Labor-saving Draft Animals and the Salzburg Scythe

Considerable debate arises today regarding the pros and cons of technological developments in the wake of climate change, employment rates, and related issues. One thing I find for sure upon recalling my grandfather’s stories of year-round farm labor here in the Northwest is that life was hard back in the day. I have done some […]

North African Threshers and Gallic-Roman Reapers

“Wonders never cease,” as is often said and I’m always amazed how archaeological discoveries in the past century have revealed more about life in ancient times than the past thousand years of evidence. I hope this is encouraging to young people contemplating careers in history and related fields. A team of Italian archaeologists excavating near […]

Eat Your Barley! Whole Grains and Gladiators

Humble barley and oats generally give way to wheat berries, lentils, and chickpeas as principal ingredients in modern recipes calling for grains and legumes. But the Italian “farro” grains emmer and spelt were staples of Roman legionnaires who made nutritious soups from the cracked kernels and likely spread it and other Roman varieties throughout the […]

The Georgic World and Roman Expansion

Word games are fun, and recent research on educational success has revealed some very practical applications for them. Studies indicate that in spite of all the money spent on manuals and workshops for students to score high on college entrance exams, the best marks go to those who have a solid understanding of Greek and […]

Liberty Hyde Bailey: American Prophet of Agrarianism

Agricultural laws that guided ancient Hebrew spiritual and civil life are described in the third century AD Mishnaic collection of oral traditions and include blessings for foods and landowner obligations to provide produce for the Levites of the temple, priests, and the poor. In a medieval commentary on Jewish piety, Hokhmat ha-Nefesh, Rabbi Elezar Ben […]

Emmer, “Mother Wheat” of the Ancient World

Ancient grains like emmer have become quite popular these days for both nutritional and culinary reasons. Northwest artisan bakeries sell breads made from emmer while several regional craft breweries market einkorn ales. While nutritious wheats were free-threshing grains that more easily surrendered their fibrous hulls when threshed, the “pre-wheats” like emmer and einkorn required more […]

Mayor and Commissioner, Ulysses and Hector

Next time you drive by a city hall county courthouse, or state legislative building, consider that historians trace the origins of civil government to the orderly distribution of bread in ancient Egypt. Anthropologist Clark Wissler observes that this function was the principal reason civil administration first developed, and that association of life-giving bread with spirituality […]

Harvest Hieroglyphics

The brief hieroglyphic interjections that accompany ancient Egyptian Ty harvest images may be the work of the artist, but may well be by other artisans. The symbols conjure thoughts of commotion and shouting more than any measured routine accompanied by clapping and music. The terms used include “beat,” “hurry,” and “drive them.” The next threshing […]

King Tut the Farmer?

The earliest pictorial expressions of harvest are from Egypt’s Old Kingdom (c. 2700-2100 BC) when unification of Upper and Lower Egypt led to a flowering of culture and architecture in grand monuments like the mortuary complexes at Thebes and Memphis in the fertile Nile Valley. The necropolis of Saqqara near the kingdom’s capital at Memphis […]

Farming’s Critical Role in the Emergence of Literature

When thinking of old books, I recall my farm mother’s home library that consisted of three or four shelves built by my father to hold a couple dozen of her Book of Month volumes. Since those days I have marveled at truly ancient and illuminated medieval manuscripts in libraries worldwide. Just this week here at […]