Agriculture was the basis of ancient Rome's economy, with wheat, barley, olives and vineyards as the main crops. While the farmer and his sons worked in small private farms, slaves worked in bigger state-owned or private farms. The expansion of the Roman Empire resulted in bigger farms as a result of the increasing number of captured slaves arriving from conquered nations. Farming tools, such as ploughs, sickles, rakes, hoes and shovels, were very rudimentary in Roman times because of the abundance of free labour.
The simple plough or ard consisted of a frame with a sharp stick that was dragged into the soil to make a furrow for the seeds. It was used in lighter and drier soils, while the heavy plough, which had a metal cutter blade, was used in clay and wet soils of northern regions.
Sickles are ancient farming tools, first made with wood and animal jaw bones. During the Roman Empire, sickles were made of iron and had long or short wooden handles. Slaves and farmers used them to cut barley and wheat crops as well as the grass to feed the cattle. Small sickles were also used to prune fruit trees, such as fig trees and vines.
Turf Cutters and Rakes
Rakes had iron prongs that were fixed into a strong wooden frame, which was often oak. They were used to loosen soil before sowing and to collect hay and grasses to feed the cattle. A turf cutter consisted of a wooden shaft and a strong iron head, similar to a small and sturdier spade. Although turf cutters were more often used to open new roads and build defences around the empire, they were also useful to break hard, rocky soils.
Shovels and Hoes
Shovels made of animal bone were used since prehistorical times. Iron shovels of different sizes were a tool used in Roman farms to help in the preparation of the soil before planting vines and other fruit trees. Shovels were also used to move grains from the fields into wooden buckets and baskets. Iron hoes, often made in a triangular shape, were also important farming tools during Roman times.
- "Ancient Rome"; George Moore; 2000