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L. Iunius Columella, De Re Rustica 1.8.19

A mother nurses her infant

Columella wrote the De Re Rustica in the mid 1st century CE. It consists of twelve books of advice on running an agricultural estate. Chapter 8 is devoted to the assignment of work to slaves and how to best care for them in order to maintain and increase their productivity. In this selection he argues that since a slave woman’s “work” in bearing children profits her master, she should be rewarded for her fecundity. Varro, a contemporary who also wrote a treatise on the running of an estate, had a different opinion. He recommended that only vilici be rewarded with privileges, with peculium (a slave’s savings with which he might buy his freedom) and with female slave companions; Varro was apparently unconcerned with how a slave woman might perceive this use of her body. Columella's description of the duties of the vilica may be found in the World of Work.

Feminis quoque fecundioribus, quarum in subole certus numerus honorari debet,
otium nonnumquam et libertatem dedimus, cum plures natos educassent.
Nam cui tres erant filii, vacatio, cui plures libertas quoque contingebat.
Haec et iustitia et cura patris familias multum confert augendo patrimonio.

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Ann R. Raia and Judith Lynn Sebesta
Return to The World of Body
April 2006; updated Spring 2019