The Amber Road: An Ancient Journey Of Wealth And Healing

Amber origins

It is likely that you have heard of the Silk Road, which was an ancient trade route that linked China to the West. It enabled the exchange of goods and also innovations and ideas between two great civilizations, and it takes centre stage in the history of trade routes. However, there is a lesser known but significant route that you may not have heard of.

The Amber Road has its origins in the Baltic regions, which are rich in deposits of fossilised resin. This is a highly prized substance that not only has a beautiful appearance but also has medicinal properties, and it has been sought after since the earliest civilizations were formed.

The Amber Road is not one specific defined route, but rather a network of routes that spread outwards from the centre of Jutland and the Baltic coast of northern Europe. This carried the valuable aesthetic and medicinal qualities of amber throughout Europe and beyond. Baltic amber was, and indeed still is, much in demand both for its beauty and its healing powers.

What is so special about Baltic amber?

The ancient forests of the Baltic region are thought to have existed over 40 million years ago, and as they decomposed they created tens of thousands of tonnes of amber. This comprises raw organic materials and also contains a substance called succinic acid.

This is a naturally occurring compound that has proven healing properties. The ancient people knew this instinctively, and it is now a proven scientific fact. Baltic amber contains a particularly high proportion of succinic acid, estimated to be around 3 to 8% of the total composition. 

Succinic acid contains natural analgesic properties and it was used in early medicine to soothe pain. Today, Baltic amber necklaces are still used to soothe teething discomfort in fretful babies who may be drooling and find it difficult to sleep. 

The baby’s skin gently warms the amber and releases small amounts of oil that contain succinic acid, absorbing it into the bloodstream and allowing it to act as a natural painkiller. 

Furthermore, raw Baltic amber contains antibacterial and antiinflammatory properties that may help to ease infection and boost the immune system. Some people also find that it eases the symptoms of chronic skin conditions such as eczema and acne. 

Baltic amber in the form of jewellery and ornaments has been discovered in the tombs beneath the Egyptian pyramids, and also on the breastplate of King Tutankhamun. This suggests that the Amber Road extended beyond Central Europe, and through to Egypt and probably beyond to central Asia.

Amber was not just a remedy for ailments, but also a symbol of wealth, status, and luxury. This potent combination of physical and material power meant that amber was both culturally and economically significant. 

The rise of maritime trade and other shifts in global priorities eventually led to the decline of the Amber Road, but its effects still very much live on in the cultural and therapeutic legacy we still benefit from today.