Historum - History Forums  

Go Back   Historum - History Forums > Themes in History > Natural Environment
Register Forums Blogs Social Groups Mark Forums Read

Natural Environment How Human History has been impacted by the environment, science, nature, geography, weather, and natural phenomena


Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
Old May 28th, 2011, 04:58 PM   #1

Frank81's Avatar
Guanarteme
 
Joined: Feb 2010
From: Canary Islands-Spain
Posts: 2,549
Agricultural productivity in the ancient world


Fascinating thread right guys

Hackneyedscribe, me and other people have been talking about this in other thread and I think such matter should be discussed in a proper thread.

I'm not interested primarily in comparatives per se though sometimes is useful.


This is what we have tell:

Quote:
Originally Posted by HackneyedScribe View Post
That depends on how you define arable land. Keep in mind that maps of the Han/Qin dynasties are very misleading. Although the dynasty looks big, the vast majority of the population is in the north. This means an extremely high population density in the north, and a severely depopulated South. The people in the south(the ones who might own land on par or greater than those of a typical Roman farmer) don't have much weight in our equation because these people are few and far between. The high population density in the north would mean that each small-time farmer would own significantly less land. On the other hand, Rome had enough land to parcel out to its soldiers in Italy alone until the time of Augustus. Why do you think Han China invented the seed drill while Rome invented the harvesting machine? The seed drill increased food per acre while the harvesting machine increased the food per time worked. Everyone faced a different set of problems.

According to the Malthusian theory, the increase in land from the extra food would cause an increase in population. In this way each generation would own less land until they are about as poor as the contemporary farmer from everywhere else.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank81 View Post
I think you're right but it's a hard to tell matter. I don't think that the difference of arable land was so big, being two empires of the same size it's very hard to put apart the quality of the terrain. Nevertheless, Han China was in disadvantage because had too much poor arable land in its central Asian territories. Chinese agrarian production was lightly higher per acre than that of the RE that's probably fact, but probably not very much, people use to forget that the RE had some of the more profitable arable land in the world (such as Egypt), while China had regions with very low productivity.

Quote:
Originally Posted by HackneyedScribe View Post
I've went over a study on the per acre output in another thread here: http://www.historum.com/asian-histor...tml#post467826

The increased production per acre is hardly "lightly higher" than those of Rome. The average Roman farmer isn't living much higher than subsistence level. If a Han farmer's production is "not very much higher" per acre, and he has less acres to start off with, then the entire Han dynasty would starve to death. In comparison the Han farmer could have a seed return of 20:1 - 30:1. Roman Egypt had around 10:1 return, while the rest of the empire would have 5:1. Of course, this by itself does not say everything about per acre output. We also need to look at the seed distribution density per acre, but that may be impossible to measure as the Romans distributed the seed by hand.

I don't believe Central Asia is a good reflection on Han agriculture, considering that the Central Asian population subjected to Han dynasty control were minimal as compared with the rest of the population. Although I did not study Central Asia in detail, I'm sure that its agricultural practices were also different from the rest of the dynasty.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank81 View Post
As usual, the stimations of Maddison for Rome, too low actually. I'm going for more sources than those used in the other thread.

Italy had a seed productivity of 3:1 for its poorer lands, and a higher of 15:1, while the mean would be around 5:1/6:1 Roman Egypt had probably a return close to 16:1 according to public taxation, while private records goes as high as 22:1

From these (P.41) The grain market in the Roman Empire ... - Google Libros

Provided by the same link P.34: Greece could had a mean production of 650 kgs per hectare, or 3:1 to 5.1 seed productivity.


Be advised against taking too much arable land in western Europe, Roman Italy only could farm 40-55% of its territory (P.30-31) Peasants and Slaves: The Rural ... - Google Libros

While Egypt... well you know, that's no more than a big oasis in the middle of the desert.


I've been able to find few dates of Han China seed productivity or yield productivity, this book (The sustainability of rice farming - Google Libros ) says that rice fields could produce from 402 kgs to 2550 kgs per hectare. I choose a middle point in 1476 kgs per hectare, while the wiki article about Song Economy of the Song Dynasty - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia put it around 1130 kgs per hectare during Han dynasty by citing a Chinese source which i can't read, wiki isn't reliable so.

I interpret as a productivity somewhere between Greece and Egypt, and lightly higher than that of Italy.


Quote:
Originally Posted by HackneyedScribe View Post
Um... how does that contradict me? In fact, how does that even contradict Maddison? I don't believe I've mentioned him. Anyway, my link already went over the interpretations from sources written by the upper class. In summary, what I'm doing is giving a picture of the typical farmer. What the upper class wrote reflects what the upper class experienced. When they talk about farm sizes, seed yield ratios, per iugera output, etc..., they are talking about the things experienced by them and people like them. Upper class farms are more productive than those of the average farmer by several fold. However they are not good representatives of the typical farming family. There are more details in the link I provided.

The average land owned by the typical Han farmer is 7-8 acres (although each family was supposed to have 10 acres). The typical Roman family do own on paper somewhat less than this(when it's this close the difference is negligible due to the variance in estimation), but they do rent themselves out in order to farm more land(otherwise they would starve). Technically, from a macro perspective Romans do have more land, although it may not be true in terms of individual ownership. Han farmers with little land also used this practice.

