Silphium z Cyrene. Skarb antycznej medycyny
SILPHIUM FROM CYRENE. A TREASURE OF ANCIENT MEDICINE
The town of Cyrene was founded by Greek colonists c. 631 BC. Immigrants led by Battus came from the island of Thera (now Santorini), following the instruction of the oracle at Delphi; details of their trip were recorded by Herodotus. The colony was an important trade centre, as due to its natural conditions and fertile soil it produced much more than it consumed. Surpluses of grain were exported to many Greek states. Another important commodity was the colony’s greatest treasure, the widely-used plant called silphium, whose export was controlled by the ruler. It greatly contributed to the economic development of Cyrene, which became one of the wealthiest urban centres of south Africa. Silphium was sought for in the ancient world because of its unusual qualities and it was recommended as helpful in many sicknesses. The value of the plant was measured in silver. Surviving descriptions and pictures on coins allow us to identify it as one of the celery family. It can be supposed that silphium was endemic to the coast of today’s Libya and became extinct in the 1st century AD. Even though there are many ancient descriptions and images of this plant, the species has not been precisely determined up till now. An archaically stylized picture of silphium was put on coins under the rule of the Battiad dynasty (631–440 BC). The plant was also pictured on black-figure bowls produced in Laconia; one of the best known examples is “The bowl of Arkesilaos the painter” (560 BC). The most valuable information on silphium can be found in written sources from between the 6th and the 2nd century BC, when the plant was still in existence. Theophrastus of Eresos (c. 370–288 BC) described it as scentless, and having a thick root, a single stalk, yellow fl owers and characteristic heart-shaped fruit. Hippocrates (460–377 BC) and Aristotle (384–322 BC) recorded that it was used as a purgative, a febrifuge and a remedy for stomach-aches. It was also applied as a pessary in ailments of the reproductive organs. It was also widely described by Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD), who called it one of the most valuable natural resources. According to Pliny, the last specimen found in the natural habitat was presented to Nero.
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