Little is known of Columella’s (kahl-yuh-MEHL-uh) life except that he was a military tribune with the Sixth Legion, serving probably in Syria. He spent most of his life in Italy, where he intensively farmed four separate tracts of land. His literary endeavors focused on this aspect of his life.
A short work, De arboribus (n.d.; on trees, in Of Husbandry, 1745), extant in only two books, preceded his major publication, De agricultura (also known as De re rustica, c. 60-65 c.e.; “on agriculture” in Of Husbandry, 1745). This latter work, in twelve books, is the longest and most systematic treatment of Roman agriculture known. His practical experience in Italy, familiarity with agriculture in other parts of the Roman Empire, and extensive knowledge of earlier, particularly Greek, agricultural writers imbue his work with a technical detail far exceeding that of his Roman predecessors. Columella champions the slave-worked, profit-motivated villa operation over all opposing views of farm management. Among the topics he treats are organization of the villa and its workforce, viticulture, animal husbandry, horticulture (written in verse), and duties of the bailiff and his wife.
Columella’s treatise dominated Roman agriculture until superseded by simpler, more practicality-oriented works considered more useful for small farmers of the late empire.
Columella. De re rustica. 3 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968-1979.
Winterbottom, Michael. “Three Emendations in Columella.” Classical Quarterly 49, no. 2 (1999): 533-634.