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  • Writer's pictureCláudio Giordano

Missionary of the Agricultural Culture:Giovanni Battista Gagliardo (1758-1823)

Going through the books of BVReppucci, one caught my attention: Vocabolario Agronomico Italiano. After all, vocabulary is nothing more than the relation of the word with the simple definition of its meaning.

This one is no exception to the rule, but it does so very appropriately. It has dozens of terms referring to the winery theme, spelled out short and clearly, many of which are not present in ordinary dictionaries. The author explains on the opening pages:

“I’ve set two goals for myself in this compilation: the first one, takes into account everything that has been written so far, all the ancient and modern Italian agronomists in their various native dialects; The second, the most important, was to establish an order in the agronomic language, associating each term with its true and unique meaning. In this way, the usual mistakes can be avoided in the future, by avoiding the use of long terms which the writers use when they ignore or lack the true technical term ”.

After referring to the extent of his work which covers the study of all varieties of vegetables, fruits, cereals and legumes, he advises:

“But if all the varieties of grapes were known, could the people from Lombardy had produced the wines of Sicily, Puglia or Tuscany? No. To make great wines it is not enough to use this or that kind of grape. You need to know oenology and then any type of grape will produce great quality wines. This is also true for all the other products.

It is time for all the sciences to improve. Each one must contribute to the understanding of the others. If agronomists must know Chemistry, Natural History, Geonomy, Botany, etc., they must also know the right words to express them, in their respective science, when referring to the analysis of the land, to the name of plants, and so on.

Although a Vocabulary is not a book to study, but only to consult when needed, I invite you to at least give it a glimpse; not to see how hard my work was, but to help me correct it. I assure you that I’ve used all my attention and diligence, but I may have made mistakes or forgotten something. I will be very grateful to those who can appoint me the mistakes which I may have made; I will be even more grateful to those who can contribute to make this work as perfect as possible. Live happily! ”

After the tour on Vocabolario, I wanted to know more about Giovanni Battista Gagliardo, its author: encyclopedic priest, economist, agronomist, writer are the titles given to him by the daily newspaper CosmoPolis of Taranto. Born in 1758, he inherited from his father a passion for agriculture, along with a taste for study. He combined the two things together, building a career that led him to become the "General Director of Agriculture for His Majesty, the King of Two Cecilies" (1807) and a "Member of various Italian and foreign Academies." He chose to follow his pastoral vocation and became a vicar in 1790. He was a vicar and a well-appreciated preacher. When the department of agriculture was created at the Episcopal Seminary of Tarentum, he was appointed a professor.

He wrote a great deal and published, among other works, the Istruzioni theorical-practicalhe d'Agriculture, the Agrarian Catechism, the Italian Vocabulary Agronomist, the Trattato sulla Manufattura del Vino and countless memories. His most appreciated work (still today) is Descrizione Topografica di Taranto (1811), whith the following subtitles (translated): “With the description of its two seas, its fishing, its territory, its maritime and land products, its ancient ruins and the its several famous men ”. Under the title Diulo, it includes this curious record about the wine:

“This little hill is located in front of the last entrance of Mare Piccolo. It was once a place of enjoyment. Its cold caves stored sealed wineskins of the finest wines, especially those served in sacred offerings and orgies, and in the extravagant banquet which, according to historian Theopompo, was annually served to the people. It was indeed a very appropriate place for that, for during the heatwaves, from the caves blew a very strong wind. The wines stored there were like all the others produced in Taranto. They were so excellent that they deserved to be remembered by Ateneo, Pliny, Martial and Horace. Publius Estacio in his Jungles (Silvae) praises the wines of Galeso, which are also referred by Sílio Itálico. Even today's wines, although being produced without art, are delicate, digestive and light, because the grapes are naturally exquisite and mature to perfection. Imagine what they would be like if they were produced under the real oenological rules?

And Gagliardo adds:

“Take a look at my Biblioteca di Campagna and my Catechismo Agrario, where I present the rules, not only to produce the wines, but also to preserve them and make them suitable for maritime transportation.”

He created the rural magazine Biblioteca di Campagna. Driven by a social and cultural impulse, Gagliardo was convinced that anyone who had the opportunity to study should transmit their knowledge to those who did not have that opportunity. He used to say:

“Peasants alone cannot improve agriculture, either because they are attached to the methods learned from their ancestors, or because they lack the time and conditions to acquire the science of the reason for things. Agriculture is not just an art of practice. The only way by which one can expect a reasonable advance in the art of cultivation is through instruction. And who are the most suitable people for that? The owners. Because they know the theory and they have experimented in the practice. They will be able to transmit the knowledge to their peasants, thus perfecting the agriculture. They will also be able to promote private and public growth, thus fostering the nation’s welfare. The land itself becomes merrier and therefore more generous when cultivated by an 'educated plow and by a triumphant plowman'. These periodic writings are intended, therefore, for the landowners. The purpose is no other than the progress of this art upon which depends the glory, the strength, and the power of Italy; In this journal they will find the memories, observations, and results of experiments that have been successful, both in Italy and elsewhere, excerpts from new books and from books that did not deserve any extract, quote or an assessment. And considering agriculture in the broadest sense of the word, the journal will enclose everything concerning to it, even indirectly. ”

Still from its tillage, is the Catechismo Agrario, which, using in an extremely didactic and simple language, explains to the peasants, through questions and answers, everything from the elements of the agriculture until its use: wheat, rice, corn, vegetables, flax, hemp , cotton, vegetables, tobacco, olive trees, vineyards (wine), agricultural animals, bees, and other applications. Below we can find the transcript of the inscription that he dedicated to Fernando IV, king of the two Cecilies. :


One of the main duties of the human being, which can make him worthy of the honorable title of a worthwhile Citizen is to contribute to the national wealth, especially in the matters of public good. Of the most important for our Kingdom, blessed by the exultant government of His Majesty, is that of Agriculture. I do not think I can better use of my talent than with this art, so useful and necessary that, inspired by His Majesty and various Institutions, begins to be practiced by the Philosophers. Driven by truly patriotic passion, they daily present useful and helpful works. But agriculture needs more practice than theory. The peasants who need to use it are unable to acquire scientific instructions. Hence the need for an absolutely practical agronomic book, that is, an Agrarian Catechism. It is precisely what I humbly present to the Throne of a Monarch, universally recognized as a promoter of the industry and a stimulator of happiness. I will be happy if I can be of any service to my fellow citizen and to His Majesty, who I permanently devote my respectful submission and obedience.

Humble, most grateful Vassal

Giovanni Battista Gagliardo ”

He then concludes his message “To the inhabitants of the Salentina Province” with these words:

“The multitude of books on this art show how useful, necessary and beneficial it is: and as such it will not be dealt with in all its complexity. For this reason, according to Knight Filangieri, philosophers should not be inventors of systems, but disseminators of the truth. Being a valuable material, it needs to be administrated, promoted and illustrated, as only this way it can become beneficial, especially in agriculture, since it helps improve what was already invented, rather than starting from scratch. Live happily! ”

I believe that the above validates the qualification of missionary of the agricultural culture that we’ve added to Gagliardo’s title.

*Translated by Mônica H. Reppucci.

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