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AGRUMED: Archaeology and history of citrus fruit in the Mediterranean

 | 
Véronique Zech-Matterne
, 
Girolamo Fiorentino

Pollen morphology reveals the presence of Citrus medica and Citrus x limon in a garden of Villa di Poppea in Oplontis (1st century BC)

Elda Russo Ermolli, Bruno Menale et Maria Rosaria Barone Lumaga

Texte intégral

  • 1 Gazda 2014.
  • 2 Di Maio 2014.

1The Villa di Poppea in Oplontis was a prestigious residence located at the foothill of Vesuvius (fig. 1). Constructed in 50 BC, the building was refurbished and enlarged over time and had been undergoing renovation and repairs ˗ due to damage caused by the earthquake of AD 62 – when it was buried in the eruption of AD 79.1 Although located slightly inland today, originally the villa was perched on the edge of a bluff approximately 14 m above the beach, a setting which offered a magnificent panorama of the Bay of Naples.2

Fig. 1 - Geographical location of Oplontis and map of a sector of Villa di Poppea.

Fig. 1 - Geographical location of Oplontis and map of a sector of Villa di Poppea.
  • 3 Russo Ermolli, Messager 2014.

2In order to reconstruct the composition of a small internal garden within the villa, pollen and phytolith analysis were carried out on soil samples.3 The analyzed place represents a restricted context within the villa (room 20; fig. 1) which guarantees that the grains found in the soil are representative of the pollen rain coming from the garden itself and from its close surroundings. Eventual contamination from modern plants was excluded through comparison with modern pollen rain (fig. 2, bottom) trapped in moss collected from the same garden.

3

Fig. 2 - Pollen spectra from the soil (top) and moss (bottom) samples of room 20.

Fig. 2 - Pollen spectra from the soil (top) and moss (bottom) samples of room 20.
  • 4 Russo Ermolli, Messager 2014.

4The only sample that yielded a significant amount of pollen grains (fig. 2, top) came from the lowest levels of the garden soil (beneath the AD 79 soil) of room 20, dated to the second half of the 1st century BC.4

  • 5 Pagnoux et al. 2013.
  • 6 De Luca, Menale 2006: 216.

5One of the main features of this pollen spectrum was the significant occurrence of Citrus (fig. 2, top), which probably represented, together with Myrtus communis, one of the main ornamental trees in the garden. In order to understand which species of Citrus was present here at that time, a comparison with modern pollen material was carried out. The aim was to find some diagnostic features in the pollen grain morphology that could allow species distinction within the genus. On the basis of historical and iconographical sources, but also considering recent archaeobotanical investigations5, two species were selected for comparison: C. medica and C. x limon, which are currently considered to be the most ancient Citrus entities introduced into Italy.6

1. The introduction of Citrus to the Mediterranean according to Pliny and other classical authors

  • 7 Schirarend 1998: 46.

6Citrus medica L. was the first Citrus species introduced to the Mediterranean. This plant is probably native to the valleys at the foot of the Himalayas but its cultivation quickly spread to China, India and western Asia. In the 6th˗5th centuries BC, the citron tree was seemingly introduced into Media and Persia,7 and by the 4th century BC it was known in Greece due to Alexander III of Macedon’s Asian campaign.

  • 8 Theophrastus 1999, IV: 311-313.
  • 9 Theophrastus 1999, IV: 313.

7Theophrastus (c. 371 BC˗c. 287 BC) described the citron tree in detail, calling its fruits ‘Median apples’ or ‘Persian apples’. He affirmed that these ‘apples’ were not edible but very fragrant,8 were an antidote against deadly poisons and produced sweetness of breath; moreover, if these fruits were placed among clothes, they protected against moths.9

  • 10 Virgilio 2007, II: 126-135.
  • 11 Plinio 1984-1985, 12: 16.
  • 12 Plinio 1984-1985, 23: 105.
  • 13 Plinio 1984-1985, 12: 15-16.
  • 14 Plinio 1984-1985, 13: 103.

