Due Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at 10:00am
750-word essay submitted online, posted to the course website (roughly three double-spaced pages)
Choose one vegetable that currently grows in the Yedikule gardens: purslane (semizotu), lettuce (marul), tomato (domates), purple basil (reyhan), pepper (biber), mint (nane) or radish (turp). Answer the following questions in your essay:
I. 250 words on the origin of your vegetable:
– Location of wild progenitor (ancestor)?
– When was it domesticated? When/how did it come to Istanbul?
– What part is eaten? How is the modern crop different from the wild form?
II. 250 words on how to grow your vegetable:
– Soil, water, sunlight requirements?
– How to plant, how to protect from pests and disease?
– You can use both ancient sources (Geoponika, Classical writers) and modern gardening websites for agricultural information (do these information sources correlate in any way?)
III. 250 words on taste and a traditional recipe:
– Detail your own experiences tasting this vegetable (smell, feel, taste, appearance)
– Are you familiar with this vegetable already, or is it new to you?
– Locate a Turkish recipe that uses this ingredient and explain how the vegetable is prepared/cooked (online recipes are okay, but try to find one from a traditional cookbook or one that is noted as being passed down through generations)
– Include the recipe and a photo of your vegetable
Prof. Cemal Kafadar
15 July 2014
Primary sources like geoponika and typika registrations in Byzantine and tahrir defters, waqf records in Ottoman Empire shed light into the certain parts of the social life. Population, residence type and location, religious affiliation of people, variety of property, sources of income and models of production and consumption are some of findings which can be gained from the primary sources of the period.
For instance, the survey of Istanbul made by the order of Mehmed II in the year 1455 gave us most detailed and reliable datas about the conditions of the buildings, churches, monasteries in Istanbul right after the conquest. Furthermore, the survey also addresses the two waves of migration to the city. While first settlers came immediately after the conquest, the rest joined them after Mehmed II’s commitment that whoever come the city and select whatever abandoned house, it would belong him. But soon after, this group of people quitted the region due to the hardships of living in a ruined city. The number of the dead, wounded and captives during the conquest is among the issues are touched on the survey. Moreover, Conqueror ordered the construction of a mosque and a sultanic complex in his own name at Istanbul’s Fatih area. The complex included a mosque, a hospital, an imaret, a primary school and a library. According to waqf records of the complex the annual income reached around 32.000 gold prices and 383 employees received their salaries from the waqf fund. As it is understood from the Byzantine typika, monastic foundation documents from 12th century, wine dressers, groom, baker, gardener and gatekeeper were a part of monastery that they were taking meal along with other monks. They all act in a sense of brotherhood. We learned from the twelfth century typika even every day the gardeners, the vine-dressers and other employees were coming together at the refectory. Like Ottoman sultanic complex, monasteries were close the garden, bakery and vineyard which are all essential for human nutrition. Lip’s monastery also includes a hospital within. It was a common point between Byzantine and Ottoman society that institutional philanthropy goes over the foundations especially hospitals. Thirteenth century typika cites the existence of foundation hospital capable of bedding 20 patients at the same time and salaries of doctors and other servants and other expenditures of the hospital satisfied by revenues of certain property donated by someone. Plus, from this source we can gain some sort of information about the habits of diet of nuns. It appears that they were aware of the organic needs of human being hence they have specific dietary guideline: three dishes of fish, cheese and legumes on non-fast days and legumes, vegetables and seasonal shellfish for fast days. It means that there were regular vegetable productions around which satisfy monastery’s need.
To large extent similarly, Geoponika records, a Byzantine Greek farming manual in 10th century gave us information about the agricultural traditions of Roman Empire. We can gain sort of impression about the belief systems of the period. Because, there were some details about the astrological forecasting. Indeed, there is an assertion that gardeners finds the stars more reliable guides than calendars but Geoponika Book refuted this claim by showing the proofs that Julian calendar were using everywhere. Also, set of information about the weights and measures system could be found in the Geoponika which could means that magnitude of production or size of the arable lands were beyond our estimates. In my opinion, the magnitude of the agricultural production should be too much that people had to advance such kind of rational calendar and measure systems.
