Natural History (Rackham, Jones, & Eichholz)/Book 12
I. SUCH are the generic and specific characteristics of all the animals about which it has been possible to obtain information. It remains to describe the things produced by the earth or dug up from itthese also not being devoid of vital spirit, since nothing lives without itand not to pass over in silence any of the works of nature.
The riches of earth's bounty were for a long time hidden, and the trees and forests were supposed to be the supreme gift bestowed by her on man. These first provided him with food, their foliage carpeted his cave and their bark served him for raiment; there are still races which practise this mode of life. This inspires us with ever greater and greater wonder that starting from these beginnings man has come to quarry the mountains for marbles, to go as far as China for raiment, and to explore the depths of the Red Sea for the pearl and the bowels of the earth for the emerald. For this purpose has been devised the fashion of making wounds in the ears, because forsooth it was not enough for jewels to be worn on the hands and neck and hair without making them even pierce through the body. Consequently it will be well to follow the biological order and to speak of trees before earth's other products, and to bring forward origins for our customs.
II. Once upon a time trees were the temples of the deities, and in conformity with primitive ritual simple country places even now dedicate a tree of exceptional height to a god; nor do we pay greater worship to images shining with gold and ivory than to the forests and to the very silences that they contain. The different kinds of trees are kept perpetually dedicated to their own divinities, for instance, the winter-oak to Jove, the bay to Apollo, the olive to Minerva, the myrtle to Venus, the poplar to Hercules; nay, more, we also believe that the Silvani and Fauns and various kinds of goddesses are as it were assigned to the forests from heaven and as their own special divinities. Subsequently it was the trees with juices more succulent than corn that gave mellowness to man; for from frees are obtained olive oil to refresh the limbs and draughts of wine to restore the strength, and in fine all the savours that come by the spontaneous generosity of the year, and the fruits that are even now served as a second course, in spite of the fact that battle must be waged with the wild beasts to obtain them and that fishes fattened on the corpses of shipwrecked mariners are in demand. Moreover, there are a thousand other uses for those trees which are indispensable for carrying on life. We use a tree to furrow the seas and to bring the lands nearer together, we use a tree for building houses; even the images of the deities were made from trees, before men had yet thought of paying a price for the corpses of huge animals, or arranged that inasmuch as the privilege of luxury had originated from the gods, we should behold the countenances of the deities and the legs of our tables made of the same ivory. It is stated that the Gauls, imprisoned as they were by the Alps as by a then insuperable bulwark, first found a motive for overflowing into Italy from the circumstance that a Gallic citizen from Switzerland named Helico, who had sojourned at Rome on account of his skill as an artificer, had brought with him when he came back some dried figs and grapes and some samples of oil and wine; and consequently we may pardon them for having sought to obtain these things even by means of war.
III. But who would not be justifiably surprised to hear that a tree has been procured from another clime merely for the sake of shade? This tree is the plane, which was first imported into the Ionian Sea as far as the island of San Domenico to plant over the tomb of Diomede, and which crossed from there to Sicily and was one of the first trees bestowed on Italy, and which has now travelled as far as Belgium and actually occupies soil that pays tribute to Rome, so that the tribes have to pay rent even for shade. The elder Dionysius, the tyrant of Sicily, imported plane-trees to the city of Rcggio as a marvel to adorn his palace, on the site where afterwards a gymnasium was built; and it is found in the authorities that these trees were not able to grow to full size, and that in all Italy there were no others except the 'Spania.'
IV. This took place at about the period of the capture of Rome; and so much honour has since accrued to plane-trees that their growth is encouraged by having wine poured on them, as it has been found that this is of the greatest benefit to the roots, and we have taught even trees to be winebibbers!
V. Famous plane-frees are: (1) one that grew in the walks of the Academy at Athens, the roots of which were 50 feet long and spread wider than the branches; (2) at the present day there is a celebrated plane in Lycia, allied with the amenity of a cool spring; it stands by the roadside like a dwelling-house with a hollow cavity inside it 81 feet across, forming with its summit a shady grove, and shielding itself with vast branches as big as trees and covering the fields with its long shadows, and so as to complete its resemblance to a grotto, embracing inside it mossy pumice-stones in a circular rim of rocka tree so worthy to be deemed a marvel that Licinius Mucianus, who was three times consul and recently lieutenant-governor of the province, thought it worth handing down to posterity also that he had held a banquet with eighteen members of his retinue inside the tree, which itself provided couches of leafage on a bounteous scale, and that he had then gone to bed in the same tree, shielded from every breath of wind, and receiving more delight from the agreeable sound of the rain dropping through the foliage than gleaming marble, painted decorations or gilded panelling could have afforded. (3) Another instance is connected with the Emperor Caligula, who on an estate at Velletri was impressed by the flooring of a single plane-tree, and benches laid loosely on beams consisting of its branches, and held a banquet in the treehimself constituting a considerable portion of the shadow than a dining-room large enough to hold fifteen guests and the servants: this dining-room the emperor called his `nest.' (4) There is a single plane-free at the side of a spring at Gortyn in the island of Crete which is celebrated in records written both in Greek and Latin, as never shedding its leaves; and a typical Greek story about it has come down from early times, to the effect that underneath it Jupiter lay with Europajust as if really there were not another tree of the same species in the island of Cyprus! Slips from this tree, however, planted first in Crete itselfso eager is human nature for a noveltyreproduced the defect: for defect it was, because the plane has no greater recommendation than its property of warding off the sun in summer and admitting it in winter. During the principate of Claudius an extremely wealthy Thessalian eunuch, who was a freedman of Marcellus Aeserninus but had for the sake of obtaining power got himself enrolled among the freedmen of the emperor, imported this variety of plane-tree from Crete into Italy and introduced it at his country estate near Romeso that he deserves to be called another Dionysius! And these monstrosities from abroad still last on in Italy also, in addition, that is, to those which Italy has devised for herself.
VI. For there is also the variety called the ground-plane, stunted in heightsince we have discovered the art of producing abortions even in trees, and consequently even in the tree class we shall have to speak of the unhappy subject of dwarfs. The ground-plane is produced by a method of planting and of lopping. Clipped arbours were invented within the last 80 years by a member of the Equestrian order named Gaius Matius, a friend of his late Majesty Augustus.
VII. The cherry and the peach and all the trees with Greek or foreign names are also exotic; but those among them which have been naturalized here will be specified among the fruit-trees. For the present we will go through the real exotics, beginning with the one most valuable for health.
The citron or Assyrian apple, called by others the Median apple, is an antidote against poisons. It has the leaves of the strawberry-tree, but with prickles running among them. For the rest, the actual fruit is not eaten, but it has an exceptionally strong scent, which belongs also to the leaves, and which penetrates garments stored with them and keeps off injurious insects. The tree itself bears fruit at all seasons, some of the apples falling while others are ripening and others just forming. Because of its great medicinal value various nations have tried to acclimatize it in their own countries, importing it in earthenware pots provided with breathing holes for the roots (and similarly, as it will be convenient to record here so that each of my points may be mentioned only once, all plants that are to travel a specially long distance are planted as tightly as possible for transport); but it has refused to grow except in Media and Persia. It is this fruit the pips of which, as we have mentioned, the Parthian grandees have cooked with their viands for the sake of sweetening their breath. And among the Medes no other tree is highly commended.
