Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella
Portrait of Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella by Jean de Tournes (Insignium aliquot virorum icones, Lyon, 1559)
Portrait of Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella by Jean de Tournes (Insignium aliquot virorum icones, Lyon, 1559)
Born4 AD
Gades, Hispania Baetica
Diedc. 70 AD
Notable worksDe re rustica
Statue of Columella, holding a sickle and an ox-yoke, in the Plaza de las Flores, Cádiz

Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (/ˌkɒljəˈmɛlə/, Arabic: Yunius[1]: 12 ) was a prominent Roman writer on agriculture in the Roman Empire.[2]

His De re rustica in twelve volumes has been completely preserved and forms an important source on Roman agriculture, together with the works of Cato the Elder and Marcus Terentius Varro, both of which he occasionally cites. A smaller book on trees, De arboribus, is usually attributed to him.

In 1794 the Spanish botanists José Antonio Pavón Jiménez and Hipólito Ruiz López named a genus of Peruvian asterid Columellia in his honour.[3]


Little is known of Columella's life. He was probably born in Gades, Hispania Baetica (modern Cádiz), possibly to Roman parents. After a career in the army (he was tribune in Syria in 35 AD), he turned to farming his estates at Ardea, Carseoli, and Alba in Latium.[4]


De re rustica

In ancient times, Columella's work "appears to have been but little read", cited only by Pliny the Elder, Servius, Cassiodorus, and Isidorus, and having fallen "into almost complete neglect" after Palladius published an abridgement of it.[5]: 383 

This book is presented as advice to a certain Publius Silvinus. Previously known only in fragments, the complete book was among those discovered in monastery libraries in Switzerland and France by Poggio Bracciolini and his assistant Bartolomeo di Montepulciano during the Council of Constance, between 1414 and 1418.[6]

Structure of De re rustica ("On Agriculture"):

Book 10 is written entirely in dactylic hexameter verse, in imitation of, or homage to, Virgil. It may initially have been intended to be the concluding volume, books 11 and 12 being perhaps an addition to the original scheme.[7]

A complete, but anonymous, translation into English was published by Andrew Millar in 1745.[8] Excerpts had previously been translated by Richard Bradley.[9]

De arboribus

De re rustica, 1564

The short work De arboribus, "On Trees", is in manuscripts and early editions of Columella considered as book 3 of De re rustica.[10] However, it is clear from the opening sentences that it is part of a separate and possibly earlier work. As the anonymous translator of the Millar edition notes, in De arboribus there is no mention of the Publius Silvinus to whom the De re rustica is addressed.[8]: 571  A recent critical edition of the Latin text of the De re rustica includes it, but as incerti auctoris, by an unknown hand.[11] Cassiodorus mentions sixteen books of Columella, which has led to the suggestion that De arboribus formed part of a work in four volumes.[10]


In addition to Cato the Elder and Varro, Columella used many sources that are no longer extant and for which he is one of the few references. These include works by Aulus Cornelius Celsus, the Carthaginian writer Mago, Tremellius Scrofa, and many Greek sources. His uncle Marcus Columella, "a clever man and an exceptional farmer" (VII.2.30), had conducted experiments in sheep breeding, crossing colourful wild rams, introduced from Africa for gladiatorial games, with domestic sheep,[12] and may have influenced his nephew's interests. Columella owned farms in Italy; he refers specifically to estates at Ardea, Carseoli, and Alba,[13] and speaks repeatedly of his own practical experience in agriculture.


The earliest editions of Columella group his works with those on agriculture of Cato the Elder, Varro and Palladius. Some modern library catalogues follow Brunet in listing these under "Rei rusticae scriptores" or "Scriptores rei rusticae".[14]


