Citrus fruits are such a strong part of the Mediterranean identity today. It seems impossible to imagine Sicily without its lemon scented cannoli, or Calabria without its precious bergamot orchards. But did you know that in the times of the Roman empire, citrus fruit was considered an ultimate luxury, and enjoyed just by the Roman nobility?
THE ROLE OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE
In the times of the ancient Mediterranean there were only two types of citrus fruit: citrons, and lemons, which arrived a few hundred years later,. Citrons and lemons were spread throughout the provinces of the Roman empire thanks the growth of farming and the transportation network. One of the key characteristics of life under the Roman rule was the importance of land ownership among the elite, and agriculture and farming on the land was of the utmost priority. The nobility of the Roman empire sought out lemons and citrons as if they were prized items – understandably, as they were still incredibly rare during those days. This demand, combined with increased trade, allowed citrus fruit to spread all over Europe.
CITRUS USAGE UNDER ROMAN RULE
A squeeze of lemon with your morning water, or candied citron peel in your breakfast? This of course was unthinkable in the times of Roman rule – these were exotic fruits after all, and too expensive for most people to enjoy. Instead, records indicate a couple of rather curious uses of citrons! In particular, some placed citrons among their clothes as it was believed to be a moth-repellent, as well as warriors using it to induce vomiting as it was thought to act as an antidote to poison. Of course you won’t find people using them like this today, but if you do come across a giant citron, try leaving one in your wardrobe - it will leave your clothes with a lovely citrus perfume that will last for weeks!