VIII. We have already described the wool-bearing trees of the Chinese in making mention of that race, and we have spoken of the large size of the trees in India. One of those peculiar to India, the ebony, is spoken of in glowing terms by Virgil, who states that it does not grow in any other country. Herodotus, however, prefers it to be ascribed to Ethiopia, stating that the Ethiopians used to pay as tribute to the Kings of Persia every three years a hundred logs of ebony, together with gold and ivory. Nor also should we omit the fact, since that author indicates it, that the Ethiopians used to pay twenty large elephant tusks on the same account. So high was the esteem in which ivory was held in the 310th year of our city, the date at which that author composed his history at Thurii in Italy; which makes all the more surprising the statement which we accept on his authority, that nobody of Asia or Greece had hitherto been seen who had ever seen the river Po. The exploration of the geography of Ethiopia, which as we have said had lately been reported to the Emperor Nero, showed that over a space of 1,996 miles from Syene on the frontier of the empire to Meroe trees are rare, and there are none except of the palm species. That is possibly the reason why ebony was the third most important item in the tribute paid.
IX. Ebony was exhibited at Rome by Pompey the Great on the occasion of his triumph over Mithridates. According to Fabius ebony does not give out a flame, yet burns with an agreeable scent. It is of two kinds: the better one, which grows as a tree, is rareit is of a smooth substance and free from knots, and of a shiny black colour that is pleasing to the eye even in the natural state without the aid of art; whereas the other grows as a shrub like the cytisus, and is spread over the whole of India.
X. In India there is also a thorn the wood of which resembles ebony, but can be detected even by the flame of a lantern, as the light at once shines through people. The tree is called the pala, and the fruit ariena. It is most frequent in the territory of the Sydraci, which was the farthest point reached by the expeditions of Alexander. There is also another tree resembling this one, the fruit of which is sweeter, but causes derangement of the bowels. Alexander issued an order in advance forbidding any member of his expedition to touch it.
XIII. The Macedonians have given accounts of kinds of trees that for the most part have no names. There is also one that resembles the terebinth in every other respect but the fruit of which is like an almond, though smaller, and is remarkably sweet, at all events when grown in Bactria. This tree has been considered by some persons to be a special kind of terebinth rather than another plant resembling it. The tree from which they make linen for clothing resembles a mulberry by its leaves, but the calyx of the fruit is like that of a dog-rose. It is grown in the plains, and no other plantations add more to the beauty of the landscape.
XIV. The olive-tree of India is barren, except for the fruit of the wild olive. But trees resembling our junipers that bear pepper occur everywhere, although some writers have reported that they only grow on the southern face of the Caucasus. The seeds differ from those of the juniper by being in small pods, like those which we see in the case of the kidney-bean; these pods when plucked before they open and dried in the sun produce what is called long pepper, but if left to open gradually, when ripe they disclose white pepper, which if afterwards dried in the sun changes colour and wrinkles up. Even these products, however, have their own special infirmity, and inclement weather shrivels them up and turns the seeds into barren husks, called bregma, which is an Indian word meaning 'dead.' Of all kinds of pepper this is the most pungent and the lightest, and it is pale in colour. Black pepper is more agreeable, but white pepper is of a milder flavour than either the black or the `long' pepper.
The root of the pepper-tree is not, as some people have thought, the same as the substance called ginger, or by others zinpiberi, although it has a similar flavour. Ginger is grown on farms in Arabia and Cave-dwellers' Country it is a small plant with a white root. The plant is liable to decay very quickly, in spite of its extreme pungency. Its price is six denarii a pound. It is easy to adulterate long pepper with Alexandrian mustard. Long pepper is sold at 15 denarii a pound, white pepper at 7, and black at 4. It is remarkable that the use of pepper has come so much into favour, as in the case of some commodities their sweet taste has been an attraction, and in Others their appearance, but pepper has nothing to recommend it in either fruit or berry. To think that its only pleasing quality is pungency and that we go all the way to India to get this! Who was the first person who was willing to try it on his viands, or in his greed for an appetite was not content merely to be hungry? Both pepper and ginger grow wild in their own countries, and nevertheless they are bought by weight like gold or silver. Italy also now possesses a pepper-tree that grows larger than a myrtle, which it somewhat resembles. Its grains have the same pungency as that believed to belong to myrtle-pepper, but when dried it lacks the ripeness that the other has, and consequently has not the same wrinkles and colouring either. Pepper is adulterated with juniper berries, which absorb its pungency in a remarkable manner, and in the matter of weight there are several ways of adulterating it.
XV. There is also in India a grain resembling that of pepper, but larger and more brittle, called the carvophyllon, which is reported to grow on the Indian lotus-tree; it is imported here for the sake of its scent. There is also a thorn-bush bearing an extremely bitter fruit that has a resemblance to pepper; this shrub has small thickly clustering leaves like the cyprus; the branches are 4 feet long, the bark of a pale colour, and the root wide-spreading and woody, of the colour of box. This root boiled in water with the seed in a copper vessel produces the medicine called lycion. The thorn in question also grows on Mount Pelion, where it is used for mixing with a drug, as also are the root of the asphodel, ox-gall, wormwood, sumach and the lees of olive oil. The best lycion for medicinal purposes is the kind that makes a froth; this is imported from India in leather bottles made of camel skin or rhinoceros hide. The shrub itself is sometimes known in Greece under the name of Chiron's buckthorn.
XVI. Another substance imported from India is macir, the red bark of the large root of a tree of the same name, which I have been unable to identify. This bark boiled with honey is considered in medicine to be a valuable specific for dysentery.
XVII. Arabia also produces cane-sugar, but that grown in India is more esteemed. It is a kind of honey that collects in reeds, white like gum, and brittle to the teeth; the largest pieces are the size of a filbert. It is only employed as a medicine.
XVIII. On the frontier of India is a race called the Arian, which has a thorn-bush that is valuable for the juice that it distils, resembling myrrh. It is difficult to get at this bush because it is hedged with thorns. In the same district there is also a poisonous bush-radish, with the leaf of a bay-tree, the smell of which attracts horses, and nearly robbed Alexander of his cavalry when he first entered the region. This also happened in Gedrosia as well, on account of the foliage of the bay-trees; and in the same district a thorn was reported the juice of which sprinkled on the eyes caused blindness in all animals. There was also a plant with a very strong scent, that was full of tiny snakes whose bite was instantly fatal. Onesicritus reports that in the valleys of Hyrcania there are trees resembling the fig, named occhustrees, which for two hours every morning drip honey.
XIX. Adjoining India is the Bactrian country, in which is produced the highly esteemed bdellium. The tree is black in colour, and the size of the olive; its leaf resembles that of the oak and its fruit that of the wild fig. The subsistence of the fruit is like gum; one name for it is brochos, another malacha, and another maldaeos, while a black variety which is rolled up into cakes has the name of hadrobolos. It ought to be transparent like wax, to have a scent, to exude grease when crumbled, and to have a bitter taste, though without acidity. When used in religions ritual it is steeped in wine, which makes its scent more powerful. This tree is native to Arabia and India, and also to Media and Babylon. Some people give to the bdellium imported from Media the name of peraticum; this kind is more brittle and also harder and more bitter than the others, whereas the Indian sort is moister, and gummy. Almonds are used to adulterate Indian bdellium, but all the other sorts are adulterated also with the bark of scordastum, that being the name of a tree that resembles the gum. But these adulterations can be detectedand it must be enough to state this once for all, to apply to all other perfumes as wellby smell, colour, weight, taste and the action of fire. The Bactrian bdellium is shiny and dry, and has a number of white spots like fingernails; and also it has a specific weight of its own and ought not to be heavier or lighter than this. The price of pure bdellium is 3 denarii a pound.
