Opium Art and Truffle Texts in the Aegean and Ancient Near East





opium, desert truffles, Minoan art, Mycenaean art, Mesopotamian art, Mari


From the third millennium BC on, the opium poppy was exploited by the civilizations of the Aegean and Near East. While the terms for it in the ancient languages of the region are still unknown, the distinctive features of the harvest-ready seed pod would seem to find reflection in numerous works of Minoan, Mycenaean, Mesopotamian, and related art. This paper proposes that the corpus of opium imagery is far more extensive than previously recognized, including pins, finials, jewelry, seals, vessels, and weapons. It would also seem that certain elite women played vital roles in ancient opium matters. As for the desert truffle, it thrives in the area’s arid and semi-arid ecosystems, where the opium poppy cannot. We have no truffle art, so far as can be determined, but its suggestive presence in cuneiform documents, among them the seven Mari letters collected here, may signal that it was prized for its ability to engender altered states of consciousness, in addition to its nutritional and pharmaceutical benefits.

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How to Cite

Foster, Karen Polinger. 2023. “Opium Art and Truffle Texts in the Aegean and Ancient Near East”. Studies in Ancient Art and Civilisation 27 (December):77-111. https://doi.org/10.12797/SAAC.27.2023.27.04.