Bringing in the Sheaves: Economy and Metaphor in the Roman World

Bringing in the Sheaves: Economy and Metaphor in the Roman World

by Brent Shaw

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Bringing in the Sheaves: Economy and Metaphor in the Roman World by Brent Shaw

The annual harvesting of cereal crops was one of the most important economic tasks in the Roman Empire. Not only was it urgent and critical for the survival of state and society, it mobilized huge numbers of men and women every year from across the whole face of the Mediterranean. In Bringing in the Sheaves, Brent D. Shaw investigates the ways in which human labour interacted with the instruments of harvesting, what part the workers and their tools had in the whole economy, and how the work itself was organized.

Both collective and individual aspects of the story are investigated, centred on the life-story of a single reaper whose work in the wheat fields of North Africa is documented in his funerary epitaph. The narrative then proceeds to an analysis of the ways in which this cyclical human behaviour formed and influenced modes of thinking about matters beyond the harvest. The work features an edition of the reaper inscription, and a commentary on it. It is also lavishly illustrated to demonstrate the important iconic and pictorial dimensions of the story.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781442661608
Publisher: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division
Publication date: 02/27/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 480
File size: 25 MB
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About the Author

Brent D. Shaw is Andrew Fleming West Professor of Classics at Princeton University.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


1. Under the Burning Sun

2. Primus in Arvis / First in the Fields

3. Sickle & Scythe / Man & Machine

4. The Grim Reapers

5. Blade of Vengeance

Appendix 1: Harvesting Contracts from Roman Egypt and Italy

Appendix 2: The Maktar Harvester Inscription: Text and Commentary

Appendix 3: The Gallo-Roman Reaping Machines: Iconographic Data

Map 1.1: Africa of the Maktar Harvester

Map 2.1: Roman Mactaris (Maktar) and Region

Map 3.1: Northern Gaul: Heartland of the Reaping Machine

Map 3.2: Distribution of Sickle and Scythe Finds in Late Prehistoric and Roman Gaul

Table 1.1: Survey of Modern/Post World War II Land Use Patterns in the Maghrib

Table 1.2: Pre-World War II Cereal Grain Production in the Maghrib

Table 1.3: Survey of Modern/Post World War II Cereal Grain Production in the Maghrib

Table 1.4: Pre World War I Indigenous Cereal Grain Production in Algeria

Abbreviations of Sources


What People are Saying About This

Nicholas Purcell

“I have really enjoyed reading Bringing in the Sheaves. Both the subject and its handling are outstandingly original. Brent D. Shaw pulls out a single vital aspect of ancient agriculture and shows how it reverberates through society and culture. Bringing to bear a huge range of comparative illumination, from the New Testament to the Prairies in the age of mechanization, he shows that the paroxysm of human effort involved every year in the cereal harvest has a historical centrality that goes far beyond understanding life on the land. Along the way, he deploys his new insights to solve some of the conundrums of social unrest in late Roman Africa. But with its vast historical scope and its ground-breaking melding of cultural metaphor with social and economic data, Bringing in the Sheaves will have a place of its own in debate in large-scale, long-period, comparative and interdisciplinary history-writing.

Dennis Kehoe

Bringing in the Sheaves provides a persuasive case for the centrality of the harvest to the life of the Roman Empire and a broad, panoramic discussion of the harvest’s role in this society. Throughout the book, Brent D. Shaw demonstrates the depth and breadth of his learning about the ancient world, drawing expertly on an amazing range of comparative evidence in such a way that few can match. His book is ground-breaking, highly original, and a significant contribution to scholarship.”

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