XX. Adjoining the races above mentioned is Persia. On the Red Sea, which at this point we have called the Persian Gulf, the tides of which are carried a long way inland, the trees are of a remarkable nature; for they are to be seen on the coast when the tide is out, embracing the barren sands with their naked roots like polypuses, eaten away by the salt and looking like trunks that have been washed ashore and left high and dry. Also these trees when the tide rises remain motionless although beaten by the waves; indeed at high water they are completely covered, and the evidence of the facts clearly proves that this species of tree is nourished by the brackish water. They are of marvellous size, and in appearance they resemble the strawberry-tree, but their fruit is like almonds outside and contains a spiral kernel.
XXI. In the same gulf is the island of Tyros, which is covered with forests in the part facing east, where it also is flooded by the sea at high tide. Each of the trees is the size of a fig-tree; they have a flower with an indescribably sweet scent and the fruit resembles a lupine, and is so prickly that no animal can touch it. On a more elevated plateau in the same island there are trees that bear wool, but in a different manner to those of the Chinese as the leaves of these trees have no growth on them, and might be thought to be vine-leaves were it not that they are smaller; but they bear gourds of the size of a quince, which when they ripen burst open and disclose balls of down from which an expensive linen for clothing is made.
XXII. Their name for this tree is the gossypinus; it also grows in greater abundance on the smaller island of Tyros, which is ten miles distant from the other. Juba says that this shrub has a woolly down poring round it, the fabric made from which is superior to the linen of India. He also says that there is an Arabian tree called the cynas from which cloth is made, which has foliage resembling a palm-leaf. Similarly the natives of India are provided with clothes by their own trees. But in the Tyros islands there is also another tree with a blossom like a white violet but four times as large; it has no scent, which may well surprise us in that region of the world.
XXIII. There is also another tree which resembles this one but has more foliage and a rose-coloured blossom, which it closes at nightfall and begins to open at sunrise, unfolding it fully at noon: the natives speak of it as going to sleep. The same island also produces palm-trees and vines, as well as figs and all the other kinds of fruit-trees. None of the trees there sheds its leaves; and the island is watered by cold springs, and has a considerable rainfall.
XXIV. The country neighbouring on these islands, Arabia, calls for some detailed account of its productsinasmuch as the parts of trees that are utilized include the root, the trunk, the bark, the juice, the gum, the wood, the shoots, the blossom, the leaves and the fruit.
XXV. In India a root and a leaf are held in the highest value. The root is that of the costus, which has a burning taste and an exquisite scent, though in other respects the plant is of no use. In the island of Patale just in the mouth of the river Indus, there are two kinds of costus plant, the black and the white; the latter is the better; it sells at denarii a pound.
XXVI. About the leaf, which is that of the nard, it is proper to speak at greater length, as it holds a foremost place among perfumes. The nard is a shrub, the root of which is heavy and thick but short and black, and although oily, brittle; it has a musty smell like the gladius, and an acrid taste; the leaves are small, and grow in clusters. The shoots of the nard sprout into ears, and consequently both the spikes and the leaves of the nard are famousa twofold product. Another kind of nard growing by the Ganges is entirely ruled out by its name, 'putrid nard,' having a poisonous smell. Nard is also adulterated with a plant called bastard nard, which grows everywhere, and has a thicker and broader leaf and a sickly colour inclining to white; and also by being mixed with its own root to increase the weight, and with gum and silver-spume or antimony and gladiolus or husk of gladiolus. Unadulterated nard can be detected by its light weight and its ruddy colour and sweet scent and particularly by its taste, which dries up the mouth and leaves a pleasant flavour.
The price of nard is 100 denarii a pound. The nard-leaf market is graded according to the size of the leaf: the kind called hadrosphaerum in larger pills costs 40 denarii; the smaller-leaved sort called mesosphaerum sells at 60 denarii; and the most highly spoken of, microsphaerum, is made of the smallest leaves and its price is 75 denarii. All the kinds have an agreeable scent, stronger when they are fresh. The better nard has a blacker colour, if it is old when gathered. In our part of the world the next most highly praised kind is the Syrian, then that from Gaul, and in the third place is the Cretan, which some call agrion and others phun; it has a leaf like that of alexanders, a stalk 18 inches long, knotted and coloured whitish purple, and a crooked hairy root resembling birds' claws. Wild nard is called valerian; we shall speak about it among flowers. All of these kinds of nard, however, are herbs except the Indian. Among them the Gallic kind is plucked `vith the root as well, and washed in wine, dried in a shady place, and done up with paper in small parcels; it does not differ much from the Indian nard, but it is lighter in weight than the Syrian. Its price is 3 denarii. In the case of these varieties the only way to test them is that the leaves must not be brittle and parched instead of merely dry. With Gallic nard there always grows the herb called little goat because of its offensive smell, like the smell of a goat; it is very much employed to adulterate nard, from which it is distinguished by having no stem and smaller leaves, and by its root, which is not bitter and also has no smell.
XXVII. Hazelwort also has the property of nard, indeed some people actually call it 'wild nard.' It has the leaves of the ivy, only rounder and softer, a purple flower, the root of Gallic nard, and seed like grape-stones, which has a warm taste with a flavour of wine. On shady mountains it flowers twice a year. The best variety grows in Pontus, the next best in Phrygia and the third in Illyricum. When it begins to shed its leaves it is dug up and dried in the sun, as it quickly becomes mouldy and loses its strength. A plant has also lately been found in Thrace the leaves of which do not differ at all from the Indian nard.
XXVIII. The clustered arnomum is much in use; it is obtained from the Indian wild-vine, or as other people have supposed from a twisted shrub a hand high, and it is plucked with its root and then gently pressed together into bundles, as it is liable to break at once. The kind most highly spoken of is the one with leaves like those of the pomegranate and devoid of wrinkles, coloured red. The second best kind is of a pale colour; the grass-coloured one is not so good, and the white kind is the worst; it also goes white with age. The price of clustered amomum is 60 denarii a pound, but as dust it fetches only 48 denarii. It grows in the part of Armenia called Otene, and also in Media and in Pontus. It is adulterated with the leaves of the pomegranate and with liquid gum to make the leaves stick together and form a cluster like a bunch of grapes.
There is also another substance called amomis, which is not so full of veins and is harder and has less scent, showing that it is either a different plant or amomum that has been gathered unripe.
XXIX. Resembling these substances both in name and in the shrub that produces it is cardamomum, the seeds of which are oblong in shape. It is gathered in Arabia, in the same manner as amomum. It has four varieties: one very green and oily, with sharp corners and awkward to crumblethis is the kind most highly spoken of the next sort a whitish red, the third shorter and of a colour nearer black, while an inferior kind is mottled and easily friable, and has little scentin the true kind the scent ought to be near to that of costus. Cardamomum also grows in the country of the Medes. The price of the best sort is 3 denarii a pound.
XXX. Next in affinity to cardamomum would have come cinnamomum, were it not convenient first to catalogue the riches of Arabia and the reasons that have given it the names of Happy and Blessed. The chief products of Arabia then are frankincense and myrrh; the latter it shares also with the Cave-dwellers' Country, but no country beside Arabia produces frankincense, and not even the whole of Arabia. About in the middle of that country are the Astramitae, a district of the Sabaei, the capital of their realm being Sabota, situated on a lofty mountain; and eight days' journey from Sabota is a frankincense-producing district belonging to the Sabaei called Sariba according to the Greeks the name means 'secret mystery.' The region faces north-east, and is surrounded by impenetrable rocks, and on the right hand side bordered by a seacoast with inaccessible cliffs. The soil is reported to be of a milky white colour with a tinge of red. The forests measure 20 schoeni in length and half that distance in breadth by the calculation of Eratosthenes a schoenus measures 40 furlongs, that is five miles, but some authorities have made the schoenus 32 furlongs. There are hills rising to a great height, with natural forests on them running right down to the level ground. It is generally agreed that the soil is clay, and that there are few springs and these charged with alkali. Adjacent to the Astramitae is another district, the Minaei, through whose territory the transit for the export of the frankincense is along one narrow track. It was these people who originated the trade and who chiefly practise it, and from them the perfume takes the name of Minaean; none of the Arabs beside these have ever seen an incense-tree, and not even all of these, and it is said that there are not more than 3000 families who retain the right of trading in it as a hereditary property, and that consequently the members of these families are called sacred, and are not allowed to be polluted by ever meeting women or funeral processions when they are engaged in making incisions in the trees in order to obtain the frankincense, and that in this way the price of the commodity is increased owing to scruples of religion. Some persons report that the frankincense in the forests belongs to all these peoples in common, but others state that it is shared out among them in yearly turns.
