Fig Tree History

Overview

At this point in history, figs are grown on all continents except Antarctica. Figs have likely been cultivated since prehistoric times. Very early historical records list the fig as a cultivated crop. Other records track its spread from its native area to other fig growing areas of the world.

Early History

Figs have likely been cultivated since prehistoric times. The first written reference to fig trees dates back to the Sumerian King Urukagina in 2,900 B.C.E.. According to Mecca Gold, the fig was also known to the Assyrians in 2,000 B.C.E.. Both the Phoenicians and Greeks were responsible for the spread of fig cultivation in North Africa, Europe and the Middle East through trade and commerce.

China

Although figs are thought to have reached China earlier, the first written records of figs in China are from the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907). The first mention of the fig was by Shi Hia Cheng in his work Yu Yang Tsa Tsu where the fruit was referred to as tin tin. Tin is the Arabic word for fig and Yu's work describes a fruit that grows without a blossom, which is how the fig appears to grow.

Egypt

Although known in ancient Egypt, one of the earliest written references didn't occur until 1,552 B.C.E. in a papyrus that mentions it as a good tonic. Egyptians used the fig for medicinal uses, including "calming the vessels" and "against the bite of the hippo," according to Kibbutz Reshafim. The common fig tree has been grown in Egypt both as a food and as an offering for thousands of years.

Africa

Figs spread very slowly through Africa, not reaching South Africa until the 1800s. Because of the trading efforts of ancient and more modern Europe, figs were well known in North Africa from early times. However, it took a very long time for figs to spread throughout the continent.

The Americas

Figs were first brought to the Americas by the Spanish in the 16th century. Early figs were planted by Spanish missionaries priests and the California Mission Fig is named after that history. Commercial fig growing didn't really take off in the Americas until the early 20th century.

Keywords: fig history, ancient foods, food history

About this Author

Christopher Earle is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colo. He has been writing since 1987 and has written for National Public Radio, the Associated Press, the Boeing Company, Ford New Holland, Microsoft, Active Voice, RAHCO International and Umax Data Systems. He studied creative writing at Mankato State University in Minnesota.