Roses in the Civic Statutes of Marseille
Stanford has a copy of the legal Statuta Civitatis Massilie that dates to 1265-1319 as additions to the document were made to include information such as lists understood to reflect vibrant economic activity. The lists include an entry for “Rozas sequas” or dried roses. Linda Paterson’s The World of the Troubadours contains an extensive survey of medieval Occitan society, including the economy, and she has found no evidence of rose cultivation or trade in the region, despite the occasional name of an object like a ship or barrel. Even if one ignores Cerverí de Girona’s anomalous material references to roses, one cannot easily overlook the large number of references found throughout troubadour lyric. The prevalence of lyric and absence of roses suggests that troubadours had a good awareness of roses even if they lacked Occitan samples to represent. This awareness over representation style of lyric in turn suggests that troubadours had exposure to roses elsewhere. Thus, two major questions arise as to why Occitan lacked roses and where troubadours found them.
In Ancient Roman Gardens, Linda Farrar describes the strained development of Hellenistic gardens due to scarcity of space and water in urban settlements. Greeks admired the rose but resorted to collecting flowers in the wild, preferring instead plants that could survive the dry, rocky environment. Whereas the Greeks relied on spring water to develop public gardens out of scarce resources, the Romans revolutionized gardening through public plumbing, which allowed for lavish private gardens for wealthy citizens. Climate and imperial resources meant the richest Romans could enjoy all the cultivars of the Mediterranean. The Occitan region shares Greece’s dryness but lacks Rome’s centralized power. The lack of rainfall favored olive and grape cultivation whereas the decentralized power structures stunted the coordination of water resources. An egalitarian inheritance model scattered wealth and reduced families to factions within generations. The cultivation of roses in neighboring regions thus shows kinder climes but also more centralized authority in which nobles had the resources and stability to indulge in garden culture.
The inherent mobility of the troubadours combined with larger population movements like the Crusades and the Reconquista meant the Occitan region had ample exposure to Mediterranean culture. The entry for dried roses in the Marseille Statutes indicates accessibility by the 14th century, with the dryness perhaps as a preservative given the unfavorable climate or as a step in perfume production. The fall of the Roman Empire left rose cultivation to Mediterranean powers like Byzantium and the Caliphates of Baghdad and Cordoba.
This project looks at material references of roses in troubadour lyric to explore potential channels for the medieval introduction of roses.