XXXI. Nor is there agreement in regard to the appearance of the incense-tree itself. We have carried on operations in Arabia, and the arms of Rome have penetrated into a large part of it; indeed, Gaius Caesar, son of Augustus, won great renown from the country; yet no Latin writer, so far as I know, has described the appearance of this tree. The descriptions given by the Greeks vary: some have stated that it has the leaf of a pear-tree, only smaller and of a grass-green colour; others that it resembles the mastich and has a reddish leaf; some that it is a kind of terebinth, and that this was the view of King Antigonus, to whom a plant was brought. King Juba in his volumes dedicated to Gaius Caesar, son of Augustus, whose imagination was fired by the fame of Arabia, states that the tree has a twisted stem and branches closely resembling those of the Pontic maple and that it gives a juice like that of the almond; he says that trees of this description are to be seen in Carmania and in Egypt, where they were introduced under the influence of the Ptolemies when they reigned there. It is well known that it has the bark of a bay-tree, and some have said that the leaf is also like that of the bay; at all events that was the case with the tree when it was grown at Sardis for the Kings of Asia also interested themselves in planting it. The ambassadors who have come to Rome from Arabia in my time have made all these matters still more uncertain, which may well surprise us, seeing that even some sprigs of the incense-tree find their way to Rome, on the evidence of which we may believe that the parent tree also is smooth and tapering and that it puts out its shoots from a trunk that is free from knots.
XXXII. It used to be the custom, when there were fewer opportunities of selling frankincense, to gather it only once a year, but at the present day trade introduces a second harvesting. The earlier and natural gathering takes place at about the rising of the Dog-star, when the summer heat is most intense. They make an incision where the bark appears to be fullest of juice and distended to its thinnest; and the bark is loosened with a blow, but not removed. From the incision a greasy foam spurts out, which coagulates and thickens, being received on a mat of palm-leaves where the nature of the ground requires this, but in other places on a space round the tree that has been rammed hard. The frankincense collected in the latter way is in a purer state, hut the former method produces a heavier weight; while the residue adhering to the tree is scraped off with an iron tool, and consequently contains fragments of bark. The forest is divided up into definite portions, and owing to the mutual honesty of the owners is free from trespassing, and though nobody keeps guard over the trees after an incision has been made, nobody steals from his neighbour. At Alexandria, on the other hand, where the frankincense is worked up for sale, good heavens! no vigilance is sufficient to guard the factories. A seal is put upon the workmen's aprons, they have to wear a mask or a net with a close mesh on their heads, and before they are allowed to leave the premises they have to take off all their clothes: so much less honesty is displayed with regard to the produce with them than as to the forests with the growers. The frankincense from the summer crop is collected in autumn; this is the purest kind, bright white in colour. The second crop is harvested in the spring, cuts having been made in the bark during the winter in preparation for it; the juice that comes out on this occasion is reddish, and not to be compared with the former taking, the name for which is carflathum, the other being called dathiathum. Also the juice produced by a sapling is believed to be whiter, but that from an older tree has more scent. Some people also think that a better kind is produced on islands, but Juba says that no incense grows on islands at all.
Frankincense that hangs suspended in a globular drop we call male frankincense, although in other connexions the term 'male' is not usually employed where there is no female; but it is said to have been due to religious scruple that the name of the other sex was not employed in this case. Some people think that male frankincense is so called from its resemblance to the testes. The frankincense most esteemed, however, is the breast-shaped, formed when, while a previous drop is still hanging suspended, another one following unites with it. I find it recorded that one of these lumps used to be a whole handful, in the days when men's eagerness to pluck them was less greedy and they were allowed to form more slowly. The Greek name for frankincense formed in this manner is 'drop-incense' or 'solid incense,' and for the smaller kind 'chick-pea incense'; the fragments knocked off by striking the tree we call manna. Even at the present day, however, drops are found that weigh as much as a third of a mina, that is 28 denarii. Alexander the Great in his boyhood was heaping frankincense on the altars in lavish fashion, when his tutor Leonides told him that he might worship the gods in that manner when he had conquered the frankincense-producing races; but when Alexander had won Arabia he sent Leonides a ship with a cargo of frankincense, with a message charging him to worship the gods without any stint.
Frankincense after being collected is conveyed to Sabota on camels, one of the gates of the city being opened for its admission; the kings have made it a capital offence for camels so laden to turn aside from the high road. At Sahota a tithe estimated by measure and not by weight is taken by the priests for the god they call Sabis, and the incense is not allowed to be put on the market until this has been done; this tithe is drawn on to defray what is a public expenditure, for actually on a fixed number of days the god graciously entertains guests at a banquet. It can only be exported through the country of the Gebbanitae, and accordingly a tax is paid on it to the king of that people as well. Their capital is Thomna, which is l487 miles distant from the town of Gaza in Judea on the Mediterranean coast; the journey is divided into 65 stages with halts for camels. Fixed portions of the frankincense are also given to the priests and the king's secretaries, but beside these the guards and their attendants and the gate-keepers and servants also have their pickings: indeed all along the route they keep on paying, at one place for water, at another for fodder, or the charges for lodging at the halts, and the various octrois; so that expenses mount up to 688 denarii per camel before the Mediterranean coast is reached; and then again payment is made to the customs officers of our empire. Consequently the price of the best frankincense is 6, of the second best 5, and the third best 3 denarii a pound. It is tested by its whiteness and stickiness, its fragility and its readiness to catch fire from a hot coal; and also it should not give to pressure of the teeth, and should rather crumble into grains. Among us it is adulterated with drops of white resin, which closely resemble it, but the fraud can be detected by the means specified.
XXXIII. Some authorities have stated that myrrh is the product of a tree growing in the same forests among the frankincense-trees, but the majority say that it grows separately; and in fact it occurs in many places in Arabia, as will appear when we deal with its varieties. A kind highly spoken of is also imported from islands, and the Sabaei even cross the sea to the Cave-dwellers' Country to procure it. Also a cultivated variety is produced which is much preferred to the wild kind. The plant enjoys being raked and having the soil round it loosened, as it is the better for having its roots cool.
XXXIV. The tree grows to a height of nearly eight feet; it has thorns on it, and the trunk is hard and twisted, and thicker than that of the frankincense-tree, and even thicker at the root than in the remaining part of it. Authorities state that the bark is smooth and resembles that of the strawberry-tree, and others that it is rough and prickly; and they say that the leaf is that of the olive, but more wrinkled and with sharp points though Juba says it is like that of the alexanders. Some say that it resembles the juniper, only that it is rougher and bristling with thorns, and that the leaf is rounder but tastes like juniper. Also there have been writers who have falsely asserted that the frankincense-tree produces myrrh as well as frankincense.
