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An Ancient silver coin from Cyrene shows a stalk of Silphium.

Silphium was a plant that was used in classical antiquity as a seasoning and as a medicine.[1] It is also known as silphion, laserwort, or laser. It was the essential item of trade from the ancient North African city of Cyrene. Most of the coins from Cyrene show a picture of the plant. The valuable product was the plant's resin (called laser, laserpicium, or lasarpicium).

Silphium was an important species. The Egyptians and the Minoan civilization of Knossos used a special glyph in their writing for the silphium plant.[2] It was used by most ancient Mediterranean cultures. The Romans considered it "worth its weight in denarii" (silver coins). Legend said that it was a gift from the god Apollo.

Which plant species silphium was is unclear. It is commonly believed to be a now-extinct plant of the genus Ferula.[1] The still-living plant species Ferula tingitana has been suggested as another possibility.[3] Another resin from different Ferula species, asafoetida, was used as a cheaper substitute for silphium.[4] Asafoetida is still available.

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 J.L. Tatman, "Silphium, Silver and Strife: A History of Kyrenaika and Its Coinage" Celator 14.10 (October 2000:6–24).
  2. Hogan, C. Michael (2007). "Knossos fieldnotes". Modern Antiquarian. Retrieved 13 Feb 2009.
  3. Did the ancient Romans use a natural herb for birth control?, Straight Dope, 13 October 2006
  4. Dalby, Andrew (2002). Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices. University of California Press. p. 18. ISBN 0-520-23674-2.

Further reading[change | change source]