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The poet and historian Agathias, according to another poem in the same anthology, was honorary 'father of the city' of Smyrna and paid for the rebuilding of these public toilets himself: he wrote a total of four epigrams on them - one for each wall, perhaps. I [pp. Naturally the trade in aromatics figures prominently in the Book of the Eparch, most obviously in the chapter dealing with myrepsoi 'perfumiers'. These tradesmen dealt not only in perfumes and dyes but also in the spices that were used in food, drink, medicines and incenses.

Every perfumier shall have his own shop, and not invade another's. Members of the guild are to keep watch on one another to prevent the sale of adulterated products. They are not to stock poor qualiry goods in their shops: a sweet smell and a bad smell do not go together. They are to sell pepper, spikenard, cinnamon, aloeswood, ambergris, musk, frankincense, myrrh, balsam, indigo, dyers' herbs, lapis lazuli, fustic, storax, and in short any article used for perfumery and dyeing.

Their stalls shall be placed in a row between the Milestone and the revered icon of Christ that stands above the Bronze Arcade, so that the aroma may waft upwards to the icon and at the same time fill the vestibule of the Royal Palace When the cargoes come in from Chaldaea, Trebizond or elsewhere, they shall buy from the importers on the days appointed by the regulations Importers shall not live in the Ciry for more than three months; they shall sell their goods expeditiously and then return home No member of the guild may purchase grocery goods or those sold by steelyard.

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Perfumiers shall only buy goods that are sold by weight on scales Any perfumier who currently trades also as a grocer shall be allowed to choose one or other of these trades, and shall be forbidden henceforth to carryon the trade that he does not choose. I This translation is based on the standard one by E. Hence there are several Arabic loanwords in the text, barzen 'balsam', loulakhi 'indigo' and lazouren 'lapis lazuli'. Byzantine control of Trebizond, a possible terminus of the Silk Road at the eastern end of the Black Sea, did not prevent an Arab monopoly over the trade in eastern exotics: the Silk Road passed through Iran, which was itself under Arab rule.

Some of the demand for spices and aromatics came from religion. To assist their customers and increase their profits, dealers set up stalls in the precinct of St Sophia, and apparently sometimes right inside the great church.


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They continued to do so in spite of the Canons: the later commentary by Zonaras and Theodore Balsamon draws attention to the problem. These deserve severe punishment,' the lawyers impotently insist. For reasons that will become evident, Constantinople was fascinated by , Freshfield supposes that there are green herbs in the second half of the list, which in fact consists of dyeing products: instead oflapis lazuli he writes 'mint', while for Greek zygaia his wild guess is 'capers'.

This word was a mystery to me too, until I came across the narra- tive of the Russian pilgrim Daniel, who describes the harvesting of storax resin in southern Asia Minor and uses this same term for it Daniel, Pilgrimage 4.


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The interpretation of lazouren as 'lapis lazuli' seems unproblematic and is confirmed by orher texts see Kriaras In addition to these misunderstandings Freshfield carelessly translates Greek ambar by 'amber': the word always means 'ambergris', a very different thing. The Empress Zoe, joint ruler of the Empire in and a power behind the throne for a rather longer period, took a very special interest in the subject, as Michael Psellus makes clear. Her only occupation, to which she devoted all her efforts, was to blend perfumes and to make aromas, to invent or replicate or improve them.

Her private apartment was no more royal than a workshop off the market-place complete with perfumers and distillers: she had braziers set up all round it, and her maids were all employed in weighing, blending and other such work. He is no doubt right that Zoe's private hobby was an unusual one for an empress. But the scent of spices and aromatics was a normal one in the Imperial apartments. I Psellus, Chronographia 6. Here Constantinople was not at odds with its neighbours.

The importance of exotic aromatics is signalled afresh by a curious story of military standoff in the sixth century, at the period when the nomadic Avars were threatening the Empire's northern frontier. Meanwhile the Avar Khagan gathered his forces and advanced through Moesia, suddenly appearing at the gates ofTomis. Priscus heard of this and made for the threatened city. Romans and enemy both encamped in the neighbourhood ofTomis and did not break camp when winter came on. As spring approached, the Roman troops faced famine, which became acute just before the great Feast of the Passion and Resurrection [30 March ].

The Khagan miraculously made an offer to the Romans to relieve their famine. Priscus was puzzled and suspicious at this unusual offer, but after guarantees from both sides a five-day truce was agreed: fears were allayed, and the Khagan sent wagons laden with food to the starving Romans. This instance of enemy compassion is still counted as a miracle. Three days later, while the Romans were enjoying this unexpected windfall, the Khagan sent Priscus a request for some Indian spices.

The general, in response, sent pepper, tejpat, cassia and putchuk, and the enemy leader took great pleasure in these exotic aromas. During the subsequent cease-fire, which lasted until the Romans had celebrated their great public festival, the two forces mingled with no fear on either side. I Some Byzantine spices Saffron was grown in several Mediterranean localities, though its historic origin was said to be the limestone depression of Corycus near 'Theophylact Simocatta, Histories 7.

The expansion of Islam eventually brought into Muslim control not only Cilicia but also the historic plantations of saffron in Iran and in Kashmir; the Byzantine Empire, however, continued to demand saffron, which was henceforth imported.

