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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Street Names and a Useful Bean

Street names are important. They say a lot about the society that uses them and about the people and events that were regarded as important when they were given, though they can over time lose their relevance. That is the case with regard to the names of streets in the Melbourne suburb where I grew up. Several of them preserved names and events relating to a war that by my generation meant nothing whatsoever to most people, who knew them only for their local context. They were names from the Crimean War (1853-56) - Inkerman Street named for the Crimean town and Odessa Street for the Black Sea port city, Cardigan Street, Pakington Street, Lucan Street, Nightingale Street and Canrobert Street for participants in the war from Britain and France, Balaclava Road, Sebastopol Street, Redan Street, Malakoff Street and Alma Road for various battles and sieges, and Blenheim Street for a British Venger-Class battleship. Few Australians participated in the Crimean war and the presence of these names, more than anything else illustrates the degree to which Australia in the mid-nineteenth century was still a colony of Britain and an outpost of British society, still without a character of its own. Forging that character would take a later war and resentment against the callous waste of colonial lives at Gallipoli.

Streets everywhere preserve the names of famous historical characters. Jerusalem has some relating to the crusader period - Saladin Street for the Ayyubid sultan, Benjamin of Tudela Street for a twelfth century Jewish traveller and Joshua Prawer Street, named for the famous Jerusalem historian of the crusades. Under the British Mandate there were also Queen Melisende Street, renamed, for some mysterious reason, Queen Helena Street, Baldwin Street, Godfrey Street and Lionheart Street.

But streets also preserve in their names more prosaic things. In the Jerusalem Mahane Yehuda market, one of my favourite locations in the city, several of the narrow and colourful streets are named for fruit and nuts. Rehov HaTapuach (Street of the Apple), Rehov HaAgas (Street of the Pear) and so on. Although the produce mentioned can indeed be purchased on those streets, the names are not intended, at least today, to denote the places where those specific types of produce are sold. In the markets of Islamic cities street names often did identify the goods and produce sold, in many cases exclusively in those venues. The Franks adopted this custom for their market streets, and this is reflected in the names of streets that appear on contemporary maps and documents describing medieval Jerusalem, Acre and other towns. The other main type of street name was one that recorded the name of a building, a specific personage, or a community located on the street: vicus David (David Street), alternatively vicus Templi (Temple Street) in Jerusalem for the street that led from David's Citadel to the Templum Domini (Dome of the Rock), vicus Catenae for the street leading to the Court of the Chain (curia Catenae) in Acre, and ruga Veteris Reginae (Street of the Aged Queen) for the street in Acre where Queen Alice, daughter of Queen Isabella of Jerusalem and nominal regent of Jerusalem, lived.

In Acre there was a street named Carrubium. Some scholars have suggested that its name derived from the Latin, quadrivium, which can be translated as “a place where four roads meet” or “a street leading to crossroads”. This has led to the proposal that it should be identified with one of the main thoroughfares of the Genoese quarter, a street in which parts of the medieval buildings are still observable, located in the south of the quarter at the junction with other streets leading into the adjacent Templar and Pisan quarters.*

I have another possible suggestion regarding the identity and function of this street, if not its precise location. Carrubium may possibly be the Latin form of the Arabic name for the carob - kharrūb (خَرُّوبٌ ). The carob (Ceratonia siliqua) was a useful fruit, a bean really. It was used as a food source in times of famine, but also as a supplementary food by armies and on-board ships where, as it could be preserved for long periods it fulfilled a similar function in naval rations to sea biscuits. The account of the Third Crusade known as the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi describes the consumption of carobs by Christian troops outside the walls of Acre during the crusader siege and a famine in 1190, and the path leading to the place where they were sold:

A sort of fruit which was growing on the trees was put on sale, seeds enclosed in a pod like peas, known commonly as a ‘carob’, sweet-tasting and delectable to eat. The needy filled themselves with them, because there was a larger supply of these than other things. So there was a well-trodden path to the place selling them, because although they were not thought to be worth much they were something.”**

Perhaps this "well-trodden path served during the siege of Acre as the counterpart to Carrubium, the street inside the city where carob beans were sold.

*Meron Benvenisti, The Crusaders in the Holy Land, Jerusalem, 1970, p. 88; Robert Kool, "The Genoese Quarter in Acre: A Reinterpretation of its Layout", Atiqot 31, 1997, p. 191.

**Helen J. Nicholson (trans.), The Chronicle of the Third Crusade, Aldershot and Burlington, 1997, p. 133.

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