History of saffron: The ancient Greeks and the saffron throne

History of saffron: The ancient Greeks and the saffron throne

The ancient Greeks and the saffron throne


The word "saffron" immediately stems from the Latin word safranum via the 12th-century Old French term safran. The French was borrowed from Arabic زَعْفَرَان (za'farān), and ultimately from Persian زَرپَران (zarparān) which literally means "golden leaves".

The Latin form safranum is also the source of the Catalan safrà, Italian zafferano, but Portuguese açafrão, and Spanish azafrán come from the Arabic az-zaferán.

The Latin term crocus is certainly a Semitic loanword. It is adapted from the Aramaic form kurkema via the Arabic term kurkum and the Greek intermediate κρόκος krokos, which once again signifies "yellowish". The Sanskrit kunkumam might be ultimately the origin, or in some way related to the Semitic term.

History of saffron:

For a long time, saffron has been used as a fragrance, dye, and edible material and thus is a part of the culture of some societies. In this chapter we cover two families of religions: Indian and Semitic origin religions. Saffron has been used in both Hindu and Buddhism rites. Among the Semitic religions, Judaism is the only religion that mentions saffron in its scripture (the Old Testament). Saffron is also mentioned in Talmudic texts. In Islam, there is no reference to saffron in the Quran, but Islamic traditions (ahadith) include the plant frequently due to its medical, esthetic, and edible properties.

But this plant has also had a legendary history, which is also considered to have therapeutic properties. The ancient Greeks named saffron "blood of Hercules" and used it as a protective charm and for incense ceremonies.

 The saffron cake was baked by the Phoenicians in honor of the fertility goddess Ashtrot and the moon. In the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean region, this spice was associated with fertility and sexual power. Also, in the past, adding this plant to potions and love medicine water has been a popular treatment and cultivation ritual


In the Old Testament, in the  Song of Solomon 4:13, 14; is also mentioned as one of the most valuable spices, along with myrrh, aloe, calamus, and cinnamon. It may be interesting to know that this plant was only picked by women of high social rank, such as nuns, who wore robes dyed with saffron


Ancient Egyptians mixed saffron with honey and consumed it, as well as ancient Romans always used this spice because they believed that this spice strengthens their sexual powers and it is interesting to know that on the night of marriage Their beds were sprinkled with saffron


The Bible, also mentions this plant as one of the 14 best plants, and for this reason, the consumption of this plant has been popular among the people of the world for centuries, and today, with the proof of its many medicinal properties, with the increasing progress of medical science, More people have wanted this spice and due to the high demand and difficult and low

production, saffron has been called the most expensive spice in the world


Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna" 

and nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices.

Song of Songs 4:13-14 NIV  


The wilderness and the parched land will exult "

And the desert plain will be joyful and blossom as the saffron 

Isaiah 35:35        



I am but a saffron* of the coastal plain, A lily of the valley "

Like a lily among thornsIs my beloved among the daughters

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, So is my dear one among the sons. I passionately desire to sit in his shade,And his fruit is sweet to my  taste

The Song of Solomon2:1-17





 What is the significance of saffron in Hinduism

The color Saffron (Sanskrit: भगवा, lit.'Bhagwā') is considered as sacred color in Hinduism

According to Hindu mythology, Saffron (or Kesariya) is the color of Sunset (Sandhya) and Fire (Agni) which symbolises sacrifice, light, and quest of salvation. The color is worn by Hindu saints and ascetics as their devotion toward the religion.

 Many Hindu kingdoms and dynasties had Saffron color in their flag denoting the Sanātana Dharma, including Maratha Empire.

Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism associate saffron with the pious renunciation of material life.

Buddhist monks in the Theravada tradition typically wear saffron robes (although occasionally maroon — the color normally worn by Vajrayana Buddhist monks — is worn). The tone of saffron typically worn by Theravada Buddhist monks is the lighter tone of saffron shown above.

