Krokos in Theran culture (Κροκος)
In Saffron Express previous articles, we spoke a little on some aspects of saffron’s importance in Greek culture, especially in Thera. People used to care about the plant so much, they even had saffron-based wall paintings and frescos. The red gold even played a role in many rituals, such as The Robing Ritual.
The crocus has a unique place in Theran culture. The plant, Crocus cartwrightianus, existed wild in 1700 BCE and still does to some extent on Santorini. Leaves sprout from its bulb whose flowers are pale to deep lilac purple, white, or white stained with lilac. The name saffron comes from the Arabic zafaran or zasfaran, meaning yellow; harsagsar in Sumerian. A perennial tuberose with a big root, the crocus dies back, conserves its energy, and flowers again the following year. It is the wild precursor of domesticated saffron, Crocus sativus, the commercial crocus, which is sterile. Red gold was an important crop for trade and contributed to the economy of Thera. In Bronze Age Egypt, saffron was used extensively as a medicine. The crocus plant did not grow in Egypt, and it is probable that the Aegean islands helped supply saffron there. The three long bright red stigmas of the saffron flower were gathered and used as a wild source. The stigma, sometimes described as blood red, is part of the female reproductive organ through which pollen passes to the ovary. Synchronistically, or calculatedly, therefore, it is appropriate as an offering in a female puberty rite or marriage ceremony. Powdered red gold is the ground stigmas, not the yellow pollen. Crocus cartwrightianus has the largest stigmas of any crocus species and is a fall-blooming plan.
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But Why Was Saffron So Important?!
Saffron is precious. It takes more than 200,000 crocus flowers picked by hand to produce one pound of the spice. Scholars discovered an ideogram thought to represent saffron, which was measured by weight in the units used for gold. The saffron is the most frequently depicted flower in Theran mural paintings. Other flowers include the Madonna lily, the wild rose, the iris, and the sea lily. The abundance of crocuses on Thera suggests that it was a crop for the luxury trade. We also see evidence of saffron perfume production; small perfume flasks called askoi (ασκοι) decorated with crocuses were found at Akrotiri. In addition to perfume, saffron was used as a textile dye, an artist’s pigment, an antiseptic, and a spice to flavor and tint foods. All the women in the Theran frescoes have yellow lips and fingernails, suggesting that saffron was a component of cosmetics they used or that they handled or ingested red gold. Saffron was also used in religious ritual as incense. And in Egypt the scent of the spice could indicate the presence of a deity.
Saffron’s use as a medicinal herb is at the core of the symbolism in the Akrotiri frescoes. In ancient times it was used for gynecological problems and for eye diseases. In Assyria, according to a botany dictionary that dates to 668–633 BC, it was called azupiranu; there it was also used for breathing difficulties, painful urination, menstrual disorders, palpitations, smallpox, and measles. We now know that saffron is the richest known source of vitamin B2 and contains the flavonoid quercetin. The use of a saffron compound reduces atherosclerosis; has antioxidant, analgesic, and anti-tumor uses; and lowers blood pressure. Steroidal estrogens and nonsteroidal substances that mimic female sex hormones have been found in it.
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Different Consumption Patterns Between Men and Women
It has been noted that the women in the Akrotiri frescoes have blue streaks in their eyes, indicating a high intake of Vitamin A, also found in saffron, while men in the frescoes have red streaks in their eyes, showing a deficiency of Vitamin A. The women would have ingested saffron as an analgesic to ease the pain of menstruation and childbirth. Fertility, the threat of death in childbirth, and infant mortality would have been concerns in prehistoric Thera. In addition to invoking protection from a deity, women would have been skilled with using plants, both preventively and therapeutically, to care for themselves through the course of their blood mysteries; it is significant that only women are involved in gathering and processing the crocuses in the frescoes at Thera. *
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* Rutter, Virginia Beane (2016).