Latifundia are pieces of property covering tremendous areas. The latifundia (Latin: "lātifundium"; "lātus", "spacious" + "fundus", "farm, estate") of Roman history were great landed estates, specializing in agriculture destined for export: grain, olive oil, or wine. They were characteristic of Magna Graecia and Sicily, of Egypt and the North African Maghreb and of Hispania Baetica in southern Spain. The "latifundia" were the closest approximation to industrialized agriculture in Antiquity, and their economics depended upon slave labour.

Today, latifundia are only found in Latin America and the term is often extended to describe the "haciendas" of colonial and post-colonial Mexico, Venezuela, Uruguay, Chile (called "latifundio" or simply "fundo") and Argentina. These originated under colonial law allowing forced labor recruitment and land grants for military services. In post-colonial times, ending the dominance of the latifundia system by implementing agrarian reforms became a popular goal of several governments in the region.

Ancient Greece

The landscape of the Greek mainland does lend itself to large estates. [See agriculture of ancient Greece.] Trade in olive oil and wine were typically the produce of many small groves and vineyards, concentrated in fewer hands at the presses and shipping ports. The grasslands of Thessaly and Macedon were pasture for grazing horses. Meat was not a staple in Mediterranean diets. [See Ancient Greek cuisine.]

The Hellenistic "latifundia" were more typical of the export-oriented agriculture of coastal Syria and Ptolemaic Egypt.

Ancient Rome

The basis of the latifundia in Italy and Sicily was the "ager publicus" that fell to the dispensation of the state through Rome's policy of war in the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. As much as a third of the arable land of a new province was taken for "agri publici" and then divided up with at least the fiction of a competitive auction for leaseholdings rather than outright ownership. Later in the Empire, as leases were inherited, ownership of the former common lands became established by tradition, and the leases became taxable.

The first latifundia were accumulated from the spoils of war, confiscated from conquered peoples beginning in the early 2nd century BC. The prototypical latifundia were the Roman estates in Magna Graecia (the south of Italy) and in Sicily, which distressed Pliny the Elder (died AD 79) as he travelled, seeing only slaves working the land, not the sturdy Roman farmers who had been the backbone of the Republic's army. Latifundia expanded with conquest, to the Roman provinces of the maghreb and in Hispania Baetica, the south of Spain. Large villa holdings in the Campania around Rome, in the valley of the Po and in southern Gaul organized populations in a self-sufficient economy, more similar to the "haciendas" of Latin America, while they produced oil, wine or garum for exportation. The practice of establishing agricultural "coloniae" as a way to compensate Roman soldiers formed smaller landholdings, which would be accumulated by large landholders in times of want. Thus the direction, over time, was in larger consolidations of landholdings.

Latifundia could be devoted to livestock (sheep and cattle) or to cultivation of olive oil, grain, and wine. However, in Rome, they did not produce grain and Rome had to import grain. Ownership of land, organized in the latifundia, defined the Roman Senatorial class. It was the only acceptable source of wealth for senators, though Romans of the elite class would set up their freedmen as merchant traders, and participate as silent partners in profits to which "senatores" were disqualified.

The latifundia quickly started economic consolidation as larger estates achieved greater economies of scale and senators did not pay land taxes. Owners re-invested their profits by purchasing smaller neighbouring farms, since smaller farms had a lower productivity and could not compete, in an ancient precursor of agribusiness. By the 2nd century AD, latifundia had in fact displaced small farms as the agricultural foundation of the Roman Empire. Such increased productivity enabled single farm laborer to produce enough cereals to feed an estimated Fact|date=January 2007 30 people. It was a level of worker productivity unsurpassed before the 19th century.

Such consolidation was not universally approved, as it consolidated more and more land into fewer and fewer hands, mainly Senators and the Roman emperor. Pliny the Elder argued that the latifundia had ruined Italy and would ruin the Roman provinces as well. He reported that at one point just six owners possessed half of the province of Africa. ["The men of olden times believed that above all moderation should be observed in landholding, for indeed it was their judgment that it was better to sow less and plow more intensively. Virgil, too, I see agreed with this view. To confess the truth, the latifundia have ruined Italy, and soon will ruin the provinces as well. Six owners were in possession of half of the province of Africa at the time when the Emperor Nero had them put to death." ("Pliny's Natural History" 18.7.35).]

But then again, Pliny the Elder was very much against the profit-oriented villas as presented in the writings of Columella. His writings can be seen as a part of the 'conservative' reaction to the gain- and profit-oriented new attitudes of the upper classes of the Early Empire. (Martin 1971)


In the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the largely self-sufficient villa-system of the latifundia remained among the few political-cultural centres of a fragmented Europe. These latifundia had been of great importance economically, until the long-distance shipping of wine and oil, grain and "garum" disintegrated, but extensive lands controlled in a single pair of hands still constituted "power": it can be argued that the latifundia formed part of the economic basis of the European social feudal system. The gift of a "villa", or of a series of them, owned by a powerful patron was at the basis of all the great monasteries and abbeys founded in Western Europe until the time of Charlemagne, when the land-gifts, significantly, tended to be of forest instead. In the 6th century Cassiodorus was able to apply his own latifundia to support his short-lived "Vivarium" in the heel of Italy. Shortly thereafter, Monte Cassino was founded in a former Imperial villa. But in the 10th century the Abbey of Cluny was founded on a gift of the duke of Aquitaine's chase, or hunting forest.

