ALERTPlease note: the museum will be closed on Sunday, Feb 2 for a private event. The next Target First Free Sunday will take place on Feb 9.

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Incense Roads

The incense trade played a key role in the early history of the Arabian Peninsula—bringing immense wealth to developing cities and permitting cultural exchange between diverse civilizations.
Incense was used across the ancient world for everything from sanctifying religious ceremonies to masking the stench of sewage. These aromatic resins, particularly frankincense and myrrh, were collected from certain tree barks found only in the arid regions of southern Arabia and east Africa. As a result, the southern regions of the Arabian Peninsula held a near monopoly on this lucrative trade.

A complex network of trade roads connected the Arabian Peninsula to the major civilizations of Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Cities along these roads provided shelter and levied taxes on caravans transporting the much-sought commodity. Other oases and way stations flourished along the trade routes, and bustling markets offered luxury objects created locally and imported from afar.

Gold and precious stones were excavated from sites throughout the peninsula, including elegant gold jewelry, sculpture and architecture recovered at a site outside the city of Thaj. At Qaryat al-Faw, one of the most prosperous cities along the ancient trade routes, archaeologists uncovered artifacts typical of southern Arabia alongside Greco-Roman figurative sculptures. The breadth of the cultural interactions resulting from the extensive incense trade is also evidenced by the diversity of languages and scripts used in Arabia.

The impact of the incense trade on the Arabian Peninsula is significant and richly layered. Roads of Arabia is your opportunity to witness the rare output and exchange of this important cultural crossroads at a critical period in its development.