The pomegranate is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub, widely considered to have originated in Persia, modern-day Iran, and to have been cultivated since ancient times. Herodotus, for example, informs us that during the Greco-Persian Wars, the Persian soldiers carried spears adorned with golden and silver pomegranates instead of spikes (Herodotus, Histories 7.41). The pomegranate fruit has been used throughout history and in virtually every religion as a symbol of humanity's central beliefs and ideals, namely, life and death, rebirth and eternal life, fertility and marriage, and abundance and prosperity.
In Ancient Greek mythology, the pomegranate features prominently in
the story of Persephone and her marriage to Hades, the god of the
Underworld. Hades kidnapped Persephone and took her to the Underworld to
be his wife. Persephone's mother, Demeter, goddess of fertility,
considering her daughter lost, went into mourning and thus all things on
earth ceased to grow. Zeus, Persephone's father, commanded his brother
Hades to release her, however Hades had tricked her into eating six
pomegranate seeds, and it was the rule of the Fates that anyone who
consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity
there. Since Persephone had eaten the six pomegranate seeds, she had to
remain in the Underworld for six months of the year. Hades agreed to
release her to the world above for the other six months of the year, to
be reunited with her mother. This is how the ancient Greeks explained
the cycle of the seasons: when Persephone was with her mother, the earth
flourished and the crops grew (Spring and Summer); when she returned to
Hades, Demeter mourned and the earth was infertile (Autumn and Winter).
As a consequence, pomegranates were often offered to the goddess
Demeter in prayer for fertile land.