therefore, that land should be purchased nearby, so that the owner may visit it often and announce that his visits will be more frequent than he really intends them to be; for under this apprehension both overseer and labourers will be at their duties. But whenever the chance offers, he should stay in the country; and his stay should not be an idle one nor one spent in the shade. For it behooves a careful householder to go around every little bit of his land quite frequently and at every season of the year, that he may the more intelligently observe the nature of the soil, whether in foliage and grass or in ripened crops, and that he may not be ignorant of what may properly be done on it. For it is an old saying of Cato that land is most grievously maltreated when its master does not direct what is to be done thereon but listens to his overseer. Therefore, let it be the chief concern of one who owns a farm inherited from his ancestors, or of one who intends to buy a place, to know what kind of ground is most approved, so that he may either be rid of one that is unprofitable or purchase one that is to be commended. But if fortune attends our prayer, we shall have a farm in a healthful climate, with fertile soil, partly level, partly hills with a gentle eastern or southern slope; with some parts of the land cultivated, and other parts wooded and rough; not far from the sea or a navigable stream, by which its products may be carried off and supplies brought in. The level ground, divided into meadows, arable land, willow groves, and reed thickets, should be adjacent to the steading. Let some of the hills be bare of trees, to serve for grain crops only; still these crops thrive better in moderately dry and fertile plains than in steep places, and for that reason even the higher grainfields should have some level sections and should be of as gentle a slope as possible and very much like flat land. Again, other hills should be clad with olive groves and vineyards, and with copses to supply props for the latter; they should be able to furnish wood and stone, if the need of building so requires, as well as grazing found for herds; and then they should send down coursing rivulets into meadows, gardens, and willow plantations, and running water for the villa. And let there be no lack of herds of cattle and of other four-footed kind to graze over the tilled land and the thickets. But such a situation as we desire is hard to find and, being uncommon, it falls to the lot of few; the next best is one which possesses most of these qualities, and one is passable which lacks the fewest of them.
5. Let there be, moreover, a never-failing spring either within the steading or brought in from outside; a wood-lot and pasture near by. If running water is wanting, make a search for a well close by, to be not too deep for hoisting the water, and not bitter or brackish in taste. If this too fails, and if scanty hope of veins of water compels it, have large cisterns built for people and ponds for cattle; this rain-water is after all most suitable to the body’s health, and is regarded as uncommonly good if it is conveyed through earthen pipes into a covered cistern. Next to this is flowing water which, having its source in the mountains, comes tumbling down over rocks as on Mount Gaurus in Campania. The third choice is well-water which is found on a hillside or in a valley, if not in its lowest part. Worst of all is swamp-water, which creeps along with sluggish flow; and water that always remains stagnant in a swamp is laden with death. But this same water, harmful though its nature is, is purified by the rains of the winter season and loses its virulence; from this fact water from the heavens is known to be most healthful, as it even washes away the pollution of poisonous water, and we have stated that this is most approved for drinking. On the other hand, bubbling brooks contribute greatly to the alleviation of summer heat and to the attractiveness of places; and , if local conditions will allow, I think that they, by all means, should be conducted into the villa, regardless of the quality of the water if only it is sweet.
6. The size of the villa and the number of its parts should be proportioned to the whole inclosure, and it should be divided into three groups: the villa urbana or manor house, the villa rustica or farmhouse, and the villa fructuaria or storehouse. The manor house should be divided in turn into winter apartments and summer apartments, in such a way that the winter bedrooms may face the sunrise at the winter solstice, and the winter dining-room face the sunset at the equinox. The summer bedrooms, on the other hand, should look toward the midday sun at the time of the equinox, but the dining-rooms of that season should look toward the rising sun of winter. The baths should face the setting sun of summer, that they may be lighted from midday up to evening. The promenades should be exposed to the midday sun at the equinox, so as to receive both the maximum of sun in winter and the minimum in summer. But in the part devoted to farm uses there will be placed a spacious and high kitchen, that the rafters may be free from the danger of fire, and that it may offer a convenient stopping-place for the slave household at every season of the year. It will be best that cubicles for unfettered slaves be built to admit the midday sun at the equinox; for those who are in chains there should be an underground prison, as wholesome as possible, receiving light through a number of narrow windows built so high from the ground that they cannot be reached with the hand.
Columella, Lucius Junius Moderatus. On Agriculture. Transl. Harrison Boyd Ash. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1941.