XXXV. The myrrh-producing tree also is tapped twice a year at the same seasons as the frankincense-tree, but in its case the incisions are made all the way up from the root to those of the branches that are strong enough to bear it. But before it is tapped the tree exudes of its own accord a juice called staete, which is the most highly valued of all myrrh. Next after this comes the cultivated kind, and also the better variety of the wild kind, the one tapped in summer. No tithes are given to a god from myrrh, as it also grows in other countries; however, the growers have to pay a quarter of the yield to the king of the Gebbanitae. For the rest it is bought up all over the district from the common people and packed into leather bags; and our perfumiers have no difficulty in distinguishing the different sorts by the evidence of the scent and consistency. There are a great many varieties, the first among the wild kinds being the Cave-dweller myrrh, next the Minaean, which includes the Astramitic, Gebbanitic and Ausaritic from the kingdom of the Gebbanitae; the third quality is the Dianite, the fourth a mixture from various sources, the fifth the Sambracene from a seaboard state in the kingdom of the Sabaei, and the sixth the one called Dusirite. There is also a white kind found in one place only, which is brought into the town of Mesalum for sale. The Cave-dweller kind is distinguished by its thickness and because it is rather dry and dusty and foreign in appearance, but has a stronger scent than the other sorts. The Sambracene variety is advertised as surpassing other kinds in its agreeable quality, but it has not a strong scent. Broadly speaking, however, the proof of goodness is given by its being in small pieces of irregular shape, forming in the solidifying of the juice as it turns white and dries up, and in its showing white marks like fingernails when it is broken, and having a slightly bitter taste. The second best kind is mottled inside, and the worst is the one that is black inside; and if it is black outside as well it is of a still inferior quality.
The prices vary with the supply of buyers; that of staete ranges from 3 to 50 denarii a pound, whereas the top price for cultivated myrrh is 11 denarii and for Erythrean 16this kind is passed off as Arabianand for the kernel of Cave-dweller 16, but for the variety called scented myrrh 12. Myrrh is adulterated with lumps of lentisk and with gum, and also with cucumber juice to give it a bitter taste, as it is with litharge of silver to increase its weight. The rest of the impurities can be detected by taste, and gum by its sticking to the teeth. But the adulteration most difficult to detect is that practised in the case of Indian myrrh, which is collected in India from a certain thorn-bush; this is the only commodity imported from India that is of worse quality than that of other countriesindeed it is easily distinguished because it is so very inferior.
XXXVI. Consequently Indian myrrh passes over into mastich, which is also obtained from a thorn in India, and in Arabia as well; it is called laina. Of mastich also there are two kinds, since in Asia and Greece there is also found a plant sending out from its root leaves and a prickly head like an apple, full of seed and of juice which spurts out when an incision is made in the top, so that it can scarcely be distinguished from true mastich. Moreover, there is also a third kind in Pontus which is more like bitumen; but the kind most highly praised is the white mastich of Chios, which fetches a price of 10 denarii a pound, while the black kind costs 2 denarii. It is said that the Chian mastich exudes from the lentisk like a kind of gum. Like frankincense it is adulterated with resin.
XXXVII. Arabia also still boasts of her ladanum. A considerable number of writers have stated that this becomes aromatic entirely by accident and owing to an injury; goats, they say, an animal very destructive of foliage in general, but especially fond of scented shrubs, as if understanding the prices they fetch crop the stalks of the shoots, which swell with an extremely sweet fluid, and wipe off with the nasty shaggy hair of their beards the juice dropping from the stalks in a random mixture, and this forms lumps in the dust and is baked by the sun; and that is the reason why goats' hairs are found in ladanum; though they say that this does not take place anywhere else but in the territory of the Nabataei, a people from Arabia who border on Syria. The more recent of the authorities call this substance 'storbon,' and say that the trees in the Arabs' forests are broken by the goats when browsing, and so the juice sticks to their hairs; but that the true ladanum belongs to the island of Cyprusto mention the various kinds of scents incidentally even though not in the order of their localities of provenance. It is reported that the same thing takes place there too, and that there is a substance called oesypum which sticks to the beards and shaggy knees of the goats, but that it is produced by their nibbling down the flower of the ivy while they are browsing in the morning, when Cyprus is wet with dew; and that subsequently when the sun has driven away the mist the dust clings to their damp fleeces and thus ladanum can be combed out of them.
Some people call the plant in Cyprus from which ladanum is produced 'leda,' as in fact these call the scent 'ledanum'; they say that its fat juices sweat out, and consequently the plant is rolled up in bundles by tying strings round it, and so made into cakes. Therefore there are two varieties in each kind, the natural sort mingled with earth and the artificial; the earthy sort is friable, whereas the artificial sort is tough.
It is also stated that there is a ladanum shrub in Garmania and beyond Egypt, where plants of it were introduced through the agency of the Ptolemies, or, as others say, it is a throwback from the incense-tree; and that it is collected like gum by making a cut in the bark and received in goatskin sacks. The most highly approved kind is sold at a price of 40 asses a pound. It is adulterated with myrtle berries and with filth from the fleeces of other animals beside the goat. When genuine it ought to have a fierce scent, somehow suggesting the smell of the desert, and though looking dried up it should soften immediately to the touch, and when set light to flare up with an agreeable scent; but when adulterated with myrtle-berries it can be detected by its unpleasant smell, and it crackles in the fire. Moreover, the genuine ladannm has dust or rather bits of stone from the rocks clinging to it.
XXXVIII. In Arabia there is also an olive endowed with a sort of tear out of which a medicine is made, called in Greek enhaemon, because of its remarkable effect in closing the scars of wounds. These trees grow on the coast and are covered by the waves at high tide without this doing any harm to the berry, although accounts agree that salt is left on the leaves.
These trees are peculiar to Arabia, and it also has a few in common with other countries, which we must mention elsewhere because in their ease it does not hold the first place. Also in Arabia there is a surprising demand for foreign scents, which are imported from abroad: so tired do mortals get of things that are their own, and so covetous are they of what belongs to other people.
XXXIX. Consequently they send to the Elymaei for the wood of the bratum, a tree resembling a spreading cypress, with very white branches, and giving an agreeable scent when burnt. It is praised in the Histories of Claudius Caesar as having a marvellous property: he states that the Parthians sprinkle its leaves into their drinks, and that it has a scent very like cedar, and its smoke is an antidote against the effects of other woods. It grows beyond the River Karun on Mount Scanchrus in the territory of the city of Sostrata.
XL. They also import from Carmania the stobrus tree, to use for the purpose of fumigation; it is soaked in palm wine and then set alight. The vapour is thrown back from the ceiling to the floor; it has an agreeable scent, but it causes headache, which is not however severe enough to be painful: it is used as a soporific for invalids. For these trades they have opened up the city of Carrhac, which is the market town of these parts. From Carrhac everybody used formerly to go on to Gabba, a journey of twenty days, and to Palestine in Syria; but afterwards, according to Juba, they began to make for Charax and the Parthian kingdom for the sake of the perfume trade. But my own view is that they used to convey those commodities to the Persians even before they took them to Syria or Egypt, this being attested by Herodotus, who records that the Arabs used regularly to pay a yearly tribute of a thousand talents of incense to the kings of the Persians. From Syria they bring back styrax, which they burn on their hearths, for its powerful scent to dispel their dislike for their own scents. For the rest, no other kinds of wood are in use among them except those that are scented; and the Sabaei even cook their food with incense-wood, and other tribes with that of the myrrh-tree, so that the smoke and vapour of their towns and districts is just like that which rises from altars. In order therefore to remedy this smell they obtain styrax in goatskins and fumigate their houses with it: so true it is that there is no pleasure the continued enjoyment of which does not engender disgust. They also burn styrax to drive away the snakes which abound in the forests of perfume-producing trees.
