In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Columella

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Index
  • Life and Works
  • Transmission and Textual Criticism
  • Sources
  • Agricultural and Agrotechnical Aspects
  • Non-agricultural Technical and Scientific Aspects
  • Use as a Sourcebook for Archaeological, Technical, and Ecological Data
  • Economic Thought and Principles
  • Farm Management
  • Social Aspects
  • Morals and Ideology
  • Religion and Philosophy
  • Magic and Superstition
  • Form, Structure, Genre
  • Language and Style
  • Book 10, the Poem on Gardening
  • The Liber de arboribus
  • Afterlife

Classics Columella
Silke Diederich
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0203


The outstanding agricultural writer Lucius Iunius Moderatus Columella (d. c. 70 AD) lived from late Augustian times until the principate of Vespasianus and was a contemporary of Seneca’s (see Life and Works). His series of twelve books, De re rustica, were most likely written during the Neronian-Claudian period. They are commonly acknowledged as an excellent professional textbook on agriculture, easily the best one handed down from Antiquity. They cover all fields of agriculture in systematic order, beginning with the estate; then cereal cropping; vineyards, olive trees, fruit trees; cattle breeding, poultry farming; apiculture; horticulture; and later supplements containing a working calendar and directives for the steward and his wife. Moreover, being part of an illustrious tradition coined by such renowned writers as Cato the Elder and M. Terentius Varro, Columella tries to impart to his readers a set of moral values, which were popular topics of the day among the elites of early imperial times. In addition, Rust. is a polished piece of writing with considerable literary qualities in both its prose and in Book 10, which, quite unusually, consists of a hexametrical poem. Also transmitted with Rust. in some manuscripts is also a short work, De arboribus, of disputed authenticity. The treatise Adversus astrologos, which Columella mentions in De re rustica 11,1,3, has been lost. Whether he actually wrote the book he planned about rural religious cults (Rust. 2,21,5 sq.) is unknown.

General Overviews

In this chapter, treatises are listed that deal with Rust. as a whole or that at least cover several different aspects. For beginners, Reitz 2013 provides an ideal starting point, mentioning most of the interesting issues of the text, mainly from a literary-historical point of view. More extensive is Richter’s afterword in his Latin-German edition (cited under Editions, Translations, Commentaries). A good start for researchers is still Martin 1985 (cited under Bibliographies) with a short sketch of the most momentous fields of interest. Forster 1950 claims the merit of giving early impulses for philological scrutiny beyond linguistics and textual criticism. The groundbreaking chronological walkthrough through Roman agricultural writers in Martin 1971 investigates Columella’s political, economic, social, and philosophical thought as well as in his moralizing fight against the decadence of his times. His basic approaches have been corrected, complemented, and extended (including the literary aspects) by Noè 2002, further developed by Diederich 2007. Serrano Cueto, et al. 1997 provides a wide range of interesting articles on many of the works’ relevant aspects but with little concern for works beyond those from Spain, France, and Italy.

  • Diederich, Silke. 2007. Römische Agrarhandbücher zwischen Fachwissenschaft, Literatur und Ideologie. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110893359

    Reading Rust. as a textbook between rational science/economics and magical superstition, as literature, with focus on didactics and propaganda. Read as forming part of a genre tradition (including Book 10), and as a vehicle for a social ideology not free from inconsistencies and double standards.

  • Forster, E. S. 1950. Columella and His Latin Treatise on Agriculture. Greece and Rome 19:123–128.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0017383500011013

    Pioneering article that laments the neglect of Rust. in modern philology and encourages further research.

  • Martin, René. 1971. Recherches sur les agronomes latines et leurs conceptions économiques et sociales. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

    Although not always sound in its reasoning, this book sketches Columella as a committed author. Compares Columella’s concept of slave labor with Pliny the Elder’s traditionalist system.

  • Noè, Eralda. 2002. Il progetto di Columella. Profile sociale, economico, culturale. Biblioteca di Athenaeum 47. Como, Italy: New Press.

    Important work, considering social aspects (religion, power, sex, and value systems), the economic model (of landowning, production, farm management, marketing, farm equipment, manpower), and literary presentation (including Book 10), as well as Columella’s conception of history—a partly modified version of a passage of Columella artifex Agricola (Noè 2000, cited under Morals and Ideology).

  • Reitz, Christiane. 2013. Columella, De Re Rustica. In A companion to the Neronian Age. Edited by E. Buckley and M. T. Dinter, 275–287. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118316771

    Latest concise introduction from a philologist’s point of view covering Columella’s life and works, manuscript tradition, work structure (with tables of contents for the whole work and especially Book 10), and reception, with brief exemplary interpretations of Rust. 7,12sq. and 10,323–336.

  • Serrano Cueto, Antonio, Luis Charlo Brea, and José María Maestre Maestre, eds. 1997. Estudios sobre Columella. Cádiz, Spain: Ayuntamiento.

    Collection of articles by several Spanish authors covering Columella’s historical background; including agriculture and economy in Columella’s times; his place within the early literal history of Spain (especially of Columella’s hometown, Gades); his work in its scientific, philosophical, social (slavery), religious, mythological, structural and linguistic aspects; and his afterlife.

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