Cannabis in ancient Rome
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As the old saying goes, “all roads lead to Rome”, this must mean that on that road also cannabis must have arrived at a certain point right? So can it be that the Romans were actually one of the first to discover the magic of our beloved plant and the Roman Empire was covered in a cloud of smoke?
As you probably know, Rome is an ancient city. The founding of Rome in 753 BC is credited to Romulus. He is one-half of the legendary twin brothers Romulus and Remus. Sired by the god Mars and suckled by a she-wolf. In fact, much of what we know about the origins of the Romans is attributed to the deeds of, in all likelihood, a mythical figure that never really existed.
Cannabis, too, is ancient. It’s hard to believe, across the vast expanse of imperial territory, which ultimately included most of Western Europe, parts of North Africa, and a slice of the Middle East, that both Romans and natives could be ignorant of marijuana. So we’ve dug up the best evidence to prove beyond any reasonable stoners doubt, cannabis was being consumed in Ancient Rome.
HISTORICAL ACCOUNTS OF MEDICAL CANNABIS USE IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE
Pedanius Dioscorides was a Greek botanist, physician and author that served in the Roman army. Between 50 AD and 70AD, he wrote a 5 volume pharmacopoeia called “De Materia Medica”. This work is arguably the best source for information about the medicines of both ancient Greece and Rome. Detailing approximately 600 plants and over 900 remedies, this text, of course, refers to cannabis.
Unfortunately, the references to “Kannabis” imply an understanding of the value of the fibre for rope. But then it takes a weird turn. Detailing using cannabis seeds to reduce sexual desire and making some weird juice to treat ear-worms. No fun stuff here, especially since the original drawing of the cannabis plant by Dioscorides himself was lost somewhere in time.
Galen, the most famous Roman physician and surgeon, also a Greek, was another prolific writer of medical texts. He saw himself as a physician and a philosopher, which is probably why he wrote: “The Best Physician Is Also A Philosopher”.
Galen began his medical studies aged 16 in 145 AD and made medicine is life until his death around aged 70. He was remarked describing how the flowers of hemp were often shared around at social gatherings to help induce enjoyment and laughter.
The famous poet Ovid also had something to say about cannabis. In one of his poems, he told the story of Glaucus, a man who ate green herbs that came from a plant with palm-shaped leaves. The herbs induced joy, euphoria, and the munchies. There is a good chance he was talking about cannabis!
FLORA GODDESS OF CANNABIS?
When we look at ancient Roman culture from a psychobiological perspective we get closer to discovering evidence of cannabis use. The Roman pantheon of the gods is essentially Greek gods with Roman names. That being said, there is one very strong candidate for the title of Roman goddess of cannabis.
Flora, goddess of flowers, is considered a minor deity by most historians. But to the stoned observer of antiquity, she is much more. The twin sister of Fauna is likely linked to cannabis too. The annual springtime festival of Flora which happened from April 27th to May 3rd was basically a 6 day flower power party.
People got dressed up in brightly colored garments decorating themselves and even animals too with flowers and by all accounts got completely wasted. A carnival atmosphere with varied entertainment from theatrical performances to orgies and plenty of feasting made this a real favorite across all strata of Roman society, especially prostitutes. To imagine this kind of revelry without recreational cannabis use is to lack imagination entirely.
Considering that Asterix and Obelix supposedly lived in ancient Roman times, maybe all this could explain where they got their magic powers from?