XLI. These people have not got cinnamon or casia, and nevertheless Arabia is styled 'Happy'a country with a false and ungrateful appellation, as she puts her happiness to the credit of the powers above, although she owes more of it to the power below. Her good fortune has been caused by the luxury of mankind even in the hour of death, when they burn over the departed the products which they had originally understood to have been created for the gods. Good authorities declare that Arabia does not produce so large a quantity of perfume in a year's output as was burned by the Emperor Nero in a day at the obsequies of his consort Poppaea. Then reckon up the vast number of funerals celebrated yearly throughout the entire world, and the perfumes such as are given to the gods a grain at a time, that are piled up in heaps to the honour of dead bodies. Yet the gods used not to regard with less favour the worshippers who petitioned them with salted spelt, but rather, as the facts show, they were more benevolent in those days. But the title 'happy' belongs still more to the Arabian Sea, for from it come the pearls which that country sends us. And by the lowest reckoning India, China and the Arabian peninsula take from our empire 100 million sesterces every yearthat is the sum which our luxuries and our women cost us; for what fraction of these imports, I ask you, now goes to the gods or to the powers of the lower world?
XLII. In regard to cinnamomum and casia a fabulous story has been related by antiquity, and first of all by Herodotus, that they are obtained from birds' nests, and particularly from that of the phoenix, in the region where Father Liber was brought up, and that they are knocked down from inaccessible rocks and trees by the weight of the flesh brought there by the birds themselves, or by means of arrows loaded with lead; and similarly there is a tale of casia growing round marshes under the protection of a terrible kind of bats that guard it with their claws, and of winged serpentsthese tales having been invented by the natives to raise the price of their commodities. However, there goes with them a story that under the reflected rays of the sun at midday an indescribable sort of collective odour is given off from the whole of the peninsula, which is due to the harmoniously blended exhalation of so many kinds of vapour, and that the first news of Arabia received by the fleets of Alexander the Great was carried by these odours far out to seaall these stories being false, inasmuch as cinnamomum, which is the same thing as cinnamon, grows in Ethiopia, which is linked by intermarriage with the Cave-dwellers. The latter buy it from their neighbours and convey it over the wide seas in ships that are neither steered by rudders nor propelled by oars or drawn by sails, nor assisted by any device of art: in those regions only man and man's boldness stands in place of all these things. Moreover they choose the winter sea about the time of the shortest day, as an east wind is then chiefly blowing. This carries them on a straight course through the bays, and after rounding a cape a west-north-west wind brings them to the harbour of the Gebbanitae called Ocilia. On this account that is the port most resorted to by these people, and they say that it is almost five years before the traders return home and that many perish on the voyage. In return for their wares they bring back articles of glass and copper, clothing, and buckles, bracelets and necklaces; consequently that traffic depends principally on having the confidence of the women.
The actual shrub of the cinnamon is only about three feet high at the most, the smallest being only a span high, and four inches thick, and it throws out shoots as low as six inches from the ground; it has a dried up appearance, and while it is green has no scent; the leaf is like that of the wild marjoram; it likes a dry soil and is less fertile in wet weather; and it stands constant clipping. Though it grows on level ground, it flourishes among the thickest bushes and brambles, and is difficult to gather. It can only be cut 'with the leave of the god'which some understand to mean Jove, but the Ethiopian name for him is Assabinus. They sacrifice 44 oxen, goats and rams to obtain leave to cut it, though this does not include permission to do so before sunrise or after sunset. A priest divides the twigs with a spear, and sets aside a portion for the god, while the rest is packed up in clumps by the dealer. Another account is also given, that a share is assigned to the sun, and that the wood is divided into three portions, and then lots are cast twice to assign the shares, and the share that falls to the sun is left, and bursts out in flames of its own accord.
The finest quality with cinnamon belongs to the thinnest parts of the boughs, for about a span's length; the second best to the next pieces for a shorter length, and so on in order; the worst in quality is the part nearest to the roots, because it has the least amount of bark, which is the part most favoured, and consequently preference is given to the tops of the plants, where there is most bark. The actual wood, however, is held in no esteem, because it has the bitter taste of wild marjoram: it is called wood-cinnamon; it fetches 10 denarii a pound. Some writers mention two kinds of cinnamon, one lighter and the other darker in colour; and in former days the light kind was preferred, but now on the other hand the dark is praised, and even a mottled kind is preferred to the pure white. Still, the most certain test of value is that it must not be rough, and that when rubbed together it must crumble slowly. The lowest value is attached to it when it is soft or when the bark is falling of.
The right of controlling the sale of cinnamon is vested solely in the king of the Gebbanitae, who opens the market by public proclamation. The prices formerly were 1000 denarii a pound, but this was raised to half as much again after the forests had been burnt, so it is said, by infuriated barbarians; but it is not absolutely certain whether this was incendiarism provoked by injustice on the part of those in power or was due to accident, as we find it stated in the authorities that the south winds that blow there are so hot that they set lire to the forests in summer. His Majesty the emperor Vespasian was the first person to dedicate in the Temples of the Capitol and of Peace chaplets of cinnamon surrounded with embossed gold. We once saw in the Temple of the Palatine erected in honour of his late Majesty Augustus by his consort Augusta a very heavy cinnamon-root placed in a golden bowl, out of which drops used to distil every year which hardened into grains; this went on until the shrine in question was destroyed by fire.
XLIII. Casia also is a shrub, and it grows close to the plains of cinnamon, but on the mountains; it has thicker stalks, and a thin skin rather than bark, which, in the opposite way to what we said in the case of cinnamon gains value when it falls off and thins away. This shrub grows to a height of 4 feet and it has three colours: when it first sprouts up, to the length of a foot it is white, then for the next six inches it is reddish, and beyond that point it is black. The black part is most highly esteemed, and next the part nearest to it, but the white part has no value at all. They cut the shoots to the length of two inches, and then sew them up in newly flayed hides of animals slaughtered for the purpose, so that as they rot maggots may gnaw away the wood and hollow out the whole of the bark, which is protected from them by its bitter taste. The bark is valued most highly when fresh, when it has a very pleasant smell and is hardly at all hot to the taste, and rather gives a slight nip with its moderate warmth; it must be of a purple colour, and though bulky weigh very little, and the pores of the outer coats should be short and not liable to break. This kind of casia is called by a foreign name, lada. Another kind is near-balsam, so called because it has a scent like that of balsam, but it has a bitter taste and consequently is more useful for medicinal purposes. just as the black kind is more employed for unguents. No substance has a wider range of pricethe best qualities sell at 50 denarii a pound and the others at 5. To these varieties the dealers have added one which they call Daphnis's casia, with the further designation of near-cinnamon, and they price it at 300 denarii. It is adulterated with styrax, and with very small sprigs of bay because of the similarity of the barks. It is also grown in our part of the world, and I have seen it on the extreme edge of our empire, where the Rhine washes our frontier, planted among beehives; but there it has not the scorched colour produced by the sun, and for the same reason also it has not the same scent as the southern product.
XLIV. From the border of the casia and cinnamon district gum-resin and aloe-wood are also imported, but they come by way of the Nabataean Cave-dwellers, who are a colony from the Nabataei.
XLV. The same place is also a centre for the collection of serichatum and gabalium, the supply of which is used up by the Arabs in their own country, so that they are only known by name to our part of the world, although growing in the same country as cinnamon and casia. However, serichatum does occasionally get through to us, and is employed by some persons as an ingredient in unguents. It fetches up to 6 denarii a pound.
