The Tomato: History, Cultivation, Appreciation

Part I:

The tomato (domates), while often associated with Italy and its cuisine, actually originated in the Andean region of South America. The exact date and location of the tomato’s domestication is unclear, but scientists believe it was probably first domesticated in what is now Peru and later brought to Mexico.[1] Spread of the tomato beyond Central and South America began in the 1500s with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, who learned about the plant during their colonization of the continent. They introduced tomatoes to their various colonies in the Caribbean and brought them back home to Spain and to the rest of Europe, where they grew particularly well in southern Mediterranean climates like Italy, Greece, and Turkey. However, because the conquistadores could only bring home a limited number of seeds and plants, they created what geneticists call a “bottleneck or serious reduction in population” that resulted in lower genetic diversity, meaning the domesticated tomatoes growing in Europe were likely to have damaged genes, making them “slower-growing and frailer than their wild kin.” Scientific advances have allowed plant breeders and genetic biologists to work on crossbreeding domesticated tomatoes with wild ones that have a thick, waxy skin that would allow the plant to retain water better.[2]

However, tomatoes were not always known for the sumptuousness with which we associate them today. While we know that the Aztecs were eating tomatoes by 700AD, in many parts of Europe – particularly countries in northern Europe, such as Britain – tomatoes were considered highly dangerous, and were therefore grown mostly for aesthetic purposes; consumption was avoided. While it is true that only the red fruit is edible and that all other parts of the plant are toxic, the tomato’s bad reputation extends beyond its legitimately poisonous vines. Many wealthier Europeans feared tomatoes because when a tomato (a highly acidic food) was eaten off a plate made of pewter (high in lead content), a chemical reaction occured and the lead would leach from the plate onto the fruit, causing lead poisoning. The true problem – pewter, or more generally, chemistry – was not recognized until many years later, at which point the tomato was exonerated.[3] Finally, the tomato’s scientific name – Solanum lycopersicum – itself promoted fear: “solanum” relating to the deadly nightshade plant which the tomato closely resembles, and “lycopersicum” meaning “wolf peach”.[4]

Yedikule domates

Yedikule domates

Part II:

Tomatoes grow well in South America, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East because the climate is perfectly suited to the plant’s needs. Tomatoes require copious direct sunlight and warm weather; their seeds germinate in temperatures of 68-80 degrees Fahrenheit, and consistent temperature between 65-75F is ideal for plant growth. Anything cooler slows down growth time, and any hotter calls for more frequent watering.[5] A tomato plant needs a moist (but not sodden) environment, so it is important to water it whenever the soil dries one to two inches.[6] Tomatoes like well-drained soil with fairly neutral 5.5 to 6.8pH, but loam – a soil composed of sand, silt, and clay – is frequently cited as the best because it drains easily and heats up quickly.[7]

Before planting tomatoes, one must “harden them off” – meaning, get them used to the outdoors and the night’s cold by placing them in the shade during the day and covering them at night for about a week. Seedlings are ready to be planted outside when they are approximately six inches tall, and they should be planted 18-36 inches apart from each other. While chemical fertilizer can be used, some gardening manuals recommend using kelp meal and bone meal as natural fertilizers. Some “old-time” gardeners will even toss in a tablespoon of Epson salt (for magnesium) when transplanting. Additionally, some people will “solarize” their soil by covering the plot with plastic to maximize the sun and heat before transplanting – solarizing also helps prevent disease, such as verticillium wilt.[8]

Fruit appears about 60 days after transplantation, and will start out small and green before ripening to a deep red. The plant can be protected from pests by putting a clear plastic bag around the fruit, leaving a slight opening for airflow. The damage done by insects, however, is “generally minimal compared to the damage done by spreading diseases by the insects.” Therefore, the best way to prevent disease is to reduce the number of insects by removing the weeds around the tomato plants, where insects tend to breed.[9]

Geoponika, a 10th century Byzantine farming manual, was compiled before tomatoes were brought to the region in the 16th century, and thus contains no references to tomatoes, which were not a food of the classical world. However, Book V discusses various farming techniques regarding vines, some of which relates to the tomato.[10] For instance, Book V 22 discusses the importance of pruning and the use of a “vine-prop” not unlike a tomato stake,[11] which not only provides the tomato physical support but also helps prevent disease.[12]

Plastic fruit protection

Plastic fruit protection

Part III:

It would be a challenge to grow up in the United States and be somehow unfamiliar with tomatoes or tomato-based products. The tomato is a quintessential ingredient in most salads, and is commonly sliced onto sandwiches and burgers. Ketchup – a tomato-based condiment – is slathered upon all manner of fast food, while “spaghetti with tomato sauce” is a staple of every restaurant’s children’s menu. Tomatoes comprise the bulk of dips and salsas, and tomato juice can be drunk plain or with vodka as a “Bloody Mary.” Tomatoes even have (so it is thought) miracle restorative properties: most people have consumed Campbell’s Tomato Soup at least once when ill.

There are many varieties of tomato. A sun-ripened summer tomato, the size of a tennis ball or larger, is a deep, earthy red. Its skin is taut but its shape is irregular. This tomato has a powerful, inviting musk – redolent of the soil from which it emerged. It is plump to the point of exploding; slicing it reveals the meat, seeds, and juices packed within. Its taste is tangy and sweet. The flesh is the sweetest, while the juices provide an acidic counterpoint, creating a tension that pleasures all the taste buds. So easily is this tomato sliced that one wonders whether it was invented for that very purpose. Plopping a section in one’s mouth initiates a chain of pleasurable sensations, as subtly varied flavors vie for attention on the tongue. Tomatoes require little in the way of chewing and thus can be consumed too quickly, the joy over all too soon. Not surprisingly, an array of accompaniments and preparations has evolved to delay gratification and enhance the enjoyment. For example, tomatoes may be diced and served over rustic bread lightly toasted or grilled, the result being the tomato’s juices fill the bread’s crevices and crannies and create a whole the taste of which is greater than the sum of its parts. A tomato also makes an excellent accompaniment to a cheese such as mozzarella, often served in slices interspersed tomoato/cheese/basil and drizzled with olive oil.

Although tomatoes only entered Turkish cooking about 100 years ago, it has become an invaluable element of Turkish cuisine.[13] Tomatoes or tomato pastes are used in many dishes, including lahmacun, acili ezme, and fasulye pilaki – tomatoes are even featured in breakfast dishes such as menemen.

Domates Dolmasi Recipe:[14]

Domates Dolmasi

Domates Dolmasi


  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 1 medium size onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 200 gr medium ground beef
  • 2tbsp pilaf, boiled
  • 2 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp dill, chopped
  • 4 tbsp crushed tomato, in a can
  • 1 tbsp red pepper paste
  • ½ + 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper


Cut off the tops of the tomatoes and scrape out the insides. Prepare the filling by sautéing the onion with the butter and add the beef until light brown. Add the crushed tomatoes, pepper paste, and beef stock and cook for 15 minutes. Add the rice and herbs.

Fill the tomatoes with the filling and cook for 40 minutes. Serve with yogurt and garlic.










[10]Cassianus, Bassus. Geoponika: Farm Work: A Modern Translation of the Roman and Byzantine Farming Handbook. 2011, 123-148.

[11] Ibid, 135.




Purslane Over the Years: Small in Size, Big in Importance

The wonderful purslane, semizotu in Turkish, is a part of the Portulacaceae family, which contains around “15 genera and 500 species of herbs or small shrubs” found mostly on the Pacific Coast of North America and southern South America (Brittanica, “Portulacaceae”). According to one article, purslane probably originated in Western North America or South Africa (Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture). According to a Cornell University article, the origin of purslane is very unclear (Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences). I am not sure how exactly purslane came to Istanbul but it is possible it came directly from Africa or from Greece as it was popular there. (Ibid) It has been found in many archaeobotanical searches in Greece at prehistoric sites so dates way back (The Plant Encyclopedia). Purslane’s ability to produce up to 52,300 seeds in a single plant which “can survive for up to 30 years in undisturbed soil” make it quite popular and may have factored into its quick spread throughout the world (Ibid). Purslane has been found all over the world and according to the Plant Encyclopedia, it was in Crawford Lake deposits in 1430-89 AD, revealing again its spread (The Plant Encyclopedia). While only the leaves are eaten for the most part, the stem can also be eaten. The modern crop in bostans in Istanbul (portulacaceae oleracea scientifically), a potherb grown throughout Europe, contains the green stem and leafs, which are fairly low to the ground (Brittanica, “purslane”). Its wild form is considered to be a weed and contains “small yellow flowers” (Ibid).