8Also the Romans knew of the citron tree. Publius Vergilius Maro (70˗19 BC) called its fruits ‘Happiness apples’ (… felicis mali…) and spoke of them in almost the same terms as Theophrastus, pointing out their usefulness against poisons and bad breath.10 Pliny the Elder (23 BC˗AD 79) called this plant the ‘Apple tree of Assyria’ or the ‘Apple tree of Media’. He considered the citron tree as the only tree worth mentioning from amongst those growing in Media (Nec alia arbor laudatur in Medis).11 Pliny also ascribed some medicinal properties to this plant (Horum semen edendum praecipiunt in malacia praegnatibus, ipsa vero contra infirmitatem stomachi…12) and confirmed some earlier uses cited by the other authors mentioned,13 as well as noting its decorative use (… domus etiam decorans…14).

  • 15 De Candolle 1886: 181.

9Since ancient times, the C. medica fruit has been closely linked to the Jewish religion. The Hebrews were probably aware of the citron tree before the Romans, and prior to their relations with Persia, Media and adjacent countries.15 The religious use of the fruit during the Feast of Tabernacles caused the spread of C. medica to many countries of the Mediterranean, following the migration of the Jewish communities.

  • 16 De Luca, Menale 2006: 216.

10In addition to C. medica, it is also highly likely that Citrus x limon (L.) Osbeck was present in the Mediterranean during the classical age, due to fruits being brought by caravan from the East.16 This can be proved to some extent by iconographical sources from the Roman period, for example two Pompeii frescos now preserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum, which show lemon fruits.

2. Material and methods

2.1. Historical notes on the citrus collection at the Botanical Garden of Naples

  • 17 i.e. Tenore 1813; 1815; 1819; 1845.

11Citrus trees have been cultivated in the Botanical Garden of Naples since its foundation in 1807. Michele Tenore, appointed the first director of the Neapolitan Garden, collected many Citrus species and varieties used as food or as ornamentals. Indeed, the catalogues of cultivated plants show that the citrus collection gradually increased during the first half of the 19th century,17 under his direction. For example, in Tenore 1813, only five entities of Citrus are reported, while in Tenore 1845, 67 entities belonging to 11 species are reported.

  • 18 De Matteis Tortora, Nazzaro 2000.

12After detailed studies of the garden’s citrus grove, Tenore was able to describe new species, such as Citrus deliciosa Ten., now synonymous with C. reticulata Blanco, and Severinia buxifolia Ten.18

13The citrus grove of the Neapolitan Botanical Garden remained characterized for its noteworthy scientific value. In recent times, it has been rearranged in order to better exhibit the Citrus species and cultivars, and increase the number of entities.

2.2. Reference pollen

14Four flowers from three plants of C. medica and six plants of C. x limon were collected from the old Citrus tree collection of the Botanical Garden of Naples. Reference pollen for scanning electron microscopy study were coated with gold to ca. 30nm and observed under a FEI Quantas 200 ESEM at an accelerating voltage of 25 kV (Sezione di Microscopia LaMMEC del CeSMA, Università degli Studi di Napoli ‘Federico II’). Pollen grains for optical microscopy study were acetolysed prior to observation.

2.3. Pollen from Villa di Poppea at Oplontis

15All Citrus grains found in the slide prepared for pollen analysis were measured and photographed. In particular, the ornamentation type and number of apertures were taken into account for comparison with the selected modern material.

3. Results

3.1. Reference pollen

16Scanning electron and light microscopy analyses showed that Citrus medica pollen grains are medium sized, spheroidal, with 4-colporate type apertures. The ornamentation can be defined as perforate, the lumina of the reticulum being very small, normally under 1 µm (fig. 3). In equatorial view, about 36 perforations were visible in 100 µm2 of pollen surface. The mean width of perforations was 0.56±0.18 µm.

Fig. 3 - Scanning electron microscopy (a, b) and light microscopy (c: polar view; d: equatorial view) images of reference pollen of C. medica. Bars = 10µ.

Fig. 3 - Scanning electron microscopy (a, b) and light microscopy (c: polar view; d: equatorial view) images of reference pollen of C. medica. Bars = 10µ.

17Citrus x limon pollen grains can have 4- or 5-colporate apertures and the ornamentation is reticulate, with the lumina being normally more than 1 µm wide (fig. 4). In equatorial view, about 18 perforations were visible in 100 µm² of pollen surface. The mean width of perforations was 1.64±0.83 µm.

