Classical Attitudes to Waste




 For the ancient Greeks and Romans, human and animal manure held an elevated status. As early as c. 800 BC Xenophon was extolling the virtues of animal waste in his Oeconomicus:

“Manure is the best thing in the world for agriculture, and everyone can see how naturally it is produced…matter in every shape, nay earth itself, in stagnant water turns to fine manure” (Chantraine 1948, 108-9, cited in Jones 2012, 6). 

By the first century Virgil wrote in his Georgics that:

          Yet shall thy land from these at pleasure rear,

          Abundant harvests each alternate year,

          If rich manure fresh life and nurture yield,

          And ashes renovate th’exhausted field

          Thus lands in grateful interchange repose,

          And weath unseen beneath the fallow grows.

From this poem is made clear the need to manure fields and leave them to lie fallow for a year so that the soil may recover.  Pliny’s Natural Historia is another of many Roman texts that brought together advice on manure and manuring provided by earlier authorities.