For centuries, camel caravans laden with frankincense, myrrh, spices, silk and precious stones traversed ancient Arabia, skirting the desert sands of the unforgiving Empty Quarter, on grueling, monthslong expeditions. Using an established network of waypoint towns and caravanserais, this trade traffic brought prosperity to the blossoming cities along the Arabian Peninsula’s western coast, and these routes fostered the exchange of goods and ideas across continents. Still today, relics and reminders of these important journeys can be seen in Saudi Arabia.
Both in high demand on the Incense Route, frankincense and myrrh resins were collected from waxy dripping “tears” of trees that grow only in southern Arabia and northeastern Africa.
Though it earned its name for the Chinese silk traded along this route, the Silk Road dealt in more than textiles, with spices from Southeast Asia and India exchanged in Jeddah and other key ports along the way.
Even before the Romans arrived in the first century A.D., the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf saw fleets of merchants moving their prized cargo of spices — from cardamom and cinnamon to nutmeg and turmeric — around the peninsula’s ports.
By Lauren Keith