Fig. 4 - Scanning electron microscopy (a, b) and light microscopy (c: polar view; d: equatorial view) images of reference pollen of C. x limon. Bars = 10µ.

Fig. 4 - Scanning electron microscopy (a, b) and light microscopy (c: polar view; d: equatorial view) images of reference pollen of C. x limon. Bars = 10µ.

3.2. Pollen from Villa di Poppea at Oplontis

18Observation under the light microscopy showed that the Citrus pollen grains recovered from the soil sample are medium sized, spheroidal, with 4- or 5-colporate type apertures. They show contrasting types of ornamentation: pollen with 4 apertures always showed perforate ornamentation (fig. 5a), whereas pollen with 5 apertures showed a reticulate ornamentation, with a wider lumina (fig. 5b).

19

Fig. 5 - Selected light microscopy images of Citrus pollen recovered from the soil sample at Villa di Poppea. a: Citrus cfr medica; b: Citrus cfr x limon. Bars = 10µ.

Fig. 5 - Selected light microscopy images of Citrus pollen recovered from the soil sample at Villa di Poppea. a: Citrus cfr medica; b: Citrus cfr x limon. Bars = 10µ.

4. Discussion

20Analysis of the modern pollen material from C. medica and C. x limon allowed a clear morphological difference to be highlighted between the two species. In particular, C. medica pollen always showed 4-colporate apertures and a perforate ornamentation, whereas C. x limon pollen has 4 or 5 apertures and a reticulate ornamentation (figs. 3 and 4). On the basis of these features, comparison with the fossil pollen material allowed both species to be recognized in the garden soil sample of room 20 (fig. 5).

21This result is of great value from both a scientific and historical point of view, as not only were diagnostic morphological features defined for both these two Citrus species but, for the first time, the concurrent presence of C. medica and C. x limon were highlighted during the Roman period.

  • 19 Ricciardi 2014.
  • 20 Jashemski et al. 2002.
  • 21 Jashemski 1974; 1979a; 1979b; 1993.

22In the Villa di Poppea there are no paintings which demonstrate the presence of Citrus in the gardens;19 however, Jashemski et al. reported, in the The Natural History of Pompeii, that carbonized wood from a tree air-layered in a broken amphora in the sculpture garden (room 93) was identified as lemon.20 Jashemski suggests that these trees were probably planted in pots and grown in protected areas along garden walls in several gardens of Pompeii (i.e. House of Polybius, Garden of Hercules, House of the Ship Europa).21

  • 22 Mariotti Lippi 2000; 2012.
  • 23 Russo Ermolli et al. 2014.
  • 24 Grüger, Thulin 1998.
  • 25 Dimbleby, Grüger 2002.

23Concerning palynological investigation, pollen grains of Citrus were found in the Casa delle Nozze di Ercole e Ebe in Pompeii and ascribed to the species C. x limon.22 Some grains were detected in the 1st century AD sediments of the Neapolis harbour23 and at Lago d’Averno (Naples), where Grüger and Thulin attested that Citrus plants were cultivated during Roman times.24 No Citrus pollen grains were identified from the AD 79 levels at the Oplontis site in previous analyses.25

24The significant amount of Citrus pollen (4.4%) found in room 20, together with the occurrence of myrtle, makes this garden rather different from those already detected in the Pompeian region, which were characterized by the constant presence of olive trees and vineyards. The gardens of Villa di Poppea revealed the presence of these species as far back as AD 79, as testified by pollen analysis of the lapilli covered soil in the sculpture garden (room 93). This fact could indicate either a change in the composition of the villa gardens from the 1st century BC (age of the analyzed sample) to the 1st century AD (AD 79 gardens) or the peculiar character of the small garden of room 20. If Olea and Vitis were already present in some gardens of the villa in the 1st century BC, the absence of their pollen, within the spectrum of room 20, could be explained by the insect pollination of these species – the pollen could not reach room 20, which is a rather restricted room within the villa.

Conclusion

25Analysis of the modern pollen material from two species of Citrus (C. medica and C. x limon), selected on the basis of historical and archaeobotanical sources, pointed to a clear difference in their pollen morphology. Comparison with the pollen grains found in the garden soil of Villa di Poppea at Oplontis, dated to the 1st century BC, highlights for the first time the concurrent presence of C. medica and C. x limon during Roman times.

