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Silphium: Did Greek science die out because their elite discovered The Pill?
Silphium (also known as silphion, laserwort, or laser) was a plant that was used in classical antiquity as a seasoning, perfume, as an aphrodisiac, or as a medicine. It also was used as a contraceptive by ancient Greeks and Romans. It was the essential item of trade from the ancient North African city of Cyrene, and was so critical to the Cyrenian economy that most of their coins bore a picture of the plant. The valuable product was the plant's resin (laser, laserpicium, or lasarpicium).
Silphium was an important species in prehistory, as evidenced by the Egyptians and Knossos Minoans developing a specific glyph to represent the silphium plant. It was used widely by most ancient Mediterranean cultures; the Romans who mentioned the plant in poems or songs, considered it "worth its weight in denarii" (silver coins), or even gold. Legend said that it was a gift from the god Apollo.
The exact identity of silphium is unclear. It is commonly believed to be a now-extinct plant of the genus Ferula, perhaps a variety of "giant fennel". The still-extant plants Margotia gummifera and Ferula tingitana have been suggested as other possibilities. Another plant, asafoetida, was used as a cheaper substitute for silphium, and had similar enough qualities that Romans, including the geographer Strabo, used the same word to describe both.
- "Silphium" | 2021-04-08 | 158 Upvotes 46 Comments
- "Silphium: Did Greek science die out because their elite discovered The Pill?" | 2007-08-15 | 10 Upvotes 1 Comments