The Rose in the Classical Period up to 500 A.D

China

It was probably in this country, with its ancient culture, that man first grew roses as garden plants. It is believed that it was during the reign of the legendary Chin-Nun (2737 – 2697 B.C.) that Chinese rose cultivation really began. The rose never played the great and important role of either the peony or chrysanthemum in China.

A similar situation existed in Japan where the cherry tree was much more important than the rose.

During the Han dynasty (206 B.C. – 8 A.D.) the number of Chinese pleasure gardens became so great that the agricultural production of the flat farmlands was seriously threatened.

It is impossible to say just when the China and Tea roses were developed, but they must have been grown in China for at least 2000 years. During that time, either through selection or hybridization, certain partricularly beautiful varieties arose which, at the beginning of the 19th century, found their way to Europe. Many roses had been in cultivation in Chinese gardens for centuries before they became known in the West.

Persia

We know relatively little about the roses grown in the time of Medes and Persians. We can be sure that the Persians had learned the art of obtaining rose water and Attar of Roses and they must, therefore, have been quite accustomed to rose cultivation. N. E. Iran, particularly the area around Masenderan, was a veritable rose paradise where highly fragrant roses were extensively cultivated. This are could well have been the cradle of the European garden roses, which from here traveled through the Middle East to Greece and to Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine.

Crete

The oldest known representation of a rose was found by British archaelologist, Sir Arthur Evans, during his excavations at Knossos.The painting from the 17th century B.C. was found in the ruins of a palace south-east of Heraklion, built at the time of King Minos. The famous fresco of the “Blue Bird” was found in the House of Frescoes. The rose represented is possibly Rosa richardii (Rosa sancta – The “Holy Rose” of Abyssinia and Egypt) or a form of Rosa gallica.

Greece

Sappho, the famous Greek poetess, who lived on the island of Lesbos in the 8th century B.C. was the first to celebrate the rose in poetry. She called it the “Queen of Flowers” and so it has remained to this day.

Herodotus (490 – ca. 420 B.C), regarded as the “Father of Historians”, describes the famous ‘Rose with 60 Petals” of King Midas of Phrygia, who had to flee to Macedonia and was able to take is roses with him. This must have been a fully-petaled form of Rosa gallica or a very double Rosa alba, which were both in existence at that time.

Alexander the Great (356 – 323 B.C.) undoubtedly brought back with him from the East, after his various military expeditions and conquests, both seeds and plants, amongst which there must have been some roses.

Theophrastus (372-287 B.C.) known as the “Father of Botany” makes a clear distinction between the two types of roses, namely rhodon, roses with double flowers and kynosbaton, the dog or wild rose, Rosa canina, and its various forms.

Rome

The rose was well known early on in Rome. It was introduced by the Greek settlers who also formed colonies in N. Africa, Sicily and Spain.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (3 B.C. – 65 A.D.) Roman philosopher and teacher of Nero, described a method of forcing roses with warm water and of their cultivation in “forcing houses”.

A Sybarite from Southern Italy around 510 B.C. complained that he could not sleep at night, because in his bedroom strewn with rose petals, he had lain on a single folded petal which had been so uncomfortable that it had kept him awake.

Emperor Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus Nero (37 – 68 A.D) spent 4,000,000 sesterces ( ca. $ 400,000) on the supply of roses for a banquet. On another occasion he spent approx. $225,000 to have thousands of rose blooms strewn on the beach in a city of Baiae to celebrate a special occasion. In order to supply this immense quantity of flowers, extensive nurseries were needed and the majority of these were situated in the area around Paestum.

To the Romans, the rose also became the symbol of secrecy because the petals close over the stamens as the lips do over the mouth. If a rose was painted or sculpted in the ceiling of any room it always signified that talk and discussion held there was confidential.

Egypt

The Romans imported cut roses en masse from the Nile Delta in Egypt as they had a warmer climate. Whole shiploads came directly to Rome from Egypt; this journey took 6 days. How they kept the blooms fresh for so long is unknown.

In 1888 a wreath of roses was found in a tomb dating from about the time of the Birth of Christ. This proves that the Egyptians grew the same roses as the Greeks and that in addition to the native varieties they also had R. gallica and R. damascena.

Greece

Sappho, the famous Greek poetess, who lived on the island of Lesbos in the 8th century B.C. was the first to celebrate the rose in poetry. She called it the “Queen of Flowers” and so it has remained to this day.

Herodotus (490 – ca. 420 B.C), regarded as the “Father of Historians”, describes the famous ‘Rose with 60 Petals” of King Midas of Phrygia, who had to flee to Macedonia and was able to take is roses with him. This must have been a fully-petaled form of Rosa gallica or a very double Rosa alba, which were both in existence at that time.

Alexander the Great (356 – 323 B.C.) undoubtedly brought back with him from the East, after his various military expeditions and conquests, both seeds and plants, amongst which there must have been some roses.

Theophrastus (372-287 B.C.) known as the “Father of Botany” makes a clear distinction between the two types of roses, namely rhodon, roses with double flowers and kynosbaton, the dog or wild rose, Rosa canina, and its various forms.

Rome

The rose was well known early on in Rome. It was introduced by the Greek settlers who also formed colonies in N. Africa, Sicily and Spain.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (3 B.C. – 65 A.D.) Roman philosopher and teacher of Nero, described a method of forcing roses with warm water and of their cultivation in “forcing houses”.

A Sybarite from Southern Italy around 510 B.C. complained that he could not sleep at night, because in his bedroom strewn with rose petals, he had lain on a single folded petal which had been so uncomfortable that it had kept him awake.

Emperor Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus Nero (37 – 68 A.D) spent 4,000,000 sesterces ( ca. $ 400,000) on the supply of roses for a banquet. On another occasion he spent approx. $225,000 to have thousands of rose blooms strewn on the beach in a city of Baiae to celebrate a special occasion. In order to supply this immense quantity of flowers, extensive nurseries were needed and the majority of these were situated in the area around Paestum.

To the Romans, the rose also became the symbol of secrecy because the petals close over the stamens as the lips do over the mouth. If a rose was painted or sculpted in the ceiling of any room it always signified that talk and discussion held there was confidential.

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