Early European Agriculture
September 19, 2012
The Roman Empire
- Slave based economy
- The Roman Empire had an agrarian and slave based economy whose main concern was feeding
the vast number of citizens and soldiers.
- The staple crops of Roman farmers in Italy were various grains, olives and grapes.
- Farmers could donate surplus crops to the government in lieu of monetary tax.
- Free grain distribution depending on the colonies for most grain.
Western Roman Empire collapses
- Barbarian migration and invasion from 3 century onward
- No government institutions working
- Break down of the economy and trade
- No tax-collection, no law enforcement
- Small farmers at the mercy of the warlords and bandits
- Therefore clustered together for protection
The Arab Agricultural Revolution
- Supported by an agricultural system that included extensive irrigation and expert knowledge of
the most advanced agricultural methods in the world.
- This knowledge filtered into Western Europe in the 9 century via the Moors in Spain.
o New crops
o New rotation
o Improved animal breeds (sheep and horse)
o Agricultural education
o Rewarded for labor, knowledge and capital input
Agricultural Innovation in Islamic World 7-11 century
- New crops introduced from India and adapted to the Mediterranean climate (rice, hard wheat,
sugar cane, cotton, silk, spinach, eggplants, lemon and orange orchids)
- Changes in farming practices: o Permitting a systems of rotation which made much more intensive use of the land
o Use of animal and green manure
- Large scale irrigation: Allowed for a summer crop (usually only winter crops in the
Mediterranean)- double cropping
- Farmers had property rights to their land- no feudal landlords; allows individual farmers to
experiment and learn
- Education & Science
- Public and private investment in infrastructure: irrigation schemes, dams, canals, etc.
- Irrigation laws; establish rights and obligations for users, dispute settlement
- Economic incentive schemes to support and encourage sedentary agriculture over grazing; new
crops, farming techniques and irrigation
o Taxes were halved on crops irrigated by lifting devices and permanent tree crops
o Outright property rights given for land taken under intensive cultivation, with fixed
Factors influencing the development of agriculture in a subsistence farming society
E- The environment (soil water, climate) L- Livestock
P- Population M-Manure
A- Exploited area (fertility, rotation)
F- Farming technique and knowledge
Feudalism- The Political system
- 5-8 century decentralization
o Political and economic decentralized the Catholic Church emerged as unifying institution
- 9-11 century centralization
o Kings uniting church and state under threat from outside invaders
- Characteristics of feudalism
o Feudalism generally defined the military and political relationships among kings, nobles
and knights o Economic wealth was derived from the land. A fifth given to a vassal by his lord
demanded self-finances loyalty; an army, weapon, horses, etc.
o A status as a “Market Town” was granted by the King and increased a lord’s income by a
tax on trade Feudal leader’s controlled public authority and public spending in his area.
Advantage of Uniting State and Church
- The Monasteries owned large estates
- The high officials of the church originated from the local noble families
- The Church had great influence and power in feudal society and played an important role in
restoration of institutionalized government in W. Europe
- Thus the Church had important instruments through which it could acquire certain privileges
from the secular authorities and to implement its interests.
o Economic; Land, 10% tax, absolution of sins, nurses
o Political; education, justice
Plants and animals
- Plants cultivated (from 500 A.D)
o Dwarf wheat, ordinary wheat, Berem Barley, oats, rye, knot grass, gold-of-pleasure (for
producing oil), spurge, flax, horse-beans, peas, woad(making blue dye)
o Cattle, horses, pigs, sheep and goats were reared, and in roman time’s chickens, rabbits,
geese and ducks were added to the list. Generally speaking these animals were much
smaller than those of today.
Manorial System- The Economic System
- A tightly disciplined community of peasants organized collectively under the authority of a lord.
- The lord provided protection against attack from outsiders
- When a manor was attacked, the peasants found protection inside the walls of their lord’s
- By the 12 century, the lord’s home was a well-fortified castle.
- In return for security and the right to cultivate fields and to pass their holdings on to their sons,
the serf had many obligations to their lord.
- Services demanded by the lord included; digging ditches, gathering firewood, building and
- Personal freedom was restricted;
o Peasant’s were bound to the land, could not leave without the lords consent
o The lords land to be harvested by the serfs before they could harvest their own land.
o Could not marry without the lords consent
o More than half a serf’s workweek was devoured to rendering services
- A Serf also paid a variety of dues to the lord The Manor- An economic unit close to self sufficient
- Manor had 4 parts;
o A rable land, open fields
o The meadow, for hay
o Waste land, for grazing and turf cutting
- A Mill
- Workshops manufacturing; clothes, shoes, tools and weapons
Agricultural system and shape of plot
Without habitation on the plot With habitation on the plot
Square fields with Strips with hamlet Square fields with Strips with scattered
hamlet (open field) scatted dwellings dwellings (street
th th th
From roman period From 6 century From 8 century 10 century
Two-course rotation Moldboard plough and Three course rotation Improved harness
Sliding plough oxen Horses to pull the
Arable farming and animal husbandry
- Temporary cultivation (convertible husbandry). The land is clea