  • 26 i.a. Russo Ermolli et al. 2014.

26This study has again demonstrated that palynology can be a very powerful tool in tracing the history of plants, when supported by classical sources, botany and phytogeography.26

Bibliographie

Clarke, Muntasser 2014: J.R. Clarke, N.K. Muntasser (eds.), Villa A (“of Poppaea”) at Oplontis (Torre Annunziata, Italy), 1: The Ancient Setting and Modern Rediscovery, New York, ACLS Humanities E-Book Series.

De Candolle 1886: A. De Candolle, Origin of cultivated plants, 2nd ed., London, Kegan Paul, Trench & Co.

De Luca, Menale 2006: P. De Luca, B. Menale, Appendice di botanica storica. Gli agrumi, in AA.VV., Come alla Corte di Federico II, ovvero parlando e riparlando di scienza. Gli incontri del 2005, Napoli, EdiSES, p. 211-221.

De Matteis Tortora, Nazzaro 2000: M. De Matteis Tortora, R. Nazzaro, La collezione di agrumi dell’Orto Botanico di Napoli nel periodo borbonico, Delpinoa, n.s. 42, p. 23-26.

Di Maio 2014: G. Di Maio, The geoarcheology of the Oplontis coast, in Clarke, Muntasser 2014, p. 662-692.

Dimbleby, Grüger 2002: G.W. Dimbleby, E. Grüger, Pollen analysis of soil samples from the A.D. 79 level: Pompeii, Oplontis and Boscoreale, in Jashemski, Meyer 2002, p. 181-216.

Gazda 2014: E.K. Gazda, Villas on the Bay of Naples: The Ancient Setting of Oplontis, in Clarke, Muntasser 2014, p. 74-84.

Grüger, Thulin 1998: E. Grüger, B. Thulin, First results of biostratigraphical investigations of Lago d’Averno near Naples relating to the period 800 BC-800 AD, Quaternary International, 47/48, p. 35-40.

Jashemski 1974: W.F. Jashemski, The Discovery of a Market-Garden Orchard at Pompeii: the Garden of the House of the Ship Europa, American Journal of Archaeology, 78, 4, p. 391-404.

Jashemski 1979a: W.F. Jashemski, The Garden of Hercules at Pompeii (II.viii.6): the Discovery of a Commercial Flower Garden, American Journal of Archaeology, 83, 4, p. 403-411.

Jashemski 1979b: W.F. Jashemski, The Gardens of Pompeii, Herculaneum and the Villas Destroyed by Vesuvius, 1, New Rochelle, Caratzas Brothers.

Jashemski 1993: W.F. Jashemski, The Gardens of Pompeii, Herculaneum and the Villas Destroyed by Vesuvius, 2. Appendices, New Rochelle, Caratzas Brothers.

Jashemski, Meyer 2002: W.F. Jashemski, F.G. Meyer (eds.), The Natural History of Pompeii, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Jashemski et al. 2002: W.F. Jashemski, F.G. Meyer, M. Ricciardi, Plants: Evidence from wall paintings, mosaics, sculpture, plant remains, graffiti, inscriptions, and ancient authors, in Jashemski, Meyer 2002, p. 80-180.

Mariotti Lippi 2000: M. Mariotti Lippi, The garden of the “Casa delle Nozze di Ercole ed Ebe” in Pompeii (Italy): Palynological investigations, Plant Biosystem, 134, p. 205-211.

Mariotti Lippi 2012: M. Mariotti Lippi, Ancient floras, vegetational reconstruction and man-plant relationships: Case studies from archaeological sites, Bocconea, 24, p. 105-113.

Pagnoux et al. 2013: C. Pagnoux, A. Celant, S. Coubray, G. Fiorentino, V. Zech-Matterne, The introduction of Citrus to Italy, with reference to the identification problems of seed remains, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 22, p. 421-438.

Plinio 1984-1985: Gaio Plinio Secondo, Storia naturale, III (Libri 12-19, 20-27), ed. G.B. Conte, Torino, Einaudi.

