Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (/ˌkɒljəˈmɛlə/; 4 – c. 70 AD) is the most important writer on agriculture of the Roman empire. Little is known of his life. He was probably born in Gades, Hispania Baetica (modern Cádiz), possibly of Roman parents. After a career in the army (he was tribune in Syria in 35), he took up farming. His Res 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 Varro, both of which he occasionally cites. A smaller book on trees, De arboribus, is usually attributed to him.
Columella used many sources no longer extant, to which he is one of the few references; these include 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, and may have influenced his nephew's interests. Columella owned farms in Italy; he refers specifically to estates at Ardea, Carseoli, and Alba, and speaks repeatedly of his own practical experience in agriculture.
Previously known only in fragments, the complete treatise of Columella 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.
In 1794 the Spanish botanists Jose Antonio Pavón y Jimenez and Hipólito Ruiz López named a genus of Peruvian asterid Columellia in his honour.
The book is presented as advice to a certain Publius Silvinus.
Structure of Res rustica ("Agriculture"):
- olive trees
- 6: big animals: cattle, horses and mules
- 7: small animals: asses, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs
- 8: fish and fowl: chickens, doves, thrushes, peacocks, Numidian chicken and guinea fowl, geese, ducks, fish ponds
- 9: wild animals: enclosures for wild animals, bee-keeping, production of honey and wax
- 10: gardens
- personnel management
- household management
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.
A complete but anonymous translation into English was published by Millar in 1745. Excerpts had previously been translated by Bradley.
The short work De arboribus, "On Trees", is in manuscripts and early editions of Columella placed as book 3 of Res rustica. However it is clear from the opening sentences that it is part of a separate (and earlier?) work. As the anonymous translator of the Millar edition notes (p.571), there is in De arboribus no mention of the Publius Silvinus to whom the Res rustica is addressed. A recent critical edition of the Latin text of the Res Rustica of Columella includes it, but as incerti auctoris, by an unknown hand. Cassiodorus mentions sixteen books of Columella, which has led to the suggestion that De arboribus formed part of a work in four volumes.
Principal early editions
The earliest editions of Columella group his works with those on agriculture of Marcus Priscus Cato, Marcus Terentius Varro and Palladius Rutilius Tullius Aemilianus. Some modern library catalogues follow Brunet in listing these under "Rei rusticae scriptores" or "Scriptores rei rusticae".
- Iunii Moderati Columellae hortulus [Rome: Printer of Silius Italicus, ca. 1471] (book X only)
- Georgius Merula, Franciscus Colucia (eds.) De re rustica Opera et impensa Nicolai Ienson: Venetiis, 1472.
- Lucii Iunii Moderati Columellae de Cultu hortorum Liber .xi. quem .Pub. Virgilius .M. i[n] Georgicis Posteris edendum dimisit. [Padova]: D[ominicus] S[iliprandus], [ca. 1480]
- Opera Agricolationum: Columellæ: Varronis: Catonisque: nec non Palladii: cū excriptionibus .D. Philippi Beroaldi: commentariis quæ in aliis impressionibus non extāt. Impensis Benedicti hectoris: Bonon., xiii. calen. octob. [19 Sept.], 1494
- Beroaldo, Filippo "il vecchio" Oratio de felicitate habita in enarratione Georgicon Virgilii et Columellae Bononiae: per Ioannemantonium De Benedictis, 1507
- Lucii Junii moderati Columell[ae] de cultu hortorum carme[n]: Necno[n] [et] Palladius de arboru[m] insitione una cu[m] Nicolai Barptholomaei Lochensis hortulo. Parisiis: Venundantur parisiis in aedibus Radulphi Laliseau [printed by Jean Marchant],  (poetry sections only)
- Columella, Lucius Iunius Moderatus Columella De cultu ortorum. Interprete Pio Bononiensi. Impressum Bononiae: a Hieronymo de Benedictis bibliopola et calcographo, 1520 mense Augusto
- Libri De Re Rustica...Additis Nuper Commentariis Iunii Pompo. Fortunati in Librum De Cultu Hortorum, Cum Adnotationibus Philippi Beroaldi... Florence: Filippo Giunta, 1521
- De re rustica libri XII. Euisdem de Arboris liber, separatus ab aliis. Lyon, Sébastien Gryphe, 1541
- Columella, Lucius Iunius Moderatus De l'agricoltura libri XII. / Lutio Giunio Moderato Columella. Trattato de gli alberi, tradotto nuouamente di latino in lingua italiana per Pietro Lauro Modonese In Venetia: [Michele Tramezzino il vecchio], 1544
- Les Douze livres des choses rustiques. Traduicts de Latin en François, par feu maistre Claude Cotereau Chanoine de Paris. La traduction duquel ha esté soingneusement reveue en la plupart corrigée, illustrée de doctes annotations par maistre Jean Thierry de Beauvoisis Paris: Jacques Kerver, 1551, 1555
- Columella, Lucius Junius Moderatus Les douze liures ... des choses rustiques, tr. par C. Cotereau. La tr. corrigée illustrée de doctes annotations par J. Thiery de Beauoisis Paris, 1555
- Columella, Lucius Iunius Moderatus Lutio Giunio Moderato Columella De l'agricoltura libri XII. Trattato de gli alberi del medesimo, tradotto nuouamente di latino in lingua italiana per Pietro Lauro modonese. In Venetia: per Geronimo Caualcalouo, 1559
- Columella, Lucius Iunius Moderatus Lutio Giunio Moderato Columella De l'agricoltura libri XII. Trattato de gli alberi tradotto nuovamente di latino in lingua italiana per Pietro Lauro modonese. In Venetia: appresso Nicolò Beuilacqua, 1564
- Orsini, Fulvio 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, 1587
- Bradley, Richard 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, 1725
- Gesner, Johann Matthias (ed.) Scriptores Rei Rusticae veteres Latini Cato, Varro, Columella, Palladius, quibus nunc accedit Vegetius de Mulo-Medicina et Gargilii Martialis fragmentum (Ausoni Popinæ De instrumento fundi liber. J. B. Morgagni epist. IV.) cum editionibus prope omnibus et MSS. pluribus collati: adjectae notae virorum clariss, integræ ... et lexicon Rei Rusticae curante Io. Matthia Gesnero Lipsiae: sumtibus Caspari Fritsch, 1735 (full text)
- Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (trans. Anon.) 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: A. Millar, 1745
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