The reader will learn in chapter 6 that saffron 'is cold and dry, is bad for the stomach, causes pain and heaviness in the head, is soporific, and cheers the heart' text 2 section vii. With such a range of powers it will not be in everyone's daily diet but must be available to the careful physician to prescribe whenever a heart might need cheering.

Mastic, frequently used in baking bread and cakes in Constan- tinople, is produced in only one location in the world, the island of 'Chios, where the Saint and Martyr Isidore is buried. This island produces mastic, good wine and all kinds offruits,' asserts the Russian traveller Daniel.

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J Chi os no doubt continued to manufacture and export medicinal mastic oil and mastic wine, as it had done in Roman times; but a large proportion of the annual production of mastic was probably exported from Chios in pure form, to be used in cookery and to be chewed, for mastic is the original, natural and health-giving chewing-gum of the Mediterranean world.

Chios fell to Genoa in the fourteenth century, and mastic then became a staple of the Genoese economy. One of the impulses for Christopher Columbus's exploration was the hope of discovering a new source of mastic, a hope that was fated to be disappointed. Nowadays mastic ouzo and liqueur, succes- sors to the old medicinal products, are still produced on the island and remain a favourite with discriminating drinkers in Greece. Some Greeks still like the flavour of mastic in toothpaste and chewing gum, but peppermint and spearmint, heavily sweetened, have tended to supplant it - a bad thing for dental health.

This last town, and the country round as far as Myra, produces black incense [some MSS. This is how it comes: it runs from a tree like a sort of pith, and is collected with an iron blade. The tree is called zygia and resembles alder. Another small tree, resembling the aspen and called raka [some MSS.

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What it has gnawed, resembling wheat bran, falls from the tree and collects on the ground like the resin of cherry trees. It is collected, mixed with the product of the first tree, and cooked together in a cauldron. That is how they prepare the benzoin incense, which is sold to merchants in skins. Like these three, balsam of Mecca, the reSIn of Commiphora Opobalsamum, was also produced within Byzantine frontiers - but only down to the time of the earliest Islamic conquests, in the seventh century.

This is because, although it is native to southern Arabia, there had been plantations of the precious tree in Egypt and in Palestine, the latter very ancient and associated in legend with the Queen of Sheba's visit to Solomon. Palestine, in fact, became the main economic source of balsam of Mecca to the Roman Empire. Pierre Belon, the last recorded observer of the manufacture of fish sauce in Constantinople, , Text 4 section i.

A 'dry soup' is one flavoured with ingedients such as pepper and cinnamon that are 'dry' in terms of humoral theory. The Russian verst is roughly a kilometre. The term 'benzoin' is incorrectly used: it belongs ro an Indonesian aromatic. Storax, which does indeed come from Lycia in sourh-western Turkey, is the product of one tree only Liqllidambar orientalis. Merchants told him that this was transplanted and maintained at Cairo at great cost and trouble, and that the ordi- nary trade balsam all came from Arabia l - which is evidence that by his time the balsam groves of Palestine were a thing of the past.

Perhaps they were finally ruined by the Crusades. However that may be, balsam of Mecca came to Constantinople from Muslim terrirory after the seventh century, which explains why the Book of the Eparch, around , refers to balsam under its Arabic name barzen, which was eviden- tly by then the normal trade term, instead of the classical Greek balsamon.

The latter word certainly remained familiar, because of its use in the Bible, but eventually ceased to have a specific everyday mean mg. Sugar, ginger and sandalwood came to the Byzantine Empire from India, though their original habitats were much further east. Spikenard, apparently a very popular aromatic in Constantinople, also came from India, aloeswood from south-east Asia.

Nutmeg, mace and cloves came from the far-off Spice Islands of eastern Indonesia, where no Byzantine - so far as we know - ever went. Cinnamon came from Sri Lanka or southern China: most likely, at least by the ninth century, supplies of cinnamon came from both places, since the Book of Ceremonies and Simeon Seth, both quoted above, recognize more than one quality. Nowadays the cinnamon of Sri Lanka, the inner bark of Cinnamomum zeylanicum, is universally recognized as the best.

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The slowness and the real and reputed dangers of , Beion, Observations book 2 chapter 39, cf Clusius pp. There is doubt among historians as to when the cinnamon trees of Sri Lanka began to be exploited. See Dalby pp. They were commodities quite as valuable in their way as gold, silver and precious stones. It is not surprising that when Byzantine troops invaded Persia, in , spices had an important place among the booty that was taken. In the palace at Dastagerd the Roman soldiers found In these palaces they also found countless numbers of ostriches, antelopes, wild asses, peacocks and pheasants.

Tastes of Byzantium: The Cuisine of a Legendary Empire by Andrew Dalby

Huge lions and tigers lived in Chosroes' hunting grounds. Supply difficulties ensured that, if they were wanted at all, the price would be high. Bur why were they wanted? Why, for example, was it thought necessary to use cinnamon, pepper and sugar in cookery? Humoral theory and the need for spices The system of nutrition spelt out by Galen, in his second-century manual On the Properties ofFoods, has been among the most influential of all scientific theories.