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

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

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By Brent D. Shaw
Robson Classical Lectures
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2015
World Rights
478 Pages 98 Images
ISBN 9781442629226
Published Apr 2015
Online discount: 30%
 $44.95    $31.47
ISBN 9781442644793
Published Feb 2013
Online discount: 30%
 $90.00    $63.00
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442661608
Published Feb 2013
Online discount: 30%
Full purchase $90.00

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.

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

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


‘How wonderful to read a book written by a true scholar, which brims with humor, critique, insight, and expansiveness… Highly recommended.’

S. Hammer, Choice Magazine vol 51:01:2013

‘Fascinating study of harvest and harvesting in the Roman world…Not only is this the most wide-ranging study of the harvest in antiquity that I am aware of, it should be read by all who are interested in the link between life and thought in the Roman world.’

Paul Erdkamp, American Historical Review, vol 119:02:2014

CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title (United States) - Winner in