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Old March 18th, 2017, 06:39 PM   #1
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Where can I find ancient crop field figures?


Where can I find ancient crop field figures? I don't mean just descriptions of ancient grains, technologies or practices, but the actual yields per land unit or totals for a political unit such as a dynasty. Preferably before 500 CE. Tables of data are best, but anything would be helpful.
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Old March 19th, 2017, 10:23 AM   #2
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If you're looking for Europe such data does not exist. The closest you can come is Walter of Henley from the 13th century.
https://archive.org/details/walterhenleyshu01cunngoog He wrote the standard book on stewardship that was used from the 13th century to the 16th century, so likely very accurate.

Wheat took 2 bushels of seed per acre (each bushel weighed 60 lbs) and yielded 10 bushels or 8 bushels net (which was called a quarter). 2.5 acres with traditional agriculture is the total farmland needed to support a person with two field agriculture. Three field supports in theory 20% more. One field supported about 20 people per square mile. One field is where a field is kept in constant cultivation, but is surrounded by a lot of land supporting livestock which supply dung for fertilizer. Slash and Burn agriculture can support 10 persons square mile - this was the standard agriculture in Germany during the Migration Period, so the Romans greatly exaggerated the number of Barbarians they faced.

The quality of land is very important to yields. Good bottom lands (these are the lands on the flood planes of rivers) can yield 10 times the normal yields and one can expect at least double yields. Rice supports more than wheat, but is more labor intensive per acre. In South China the rice paddies are surrounded by banks which allow them both to be flooded and drained. Rice eels are also raised in the flooded paddies, when not using this system and dry farming rice the yields are very low by contrast.

Corn (AKA maize) also has much higher yields per acre than wheat and takes little effort to grow - the reason Central and South America supported such large cities.

Crop yields and how much they can support is a very complicated subject, as is how much land was under cultivation and the methods used. What you're trying to find out would likely take a decade of field research even for a country and just for a century.

In Europe it's also complicated by the fact that animal breeds are not the same and have greatly improved. An adult Medieval sheep weighed only about 60 bls compared to 120+ for a modern one and an adult Medieval cow only about 400 lbs (I'm not sure of the modern weight but at a guess I would say 3 to 4 times larger). Keep in mind that one had to support livestock through the winter on grain (mainly oats) and hay which was not a field crop and there was a very limited amount of meadow producing hay (worth 3 times what farmland producing wheat was in the Middle Ages).
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Old March 19th, 2017, 10:26 AM   #3

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If you're looking for Europe such data does not exist. The closest you can come is Walter of Henley from the 13th century.
https://archive.org/details/walterhenleyshu01cunngoog He wrote the standard book on stewardship that was used from the 13th century to the 16th century, so likely very accurate.

Wheat took 2 bushels of seed per acre (each bushel weighed 60 lbs) and yielded 10 bushels or 8 bushels net (which was called a quarter). 2.5 acres with traditional agriculture is the total farmland needed to support a person with two field agriculture. Three field supports in theory 20% more. One field supported about 20 people per square mile. One field is where a field is kept in constant cultivation, but is surrounded by a lot of land supporting livestock which supply dung for fertilizer. Slash and Burn agriculture can support 10 persons square mile - this was the standard agriculture in Germany during the Migration Period, so the Romans greatly exaggerated the number of Barbarians they faced.

The quality of land is very important to yields. Good bottom lands (these are the lands on the flood planes of rivers) can yield 10 times the normal yields and one can expect at least double yields. Rice supports more than wheat, but is more labor intensive per acre. In South China the rice paddies are surrounded by banks which allow them both to be flooded and drained. Rice eels are also raised in the flooded paddies, when not using this system and dry farming rice the yields are very low by contrast.

Corn (AKA maize) also has much higher yields per acre than wheat and takes little effort to grow - the reason Central and South America supported such large cities.
Excellent post Sophia!
Thanks for posting that
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Old March 19th, 2017, 10:40 AM   #4
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Excellent post Sophia!
Thanks for posting that
Thank you.

For the original poster you can read Fernand Braudel's Civilization & Capitalism 15th-18th centuries. It's easy to read and covers the whole world. I think it's a four volume work ( I tend to read at least a dozen scholarly works on any subject I'm interested and have trouble remembering just how many volumes in a work. His work is about the easiest good read on Historical Geography you're going to find. The volumes were not that thick only 400 to 600 pages each ( I could be wrong on this though. If you're serious about this subject you're going to have to find and read a lot of original sources such as Walter of Henley before you can even try field research. Braudel is the quick and for dummies solution I think you were looking for
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Old March 19th, 2017, 12:22 PM   #5

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Originally Posted by Disciple of Sophia View Post
If you're looking for Europe such data does not exist. The closest you can come is Walter of Henley from the 13th century.
https://archive.org/details/walterhenleyshu01cunngoog He wrote the standard book on stewardship that was used from the 13th century to the 16th century, so likely very accurate.

Wheat took 2 bushels of seed per acre (each bushel weighed 60 lbs) and yielded 10 bushels or 8 bushels net (which was called a quarter). 2.5 acres with traditional agriculture is the total farmland needed to support a person with two field agriculture. Three field supports in theory 20% more. One field supported about 20 people per square mile. One field is where a field is kept in constant cultivation, but is surrounded by a lot of land supporting livestock which supply dung for fertilizer. Slash and Burn agriculture can support 10 persons square mile - this was the standard agriculture in Germany during the Migration Period, so the Romans greatly exaggerated the number of Barbarians they faced.
Are you sure about the math? I think you have a decimal place out....

2.5 acres or 20 bushels seems about right for one person. (1,200 lb per year, or about 1600 to 1800 cal per day on average)
However 1 Sq mile cropland is 640 acres, so it should be enough to support 200 people, not 20?
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Old March 19th, 2017, 04:59 PM   #6
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Are you sure about the math? I think you have a decimal place out....

2.5 acres or 20 bushels seems about right for one person. (1,200 lb per year, or about 1600 to 1800 cal per day on average)
However 1 Sq mile cropland is 640 acres, so it should be enough to support 200 people, not 20?
2.5 acres is the actual farmland needed and not all of that would be producing wheat. No it's not one square mile of cropland, but one actual square mile. Most of the one field system farming we know of happened in fairly rough countryside and animal husbandry was the main source of food. In England this would be the Northern shires. By nature these areas are more dangerous as livestock is easy to rustle when not under constant human eyes 20 to 40 people per square mile is about all one is going to have. In the more settled areas only 25% to 50% of the land can actually be used for husbandry. It's because that the actual land that can be used or used by a particular form of husbandry varies so much in the actual population it can support or land that can be used is always just going to be an educated guess. Unless one has real records of it's use and yield ones estimate is always going to be off, even if one does a completely fair and intelligent investigation of it.
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