Saffron holds symbolic meaning in Sikhism, representing spirit and sacrifice. Originally a shade of yellow called basanti, the field of the modern Nishan Sahib is saffron. Turbans worn by Sikhs most often are blue or white, but basanti colour is common.


Minoan and Greco-Roman

Crocus cartwrightianus is a species of flowering plant in the family Iridaceae, native to Greece and Crete. C. cartwrightianus is the presumed wild progenitor of the domesticated triploid Crocus sativus – the saffron crocus. Saffron is the triploid form of a species found in Eastern Greece, Crocus cartwrightianus; it probably appeared first in Crete. An origin in Western or Central Asia, although often suspected, has been disproved by botanical research.

Saffron played a significant role in the Greco-Roman pre-classical period bracketed by the 8th century BC and the 3rd century AD.] The first known image of saffron in pre-Greek culture is much older and stems from the Bronze Age. A saffron harvest is shown in the Knossos palace frescoes of Minoan Crete, which depict the flowers being picked by young girls and monkeys. One of these fresco sites is located in the "Xeste 3" building at Akrotiri, on the Aegean island of Santorini—the ancient Greeks knew it as "Thera". These frescoes likely date from the 16th] or 17th century BC but may have been produced anywhere between 3000 and 1100 BC. They portray a Minoan goddess supervising the plucking of flowers and the gleaning of stigmas for use in the manufacture of what is possibly a therapeutic drug. A fresco from the same site also depicts a woman using saffron to treat her bleeding foot. These "Theran" frescoes are the first botanically accurate visual representations of saffron's use as an herbal remedy. This saffron-growing Minoan settlement was ultimately destroyed by a powerful earthquake and subsequent volcanic eruption sometime between 1645 and 1500 BC. The volcanic ash from the destruction entombed and helped preserve these key herbal frescoes.]


Ancient Greek legends tell of brazen sailors embarking on long and perilous voyages to the remote land of Cilicia, where they traveled to procure what they believed was the world's most valuable saffron.[27] The best-known Hellenic saffron legend is that of Crocus and Smilax: The handsome youth Crocus sets out in pursuit of the nymph Smilax in the woods near Athens; in a brief dallying interlude of idyllic love, Smilax is flattered by his amorous advances, but all too soon tires of his attentions. He continues his pursuit; she resists. She bewitches Crocus: he is transformed—into a saffron crocus. Its radiant orange stigmas were held as a relict glow of an undying and unrequited passion.[28] The tragedy and the spice would be recalled later:

Crocus and Smilax may be turn'd to flow'rs,
And the Curetes spring from bounteous show'rs
I pass a hundred legends stale, as these,
And with sweet novelty your taste to please.]

— Ovid, Metamorphoses.

In another variation, Crocus was the lover of the messenger god Hermes. Hermes accidentally killed his lover during a game with the discus, and thus turned the dying Crocus into a saffron flower, in an aetiological myth explaining the origin of the plant.]

For the ancient Mediterraneans, saffron gathered around the Cilician coastal town of Soli was of top value, particularly for use in perfumes and ointments. Herodotus and Pliny the Elder, however, rated rival Assyrian and Babylonian saffron from the Fertile Crescent as best—to treat gastrointestinal or renal upsets.[22] Greek saffron from the Corycian Cave of Mount Parnassus was also of note: the color offered by the Corycian crocus is used as a benchmark in the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius[N 1] and similarly with its fragrance in the epigrams of Martial.]

Cleopatra of late Ptolemaic Egypt used a quarter-cup of saffron in her warm baths, as she prized its colouring and cosmetic properties. She used it before encounters with men, trusting that saffron would render lovemaking yet more pleasurable. Egyptian healers used saffron as a treatment for all varieties of gastrointestinal ailments: when stomach pains progressed to internal hemorrhaging, an Egyptian treatment consisted of saffron crocus seeds mixed and crushed together with aager-tree remnants, ox fat, coriander, and myrrh. This ointment or poultice was applied to the body. The physicians expected it to "[expel] blood through the mouth or rectum which resembles hog's blood when it is cooked". Urinary tract conditions were also treated with an oil-based emulsion of premature saffron flowers mixed with roasted beans; this was used topically on men. Women ingested a more complex preparation.]

