Ancient Greek Agriculture was the foundation of the Ancient Greek economy. Nearly 80% of the population was involved in this activity.
The prosperity of the Greeks were mainly due to its agriculture which could produce surplus that could be invested in trade and commerce.
Type of landholdings
The Ancient Greek land and farms were owned and cultivated by private individuals and not the state. These private individuals grew crops and practicised rearing of livestock. The landholdings were mostly small or mediocre in size between 5-20 ha in Athens and a bit more in Sparta. These lands were distributed in equal shares among the sons which led to its diminishing in size. Agricultural land was a symbol of prestige with the wealthy and the Aristocrats deriving their wealth from lands while landless were mainly engaged as slaves.
Ancient Greece Animals
The ancient Greeks were, for the most part, a rural, not an urban society. The beginning of agricultural operations was often signaled by some particular astronomical event, the seasonal behavior of animals or drastic change of season. It always rained too much in the winter and not enough in the summer. Since most of the soil was rocky and lacked nutrients, many crops wouldn’t grow.
In many areas especially where the fertility was not high, the Greeks started practicing rearing of animals as they were very useful in providing meat, milk, cheese, wool which provided extra income and animals like horses, mules and donkeys were very useful for transporting goods.
Why was farming in ancient Greece difficult?
Farming (Ancient Greek Agriculture) in ancient Greece was difficult due to the limited amount of good soil and cropland. It is estimated that only twenty percent of the land was usable for growing crops. The soil was very hard and dry in many areas as Greece had a lot mountainous regions and rough terrains. The Mediterranean climate was also dry in summer season and had erratic rains at sudden times which made agriculture very challenging.
Ancient Greek Agriculture
These core crops were augmented by vegetable gardens (cabbage, onion, garlic, lentils, chickpea, beans) and orchards (fig, almond, and pomegranate). Herbs were also grown (sage, mint, thyme, savory, oregano, etc.), as were oilseed plants such as linseed, sesame, and poppy.
The crops produced in Ancient Greece were according to the prevailing Mediterranean climate in which irregular rains often caused crop failures. The most common crop was wheat and hulled barley. Millet was commonly grown in areas having greater rainfall. Pulses such as broad beans, chickpeas and lentils are also grown.
Vines which were used to make wine and olives which were used for oil made up the main crops in Ancient Greece.
Even cash crops were produced by wealthy farmers for trading. Cereals, wine, olives, figs, and pulses were commonly traded internally among Greek cities. While wine and olive oil was the main type of foreign export.
Autumn was the most important season. In the beginning of autumn, farmers collected deadfall and prepared supplies of firewood; as winters in the highlands could be harsh.
Scholars have assumed that the Ancient Greek Agriculture infrastructure of ancient society was often ruined by the attack, as, for example, Athens was relegated to poverty in the aftermath of the Persian and later Peloponnesian invasions.
Irrigation in Ancient Greece
In the plains, where the soil was richer, they also grew wheat to make bread.
The Greeks did use artificial means of irrigation. They dug tunnels to channel water from springs to farms.
Archimedes, a prolific inventor, and mathematician developed a spiral structure in a cylindrical casing that could lift water when it was spun. It was used to raise water from a stream or irrigation ditch to the fields.
In summer, irrigation was indispensable. In June, the farmers harvested with sickles; the scythe was not used. Wheat was threshed by being trampled upon by oxen, donkeys or mules. The grain was then stored. It was left to women and slaves to grind it and make bread.
Most farms were small with four or five acres of land. Farmers grew enough food to support their families and, at times, they grew a small surplus to sell at the local market. Some families rented a small piece of somebody else’s farm and then paid the owner part of the crop as rent.
All of the farmers in ancient Greece lived in the country. Their jobs were difficult because many people depended on them for food and the weather was often not the best for growing crops.
Greek farming Tools
In ancient Greece basic tools for digging, weeding were used while ploughing was mostly done by using iron tipped ploughs which had been used by hand.
Harvesting was done using sickles while a flat shovel and baskets were used for winnowing after harvest. Stone presses were used for crushing items like grapes.
Ancient Greek agricultural practices
The main practice in ancient Greek agriculture was the plowing and sowing carried out around between October to December. Vines were usually pruned in spring while wheat was harvested around May or June. The winnowing, threshing and storage of crops was done between June and July.
Evidence of crop rotation is also found along with fields being left fallow to regenerate their soil nutrients and maintain their fertility.