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Ancient coin designs used to trace plant species long considered extinct

I'd recommend reading the article, but primary textual sources and coin designs were used to match a medicinal plant growing 1000 miles away from its original (extinct) range.


  • SimonWSimonW Posts: 564 ✭✭✭✭✭

    That’s cool!

    I always thought it was cool the things we learn from ancient coinage, like what the Lighthouse at Alexandria looked like. Cool stuff.

    I'm BACK!!! Used to be Billet7 on the old forum.

  • SapyxSapyx Posts: 1,966 ✭✭✭✭✭

    It's not the first time someone has claimed to have "rediscovered silphium". But I am always skeptical of such claims. The ancients were aware that there were several silphium-like plants growing throughout the ancient world, and some of them had similar properties to silphium, but were all regarded as inferior substitutes.

    For this long time past, there has been no other [silphium extract] imported into this country, but that produced in either Persis, Media, or Armenia, where it grows in considerable abundance, though much inferior to that of Cyrenaica; and even then it is extensively adulterated with gum, [extract of other ferula plants], or pounded beans.
    Pliny the Elder, Natural History, book 19 chapter 15

    Mount Hasan is in Cilicia, far to the west of Armenia proper, though this plant is probably much the same as the ancient "Armenian" version. So yes, it kind-of-works as a substitute, and you can probably extract some medicinal compounds out of it, but everybody in the ancient world who might have tried Mount Hasan silphium would have said "it's not the same, it's just not as good".

    The primary argument (for me) against this being actual silphium is the fact that generations of Greeks and Romans attempted to transplant it elsewhere, and everybody failed. If someone living in the villages around Mount Hasan had succeeded, they wouldn't have kept it a secret - they would have become rich selling it, it would have made news, and Pliny wouldn't have written what he wrote.

    The Wikipedia article on this Mount Hasan plant cites several articles debunking the "silphium theory". Notably, they point out that genetically, the plant is related to Central Asian ferula species, not the species that grow around the Mediterranean.

    Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.
    Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, "Meditations"

    Apparently I have been awarded one DPOTD. B)
  • 87redcivic87redcivic Posts: 117 ✭✭✭

    @Sapyx thank you for your well-reasoned counter-argument. It's a very interesting subject that I knew very little about before today. :)

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