In terms of requirements for growth, purslane is special in that its known for its longevity as it can grow in “dry waste soil and can retain enough moisture to bloom and ripen seeds long after they have been uprooted” (Brittanica, “purslane). Thus, purslane thrives in many different environments and conditions. However, the best conditions for growth according to the Plant Encyclopedia, are in “rich, mid-fertility” soil, “medium, well-drained moisture” and a water pH of 7 (The Plant Encyclopedia). It serves culinary purposes today but has also functioned medicinally throughout time in many societies. In the Geoponika, the Byzantine farming manual, purslane is mentioned throughout as helping in the growth and preservation of fruits such as grapes (IV.15) and pomegranates (X.35) (Geoponika 122, 214). Interestingly today, it still functions to support the growth of other vegetables. It states in the Plant Encyclopedia, “Purslane provides ground cover to create a humid microclimate for nearby plants, stabilizing ground moisture. Its deep roots bring up moisture and nutrients that those plants can use” (The Plant Encyclopedia).


My first interaction with purslane was at the bostan in Yedikule right next to the church. While taking a number of measurements at different corners throughout the bostan with the hot sun beating down on me, I saw some people I was with reach down to taste a little green leaf. I did the same and once I started, I could not stop. I later learned that little, soft green leaf was purslane (semizotu) and it had the biggest presence in this particular bostan compared to everything else growing in the bostan, presumably revealing its popularity in the area. As I tore off a piece and tasted it, it was if I suddenly became a little kid in a candy store tasting the most delicious piece of candy. It was both refreshing and salty and a bit crunchy. It wasn’t too flavorful but enough so that I could not resist grabbing more (and then buying some right before departing). I loved it for its simple, easy to miss flavor yet its freshness at the same time. In the Geoponika, the refreshing, hydrating quality of purslane is revealed when it says, “The leaf, placed under the tongue, makes one less thirsty” (Geoponika XII.40, 266). This was my first time tasting purslane but since trying it, I have seen it everywhere, often accompanied by a yogurt sauce, which is a very typical Turkish dish called Yoğurtlu Semizotu (below is a recipe for this dish from I am not a fan of this dish as I think the yogurt drowns the purslane and the person consuming the dish cannot truly taste the green. This could be more a personal preference as I like very simple dishes with minimal sauce. In class a couple weeks ago, we ate purslane with a bit of olive oil and some spices and I thought that was absolutely delicious. I found a “green lentil and purslane salad” in “Time Out Istanbul” which sounds appealing since it is quite simple (Time Out Istanbul). Purslane is a delicious green whose small size contradicts its great presence and functions throughout time.

Following recipe from


  • 2 to 3 large bunches of purslane (enough to yield 4 cups of leaves)
  • 3 cups plain Turkishstrained yogurt or Greek yogurt
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


First cut off any roots from the purslane. I always wash and drain it twice to make sure there is no soil or grit left on the leaves.

Separate the leaves from the stems. You can save the stems for use in other recipes if you wish. Spin the leaves in a salad spinner to remove any extra moisture.

In a separate bowl, whip together the other ingredients using a wire wisk until smooth and creamy. Adjust the amount of salt and pepper to your taste.

Add the purslane leaves and mix together well. Make sure all the leaves are covered with the yogurt mixture.

You can serve it immediately, or cover and chill it for several hours or overnight. The flavor actually gets better if the salad rests for a while. Gently stir it again before serving.

2014-07-22 17.00.18

Purslane. Photograph Taken by Rosenthal. August 2014.

Purslane. Photographs taken by Rosenthal. July 2014.

Bundle of Purslane. Photograph taken by Rosenthal. July 2014.


Works Cited “Purslane With Strained Yogurt And Garlic Is Called ‘Yoğurtlu Semizotu.’” Accessed 3 August 2014. <>.

Cassianus, Bassus. Geoponika: Farm Work: A Modern Translation of the Roman and Byzantine Farming Handbook. 2011. Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books, 9-55 and 246-267.

Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Portulaca oleracea.” Web. Accessed 3 August 2014. <>.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Academic Edition. “Portulacaceae.” Web. 3 August 2014. <>.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Academic Edition. “purslane.” Web. 3 August 2014. <>.

Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture. “Produce Recipes: Purslane.” Web. Accessed 3 August 2014. <>.

The Plant Encyclopedia. “Portulaca oleracea.” Web. Accessed 3 August 2014. <>.