Dioskorides’s Materi medica is a pharmacology book includes lists of plants along with their medicinal uses. There are 383 botanical pictures and under them their features were written. It is mentioned that some herbs carry the magical properties. On the other hand, the supplementary text has set of animal pictures such as snakes, lizard, birds and fishes. I think, all these animals are sacred in the society and have a symbolic meaning therefore they found a place in this book. Animals are used in healing many years as well as plants. They are also part of medical treatment. In the late antique and early Byzantine period medical care was a job of women. So we can make some interpretations about women’s place in the society. Probably preserving lives is sacred job and this increases the status of women in the community.
On the other hand, tahrir registrations and typika records gave us detailed and reliable information about the size and number of the arable lands or gardens. For instance, thirteen century typika states that convent of the miracle-working saints Kosmas and Damian had a piece of arable land inside the city of 640 modioi, a garden at Blanga with the pasturage there…etc. Besides, from the estates of Achilleion and Barys which were inherited by a man he had gained cattle, a vineyard of 32 modioi, a garden of 20 modioi, a smaller garden of 10 modioi and arable land of 390 modioi. Shortly, we are able to obtain such detailed informations about the sizes and varieties of the gardens from the foundation records.
In sum, agricultural production and size and number of arable lands are always important for rulers that’s because they all tried to register them. Although the land taken by force in a way, the continuity of authority depends on the happiness and to what extend satisfy people’s natural needs at least. Hence, all rulers want to know how much is produced. The primary sources arranged by central government or pious foundations today grant the scholars a bunch of research field. Habits of diet, size and number of lands, variety of the vegetables which all is a significant part of social life could be found inside of these primary sources.
One of the biggest challenges of a historian is to construct the past as reliable as possible with the help of available sources of every kind; written, visual etc. It is not an easy thing simply because the sources you have in hand, if you lucky enough to have them; could not be necessarily written on the matter you are searching for, but still, there can be things derived from the content. Thus, even the research for the sources should be very broad in order not to miss out anything.
For instance, to create a historical narrative describing the agricultural past of the walled city, Constantinople, there are important sources which were not actually prepared for depicting the agricultural past of the city specifically but still can be examined having that thought in mind. Due to city’s past, we have the Byzantine and the Ottoman sources. The sources that will be considered here are Byzantine Typica and Geoponica along with the Ottoman Surveys of Istanbul in 1455 and in 1734/35.
Typica is a source that gives information on the regulations of life in monasteries. There are some surviving typica from Constantinople’s institutions. For this study, we have the typicon of the Convent of Sts. Kosmas and Damian, Monastery of St. Mamas and the Convent of Lips. They were all prepared to give an insight about the ancient Byzantine monastic life and habits. However, as part of the topic, looking at diets of the monks, the agricultural land owned by the monastery or the topography of both that agricultural land and the region where the monastery is located some information can be derived about the agricultural features.
Then, there is the Geoponica, which is a Byzantine Greek farming manual of the 10th century AD. It is dedicated to the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus. It is a collection of twenty-books, each one of them gives different information on different issues and techniques such as stars, agriculture, vine cultivation and making, Olives, animals and insects that are harmful for plants, birds, horses, donkeys, breeding, fish etc. Thus, the Geoponica includes all parts and issues of “agricultural” information.
The Ottoman sources that can be used for the purposes of creating the agricultural life are the surveys. There are two examples, from 1455 and 1734/35. Their purpose is obvious from their titles, yet, those surveys shows the dwellings of bostancis (gardeners), locations of vineyards and gardens, churches or endowments which would lead one to valuable information about the agricultural life of the city. Also, having same kind of source from different centuries would help to see the change and continuity through time about the agriculture due to the option of making a comparison about the same matters.
1. Typikon of Athanasios Philanthropenos for the Monastery of St. Mamas in Constantinople
There is a part mentioning the people responsible of the kitchen. Another part talks about the diet of the monks. Then in the section where financial administration where we can learn there is a treasurer. The author mentions one of the most important income sources are the donations of landed property. I think, this source is also important for the researcher to learn about the possibility of other sources, like for instance when the author talks about the duties of the treasurer of nomismata he says the treasurer needs to keep the record and listing of monetary income and expenditure, thus, if the treasurer acted accordingly, there is a possibility of finding such a source which also can give very valuable information on the subject of our research.
