Background and history
Over the coming months, Jody will be posting more information about the history of the frankincense trade and the region the story is set in. First up is a guest post about Arabian horses by Gina McKnight.
Frankincense and the Birth of Christ
From Jody's blog post, 24 December 2011
Everyone knows the story of the three wise men: that they came to pay tribute to the baby Jesus, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And every child, when they first hear the story, wonders what frankincense and myrrh are, and why such strange gifts were given to a baby. Wouldn’t a teddy bear and a rattle have been more appropriate?
Common belief now is that the ‘wise men’ were in fact astrologers, and that the stars foretold the birth of a great king. Gold is obviously a tribute for a king, but frankincense and myrrh?
Frankincense and myrrh are both aromatics, burned as incense or used in the making of perfumes. Each comes from the bark of a certain type of tree – boswellia sacra (frankincense) and Commiphora myrrha (myrrh) – that only grows in Oman, Yemen, and Somalia. The trees could only be harvested at certain times of year, and then the resin (sap) had to cure for several months. Then the resin was transported by camel for hundreds – sometimes thousands – of miles, across precarious terrain. Because of this, frankincense and myrrh were extremely valuable; at the time of Jesus’ birth, frankincense was worth its weight in gold!
Both were was used in religious ceremonies: when they are burned, they give off a fragrant smoke, and the smoke was thought to carry prayers up. This, as well as their value, made them gifts very worthy of a king!
Horses and Camels
At the time The Frankincense Trail is set, both horses and camels were used for transport. Camels were used for the long trading journeys because they could carry heavier loads and could go for longer distances without water, but for horses were highly valued, too. With the advent of Christianity, the frankincense trade declined, and so, too, did the importance of camels. Horses then became a symbol of wealth and power.
The Arabian Horse - by Gina McKnight
Through windswept deserts to green-laden meadows, the Arabian horse has been prized for centuries, from Egyptian royalty and Bedouin nomads to modern-day equestrians. Known as the 'keheilan', meaning 'pure blood, through and through', Arabian horses are one of the oldest pure horse breeds in the world.
Bred to be 'war horses' and originating from the Arabian Peninsula more than 4,500 years ago, the Arabian has been the topic of myth and legend. Bedouin legend states that Allah created the Arabian from the four winds; spirit from the North, strength from the South, speed from the East, and intelligence from the West. In the midst of creating the Arabian horse, Allah exclaimed, "I create thee, Oh Arabian. To thy forelock I bind Victory in Battle. On thy back, I set a rich spoil and a Treasure in thy loins. I establish thee as one of the Glories of the Earth…I give thee flight without wings."
In A.D. 1121, the first Arabian horse arrived in Britain when Alexander I, King of Scotland, presented an Arabian horse to the Church of St. Andrews. Years later, the breed was introduced by Charles II to British ponies to improve their speed, resulting in great popularity in Britain. Eventually, the Arabian landed on every global shore. International trade increased in 1991 with the collapse of the former Soviet Union, greater Egyptian political stability, and the rise of the European Union. Today the Arabian is one of the top ten horse breeds in the world.
The Arabian horse is popular for its wide versatility; grace and speed – from cultured dressage dance to competitive endurance races. For hundreds of years the Arabian has been used to refine and improve other breeds. Distinctive features, such as their concave profile and arched neck, separate Arabians from other horse breeds. Their perfect symmetry, disposition, agility and influential conformation is showcased by their beauty, stamina and balance. Intelligent, refined and attractive, Arabian horses will continue to mesmerize the world and remain the horse of legends.
Gina McKnight, Equestrian & Freelance Writer, USA
If you're interested in learning more about the frankincense trade and the region, the following sites are recommended:
- Nabataea.net has a wealth of information, including a whole section on the frankincense road. This is one of my favorite websites!
- The Middle East Institute has a nice write-up on the history of frankincense.
- SacredEarth has more information about the frankincense tree, particularly its medicinal uses.
More information coming soon!