  1. ^ Thomas F. Glick, Steven Livesey, Faith Wallis (editors) (2014). Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: an Encyclopedia. London; New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415969307.
  2. ^ Silke Diederich (2016). Columella. Oxford Bibliographies Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0203.
  3. ^ Joseph Fr. Michaud, Eugène Ernest Desplaces, Louis Gabriel Michaud (1854). Biographie universelle (Michaud) ancienne et moderne ... (in French). Paris: Madame C. Desplaces. Volume 8, page 668. Accessed June 2011.
  4. ^ Katharine T. von Stackelberg (2012). Columella. In: Roger S. Bagnall, Kai Brodersen, Craige B. Champion, Andrew Erskine, Sabine R. Huebner (editors) (2013). The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. ISBN 9781405179355 (print), 9781444338386 online. doi:10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah06080.
  5. ^ Harry Thurston Peck (editor) (1896). "Columella, L. Iunius Moderātus". Harper's Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.
  6. ^ William Shepherd (1802). The life of Poggio Bracciolini. London; Liverpool: T. Cadell, Jun., & W. Davies. pp. iv, 487.
  7. ^ E.J. Kenney, W.V. Clausen (editors) (1982). The Cambridge history of classical literature, volume 2: Latin literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521210430, page 669.
  8. ^ a b [anonymous translator] (1745). L. Junius Moderatus Columella of Husbandry, in Twelve Books: and his book, concerning Trees. Translated into English, with illustrations from Pliny, Cato, Varro, Palladius and other ancient and modern authors. London: Andrew Millar.
  9. ^ Richard Bradley (1725). A Survey of the Ancient Husbandry and Gardening collected from Cato, Varro, Columella, Virgil, and others, the most eminent writers among the Greeks & Romans: wherein many of the most difficult passages in those authors are explain'd ... Adorn'd with cuts, etc.. London: B. Motte.
  10. ^ a b [Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge] (1837). Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. C. Knight. volumes 7–8, page 380. Accessed June 2011.
  11. ^ R. H. Rodgers (editor) (2010). L. Iuni Moderati Columellae Res rustica. Incerti auctoris Liber de arboribus (in Latin). Oxonii [Oxford, England]: E Typographeo Clarendoniano. ISBN 9780199271542. Accessed June 2011.
  12. ^ Denis Diderot, Jean Le Rond d' Alembert (editors) (1765). [ Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers ...] (in French). Neufchatel: S. Faulche. Volume 9 JU–MAM, page 179. Accessed June 2011.
  13. ^ "De re rustica (English translation) III.9.2". Loeb Classical Library edition, 1941. Accessed June 2011.
  14. ^ Jacques-Charles Brunet (1843). Manuel du libraire et de l'amateur de livres, fourth edition (in French). Paris: Silvestre. Volume 4, R–Zp, page 238. Accessed May 2011.
  15. ^ Fulvio Orsini (1587). Notae ad M. Catonem, M. Varronem, L. Columellam de re rustica. Ad kalend. rusticum Farnesianum & veteres inscriptiones Fratrum Arvalium. Iunius Philargyrius in Bucolica & Georgica Virgilij. Notae ad Servium in Bucol. Georg. & Aeneid. Virg. Velius Longus de orthographia : ex bibliotheca Fulvi Ursini. Romae: in aedib. S.P.Q.R.: apud Georgium Ferrarium. Full text online at Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, two copies: 1, 2.

Further reading

  • Baldwin, Barry. 1963. "Columella's Sources and How He Used Them." Latomus 22:785–791.
  • Bertoni, D. 2017. "Geometry and Genre in Columella". American Journal of Philology. 138.3: 527-554.
  • Carandini, Andrea. 1983. "Columella's Vineyard and the Rationality of the Roman Economy." Opus 2:177–204.
  • Carroll, Peter D. 1976. "Columella the Reformer." Latomus 35:783–790.
  • Doody, Aude. 2007. "Virgil the Farmer? Critiques of the Georgics in Columella and Pliny." Classical Philology. 102.2: 180-197.
  • Dumont, Jean Christian. 2008. "Columella and Vergil." Vergilius 54:49–59.
  • Forster, E. S. 1950. "Columella and His Latin Treatise on Agriculture." Greece and Rome 19:123–128.
  • Gowers, Emily. 2000. "Vegetable Love: Virgil, Columella, and Garden Poetry." Ramus 29:127–148.
  • Henderson, John. 2002. "Columella's Living Hedge: the Roman Gardening Book." The Journal of Roman Studies 92: 110-133.
  • Olson, L. 1943. "Columella and the Beginning of Soil Science." Agricultural History 17:65–72.
  • Requejo, A. 2017. "Columella's Georgics: Form, Method, Intertextuality, Ideology." U.W. Seattle, PhD dissertation