Pomegranate in Ancient Times

Pomegranate in Ancient Times
Pomegranate is among the oldest cultivated fruits. Apparently, it was first grown in Turkey and northern Iran around 4000 B.C. or so. Later, it was also grown in much of the Middle East. From its point of origin, the plant was introduced to various other locations during ancient times, such as Mesopotamia, northern Africa, India, China, Egypt, and the Mediterranean.

For ancient people, the fruit was a symbol of good fortune, fertility, eternal life, and health. To this day, the fruits remain very popular in the Middle East, India, and the Mediterranean.

The pomegranate is one of the three attributes of Cybele, who was the fertility goddess and great mother of the Phrygians. She was also known as the “Lady of Ida.” Cybele may have originated back in the time of Catal Hayuk, a Neolithic settlement in southern Anatolia. She was revered from Asia Minor to Greece and Rome. A spring celebration was held in her honor.

The word pomegranate comes from Latin and means “apple of many seeds.” The plant played a role in the ancient religious rites of the Zoroastrians. The trees along with palms grew in the sacred gardens planted around temples of the Akkadians, who succeeded the Sumerians, and remained in power until around 2000 B.C.

According to ancient myths, the first pomegranate planted in Cyprus was by Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

In ancient times, it appears the fruits were used as food by sailors since these could be stored for long periods. Archaeologists have found such fruits stored in a jar in a shipwreck off the coast of Turkey. The wreck, dated to around 3000 B.C., was a Phoenician vessel. The ancient Phoenicians also used pomegranate fruits in religious rites.

Pomegranate plants grew in the gardens of ancient Carthage. According to Herodotus, a Greek historian who lived around the 5th century B.C., Darius Hystaspes ate fruits from a tree in Carthage. Herodotus also made reference to “golden pomegranates adorning the spears of warriors during the Persian wars.

According to some sources, this plant was introduced to China around 100 B.C. during the Han Dynasty. Others say it was introduced by Chang Kien around 150 B.C. In China, the fruit is considered a fertility symbol. For that reason, pictures of the fruits are given as wedding presents.

In Buddhism, this is considered one of the blessed fruits. In fact, pomegranate is referred to as the ‘most blessed’ of all fruits. Pomegranate fruits make an appearance in Buddhist art and legends. According to one tale, the Buddha gave a demoness, Hariti, one of the fruits to cure her from eating her own children.

The first mention of pomegranate in India during ancient times was around the first century A.D.

The Latin genus name for pomegranate was based on a Latin word poeni, which referred to the original Phoenicians who settled in Carthage. Likewise, Carl Linnaeus chose a Latin name that means ‘apple of carthage’ because at that time people believed pomegranate was a type of apple.

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