XLVI. The Cave-dweller country and the Thebaid and Arabia where it separates Judea from Egypt all alike have the myrobalanum, which is grown for scent, as is shown by its name itself, which also indicates in addition that it is a nut; it is a tree with a leaf that resembles that of the heliotrope, which we shall describe among the herbaceous plants, and a fruit the size of a hazel-nut. The variety growing in Arabia is called the Syrian nut, and is white in colour, whereas the Thebaid kind is black; the former is preferred for the excellent quality of the oil extracted from it, but the Thebaic for its large yield. The Cave-dweller kind is the worst among the varieties. Some persons prefer to these the Ethiopian behen, which has a black oily nut and a slender kernel, but the liquid squeezed out of it has a stronger scent; it grows in level districts. It is said that the Egyptian nut is even more oleaginons and has a thicker shell of a reddish colour, and that though it grows on marshy ground the plant is shorter and drier, whereas the Arabian variety, on the contrary, is green in colour and also smaller in size and more compact in shape because it likes mountain regions; but the Petraean kind, coming from the town mentioned above, is a long way the bestit has a black rind and a white kernel. Perfumiers, however, only extract the juice from the shells, but medical men also crush the kernels, gradually pouring warm water on them while pounding them.
XLVII. The palm-tree growing in Egypt called the adipsos is used in a similar way to the behen-nut in perfumery, and is almost as much in request; it is green in colour, with the scent of a quince, and has no kernel inside it. It is gathered in autumn, a little before it begins to ripen. If left on the tree longer, it is called the palm-nut, and it turns black and has the property of making people who eat it intoxicated. The behen-nut is priced at two denarii a pound. The retailers also give the name of behen to the dregs of the unguent made from it.
XLVIII. The scented reed which also grows in Arabia is shared with the Indies and Syria, the one growing in the latter country being superior to all the other kinds. About 17 miles from the Mediterranean, between Mount Lebanon and another range of no importancenot Counter-Lebanon as some have supposedthere is a moderately wide valley near a lake the shallow parts of which dry up in summer, where 3 miles from the lake the scented reed and scented rush grow. For clearly we may speak about the rush also, although I have devoted another volume to herbaceous plants, as here we are only dealing with plants that supply material for unguents. These plants then do not differ at all in appearance from the rest of their class, but the reed has a specially fine scent which attracts people even from a long way off, and is softer to the touch; the better variety is the one that is less brittle and that breaks in splinters rather than like a radish. Inside the tube there is a sort of cobweb which is called the flower; the plant containing most of this is the best. The remaining tests of its goodness are that it should be blackwhite varieties are thought inferiorthat it is better the shorter and thicker it is and if it is pliant in breaking. The price of the reed is one denarius and that of the rush 5 denarii a pound. It is reported that scented rush is also found in Campania.
We have now left the countries looking on the ocean to come to those that converge towards our seas.
XLIX. Well, Africa, which lies below Ethiopia, in its sandy deserts distils tear-like drops of a substance called hammoniacum; this is also the origin of the name of the Oracle of Hammon, near to which this substance is produced from a tree called metopon, after the manner of resin or gum. There are two kinds of hammoniacum: one called thrauston (friable), which is like male frankincense and is the kind most approved, and the other, greasy and resinous, which they call phyrama (paste). It is adulterated with sand, which looks as if it has stuck to it while growing; consequently it is preferred in extremely small lumps and these as pure as possible. The price of the best hammoniacum is 40 asses a pound.
L. The sphagnos valued most highly is found in the province of Cyrenaica, south of these regions: others call it bryon. The second place is held by the Cyprian kind, and the third by the Phoenician. It is also said to grow in Egypt, and indeed in Gaul as well, and I am not prepared to doubt this; for there are grey tufts that bear this name growing on trees, resembling the growths that we principally see on the oak, but having a superior scent. The most highly esteemed are the whitest and most widely spreading mosses, and the bright red ones are in the second class, but no value at all is attached to the black variety; moreover, the mosses that grow on islands and on rocks are not esteemed, nor are all those that have the scent of palm-trees and not that of their own kind.
LI. A tree found in Egypt is the cypros, which has the leaves of the jujube-tree and the white, scented seed of the coriander. Cypros-seed is boiled in olive oil and afterwards crushed, producing the cypros of commerce, which sells at 5 denarii a pound. The best is made from the tree grown at Canopus on the banks of the Nile, the second best at Ascalon in Judea, and the third quality on the island of Cyprus, which has a sort of sweet scent. The cypros is said to be the same as the thorn called privet in Italy.
LII. In the same region grows the aspalathus, a white thorn of the size of a moderate-sized tree, with the flower of a rose; the root is in request for unguents. People say that any shrub over which a rainbow forms its arch gives out a scent as sweet as that of the aspalathus, but that if this happens in the case of an aspalathus a scent rises that is indescribably sweet. Some call this shrub red sceptre and others sceptre. The test of its genuineness lies in its fiery red colour, firmness to the touch and scent like that of beaver-oil. It is sold for 5 denarii a pound.
LIII. Cat-thyme also grows in Egypt, though not so good a kind as the Lydian variety, its leaves being larger and variegated; those of the Lydian are short and very small, and have a strong scent.
LIV. But every other scent ranks below balsam. The only country to which this plant has been vouchsafed is Judea. where formerly it grew in only two gardens, both belonging to the king; one of them was of not more than twenty ingera in extent and the other less. This variety of shrub was exhibited to the capital by the emperors Vespasian and Titus; and it is a remarkable fact that ever since the time of Pompey the Great even trees have figured among the captives in our triumphal processions. The balsam-tree is now a subject of Rome, and pays tribute together with the race to which it belongs; it differs entirely in character from the accounts that had been given of it by Roman and foreign writers, being more like a vine than a myrtle: it has quite recently been taught to grow from mallet-shoots tied up on trellises like a vine, and it covers whole hillsides as vineyards do. A balsam unsupported by a trellis and carrying its own weight is pruned in a similar manner when it puts oat shoots; the use of the rake makes it thrive and sprout rapidly, bearing in its third year. Its leaf is very near that of the tuber-apple, and it is an evergreen. The Jews vented their wrath upon this plant as they also did upon their own lives, but the Romans protected it against them, and there have been pitched battles in defence of a shrub. It is now cultivated by the treasury authorities, and was never before more plentiful; but its height has not advanced beyond three feet.