Especially the detailed menu of the Lent, for the each day of the week, is very important in order to see the existing food of the time. Giving the rule for every man to eat the same amount and same things also gives a clue about the expenditures and the amount of the food provided for the monastery.
2. Typikon of Theodora Palaiologina for the Convent of Lips in Constantinople
Similarly, the diet of the nuns is described in this Typica, especially it is recommended that fresh legumes should be eaten and they should be in season. The information on the endowed land around Constantinople by the empress for the foundation gives some clues since it includes vineyards, olive groves, mills etc. The salary of the priests which was paid in gold coins and grain, wheat, barley and wine is significant about the value of those.
Also, the author mentions the inventory of the property and the harvests along with possible foreign attacks to the property. And then he talks about his estates in a rather detailed way which is very valuable information for determining the amount and what kind of produce is possible. He talks about the revenues from those lands and their distribution. Especially, towards the end of the manual, he mentions the entire property owned by the convent inside Constantinople.
3. Typikon of Theodora Palaiologina for the Convent of Sts. Kosmas and Damian in Constantinople
In this very short Typikon, which is connected to the Lips’ typikon there is again list of the things convent owned. Among them, there are the arable lands inside and outside of the city; vineyards, gardens with peasants and also the payments are again with gold pieces, barley, wheat and wine.
4. The Geoponica
Especially in the “Book 12” which is concerned with many important issues as what is planted out month by month in the latitude of Constantinople is a gem for our intentions to learn and create a historical narrative about the agricultural past of the walled city. That information would compose an idea about the seasonal, even monthly activities of agricultural production.
There is the part where the ways of vegetable growing is discussed to achieve fertile plants which gives clues about the knowledge those people had on the issue. Another thing is solving problems like the caterpillar issue. There are some tactics in order to deal with the issues that can be harmful for vegetables and trees.
Also, the herbs and their medical uses are mentioned in the texts. We can learn about the importance of a certain type of vegetable through the text which also can give some explanations on the need or the demand of that vegetable like the lettuce. The recipes can help us to have some indications on the diet of the people, especially realizing the way they consume things. Also, especially via seeing the beliefs of the people on the effect of something whether it known to be true or false today, I think this source would help to read the reasons behind products that were planted to the gardens of the people, or to see the trends of those products like garlic and onion. It also gives information about months which certain flowers can grow etc which is again valuable to make suggestions on the seasonal effects.
5. The Survey of Istanbul 1455
This survey is very interesting due to its timing -right after the capture of Constantinople from Byzantines by the Ottomans- and also when it is compared to the later examples of the kind. The information in the survey helps us to see the transformation of the city under the Ottoman rule. On the other hand, it is unlikely to see many gardens registered. Maybe this is related to the fact that the city was ruined in a serious amount, as it can be seen from many entries like the ruined houses or churches due to a hit by cannon etc.
From the registers we can learn detailed information about a garden. Like in a register of Quarter of Balat, there is an entry as, “The House of Hacı from Edremid; in the upper storey two rooms; in the lower storey one room; with a garden of one and a half dönüm; now Yahya from Çorlu lives in the house.” Thus, we can learn the owner, his origin, the design of the room along with the garden and the size of the garden from the register. Also, there are examples of people recorded as gardeners without being an owner of a garden. Examples of churches in gardens can be seen.
6. The Survey of Istanbul 1734/35 – Kefil Defteri
Again, prepared for totally different reasons, to control the newly arriving work force to the city via registering them with a guarantor, this source is valuable for its help of understanding the land that was dedicated to agriculture and its distribution within the walled city. There are the names of the Bostans along with the names of the people they belonged and their location aside from the district there are the neighborhood names. Some suggestions can be made in relation to the titles the owners had like, Sultan, Ağa, Efendi, Elçipaşazade, Çelebi or the endowed bostans which can be understood via registering them with the name of the mosque. There is also the total number of gardens and gardeners in the end.
 Bassus Cassianus, “Geoponika: Farm Work: A Modern Translation of the Roman and Byzantine Farming Handbook.” (Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books, 2011), 9.