In the Iberian Peninsula, the Castilian "Reconquista" of Muslim territories provided the Christian kingdom with sudden extensions of land, which the kings ceded as rewards to nobility, mercenaries and military orders to exploit as latifundia, which had been first established as the commercial olive oil and grain latifundia of Roman Hispania Baetica. The gifts finished the traditional small private ownership of land, eliminating a social class that had also been typical of the Al-Andalus period.

The possessions of the Church did not pass to private ownership until the "desamortización", the "secularization" of church-owned latifundia, which proceeded in pulses through the 19th century.

Big areas of Andalusia are still populated by an underclass of "jornaleros", landless peasants who are hired by the latifundists as "day workers" for specific seasonal campaigns.

The "jornalero" class has been fertile ground for socialism and anarchism. Still today, among the main Andalusian trade unions is the Rural Workers Union ("Sindicato Obrero del Campo"), a far-left group famous for their squatting campaigns in the town of Marinaleda, in Seville province.

North and South America

A descendant social system exists in agricultural California, where the latifundia of the Central Valley are the basis of corporate agribusiness. Small holdings persist in the corporate-owned landscape, as they had persisted in al-Andalus.

Latifundios in Spanish-speaking Latin America are commonly called "haciendas", and those in Brazil "latifúndios". Such quasi-feudal estates were prevalent in the colonial era.

That the large corporate "hacienda" farms of international agribusiness have similarities with the Roman latifundia in the extent of holdings, and efficiencies in mass production that drive out small competitors is a cliché of ideology with some truth in it.Fact|date=March 2008 The parallels are more useful for ideological purposes; the differences inform authentic history. Modern South American latifundios are blamed for economic inequality and strife.



*Stephen L. Dyson, "The Roman Countryside (Duckworth Debates in Archaeology)"
*René Martin: "Recherches sur les agronomes latins et leurs conceptions économiques et sociales", Paris, 1971.

ee also

*Latifundio–minifundio land tenure structure

External links

* [ On Roman wealth: gentleman farmers]
*Kautsky, Karl (1908) " [ The Technological Inferiority of the Slave Economy] " from "I. The Slave Economy, Book Two: Society In The Roman Empire, Foundations of Christianity." Published in English: Russell and Russell, 1953.
* [ Dr Frithjof Kuhnen, (University of Göttingen), "Latifundia (Hacienda)"]
* [ Jonathan Conning (Hunter College), "Latifundia economics"] Hunter College Department of Economics Working Papers with number 02/1.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • LATIFUNDIA — Le nom de latifundium , grand domaine, avait été donné à Rome à toute concentration, dans les mêmes mains, d’une superficie de terres excédant celle qu’une famille paysanne pouvait normalement cultiver. La multiplication de ces grands domaines… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • latifundia —    Latifundia are large agrarian estates often associated with extensive farming especially in the South (in Andalusia, Castilla La Mancha and Extremadura), frequently involving a monoculture based around pasture in mountainous areas and arable… …   Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture

  • latifundia — /la ti funˈdi ə/ plural noun Great landed estates (also (sing) latifunˈdium, (Italy) latifondi /lä tē fonˈdē/) ORIGIN: Pl of L lātifundium, from lātus wide, and fundus an estate …   Useful english dictionary

  • Latifundia — Latifundium  Ne doit pas être confondu avec Latifundio. Un latifundium (du latin latus spacieux, fundus ferme) est, dans l Antiquité, un grand domaine agricole. Latifundia est souvent utilisé pour désigner une hacienda en Amérique du Sud.… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • latifundia —   system of landholding found most commonly in Latin America. Land is held in ownership on a large, estate scale by a small elite class. The work is carried out by local people employed as farm labourers …   Geography glossary

  • latifundia — is., Lat. İlkel yöntemlerle ve düşük verimle işletilen geniş tarım alanları …   Çağatay Osmanlı Sözlük

  • latifundia — Large land holdings in Latin America which originated as imperial grants to settlers from the Spanish crown. With the incorporation of that continent into the world economy they slowly evolved from a form of feudalism into capitalist estates… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • latifundia — n. large estate in ancient Rome …   English contemporary dictionary

  • undia — latifundia …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • Латифундии — (Latifundia) в древнем Риме так назыв. обширные поместья, обрабатываемые трудом рабов. Мелкие землевладельцы, разоряемые войнами, запутывались в долги и давали возможность богатым помещикам расширять свои владения. В V в. до Р. Хр. были попытки… …   Энциклопедический словарь Ф.А. Брокгауза и И.А. Ефрона

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.