The Imperial estates in question are all from the Bagradas Valley region of Africa Proconsularis (modern day Tunisia, around c.50 km west of the ancient city of Carthage. The inscription detailing the actual Lex Manciana comes from Henchir-Mettich in c.AD 116-117. Two additional inscriptions dealing with a similar subject matter, also in the same region, are known from Ain-elDjemala (Hadrianic period) and Ain Wassel c.AD 198-209).
The Inscription from Henchir Mettich details the tenancy agreement for coloni tenant farmers on the Fundus Villae Magnae Variane (an Imperial estate). The content of the translation runs as follows:
2. Authorisation to cultivate subseciva - Allows unusused land (subseciva) on this Imperial estate to be brought under cultivation under the following agreement.
3. Assessment of share rents - Tenants will pay rents in kind (i.e. part of the total crop) according to their own judgement.
5. Penalties - Beehives cannot be moved from the estate onto free land in order to avoid rent.
7. Grazing - An annual fee of 4 asses is payable per animal grazing on the land.
8. Damage - Avoidable damage to other tenants' crops is paid for by the offender.
9. Bequesting - Land under tenancy can be bequeathed to an heir in a legally binding contract. This clause intends to promote generational farming of the same land and thus further investment.
10. Confiscation - Land neglected and un-cultivated for two consecutive years will be reclaimed by the landlord.
11. Labour Services - In addition to rents, each tenant must supply two consecutive days labour for ploughing and two for harvesting, on top of a day supervising the livestock. Labour services could be seconded to slaves or retainers of the tenants.
Subsistence farming for a family of six in the ancient world requires three hectares of land to provide crops and enough seed for the next year, though to include a one third payment to a landlord requires cultivation of at least five hectares of land.
Sharecropping forces the colonii to cultivate their land with more effort to attain a minimum level of income than they would otherwise have to supply. It also allows the farmer to pass some of the risks involved in farming onto the landlord as a poor crop would mean lower rents.
- Tenney Frank , A Commentary on the Inscription from Henchir Mettich in Africa The American Journal of Philology Vol. 47, No. 2 (1926), pp. 153-170.
- Kehoe, D, 1988, Econonmics of Agriculture on Roman Imperial Estates in North Africa, Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht