Historical plant collections not only represent physical evidence of the occurrence of species at a certain time and place, but also shed light on the scientific interest of colonial powers and their search for economically promising plants in recent centuries. The Treasury of Naturalis houses a large bound book, with about 200 dried plant species, collected by German physician and botanist Leonhard Rauwolff in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan and Palestine from 1573 to 1574. On his long journey by horse, camel and boat from Aleppo to Baghdad, Rauwolff described the natural vegetation along the Euphrates River, the vegetables and fruits grown in gardens and sold in the city of Bazars, and the spices and medicines transported by "Greeks, Armenians, Georgians, Arabs, Persians and Indians who come and go daily with their caravans ". Although Rauwolff's travelogue about his trip to the "Levant and Mesopotamia" became a bestseller, the herbarium and associated handwritten information about the names and customs of the local plant have never been thoroughly studied.
To establish the scientific value of the Rauwolff herbarium, we will identify all its specimens and translate the corresponding German texts. How does the plant species in the Rauwolff herbarium match its botanical drawings and travel account? Are local names and plant use documented in 1574 by Rauwolff still known in the Middle East today? We expect that medicinal plants preserved in the herbarium are not shown as botanical drawings or discussed in the travelogue, because they were collected for secret commercial purposes. We further assume that ethnobotanic knowledge for cultivated species still exists in the Near East, but for the wild species it is probably lost. We will test our hypothesis by studying recent literature on plant use in the Near East.
Once the plants have been correctly identified, the texts have been translated and the digital images have been published online, this project will reveal an almost 500-year-old scientific masterpiece to botanists, historians of science, agriculture and pharmacy, ethnobotanists and historians of the Near East. At a time when cultural artifacts in Syria are rapidly being destroyed, we feel a moral duty to make this unique object with cultural and natural history digitally available to the public: not only for the scientific world, but also for the citizens of Syria and their diaspora. Ethnobotanic fieldwork will not be possible in this region in the coming years. The plant names and customs in the Rauwolff collections represent a multicultural society that no longer exists in Syria or its surroundings. This project reveals a hidden part of the natural and cultural history of the Near East.
To study the plants, the vernacular names and customs in this unique ethnobotanic treasure, we would like to invite Dr. Abdolbaset Ghorbani Dahaneh, an Iranian ethnobotanist of Turkmen descent. He has extensive research experience in ethnobotany in the Middle East, an impressive publication and speaks fluent German, Arabic, Turkish, English and Persian. Dr. Ghorbani is currently working at the University of Uppsala in a research project on Iranian orchid conservation.
Leonhard Rauwolf (also spelled as Leonhart Rauwolff) (21 June 1535 - 15 September 1596) was a German physician, botanist and traveler. His most important notion stems from a journey he made through the Levant and Mesopotamia in 1573-75. The motive of the trip was to search for herbal medicines. Shortly after his return, he published a series of new botanical descriptions with a herbarium. He later published a general travel story about his visit. The young Rauwolff initially studied at the University of Wittenberg and then studied botany and medicine at two universities in southern France, the University of Montpellier and the University of Valence. He was a student of Guillaume Rondelet in Montpellier in 1560. In 1564 he had the advantage of visiting the renowned botanist Carolus Clusius (who had once been a student of the Rondelet). In 1565 he established a medical practice in his hometown of Augsburg in Bavaria. He also married that year.
Travel through Levant and Mesopotamia
Rauwolff's trip to the Near East was made possible by his brother-in-law Melchior Manlich, who hoped that Rauwolff would return with new plants and medicines that could be traded profitably through his company. The Manlich firm already had trade relations with exporters in Tripoli in Lebanon. Rauwolff began his journey by going from Augsburg to Marseille in southern France