 Halil Inalcık, “The Survey of Istanbul 1455: The Text, English Translation, Analysis of the Text, Documents.” (İstanbul, Turkey: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2012), 306.
Last week we visited Langa and Yedikule Gardens in order to see a long transformation in a region in terms of the usage of the land and field. I would like start by stating a philosophical and imaginary difficulty in order to draw the framework of this paper. Our visit was to a field which had been transformed for many times into different areas for agricultural or monetary production and habitation. Even if we are able to find some archeological remains of different periods the field and its aura had been transformed many times. In this framework an imagination of the past decades seems impossible for scholars and researchers. As a research methodology looking into the written works might help us for to illustrate the past decades. These sources are more helpful with a combination of different sources in different periods. Similarities and differences misght show the researchers the continuity in the era in terms of cause and consequences.
Studying primary resources that had been translated and edited recently by scholars might demonstrate us the transformation of the fields and the usage of the soil. One of our resources that we had discussed in Yedikule Gardens; Geoponika is on the farmwork of the Roman and Byzantine. It starts by setting the methodology that had been used in the modern translation. In Geoponika previous books are attributed to the climat conditions sun, moon, wind, schedule, finding water, soil, forests, calenders, seasons and planting. For instance book four is dedicated to grapes and gardening of grapes and includes ideas and observations of different authors of that period such as Demokritos, Tarantinos. Wine and the production of wine is also included in this and following chapters. As we might see cultivation of grapes had occupated an important place for Roman and Byzantine Empire. Book nine is dedicated to olive trees and production of olive oil. Other books include cultivation of fruits such as citrons, pears, peach, cheries, plums etc. Book twelve which seems important for our research on Istanbul focuses on the vegetables and cultivation theories and observations for gardeners. Garlic, onions, lettuce, mushrooms, mint, cabbage, basil are the main products that are discussed as the used products for prophets and the citizens of Istanbul in that era. Florentinus states that “gardening is essential to life” (Geoponika, 247) . In this respect he focused on the value of differetn vegetables in terms of medicinal use in various illnesses.
Our second document “A Complete Translation of the Surviving Founders” Typika and Testaments” focuses firstly on a prior history of the foundation. Accordingly Mamas had been an important monastry and occupied an important patriarchal responsability before 1000s. We might find some information on the diet of the monks and the importance of finding water at that era. The previous chapters are dedicated to the usage of the gardens and the relation of the monks with the gardens inluding the financial matters. Accordingly some fields had been used as cementry. Again we might find some information on olive oil and wine including their daily usage and routine of fasting. Vineyards and their cultivation occupies an important position from 19th chapter onwards. It is interesting to see how religious affairs were organized through the cultivation of the soil and the products for decades. The translated chapters provides us the diet of the monks and the citizens of Istanbul based on the institutions and religious places. For instance we might see this organizations in these lines “Since man is an organic being and is clad in a body which has need of food and requires covering, and there is a divine law that one should not desire to die nor dissolve the bond of union prematurely, my majesty has deemed it necessary to discuss the needs of the nuns, I mean food and clothing and all other garments.” (Typikon 1275)
As for me these documents provide us an important source for understanding the organization made based on the production and how it had effected the social life and daily routines during that period. Besides we might find important information about the products that had been cultivated since that period and their usage. Using primary sources might frame us the missing information and the aura that the scholars are working on. In this sence going through these documents seems important.
In some cases, the more you learn about a topic, the more questions arise and the further from the truth it seems you become. The role of the bostans throughout history both fascinates and frustrates me for this very reason. Last week, we looked at a few photographs of a former Yedikule bostan in the Fatih neighborhood. In class, we discussed how the photographs we looked at painted a linear progression of this bostan from a fertile land to an abandoned area but that that wasn’t necessarily the case. What happened in between these snapshots? Are we to believe the area was unchanged and static in between the images? My guess is no. Continuing with the idea that spaces do not follow a linear progression in terms of function, last Thursday we visited the former Langa bostan (famous for its cucumbers) where it became apparent that the area went from being a land area, to one filled with water that became a central port, back to land whose alluvial soil made it the perfect place for a bostan. Part of the bostan has already been destroyed to build a metro station and another part will soon be destroyed to build a parking lot — the thought alone saddened me. The function of this space is in no way linear over the years, which leaves me wondering what function other garden sites have played throughout history. This past weekend, other students enrolled in the Harvard summer school program and I were fortunate enough to journey to Gallipoli and ancient Troy. While at Troy, I was greatly intrigued by a well I saw dating back to c. 300 BCE. My curiosity regarding this well, its function overtime, and what that says about the surrounding space continue to leave me with more questions than answers.