In Greco-Roman times saffron was widely traded across the Mediterranean by the Phoenicians. Their customers ranged from the perfumers of Rosetta, in Egypt, to physicians in Gaza to townsfolk in Rhodes, who wore pouches of saffron in order to mask the presence of malodorous fellow citizens during outings to the theatre.For the Greeks, saffron was widely associated with professional courtesans and retainers known as the hetaerae. Large dye works operating in Sidon and Tyre used saffron baths as a substitute; there, royal robes were triple-dipped in deep purple dyes; for the robes of royal pretenders and commoners, the last two dips were replaced with a saffron dip, which gave a less intense purple hue.]

The ancient Greeks and Romans prized saffron as a perfume or deodoriser and scattered it about their public spaces: royal halls, courts, and amphitheatres alike. When Nero entered Rome they spread saffron along the streets; wealthy Romans partook of daily saffron baths. They used it as mascara, stirred saffron threads into their wines, cast it aloft in their halls and streets as a potpourri, and offered it to their deities. Roman colonists took saffron with them when they settled in southern Roman Gaul, where it was extensively cultivated until the AD 271 barbarian invasion of Italy. Competing theories state that saffron only returned to France with 8th-century Moors or with the Avignon Papacy in the 14th century.]

Middle Eastern and Persian

Saffron-based pigments have been found in the prehistoric paints used to illustrate beasts in 50,000-year-old cave art found in modern-day Iraq, which was even then northwest of the Persian Empire. The Sumerians used saffron as an ingredient in their remedies and magical potions. Sumerians did not cultivate saffron. They gathered their stores from wild flowers, believing that divine intervention alone enables saffron's medicinal properties.] Such evidence suggests that saffron was an article of long-distance trade before Crete's Minoan palace culture reached a peak in the 2nd millennium BC. Saffron was also honoured as a sweet-smelling spice over three millennia ago in the Hebrew Tanakh:

Your lips drop sweetness like honeycomb, my bride, syrup and milk are under your tongue, and your dress had the scent of Lebanon. Your cheeks are an orchard of pomegranates, an orchard full of rare fruits, spikenard and saffron, sweet cane and cinnamon.]

— Song of Solomon

According to the Talmud saffron was also among the spices used in the Ketoret offered in the Temple in Jerusalem.]


In ancient Persia, saffron (Crocus sativus 'Hausknechtii') was cultivated at Derbena and Isfahan in the 10th century BC. There, Persian saffron threads have been found interwoven into ancient Persian royal carpets and funeral shrouds. Saffron was used by ancient Persian worshippers as a ritual offering to their deities, and as a brilliant yellow dye, perfume, and a medicine. Thus, saffron threads would be scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a curative for bouts of melancholy. Indeed, Persian saffron threads, used to spice foods and teas, were widely suspected by foreigners of being a drugging agent and an aphrodisiac.

These fears grew to forewarn travelers to abstain from eating saffron-laced Persian cuisine. In addition, Persian saffron was dissolved in water with sandalwood to use as a body wash after heavy work and perspiration under the hot Persian sun.Later, Persian saffron was heavily used by Alexander the Great and his forces during their Asian campaigns. They mixed saffron into teas and dined on saffron rice.

Alexander personally used saffron sprinkled in warm bath water, taking after Cyrus the Great. Much like Cyrus, he believed it would heal his many wounds, and his faith in saffron grew with each treatment. He even recommended saffron baths for the ordinary men under him. The Greek soldiers, taken with saffron's perceived curative properties, continued the practice after they returned to Macedonia.




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