There are three varieties of balsam-tree: one with thin foliage like hair, called easy-to-gather; another with a rugged appearance, curving over, of a bushy growth and with a stronger scent they call this rough balsam, and the third tall balsam because it grows higher than the rest; this has a smooth bark. This last is the second best in quality, and the easy-to-gather kind is the lowest grade. Balsam-seed tastes very like wine, and has a red colour and a rather greasy consistency; that contained in a husk, which is lighter in weight and greener in colour, is inferior. The branch is thicker than of that of a myrtle; incision is made in it with a piece of glass or a stone, or with knives made of bone it strongly dislikes having its vital parts wounded with steel, and dies off at once, though it can stand having superfluous branches pruned with a steel knife. The hand of the operator making the incision has to be poised under skilful control, to avoid inflicting a wound going below the bark. The juice that oozes out of the incision is called opobalsamum; it is extremely sweet in taste, but exudes in tiny drops, the trickle being collected by means of tufts of wool in small horns and poured out of them into a new earthenware vessel to store; it is like rather thick olive-oil and in the unfermented state is white in colour; later on it turns red and at the same time hardens, having previously been transparent. When Alexander the Great was campaigning in that country, it was considered a fair whole day's work in summer to fill a single shell, and for the entire produce of a rather large garden to be six congii and of a smaller one congius, at a time moreover when its price was twice its weight in silver: whereas at the present day even a single tree produces a larger flow. The incision is made three times in every summer, and afterwards the tree is lopped. There is a market even for the twigs too; within five years of the conquest of Judea the actual loppings and the shoots fetched 800,000 sesterces. These trimmings are called wood of balsam; they are boiled down in perfumes, and in manufacture they have taken the place of the actual juice of the shrub. Even the bark fetches a price for drugs; but the tears are valued most, the seed coming second, the bark third and the wood lowest. Of the wood the sort resembling boxwood is the best, and also has the strongest scent; the best seed is that which is largest in size and heaviest in weight, which has a biting taste and is hot in the mouth. Balsam is adulterated with the ground-pine of Petra, which can be detected by its size, hollowness and long shape and by its weak scent and its taste like pepper. The test of tear of balsam is that it should be thinning out in consistency, and slightly reddish, and give a strong scent when rubbed. The second quality is white in colour, the next inferior is green and thick, and the worst kind black, inasmuch as like olive oil it deteriorates with age. Out of all the incisions the oil that has flowed out before the formation of the seed is considered the best. Also another mode of adulteration is by using the juice of the seed, and the fraud can be with difficulty detected by the greater bitterness of the taste; for the proper taste is smooth, without a trace of acidity, the only pungency being in the smell. It is also adulterated with oil of roses, of cyprus, of mastich, of behen-nut, of the turpentine-tree and of myrtle, and with resin, galbanum and wax of Cyprus, just as occasion serves; but the worst adulteration is with gum, since this dries up on the back of the hand and sinks in water, which is a double test of the genuine article pure tear of balsam ought to dry up likewise, but the sort with gum added to it turns brittle and forms a skin. It can also be detected by the taste; or when adulterated with wax or resin, by means of a hot coal, as it bums with a blacker flame. When mixed with honey, its quality alters immediately, as it attracts flies even when held in the hand. Moreover a drop of pure balsam thickens in warm water, settling to the bottom of the vessel, whereas when adulterated it floats on the top like oil, and if it has been tampered with by using almond-oil, a white ring forms round it. The best test of all is that it will cause milk to curdle and will not leave stains on cloth. In no other case is more obvious fraud practised, inasmuch as every pint bought at a sale of. confiscated property for 300 denarii when it is sold again makes 1000 denarii: so much does it pay to increase the quantity by adulteration. The price of wood-balsam is six denarii a pound.
LV. The region of Syria beyond Phoenicia nearest to Judea produces styrax in the part round Gabala and Marathus and Mount Casius in Seleucia. The tree has the same name; it is similar to a quince. Its tears have a pleasant, almost pungent scent, and inside it resembles a reed, and is full of juice. About the rising of the Dog-star certain little maggots with wings flutter about this tree, gnawing away the wood, and consequently it is fouled with their scrapings. The styrax esteemed next to the above-named growths comes from Pisidia, Side, Cyprus and Cilicia, and that from Crete is rated lowest; that from Mount Amanus in Syria is valued by the medical profession, but even more by perfumiers. In every nation a red colour and a sticky consistency are preferred, and styrax that is brown and covered with white mould is considered inferior. It is adulterated with cedar resin or gum, and another way employs honey or bitter almonds; all these adulterations can be detected by their taste. The price of the best styrax is 17 denarii. It is also produced in Pamphylia, but this is a drier and less juicy kind.
LVI. Syria also supplies galbanum, which also grows on Mount Amanus; it comes from a kind of fennel which they call stagonitis, like the resin of the same name. The kind of galbanum most esteemed is cartilaginous, clear like hammonia-cuxa and free from all woody substance. Even so it is adulterated with beans or with sacopenium. Pure galbanum, if burnt, drives away snakes with its smell. It is sold at 5 denarii a pound.
LVII. Pure galbanum is only useful for medicinal purposes; but Syria produces all-heal which is used for guents as well. It also grows at Psophis in Arcadia and round the spring of Erymanthus, and in Africa and in Macedonia also. It has a peculiar stalk 7 feet long; this throws out first four leaves and then six lying on the ground, which are very large and of a round shape, but the leaves on the top of the plant are like those of the olive; the seed hangs in tufts like that of the fennel. The juice is got by means of incisions made in the stalk at harvest time and at the root in autumn. It is valued for whiteness when it coagulates, the next grade being assigned to juice of a pale colour, while the black is held of no value. The price of the best quality is two denarii a pound.
LVIII. From this fennel the one called bear's-wort fennel differs only in the leaf, which is smaller, and has divisions like a plane-leaf. It only grows in shady places. Its seed, bearing the same name, resembles that of hart-wort; it is only useful for medicine.
LIX. Syria also supplies the malobathrum, a tree with a folded leaf, the colour of a leaf that has dried up; from it oil is pressed to use for unguents, Egypt also producing it in still greater quantity. But the kind that comes from India is valued more highly; it is said to grow there in marshes, like the lentil, with a scent stronger than that of saffron, a darkish rough appearance, and a sort of salt taste. The white variety is less highly spoken of; it very quickly acquires a musty smell with age. Malobathrurn when placed under the tongue ought to taste like nard; but its scent when it is put in slightly warmed wine surpasses any others. In point of price at all events it approaches the marvellous, the pound ranging from one denarius to four hundred, while the leaf itself reaches 60 denarii a pound.
LX. There is also the oil of unripe berries, which is made in two varieties and by two processes, one kind being made from the olive and one from the vine. The olive is pressed while still white, or an inferior oil is obtained from the druppa which is the name given to an olive not yet ripe enough to eat but already beginning to change colourthe difference being that the inferior kind is green and the other white. It is made either from the psithian vine or from the vine of Aminaea. The vine is plucked when the grapes are the size of a chick-pea, before the rising of the Dog-star, when the first bloom is on them, and the unripe juice is obtained; after which the, remaining pulp is left to dry in the sunprecaution being taken against nocturnal dews, by storing the grapes in an earthenware vessel while the unripe juice is collected and at once also put to keep in a Cvprian bronze jar. The best kind is that which is red in colour and rather bitter and dry to the taste. Omphaeium sells at 6 denarii a pound. There is also another way of making it, by pounding up unripe grapes in mortars; the grapes are afterwards dried in the sun and divided up into lozenges.
LXI. To the same family also belongs bryon, obtained from the catkins of the white poplar. The best kind grows in the neighbourhood of Cnidus or Caria, in waterless districts or on dry rough ground, and a second best quality grows on the cedar in Lycia. To the same group also belongs oenanthe, obtained from the cluster of the wild vine. It is picked when it flowers, which is the time when it has the best scent, and it is dried in the shade on a linen sheet spread out for the purpose, and then put into casks to store. The best kind comes from Parapotamia, the second best from Antiochia and Laodicea in Syria, and the third best from the mountains in Media; the last kind is more useful for medicines. Some people prefer the kind that grows in the island of Cyprus to all of these. As for the oenanthe produced in Africa it is only used by the doctors, and is called massaris. But all the oenanthe obtained from the white wild vine is superior to that from the black.
LXII. There is also another tree that likewise serves for producing unguents, which is called by some people an elate the Latin for which is 'fir' and by others a palm and by others again a spatula. That of Hammonium is most highly spoken of, next the Egyptian variety, and then the Scythian. It only has a scent if it grows in regions devoid of water; it has tears of a greasy consistency, which are added to unguents to overcome the hardness of the oil.
LXIII. Syria also produces the kind of cinnamon called comacum*; this is a juice squeezed out of a nut, and is quite different from the juice of the true cinnamon, although it is almost equally agreeable. Its price is 40 asses a pound.
- Possibly nutmeg of the Moluccas, attributed to Syria because of the trade-route.