Aside from the living remnants and literary and pictorial sources describing the gardens, some surviving primary sources on gardens dating back to the 10th century AD with the publication of the Geoponika exist today to aid the study of gardens’ historical past. The Geoponika, a Byzantine Greek farming manual from the 10th century AD dedicated to Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, reveals the many influences and techniques of farming practices dating back to the 3rd century BC as well as the important role farming played not only for pragmatic purposes but also for medicinal, therapeutic, and leisurely ones (Dalby, Geoponika, 247). In Book 12, part 2, entitled “Making a vegetable garden,” Andrew Dalby translates Florentinus’ section as, “Gardening is essential to life. For health and convalescence a garden should be developed not at a distance from the house but in proximity to it, where it will give enjoyment to the eyes and pleasure to the sense of smell.”(Dalby, 247) Additionally, Dalby notes that Homer and Hesiod are quoted and language used primarily in the 3rd century BC appear in this text, showing the longstanding history and presence of gardens (Dalby, 13). The many authors cited in this text further reveal the great focus on gardens through history. However, as this was a text only members of the elite had access to, were there different practices others followed or are these the only ones? Two typikas, “Typikon of Athanasios Philanthropenos for the Monastery of St. Mamas in Constantinople” and “Typikon of Theodora Palaiologina for the Convent of Lips in Constantinople” from the 12th and 13th centuries, respectively, law books for monasteries, reveal the important role gardens played in providing food as much of the diet was fruits and vegetables. From this information, can we say most monasteries relied heavily on fruits and vegetables during these periods? Two surveys from 1455 and 1735 survive today which also reveal the presence of bostans in numerous quarters during these years. The 1735 survey tells us there were 344 bostans with 1,381 gardeners employed (“The Survey of the Bustans (Gardens) in Istanbul intramural from 1735”).
While these three sources make it clear that gardens were numerous when these sources were written and played an important role throughout history, they leave the reader with a number of new questions to ponder. What was the situation of gardens in between these periods? Do these documents tell the entire story during the periods they were written? These sources also leave me with many questions regarding the sources’ weight in the present. How should these documents influence our views on bostans and the preservation of them today versus how do they? These documents are clearly instrumental to the study of the agricultural past but what do they say about the present and the future? Is the historical presence and importance of gardens evidence enough for the preservation of them? Despite the many missing pieces of the puzzle, it is clear the importance of the gardens in history is truly immense and the primary sources discussed earlier further speak to that.
A complete historiographical analysis of the economic and agricultural history of Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire includes various types of primary sources. This diversity helps to avoid misplaced assumptions or forgotten actors and draws a more complete picture of the past. Dominant power structures often write a history that reflects distinct motivations and intentions without considering many other perspectives. Less traditional primary sources like literary and artistic exphraxi, professional manuals and guidebooks, religious typica, and city surveys include important but perhaps underrepresented actors that contributed to the agricultural development of Istanbul.
Mavroudi and Dolezal discuss the importance of exploring potentially problematic sources that require a significant amount of interpretation. For subjects that no longer exist, exphraxi can be useful tools through which to understand history. “The multiple allusions to divergent genres, in effect, contribute to more precise definitions of late Byzantine culture, not the least of which is sustained attraction to gardens, real or imaginary.” (Dolezal and Mavroudi, 2002) Alternatively, a quantitative analysis of city surveys and censuses can describe an increase or decrease in the amount of farms and gardeners in various neighborhoods within Istanbul. The very inclusion of bostans in a survey might indicate a type of centralized regulation and therefore a higher degree of control and oversight. This introduction of government presence to the management of urban farming demonstrates the role bostans have played as an integral part of city life.
