Frankincense through the ages

Principal historic stages

2000 CE
UNESCO inscribed four new World Heritage Sites in Oman, collectively called “The Land of Frankincense”
Before 1970, bedouins still used frankincense as currency
Rois mages
1900 CE
The beginning of the era of oil, black gold supplanting white after the World War II. The fatal blow for the mass Omani export of frankincense was delivered by the development of a synthetic substitute.
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1285 CE
Marco Polo
recorded in his journal that Al-Mansura (Al Baleed) was engaged in exporting both white incense and horses with China.
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695 CE
From Dhofar to China
From the first century ships were plying their periplous route laden with aromatics. Maritime routes from the Arabian Gulf to South China Sea.
Do you know what Hong Kong means?
Etymology of Hong Kong’s name (fragant harbour) relates the reception and processing of incense.
Rois mages
300 CE
The economic crisis within the Roman Empire meant that demand for frankincense and other eastern luxuries went into steep decline. This marked the fragmentation and weakening of the incense kingdoms of southern Arabia.
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0-- Birth of Jesus Christ
At the time of the birth of Jesus Christ, who was given frankincense, as well as myrrh and gold, the incense trade was at its height.
Rois mages
between 500 BC
and the birth of J.C.

Alexander the Great was so enthralled by the prospect of owning the means of production of frankincense that he considered adding Arabia to his conquests. Only his death prevented him from fulfilling his ambition.

nabatéens The grandeur of the Nabatean cities flourished, as Petra gained profits from the Arabian incense trade by selling to the Greek and then Roman Empire. .
empire roman
In Wadi Rum (south of Petra), a 3,000-year-old cave paintings depict camel caravans passing through the valley and the bandits who preyed on them.
Wadi rum caravane de chameaux
Admiral Nearchos, sailed with a fleet of fifteen hundred vessels from India and in his journal, refers to Maketa on the Cape of Arabia. He describes it as « the emporium for the sea-borne trade in frankincense and all the other fragrant products of Arabia ».
Wadi rum caravane de chameaux
500 BC

Rome The sacred incense was an indispensable element of imperial culture for devotional and state ceremonies. During the Roman Empire, 2.5 to 3 million kilogrammes of frankincense were reported to have been exported to Rome from Southern Arabia.

Persia In Persepolis and Susa (modern day Iran), frankincense was a prized commodity. Monuments at the Persepolis show King Darius I himself offering incense.

Greece Although Greeks were importing incense from Syria (5th century BCE), Herodotus knew that frankincense came from further south of Arabia.
empire roman
1000 BC

950 BCE. A visit by Queen Sheeba to King Solomon was to test his wisdom but almost to secure an agreement on frankincense and myrrh..

Sayhadic Incense trade saw growth of several kingdoms and its decline meant their extinction. These kingdoms emerged to the west of Dhofar (an area known in Middle Age as the Sayhad).
1224 BC
In the wall reliefs of a Karnak temple, artwork depicting Ramses II offering an incense.
1478 - 1457 BC
Queen Hatshepsut commissioned a big temple which she described as “a garden for my father Amun”. The temple was lined with incense-bearing plants including myrrh (and most likely, frankincense).
1800 BC
In temples for the Babylonian sun deity Baal and the Greek god Apollo, frankincense was burnt in large quantities as a chemical substance with the power to bring devotees close to their divinities
 «tablette du dieu-soleil». Nabū-pal-iddina, roi de Babylone, 900 ans env. av jc. pratiquant un acte de culte devant Shamash, le dieu-soleil, qui est gravé dans son autel au temple de Sippar. (British Museum, n ° 12 137).
2000 BC
By 2000 BC, caravans were using the main south-north route following the coast of the Red Sea. The journey covers as much as 2,400 miles linking production areas with markets.
3000 BC

Babylon The Babylonians living in the Fertile Crescent region around 3000 to 600 BCE imported frankincense from Africa.

Egypt For almost thirty centuries, Ancient Egypt was the dominant civilization in the Mediterranean world, and perhaps the main frankincense consumers at that time
Réprésentation égyptienne de la combustion de l'encens et du déversement des libations (By Internet Archive Book Images via Wikimedia Commons
3500 BC

The earliest tangible record of incense use in Mesopotamia is an incense burner found in the ruins of a temple at Tepe Gawra, near Mosul in modern Iraq

5000 - 4500 BC

Since frankincense plant distribution was restricted botanically to southern Arabia, the trade would necessarily have come northward either by land or sea.

Eastern Arabia by the third millennium BCE and most likely by circa 5000 BCE.
6000 BC

Before 6000 BCE, monsoon rains disappeared in the Arabian region and frankincense trees prospered in the drought conditions.

- C.Times of Oman -
Histoire de l'encens commence 6000 ans JC.
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