Laying the Groundwork: Agricultural Land in the Roman Agricultural Imaginary


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation explores descriptions of soil in ancient Roman agricultural treatises and assesses their implications for the Roman agricultural imaginary. This shared conceptualization of farming and farmland informed agricultural practices and cultural understandings of agriculture. Farming was integral to Roman self-presentation, and texts about agriculture illuminate perspectives on Roman identity in general. This study focuses on descriptions of soil at three levels—the individual farmstead; the region, often centered on a city, geographical feature, or tribal identity; and the province. At each level of abstraction, soil may act as a raw material, manufactured thing, or place. In particular, the connection between soil and place is a recurring theme that makes farmland a useful medium for considering the expansion of the imperial project. Describing soil qualities in writing mirrors Romans’ manipulation and exploitation in the field and links the Roman agricultural imaginary with the foundations of Roman imperial expansion.