Time Out Istanbul in English. “Istanbul’s top 20 salads.” Accessed 3 August 2014. <>.

Yedikule Found in Other Studies

Today in my reading for another class, Yedikule was mentioned. 

“For the new site of the hospital, influential Armenians first suggested Kinaliada, an island known for its clean air; yet this proposal was rejected due to concerns about transportation. At a meeting that took place at Bezciyan’s house on January 5, 1832, and agreement was reached on building the hospital on the Leblebicioglu farm between Yedikule and Kazlicesme. Yedikule was chosen because of its clean air and suburban location: At a time when epidemics took high tolls, it was uncommon to build hospitals in the city center where population was more dense. It should also be noted that the suggested farmland was owned by Ohannes Amira, the son of Garabed Arzumanyan, an important member of the Armenian Apostolic community who led the efforts to build a new hospital at the time.” (“2012 Declaration: The Seized Properties of Armenian Foundations in Istanbul,” Polatel, Mildanoglu, Lemaneren, Atilgan)

Important to note here is the date of the description and reasoning for picking Yedikule as the location of a new hospital. In the first half of the 19th century, the air was clean and the region was considered “suburban.” Clearly, by the looks of the region today, urban growth has expanded beyond the gardens located at Yedikule and this description doesn’t seem to match up. I also found interesting the demographic of Yedikule. In the reading by Kaldjian he speaks of the different groups of people that migrated in and rotated through the Yedikule gardens as farmers and tenants. Perhaps the existence of the Armenian Apostolic community in the area was a result of an Armenian majority of farmers on the Yedikule gardens at this time. 

Just something small but interesting I stumbled across! Feel free to share your own thoughts and ideas! 



Introducing the Yedikule Marul

The Yedikule marul is a type of romaine lettuce famously grown in the Yedikule bostans of Istanbul. Being a lettuce, its wild progenitor likely stemmed from the Lactuca species from southwest Asia and the L. serriola, an a type of weed located in temperate and subtropical zones (Zohary 2012). Ancient Egyptians first cultivated lettuce as early as 2680 BC from a weed for oil use. Later, the Greeks and Romans farmed lettuce seeds and leaves that led to documented cultivation of the plant by the medieval age. By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, European understandings of lettuce had resulted in medicinal discoveries as well as classifications of different species (Weaver 1997, 170-172). It is then safe to assume then during this transition, the Byzantines had adopted lettuce cultivation from the Romans, which consequently resulted in the Ottomans continuing the trend through the fertile soils of Istanbul.

In terms of consumption, lettuce has changed since antiquity. Around 50 AD, the Romans cooked the leaves with oil and vinegar while smaller leaves were occasionally eaten raw. After the Romans, medieval Europe popularized poaching lettuce alongside mixing the leaves with hot oil and vinegar (Weaver 1997, 170-172). Lettuce is still mainly consumed for its leaves today while some stems and seeds are used for oil. The Yedikule marul, being a romaine species, is thus most seen in salads with a Mediterranean seasoning of olive oil, vinegar, and spices rather than a Western European style of salad dressing. Differing from its earlier wild weed form, modern lettuce is much less prickly, and it is known that wild lettuce leaves resemble closely to tobacco leaves with a more bitter taste (Katz and Weaver 2003, 377).

When one grows the Yedikule lettuce, full sun is a best option. On the technical side, nitrogen-rich soils with a pH from 6.0 to 6.8 and a temperature between 16 and 18 °C is preferred. Temperatures above 27 °C will likely destroy the germination of lettuce seeds while some can survive as low as 7 °C or as high as 24 °C if shade is provided or else the plant will bolt. Having a high water content of around 94.9%, lettuce cannot be frozen, canned, or dried and hence, must be eaten when fresh (Bradley 2009, 129). When planting, lettuces are placed in thick, straight rows. After developing several leaves, they may be transplanted to individual spots 20 to 36 cm apart. With more space, they are able to receive more sunlight and develop greater nutrients (Weaver 1977, 175-176).

