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In classical times, four types of cinnamon were distinguished (and often confused): Cassia (Hebrew, qesia), the bark of Cinnamomum iners from Arabia and Ethiopia Cinnamon proper (Hebrew qinnamon), the bark of Cinnamomum zeylanicum from Sri Lanka Malabathrum or Malobathrum (from Sanskrit tamālapattram, literally "dark-tree leaves"), Cinnamomum malabathrum from the North of India Serichatum, Cinnamomum aromaticum from Seres, that is, China. In Exodus 30, 23, Moses is ordered to use both sweet cinnamon (Kinnamon) and cassia (qesia) together with myrrh, sweet calamus and olive oil to produce a holy oil to anoint the Ark of the Covenant. Psalm 45, 8, mentions the garments of Torah scholars that smell of myrrh, aloes and cassia. The first Greek reference to kasia is found in a poem by Sappho in the 7th century B.C. According to Herodotus, both cinnamon and cassia grow in Arabia, together with incense, myrrh, and ladanum, and are guarded by winged serpents. The phoenix builds its nest from cinnamon and cassia. But Herodotus mentions other writers that see the home of Dionysos, e.g. India, as the source of cassia. While Theophrastus gives a rather good account of the plants, but a curious method for harvesting (worms eat away the wood and leave the bark behind), Dioscorides seems to confuse the plant with some kind of water-lily. Pliny (nat. 12, 86-87) gives a fascinating account of the early spice trade across the Red Sea in "rafts without sails or oars", obviously using the trade winds, that costs Rome 100 million sesterces each year. According to Pliny, a pound (the Roman pound, 327 g) of cassia, cinnamon or serichatum cost up to 300 denars, the wage of ten month's labour. Diocletian's Edict on Maximum Prices from 301 AD gives a price of 125 denars for a pound of cassia, while an agricultural labourer earned 25 denars per day. The Greeks used kásia or malabathron to flavour wine, together with absinth (Artemisia absinthia). Pliny mentions cassia as a flavouring agent for wine as well (Plin. nat. 14, 107f.). Malabathrum leaves (folia) were used in cooking and for distilling an oil used in a caraway-sauce for oysters by the Roman gourmet Gaius Gavius Apicius (de re coquinaria I, 29, 30; IX, 7). Malabathrum is among the spices that, according to Apicius, any good kitchen should contain. Egyptian recipes for kyphi, an aromatic used for burning, included cinnamon and cassia from Hellenistic times onwards. The gifts of Hellenistic rulers to temples sometimes included cassia and cinnamon as well as incense, myrrh, and Indian incense (kostos), so we can conclude that the Greeks used it in this way too. The famous Commagenum, an unguent produced in Commagene in present-day eastern Turkey was made from goose-fat and aromatised with cinnamon oil and spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi). Malobrathum from Egypt (Dioscorides I, 63) was based on cattle-fat and contained cinnamon as well; one pound cost 300 denars. The Roman poet Martial (VI, 55) makes fun of Romans who drip unguents, smell of cassia and cinnamon taken from a bird's nest and look down on him who does not smell at all. Cinnamon, as a warm and dry substance, was believed by doctors in ancient times to cure snakebites, freckles, the common cold, and kidney troubles, among other ailments.

 
 


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