Similar to the exphraxis examined by Mavroudi and Dolezal, the Greek Byzantine Dioskorides’ Materia medica pharmacology encyclopediaand Geoponika farming manual have important cultural implications that inform the agricultural history of what is today Istanbul. In addition to the practical utility of farms and their crops’ nutrition, Book 12 of the Geoponika describes the intangible value of gardens and the importance of their proximity to residential zones. “Gardening is essential to life. For health and convalescence a garden should be developed not at a distance from the house, but in proximity to it, where it will give enjoyment to the eyes and pleasure to the sense of smell…” (Cassianus, 2011)Dioskorides similarly discusses the uses of plants medicinal qualities in the Materia medica. While neither document says anything about specific Byzantine gardens, they represent a vocal and visual discourse that indicates a high level of social and academic engagement with agriculture in the ancient empire. This commentary suggests that an “informed involvement in the everyday realities of plants and their medicinal uses” was expected from those that were responsible for the public good. (Brubaker) The significant cultural value given to these farms and gardens by these manuscripts may also be applied to the city’s gardeners. Creating a lucrative market for plants that could be grown in an urban environment for medicinal, hygienic, or superstitial applications and required a skilled gardener would likely have important social implications.
Istanbul’s monastic typica also provide important information on the status of gardens and urban farms from the 12th through the 14th centuries. The typicon for the St. Mamas’ monastery in 1158 describes important connections between manual labor and spirituality that includes gardening and providing food sources for its monks. There is also an interesting community building element for the role of gardener and for the act of sharing meals. “Vine-dressers, gardeners and others working outside the monastery should take meals along with the other monks in order that ‘the name brotherhood may not be just a name.’” (Philanthropenos) The gardens of the St. Mamas monastery also provide most of the food eaten by the brothers. According to the document their diet consists largely of vegetables (mentioned no fewer than eight times), legumes, bread, fruit, cheese, and fish. While fish were probably bought elsewhere in the city, the explicit inclusion of “gardener” as a manual labor position indicates that monks grew at least some of the food. Furthermore, due to vows of poverty, one can infer that most sustenance items were made within the monastery’s grounds.
The typica of the Convents of Lips and Sts. Kosmas and Damian are valuable in deciphering how much land was operated as working farms and gardens in Istanbul. The Convent of Lips included at least 18 hectares of operational gardens with an additional 74 hectares of arable land and about 17 hectares of vineyards “inside Constantinople” including Blanga and Galata. (Palaiologina) The Convent of Sts. Kosmas and Damian owns at least 2,342 hectares of arable land both inside (Blanga, Chalcedon, Galata) and surrounding (Philopation) the city as well as 92 hectares of vineyards and 24 hectares of olive trees. (Palaiologina) This substantial amount of land dedicated to agriculture speaks to the cultural and economic significance of gardening in Istanbul between the 12th and 14th centuries.
The urban farms and agricultural history of the city requires creative interpretations of primary sources that may, at first glance, not seem to contribute directly to the historical narrative. The ephemeral nature of gardens as subjects need not inhibit thoughtful historical analysis.
This week’s readings, particularly the primary source texts, provide a window into Istanbul’s agricultural past. Through the Typikons of the monastery of St. Mamas and the convents of Lips, Kosmas, and Damien, and in the surveys of both 1455 and 1735 – along with the highly detailed advice of the Geoponika farming handbook – we glean valuable data and context regarding the agricultural production of the day and the farming practices as well as the diet of Istanbul’s citizens.
In the survey of Istanbul of 1455 (Inalcik), we are provided an evaluation of the city, broken down quarter-by-quarter. We learn the number and size of its houses and the identity, professions, and religious profiles of the inhabitants. Interspersed with this detail are references to other structures from which we can glean information about the city’s agricultural production. For example, the survey contains references to the city’s gardens, vineries, stables, storehouses, mills, and wells, including their placement within certain quarters or neighborhoods. Some quarters or districts had little or no agricultural activity to speak of. Others, particularly those housing the city’s many monasteries, were clearly successful centers of food production. For instance, we learn that Quarter Balat II housed two gardens along with a citizen named “Ripotos,” identified as a gardener (Inalcik, 306-98); that Quarter Bab-i-I Edirne housed the evidently productive Monastery of Prohermez, which counted among its holdings three storehouses, and a vinery (313); that Quarter Top-Yikigi was home to two mills and a garden (327-335), and that Quarter Alti-Mermer had a garden, a mill, and a well (347-350). Quarter Kastel Hirige featured a monastery with four storehouses, stables, and two vineries (352); the Ayos Athanos monastery held a vinery and a storehouse (357), and Quarter Isa-Kermesi housed a factory for making linseed oil (358).
