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Therapy with Saffron and the Goddess at Thera
Abstract

This paper presents a new interpretation of a unique Bronze Age (c. 3000-1100 BCE) Aegean wall painting in the building of Xeste 3 at Akrotiri, Thera. Crocus cartwrightianus and its active principle, saffron, are the primary subjects at Xeste 3. Several lines of evidence suggest that the meaning of these frescoes concerns saffron and healing: (1) the unusual degree of visual attention given to the crocus, including the variety of methods for display of the stigmas; (2) the painted depiction of the line of saffron production from plucking blooms to the collection of stigmas; and (3) the sheer number (ninety) of medical indications for which saffron has been used from the Bronze Age to the present. The Xeste 3 frescoes appear to portray a divinity of healing associated with her phytotherapy, saffron. Cultural and commercial interconnections between the Therans, the Aegean world, and their neighboring civilizations in the early 2nd millennium BCE indicate a close network of thematic exchange, but there is no evidence that Akrotiri borrowed any of these medicinal (or iconographic) representations. The complex production line, the monumental illustration of a goddess of medicine with her saffron attribute, and this earliest botanically accurate image of an herbal medication are all Theran innovations.



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