ALTHEN, JEAN-BAPTISTE JOANNIS (1121-88/1709-74), who introduced the cultivation of madder (Rubia peregrina L., rūnās) into southern France. The son of “Althen and Catherine Madrecha,” he was born in a village he spells “Chaouch.” He lost his parents during the Afghan invasion and was taken as a slave to Kayseri in Anatolia, where he learned cotton cultivation and dyeing. In about 1736 he escaped to France, where he was received by Louis XV in Versailles and authorized to start state-aided cotton fields. When his attempts to grow cotton in southern France proved fruitless, he began to cultivate Oriental madder; this proved so successful that madder soon became a main crop of the region. He died penniless in 1774; only in 1846 were his efforts honored, by the erection of his statue on the rock of the cathedral of Avignon, Notre Dame des Doms (Figure 1).


(Paul) Achard, Notes sur Jean Althen, la culture et le commerce de la garance, Avignon, 1849; notice in Bibliothèque de l'école des chartes 11, 1850, pp. 280-81 (online at

(Marguerite) Althen, Supplications adressées aux Habitans du Pays Vénessain, n.p., n.d. (ca. 1790).

J. Castelnau, Lettre à M. Tamisier suivie de nouveaux documents sur la vie de Jean Althen, 1853.

Frédéric Macler, “Notices de manuscrits arméniens ou relatifs aux arméniens vus dans quelques bibliothèques de la péninsule ibérique et du sud-est de la france,” Révue des Études arméniennes 2/2, 1922, pp. 235-91 (see under AVIGNON. ARCHIVES DÉPARTEMENTALES, pp. 276-82 and Figs. 13-14).

J. Tamisier, De Jean Althen et de l’introduction de la culture de la garance, 1839.

(All to be found in the Musée Calvet in Avignon.)

“Althen,” in Dictionnaire du XIXème siècle.

“Althen (Joannis),” Dictionnaire de Biographie Française, Paris, 1936.

(S. Schuster-Walser)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: November 15, 2013

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 9, p. 912

Cite this entry:

S. Schuster-Walser, “ALTHEN, JEAN-BAPTISTE JOANNIS,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/9, p. 912, available online at (accessed on 30 December 2012).