No, wait: When Lugalzagesi was king in Umma, Akkad came against him and defeated him. Sargon, whose father was a gardener, the cupbearer of Ur-Zababa, became king, the king of Akkad, who built Akkad; he ruled for 56 years. My point? Meet the first royal gardener. We haven't even got to history yet, and we've got a king who plants paradises and brings the trees and fruits of foreign lands home to flourish.
It's a metaphor for kingship. Or a kind of propaganda. Call it what you want, and make an appointment with this book. It doesn't make Sargon nice. Kids stayed off Sargon's yard. What it brings home to everyone but the most blinkered Whig historian ever is that the second that Columbus got home, the rulers of Spain and everywhere else were trying to grow seeds or cuttings. It's one of the things that kings do, and anyone who doesn't think that the inhabitants of the New World were doing exactly the same thing, and, I suppose, disrupting their previously perfectly harmonious relationship with Nature is missing an important aspect of the changes that were radiating across the continent from the first points of contact. (If you dig up this book and it doesn't include references to Pima Indians working wheat before first contact with the new California missions, my apologies. I got the factoid from Bancroft, but this is more recent, to put it mildly.)
So what? It's a big deal. You may have heard of the potato. It's called "the Columbian Exchange," and it's big on the Internet right now. Why? Because it's a big thing in history? How big? The biggest. Let's go to Wikipedia.
Hmm. So. Okay.
- Potatoes were big, 'till the Potato Famine, which was a big deal, and the damn Brits' fault somehow.
-Maize and manioc virtually replaced Africa's indigenous crops. (Well, actually, it's a bit more complicated, but point.)
-Horses were a big deal on "the American plains." Yeah, but no. Please, fewer stereotypes, more appreciation of the real west, up in the mountains, and even including sucky Albertans, thank you very much.
-Tomato sauce got to Italy!
-And tomatoes reached France!
Coffee and sugar cane reached the Caribbean!
-Chilis got to India! And paprika reached Hungary!
Cats! Artichokes! Amaranth! They all switched continents!
Seriously, Wikipedia? I mean, it could be worse. You have a list of all the exchanged plants, and that's helpful. We don't have to hear Alfred Crosby's nonsense about the great earthworm/honeybee invasion of North America (kernel of fact in farrago of fiction), but the rest of it is a bit silly. Can we do better?
We'd sure as heck better, because as the article notes, 5 of the world's top 20 crops originated in the New World, while 61% of agricultural production by value in the United States today is Old World. These are pretty tantalising facts. They suggest enormous historic changes. Well, what might they have been?