Regarding pests, lettuce is targeted by cutworms, wireworms, nematodes, tarnished plant bugs and aphids, leafhoppers, thrips, leafminers, flea beetles, caterpillars, slugs and snails, as well as mammals like rabbits and groundhogs (Bradley 2009, 129-132). The plants itself contains compounds like sesquiterpene lactones, flavonol, and glycosides which protect it against pests (United States Department of Agricultures). For domesticated lettuce, herbicides are used to control weeds and viral diseases such as the mosaic virus spread by aphids that stunt plant growth and fungal diseases that rot leaves (Davey et al. 2007, 222-225). In the Geoponika, caterpillars were averted by throwing ashes of the vine into water or applying asphaltus and sulpur to the plants. Mixing and boiling urine and amurca will also destroy caterpillars (Cassianus 2011, 250-251). It is also advised to smear fresh cow dung on the lettuce to obtain saucer-shaped leaves with no stalk. Dividing each plant with a knife and placing them in an “unpitched potsherd” will allow the plant to grow upwards in a healthy manner as well (Cassianus 2011, 252). Here we see the similarities of killing off insects so that the vegetable can grow, even though classical methods involved organic methods while modern techniques employ chemical pesticides.

The Yedikule marul appears a lush bright green. The stem is white and blends into the light green of the leaves. The tips of the leaves appear wrinkled and soft while the stem is firm. After a few days in the refrigerator however, the whole plant seems to have softened. Thick veins running from the stem thin and branch out at the leaves. Further, a few black spots litter the stem pointing to the plant’s organic nature. The plant smells fresh, blending in a sense of the earth with its leafy aroma. When eaten, the stem is surprisingly moist. Even after a few days of fridge storage, one can noticeably taste the juices of the lettuce along with its audible crunch. As for the leaves, they have a mild yet refreshing taste. Due to the freshness of the vegetable, the leaves seem to almost dissolve in one’s mouth without much effort needed to chew. Taken together, the stem and leaf compliment each other in texture and taste. While the stem is crisp and juicy, the leaf is tender and less damp, thus offering a great spectrum of flavors within one bite.

Personally, I am familiar with lettuce due to my liking for Caesar salads. However, the Yedikule marul is definitely a new taste and texture for me. On the whole, it feels fresher due to its water content as well as the crispness of its stems. The color also appears fuller with a stronger green at the leaves and a brighter white at the stems.

One notable recipe utilizing the Yedikule marul is the Yedikule lettuce mixed salad. The recipe is as follows (Yemek Tarifleri):

12 red chicory leaves

12 leaves of Yedikule lettuce

Half a bunch of endivy

Half a bunch of herb cress

8 Priceworthy leaves

4 hard-boiled eggs

Freshly ground black pepper

Wash and mix the chicory, Yedikule lettuce, watercress herb, and endivy with filtered water. Divide the leaves into chunks into a serving dish.

Cut the hard-boiled eggs in half, and place salad on top. Sprinkle on freshly ground black pepper. Pour on mustard sauce.

The mustard sauce is comprised of 5 tablespoons mustard, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise in a bowl. Stir in 1 clove garlic peel, 2 tablespoons yogurt, and half-a-tea-cup of extra virgin olive oil. Mix well.

Yedikule Marul

Yedikule Marul

Works Cited:

Bradley, Fern M., Barbara W. Ellis, and Deborah L. Martin, eds. 2009. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control. Pennsylvania: Rodale.

Cassianus, Bassus. Geoponika: Farm Work: A Modern Translation of the Roman and Byzantine Farming Handbook. 2011. Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books, 9-55 and 246-267.

Davey, M. R., and Anthony, P., P. Van Hooff, J. B. Power, and K. C. Lowe. 2007. “Lettuce”. Transgenic Crops. Biotechnology in Agriculture and Forestry. Volume 59. Springer.

Katz, Solomon H. and Williams Woys Weaver. 2003. Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. Volume 2. New York: Scribner.

United States Department of Agriculture. “Developing Multi-Species Insect Resistance in Romaine Lettuce.” Retrieved 5 April 2012.

Weaver, Williams Woys. 1997. Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener’s Guide to Planting, Seed Saving and Cultural History. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Yemek Tarifleri. “Yedikule marullu karışık salata.” Accessed August 2, 2014. .

Zohary, Daniel, Maria Hopf, and Ehud Weiss. 2012. Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Domesticated Plants in Southwest Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Week 4 Archaeobotany Assignment

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

What the Primary Sources Tell Us?

Merve Uçar
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.

Surviving the Surviving 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.[1] 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.”[2]  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.



[1] Bassus Cassianus, “Geoponika: Farm Work: A Modern Translation of the Roman and Byzantine Farming Handbook.” (Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books, 2011), 9.

[2] 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.