Ricciardi 2014: M. Ricciardi, Between Natural History and Artistic Invention: Representations of Plants in the Paintings of Villa A, in Clarke, Muntasser 2014, p. 1096-1142.

Russo Ermolli, Messager 2014: E. Russo Ermolli, E. Messager, The gardens of Villa A at Oplontis through pollen and phytolith analysis of soil samples, in Clarke, Muntasser 2014, p. 1207-1250.

Russo Ermolli et al. 2014: E. Russo Ermolli, P. Romano, M.R. Ruello, M.R. Barone Lumaga, The natural and cultural landscape of Naples (Southern Italy) during the Graeco-Roman and Late Antique periods, Journal of Archaeological Science, 42, p. 399-411.

Schirarend 1998: C. Schirarend, La botanica degli agrumi, in F.M. Raimondo, W. Lach (eds.), Le mele d’oro. L’affascinante mondo degli agrumi, Palermo, Edizioni Grifo, p. 26-62.

Tenore 1813: M. Tenore, Catalogus plantarum Horti Regii Neapolitani, Napoli, Ex thypografia Angeli Trani.

Tenore 1815: M. Tenore, Catalogus plantarum Horti Regii Neapolitani, anno 1813 editum. Appendix prima, Napoli, Ex typographia Amuliana.

Tenore 1819: M. Tenore, Catalogus plantarum Horti Regii Neapolitani, anno 1813 editum. Appendix prima, editio altera, Napoli, Ex typographia diarii encyclopedici.

Tenore 1845: M. Tenore, Catalogo delle piante che si coltivano nel R. Orto Botanico di Napoli, corredato della pianta del medesimo, e di annotazioni, Napoli, Tipografia dell’Aquila di V. Puzziello.

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Notes

1 Gazda 2014.

2 Di Maio 2014.

3 Russo Ermolli, Messager 2014.

4 Russo Ermolli, Messager 2014.

5 Pagnoux et al. 2013.

6 De Luca, Menale 2006: 216.

7 Schirarend 1998: 46.

8 Theophrastus 1999, IV: 311-313.

9 Theophrastus 1999, IV: 313.

10 Virgilio 2007, II: 126-135.

11 Plinio 1984-1985, 12: 16.

12 Plinio 1984-1985, 23: 105.

13 Plinio 1984-1985, 12: 15-16.

14 Plinio 1984-1985, 13: 103.

15 De Candolle 1886: 181.

16 De Luca, Menale 2006: 216.

17 i.e. Tenore 1813; 1815; 1819; 1845.

18 De Matteis Tortora, Nazzaro 2000.

19 Ricciardi 2014.

20 Jashemski et al. 2002.

21 Jashemski 1974; 1979a; 1979b; 1993.

22 Mariotti Lippi 2000; 2012.

23 Russo Ermolli et al. 2014.

24 Grüger, Thulin 1998.

25 Dimbleby, Grüger 2002.

26 i.a. Russo Ermolli et al. 2014.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 - Geographical location of Oplontis and map of a sector of Villa di Poppea.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pcjb/docannexe/image/2190/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 212k
Titre Fig. 2 - Pollen spectra from the soil (top) and moss (bottom) samples of room 20.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pcjb/docannexe/image/2190/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 240k
Titre Fig. 3 - Scanning electron microscopy (a, b) and light microscopy (c: polar view; d: equatorial view) images of reference pollen of C. medica. Bars = 10µ.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pcjb/docannexe/image/2190/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,3M
Titre Fig. 4 - Scanning electron microscopy (a, b) and light microscopy (c: polar view; d: equatorial view) images of reference pollen of C. x limon. Bars = 10µ.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pcjb/docannexe/image/2190/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,4M
Titre Fig. 5 - Selected light microscopy images of Citrus pollen recovered from the soil sample at Villa di Poppea. a: Citrus cfr medica; b: Citrus cfr x limon. Bars = 10µ.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pcjb/docannexe/image/2190/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 210k

Auteurs

Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, dell’Ambiente e delle Risorse, Università di Napoli Federico II; ermolli@unina.it

Dipartimento di Biologia, Università di Napoli Federico II; bruno.menale@unina.it

Dipartimento di Biologia, Università di Napoli Federico II; mrbarone@unina.it

© Publications du Centre Jean Bérard, 2017

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