Our Little Roman Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

On the Farm

School had closed, and Gaius had taken his family for the summer months to the large farm which he owned. The children were pleased at the change, and were interested in all the affairs of the farm, which was so different from their home in the city.

The farm was managed by a trusted slave, and the work was done by slaves, belonging to Gaius.

"It is like a farm, here, and like a city, too," said Lucius one day.

"Why do you think that?" asked his father.

"Because," replied Lucius, "there are olive orchards, and vineyards, and fields of grain; and there are presses for making oil from the olives, and wine from the grapes, and stones for grinding the grain. And that is all like a farm. But there are as many people here as in a small city, and there are great stores for all kinds of food, and there are big ovens for baking, like those in the city."

"Yes," said Marcus, "it is interesting to watch the men at work, too. Some of the slaves are tool makers, and make the tools that are used for building the houses and sheds, and those for taking care of the grain."

"I like best to watch the sheep, and to see them sheared," said Terentia, "though the poor things look so strange when their heavy fleece is off.

"But it is fine then to see how the wool is washed and made ready to be carded and spun and woven into cloth, as we spin and weave it at home," she added.

"I like to see the bees," exclaimed Livia, "because I know that they make the nice honey for my bread."

"You must be careful not to be upon too friendly terms with the bees," said Gaius, "or they may sting you."

"Yes," Livia answered. "Terentia told me about that, and I stand very still when I watch them."

"And do you like the bees better than the pretty doves, or the saucy chickens?" asked Terentia.

"I like the doves and the chickens," answered Livia, "but the bees make such good honey."

"The little ones all like sweets," said Gaius with a smile. "And what has interested you?" he asked, turning to Gaia.

"I think," replied Gaia, "that I have been most interested in the work of those who weave the baskets and who make the rope. Their work is so new and strange to me."

"A Roman farm, like ours," said Gaius, "is a complete community, as you children have discovered. If we were suddenly to be cut off from all other people and places, we could go right on living comfortably here, for we make our own tools and our own buildings, and we produce all that we really need to eat and to wear."

The tools that were used on a Roman farm would seem very few and very simple to a modern farmer, even though so many kinds of work were carried on. Nearly all the labor was performed by the slaves, by hand, although oxen were used to draw the plow and to turn the stones for grinding grain.

There were large numbers of cattle on Gaius' farm, and some of the milk was used for making cheese, but Marcus and Terentia never had tasted butter, for no one knew how to make it in those days. Olive oil was used in its place, and large groves of olive trees were grown on every farm.

No one ever had heard of sugar at that time, either. Honey was the only sweetening known. But aside from butter and sugar, Marcus and his brother and sisters ate very much the same kinds of food that we have to-day.

Each day the children found something new to watch on the farm. One day the boys stood by the stone quarry and saw the slaves quarry stone and shape it for building. At another time they watched them hew down trees, and make them into rough lumber, and on still another day they were on hand to see them sift great quantities of sand for cement, for a great many of the Roman buildings were made of cement. It was convenient to have all these materials on the farm, for new buildings were often needed for storing grain, or for sheltering the great number of slaves.

Several festivals and holidays took place while the children were on the farm.

"To-morrow," said Gaius one morning, "we celebrate the Ambarvalia."

The children knew that in the country this was the most important religious festival of the year, and they were eager for the next day to come. They would walk in procession, and carry great sheaves of flowers in their arms, and what could be more delightful than that? No work would be done by the family or by any of the slaves, and after the ceremony the day would be a holiday for all.

Early in the morning the slaves were brought together, and a very large company they made. The children looked at them in surprise, for although Lucius had said there were as many people on the farm as in a small city, they had seen the slaves only as they were scattered here and there at their work. Now it seemed to them that they formed a small army, as they were brought together for the celebration of the Ambarvalia.

Gaius, with Marcus and the other members of his family, headed the solemn and reverent procession. They were followed by the overseer and the members of his family, and all the slaves of lesser importance.

They bore great sheaves of flowers in their arms, and Gaius carried purifying water, while Marcus waved fragrant incense.

Young animals from the best of the farm's flocks had been chosen for a sacrifice to the gods of the fields, and these animals had been gaily decorated and were led in the procession.

All about the fields the procession moved slowly, even Livia holding fast to her mother's hand, and stepping gravely beside her. She understood what it was all intended to mean, for Gala had told her that they wanted to thank the gods who watched over the fields, for all the good things which the earth gave them, and to ask that the fields might continue to give them abundant harvests.

Marcus, too, had been taught by his father what the sacrifice meant, and how all the ceremony was to be carried on, for some day, when he was a man, he would take the place that his father did to-day, and offer the sacrifices himself.

After the fragrant incense had been waved, the sacrifices had been made, and the purifying water had been sprinkled, the ceremony was finished, and then they all walked reverently back to the house.

After that the day was given up to rest or to merrymaking, for the slaves were free to do as they liked, and so the holiday of the Ambarvalia was enjoyed by all.

"I suppose we shall soon be going back to Rome," said Marcus one morning to his father.

"Yes, my son," replied Gaius. "I am planning to send a letter to the city to-morrow, so that everything may be ready for us at home. We shall return very soon."

Glaucon, Drusus, and a few of the household slaves had gone with the family to the farm, and Gaius now sent for Drusus to write the letter for him.

"May I watch Drusus write the letter, Father?" asked Lucius.

"Certainly," replied Gaius.

Drusus first took two tablets such as Marcus and Lucius used in school, but each of these tablets had only one waxed surface. He fastened the two together by lacing cords through holes in one edge of each frame, so that the two waxed surfaces were inside. Then Drusus took his stylus and wrote the letter as Gaius told him. After it was finished, he bound the double tablet about with a cord, so that nothing could mar the inner surfaces upon which the letter was written. He then fastened the ends of the cord with wax, which he stamped with Gaius' seal.

The next morning a foot-runner was called and the letter was given to him to take to Rome.