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FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numism  |  Reading For the Advanced Collector  |  Topic: The Styrax tree 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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Jochen
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« on: June 04, 2009, 11:05:21 am »

The Styrax tree

We have another interesting plant depicted on coins, typical for Selge in Pisidia: the Styrax tree. But in contrast to Silphion Styrax is not  extincted and in use until today.

1st coin:
Pisidia, Selge, 2nd-1st century BC
AR - triobol, 2.40g, 15.23mm
obv. Head of Herakles frontal, slightly r., wearing Styrax wreath, lion-skin over shoulders
rev. Club on l. side, holy Styrax tree on altar on r. side, between SELGEWN
       in r. field bukranion
 ref. SNG France 1959; SNG Copenhagen 256; SNG von Aulock 5284
Rare, about VF, obv. a bit excentric
Often Herakles is described as 'wearing oak wreath'. But actually it is a Styrax wreath!

2nd coin:
Pisidia, Selge, 2nd-1st century BC
AE 11, 2.45g
obv. Bearded head of Herakles, wreathed with Styrax leaves, lion-skin over shoulders
rev. Stag kneeling r., head turned l.
       in l. and r. field SE - L
ref. SNG France 1963; SG 5489
about VF
Here the Styrax wreath is evident!

Styrax tree (Storax, Styrax) is a genus of the Styrax plants with about 100 species in the tropics and subtropics (except Africa); indeciduous or deciduous shrubs or trees, whose twigs and leaves are covered by star-shaped hairs. The blossoms are white, separate, growing from the leaf axil or in terminal grapes. Popular species are the Benjamin tree (benzoe) and the true Styrax (Styrax officinalis), the last one a small tree native in South-Europe and Asia Minor. By carving into the bark the resin formerly Storax was obtained. Storax was the collective name for several aromatic smelling resins, consisting particularly of cinnamic acid, cinnamic acid esters, alcoholes and vanillin. The most famous was the oriental Storax, obtained from the Oriental Sweetgum (Liquidamber orientalis). It was formerly used as remedy for asthma, catarrhs and skin deseases. Today it serves for the production of ethereal oils and a resinoid which were used in perfume industry.

Strabo (xii. 7, §3) writes: 'The Styrax is found here (in the neighbourhood of Selge) in great abundance, a tree, not big, but grown upright. From the wood of this tree were made spears like those made from ash trees. In the stem of Styrax a worm is breeded who munched through the wood to the bark and in doing so ejects wooden grasps like strands or bran, a heap which accumulate at the root of the tree. Afterwards this changes to a liquid which quickly hardens to a gum-like mass. One part of the liquid rises up and mingles with the wooden grasps at the root of the tree and with earth; another part obtains its stability at the surface of the mass and stays pure. The part flowing vdown on the surface of the stem is pure too. From the impure part a mixture is made, a combination of earth and wood dust; this mixture has a greater flavour than the pure Styrax, but is inferior to him in all other qualities. That's not generally known. It is used in vast quantities as incense due to the superstition of those who worship gods.'

Selge was situated at the southern slopes of the Tauros mountains. The valley near Selge was fruitful of wine, olives, iris and Styrax. But the most important was the Styrax industry. Several thousands of people were busy in preparing the precious balsam. Styrax was the base of Selge's wealth, prosperity and power. Styrax not only was used as remedy but like frankincense in ritual acts too. Even today it is the most important incense of the Greek-Orthodox Church besides frankincense.

At the river Eurymedon (today Köprücay river) you find still today Styrax shrubs from which the valuable resin is obtained. If you go along the Eurymedon sometimes the bright green of Styrax officinals glows through the darker leafage. The inhabitants of Selge hold this plant in such high veneration that they put it on their coins. Barcley Head (Historia Nummorum) writes; 'Coin types are - two Styrax trees in boxes (a altar before each), flanked by thunderbolt and club, or by a column carrying an eagle and Nike.'

In the Bible too the Styrax tree is mentioned. Hosea 4, 13: They offer sacrifices on mountaintops, and they burn incense on the hills under oaks, poplars, and terebinths. They think that these trees provide good shade. "That is why your daughters become prostitutes, and your daughters-in-law commit adultery. Poplar probably means Styrax tree. The Hebraic word livneh is used for both trees.

So Styrax was not only economical important for Selge but because of its ritual relevance too. Are there more reasons to venerate this tree and to put it on the coins?

I have added
(1) The pic of a Styrax tree
(2) The pic of Leaves, blossoms and fruits of Styrax officinalis from Leopold Dippel, Handbuch der Laubholzkunde, 1889.

Sources:
Strabo
Bible
Meyers Enzyklopädisches Lexikon
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Styrax_officinalis
http://www.zum.de/stueber/dippel/band1/203.html

Best regards
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Paleologo
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« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2009, 06:52:12 am »

It seems that Styrax officinalis once had a broad distribution throughout Italy, the Balkans and Asia Minor. In Italian it is called storace, or mella bianca in the dialect of villagers from the Sabina area (North-East of Rome). Nowadays in Italy it can apparently be found only in a few protected sites near Rome, particularly the Monti Lucretili Regional Nature Park, that shows styrax flowers in its logo itself. Unfortunately it looks like the styrax's many useful properties that our progenitors knew so well have been completely forgotten by now, at least in our country.

Thanks to Jochen for giving me a chance to spend a few words about the surprising natural beauties that can be found just a few miles away from Rome, and of course the need to protect them from aggressive and uncontrolled urbanization (and sorry for the OT)  Smiley
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Jochen
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« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2009, 11:00:34 am »

Thanks, Paleologo, for your additional information. That Styrax officinalis is found today in Italy is new for me and very interesting.

Greetings to Roma
Jochen
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« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2009, 06:41:07 am »

That Styrax officinalis is found today in Italy is new for me and very interesting.

Yes, although it is very rare now. The tree should still be quite common in the Balkans instead, as far as I know. By the way, "Storace" is a family name that still exists in central Italy. Could this be a sign of the wide diffusion of this plant as far as the late medieval / early modern period, when most Italian family names were formed?

Regards, P.  Smiley
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