The 1735 survey of the bostans of Istanbul, covering the neighborhoods of “Great Langa,” Kucuk, Yedikule, Ynibahce, and Cukurbostans, documents the continuing, indeed growing, prevalence of agricultural production in Istanbul. For example, we learn that there were 1,381 gardeners resident in the city, the vast majority of them Christians, tending over 344 individual bostans (1735 Survey of the Bustans) – not insignificant figures, particularly when compared to the greatly diminished numbers of the present day.
In the Typicons documenting life in the city’s monasteries and convents, we can glean further information about the food production and consumption of Istanbul’s population. First, we learn that the Convent of Lips employed a steward to oversee its various land holdings; the steward’s salary consisted of gold and “100 annonikoi modioi” each of wheat and barley, and “100 measures of wine” (Thomas & Hero, 1272). The Convent’s “Inventory of Property” provides an accounting of its vast agricultural holdings including many thousands of modioi of “arable land,” vineyards, gardens, and mills (1279-1281). The document goes on to provide a detailed recitation of the diet allowed the nuns, specifying “fish, cheese and legumes” on non-fast days; legumes, vegetables and “seasonal shellfish” on Mondays; and other days on which only “vegetables and legumes” were permitted (1258; 1275). The Typicon for the Monastery of St. Mamas provides an even more detailed prescribed diet of the monks, even specifying the manner in which such food should be prepared, to wit: “…two of three cooked dishes containing olive oil” or a meal “… composed of “legumes soaked in water and perhaps some raw vegetables and fruits” (Thomas & Hero, 1006). Clearly, the inhabitants enjoyed a varied if highly regulated diet.
Perhaps the most illuminating document to provide insights into the nature of farming in 10th century Istanbul is the Byzantine Greek farming manual Geoponika. From Book 12 we learn exactly what crops Istanbul’s residents were growing and consuming: beets, lettuce, cabbage, melons, turnips, mint, celery, leeks and onions, garlic, artichokes, mushrooms, and asparagus. We also learn the best soil for cultivation – non-clayey and “not too rough” – as well as how manure (the best being ash and pigeon dung) can be used to work Istanbul’s “clayey” soil and how the region’s sandy soil should be used to grow asparagus (Dalby, 248). Among the manual’s encyclopedic recommendations for addressing seemingly every conceivable cultivation, pest, and medicinal issue are a number of hygienic properties ascribed to certain plants – an emphasis on personal hygiene being central to the lives of city dwellers living in close proximity to one another. For example, rocket is described as being useful in cleaning up facial blemishes; it also “helps with smelly armpits” (261).
Book 12 also highlights the importance of gardens in proximity to the house, noting the gardens provide pleasure to the senses of sight and smell. The existence of texts like Geoponika and The Vienna Dioskorides highlights the important role of agriculture: “the extent to which people believed in the power of plants, and in the ability of men and women to harness that power” (Brubaker, 213).
Finally, the examples of Ottoman historical literature included in the readings – for example, Hyrtakenos’ description of the garden of St. Anna, capturing the “science and art” of Byzantine gardening (Dolezal and Mavroudi, 115-118; 140-148) – provide further evidence of the importance of land cultivation in Istanbul history and culture. In addition, literature like Hyrtakenos’ Description of the Garden of St. Anna highlights another aspect about gardens that is frequently neglected: the spiritual feeling a garden can induce. While many sources on bostans focus on the production aspects of urban farming, Hyrtakenos’ detailed prose reminds us that gardens also possess authentic aesthetic qualities, and that the emotions evoked from merely being in the presence of nature’s beauty can be just as valuable as a garden’s tangibles products.
These texts, while not necessarily set down for the purpose of telling the story of agriculture, nonetheless provide myriad clues to the agricultural heritage of Istanbul. They serve as an ekphrasis – a graphic, dramatic description of the city’s powerful agricultural past.