Saffron cultivation dates back more than 3,000 years… The name saffron is derived from the Greek word krokos and was first cultivated during the Middle Minoan era. This view is reinforced by a painting of that era (1600 B.C.) named “Krokosyllektis (saffron picker)” that was found in the palaces of Knossos, Crete, showing a young girl or boy, to some a monkey, picking saffron flowers and putting them in a hamper.

Greek Saffron History Krocus Flower Pickers 2

The wild precursor of the domesticated saffron crocus was Crocus cartwrightianus. Ancient botanists bred wild specimens by proactively selecting unusually long stigmas. Thus, a sterile mutant form of C. Cartwrightianus, C. Sativus emerged in late Bronze Age Crete. Experts believe that saffron was first documented in a 7th century BC Assyrian botanical reference compiled under Ashurbanipal.

References to saffron were made in the Book of Proverbs as well as in the Song of Solomon 3 in the Old Testament. The word in its original form is also found in texts of Homer, Sophocles, Theophrastos, Aristophanes and Strabo.


Greek Saffron History Krocus Flower Pickers 1

Its derivatives krokinos, krokobaptos, krokoessa, krokochros and krokotos, in the sense of colouration and dyed fabric (chiton), can also be found in texts of Aeschylus, Theophrastus, Pindar, Aristophanes and Nikita Eygeneiako. In addition, the verb “krokizo” is used by Plutarch and Dioskoridis. Homer, in his Hymn to Demeter 178 speaks of “krokos bloom”, while Strabo said that near Corycian Cave grew saffron of excellent quality.

Saffron was also known to other ancient civilisations, such as the Egyptians, the Hebrews and the Romans (Virgil, Pliny and others). However, saffron retained its undisputed Greekness since it derives from the Greek word “kroki” (thread that is woven in warp threads with the shuttle).

Finally in Hippocrates, Asclepius, Dioskorides, Galen, and other physicians of antiquity, the word is used to refer to a medicinal or therapeutic herb.

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