Silphium

meacham at VIOLET.BERKELEY.EDU meacham at VIOLET.BERKELEY.EDU
Wed Aug 10 09:27:25 CDT 1994


I have seen the Silphium of antiquity depicted on the ancient coins of
the city of Cyrene (N. African shore of the Mediterranean) whose economy
was based on commerce in Silphium.  From what I have read, it was collected
to extinction by the 2nd century AD.  The pictures on the coins make it
clear it was in the Umbelliferae, and I speculate that it might be in the
genus Ferula.  I just offer this to motivate some experts in the Umbelliferae
to investigate this in case this question has not already been
resolved.  The Silphium of antiquity certainly deserves a modern botanical
name if it does not already have one.  A picture of one of the coins in
the British Museum could be used as the type.

Silphium was thought by the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean to
have important medical uses.  Because they considered it so useful, they
collected it until it was gone forever.  The ancient Silphium makes a
beautiful example of what we lose when a plant species goes extinct.

Christopher Meacham
Museum Informatics
Univ. of California at Berkeley




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