Richard Jenkyns, Virgil's Experience. Nature and History: Times, Names, and Places
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 174:
[W]e have grown up with the idea of town and country as two separate spheres, whose economies and ways of life are sharply distinct. That is an anachronistic model for almost all the ancient world, and indeed for almost all societies before the Industrial Revolution. Plenty of industry and manufacturing went on in the small country towns of the ancient world and outside them: the making of clothes, the processing of food, building, milling, tanning, fulling, smithying.109 In the course of the nineteenth century mass production and the railway train concentrated manufacturing in larger centres and drew the non-agricultural population away from the country. The number of nailsmiths in Upper Austria dropped from two hundred and ninety-nine to sixty-seven between 1870 and 1890; a village in the Dauphiné which had some thirty-five craftsmen or artisans in 1851 had no more than five by 1896 (a cobbler, a wheel-wright, a dressmaker, a carpenter and a mason), and after 1914 only two.110 Virgil will have grown up in a world where the division between those who lived off the soil and those who drew their income from a city economy was much less marked than the one to which we are used.
109 F. Millar, 'The World of the Golden Ass', JRS 71 (1981), 63-75, at 72 f.: 'What is more striking in Apuleius is the level and nature of economic activity outside the towns, first in villages ... , and secondly in the countryside itself', 72. Of course Apuleius' novel reflects a world two centuries later than Virgil's. but it will not in these respects have been very different. (For comparison with a more recent period, a study of towns in the Var in the nineteenth century with a population between 1,500 and 5,000 noted a considerable number of small industries like tanneries, paper-mills, silk-weaving, cork, and oil manufacture (T. Zeldin, France 1848-1945: Politics and Anger (Oxford, 1979), 113).
110 N. Stone, Europe Transformed 1878-1919 (London, 1983), 25 (nailsmiths); Zeldin, France 1848-1945: Ambition and Love (1979), 179.