Parution : The Queen of Sheba’s Gift

The Queen of Sheba’s Gift

A History of the True Balsam of Matarea

Marcus Milwright

Tells the history of the precious balsam of Matarea: a substance traded for its weight in gold

  • Uses archaeological and textual sources to trace the cultivation of balsam trees from the 4th century BCE to the 17th century CE
  • Surveys the evidence for the symbolic value and practical applications of balsam in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe
  • Establishes the many uses of balsam in pre-modern medicine, religious ritual and royal ceremonies
  • Correlates modern botanical studies with historical sources in the identification of the trees that once grew in the plantation of Matarea in Egypt
  • Explores the complex socio-cultural factors that contributed to the sense of value accorded to rare commodities
  • Richly illustrated with over 50 line drawings, engravings, watercolours and photographs, drawn from sources ranging across time from medieval manuscripts to 20th-century photographs, depicting balsam trees, balsam resin receptacles, the compound of Matarea, maps and more

Using written sources, visual data and archaeological material, Marcus Milwright reconstructs the fascinating cultural history of the balsam tree from Jericho and En-Gedi to Egypt, and from ancient times to the 17th century. Miwright addresses the symbolic associations of balsam and the site of Matarea (where the last balsam tree died in 1615), the distribution of products from the tree through trade and diplomacy, and the applications of these products in medicine, ritual and the domestic environment. He also establishes links with resin-producing trees from the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.

The balsam of Matarea was a substance famous as a panacea among physicians in the Middle East and Europe during the Antique and Medieval periods. It was used in many aspects of medieval life and is associated with figures such as the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba and Cleopatra.

Table des matière:



  1. Travellers’ tales: Experiencing Matarea
  2. Resins in the ancient world
  3. Balsam in Egypt
  4. The balsam tree and balsam ‘oil’
  5. Diplomacy and international trade
  6. Balsam in medicine: From Greek to Arabic
  7. Balsam in medieval and early modern medicine
  8. Religious and royal dimensions to balsam


Glossary; Bibliography

Source :

Sterenn Le Maguer

Archéologue spécialiste de la péninsule Arabique et du commerce dans l'océan Indien, vacataire à l'Institut catholique de Paris, chercheure associée au CEFREPA.

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