Rice was not the main food crop of Han China so rice output should not be used as a basis. However, your result of 1130 kg per hectare is remarkably close to the actual result YangSuiPing calculated: 1205 kg per hectare (converted from Jin per Mou). Yang's calculations are in the middle ground of Han dynasty agricultural studies, and is one of the more recent ones conducted seriously. Jones estimates a similar amount in Roman Egypt from tax/rent records (1000 kg per hectare). So the average Han farm had around the same output per acre as Rome's breadbasket. Again, keep in mind that the average Han farmer had to produce more per acre than those of a Roman farmer because the Han farmer cultivated significantly less land. If they didn't maximize food per acre, they would starve. It does not mean they were more wealthy than the Roman farmer. It only means they had less land, so they focused more of their energies on the acres they did have. A Roman farmer simply spent less attention on each acre because they cultivated more acres.




Today I won't add nothing new since here in the Canaries is 02:00 and i need to sleep
Frank81 is online now  
Remove Ads
Old May 28th, 2011, 07:15 PM   #2

Guaporense's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Mar 2011
Posts: 4,149
Blog Entries: 9

I like Geoffrey Kron`s papers on Roman and Greek agriculture:

Faculty Members | Department of Greek and Roman Studies | University of Victoria

That paper is very interesting:
"The Much Maligned Peasant. Comparative Perspectives on the Productivity of the Small Farmer in Classical Antiquity," in, L. De Ligt, S. Northwood (edd.), People, Land and Politics. Demographic Developments and the Transformation of Roman Italy, 300 BC-AD14. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2008) 71-
119;

Link for the paper:
The Much Maligned Peasant. Comparative Perspectives on the Productivity of the Small Farmer in Classical Antiquity (Geoffrey Kron) - Academia.edu

Other interesting papers by Kron:

http://uvic.academia.edu/GeoffreyKro...d_Pisciculture
http://uvic.academia.edu/GeoffreyKro...h_and_practice
http://uvic.academia.edu/GeoffreyKro...rosion_control

Last edited by Guaporense; May 28th, 2011 at 07:48 PM.
Guaporense is offline  
Old May 28th, 2011, 07:46 PM   #3

Guaporense's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Mar 2011
Posts: 4,149
Blog Entries: 9

There are 3 ways of measuring agricultural productivity:

1 - Productivity per hectare
That rougly determines the population density that a certain area can sustain without food imports.

2 - Productivity per unit of seed
That determines the productivity of food production in terms of proportion of ouput that doesn`t need to be recycled as seed.

3 - Productivity per unit of labor
That`s the most important indicator when measuring agricultural productivity since it measures indirectly the proportion of the population needed to produce food and hence measures the capacity of agriculture in supporting civilization (i.e. urban activities that doesn`t involve subsistence farming).

I would add that one advantage that the Graeco-Romans enjoyed over the Chinese would be the fact that since Graeco-Roman agriculture had access to the mediterranean sea they could make use of interegional specialization: Sicily, Africa and Egypt could specialize in producing wheat, while Italy and Greece specialized in producing wine and oil. As the mediterranean sea was a transportation network that enabled cheap transport of goods, the Romans even transported bricks over the mediterranean as we know that buildings in Roman Carthage were made out of bricks made in Italy. Interegional specialization meant that they could make the best use of each type of soil and hence increase productivity in all levels.
Guaporense is offline  
Old May 31st, 2011, 12:00 AM   #4
Historian
 
Joined: Sep 2009
Posts: 1,078

Quote:
Originally Posted by Guaporense View Post
There are 3 ways of measuring agricultural productivity:

1 - Productivity per hectare
That rougly determines the population density that a certain area can sustain without food imports.

2 - Productivity per unit of seed
That determines the productivity of food production in terms of proportion of ouput that doesn`t need to be recycled as seed.

3 - Productivity per unit of labor
That`s the most important indicator when measuring agricultural productivity since it measures indirectly the proportion of the population needed to produce food and hence measures the capacity of agriculture in supporting civilization (i.e. urban activities that doesn`t involve subsistence farming).

I would add that one advantage that the Graeco-Romans enjoyed over the Chinese would be the fact that since Graeco-Roman agriculture had access to the mediterranean sea they could make use of interegional specialization: Sicily, Africa and Egypt could specialize in producing wheat, while Italy and Greece specialized in producing wine and oil. As the mediterranean sea was a transportation network that enabled cheap transport of goods, the Romans even transported bricks over the mediterranean as we know that buildings in Roman Carthage were made out of bricks made in Italy. Interegional specialization meant that they could make the best use of each type of soil and hence increase productivity in all levels.
These are great summeries, and it also points to why Chinese dynasties eventually constructed the Grand Canal after they finally recover from the collapse of the Han empire. Later Chinese dynasties was signficiantly better in this regard as massive amount of grain were transported from the South to the North via the Canal.

For these factors though, one point should be noted that Most of China proper were in significantly lower latitude than most of the Roman empire, the latitude of Xi An (the ancient capital of Chang An) is only marginally higher than that of Baghdad. Although the Medeterranian part of the RE is generally somewhat warmer than Northern China, the parts away from the Med are much colder, which influence growing seasons.

Also, while Egypt was highly productive, it was concentranted entirely around the Nile, once past the Niles it became unihabitable (Mesopotmia is also like that but to less extreme degrees), where as in China the Yellow River region did not see such extreme distribution. There were more tributories and the region wasn't a pure desert past the river (today it's more like that but thats another story).
RollingWave is offline  
Reply

  Historum > Themes in History > Natural Environment

Tags
agricultural, ancient, productivity


Thread Tools
Display Modes


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
7 ancient wonders of the world old_abe Ancient History 27 December 7th, 2012 03:21 PM
The agricultural revolution and ancient Greek / Roman empire lolbits Ancient History 9 October 16th, 2010 10:39 AM
Homosexuality in the ancient world wolfeman18 Ancient History 24 January 4th, 2010 05:14 AM
American agricultural products pinguin American History 246 November 27th, 2009 05:29 PM

Copyright © 2006-2013 Historum. All rights reserved.