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Why Did Ancient People Travel Thousands of Kilometers for Incense?

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In ancient times, people would travel thousands of kilometers across land and sea, along a network of trading routes, to acquire the precious commodities of myrrh and frankincense.

The ancient incense route was a network of major trade routes that connected the Mediterranean world with the sources of incense to its east and south. As its name suggests, this route was used to transport incense, primarily from the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean. Whilst this route is best known for its transportation of incense, other luxury goods, such as gold, pearls and animal skins also travelled on this trade route.

The ruins of Avdat, a city on the ancient incense route. (CC BY-SA 3.0).

The value of incense

Incense was a very important commodity in the ancient world. Incense was used in a variety of ways, such as to embalm the dead, to flavour wine, and as a form of medication. Nevertheless, it was most commonly burnt to produce a pleasing aroma that would mask the less pleasing odours of the time. Incense, both frankincense and myrrh, are produced by drying the resin harvested from certain types of trees. These trees grow exclusively in the southern region of Arabia, Ethiopia and Somalia, hence making this commodity extremely valuable indeed.

Section: – Reconstructing the story of humanity’s past


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