Citrus fruits are such a strong part of the Mediterranean identity today that 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, the citrus fruit was considered an ultimate luxury 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 able to spread throughout the provinces of the Roman empire thanks to the growth of farming and the transportation network throughout the empire’s provinces. 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 fruits 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 cake? 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, such as placing citrons among clothes (it was thought to act as a moth-repellent), but even stranger was the use of citron juice by warriors to induce vomiting (they believed it to be an antidote to poison). Of course we don’t find such uses today, but if you do come across a giant citron, try leaving one in your wardrobe - it will give your clothes a lovely scent that will last for weeks!