The ceremonial incense of the Jews was compounded of four 'sweet scents,'
of which pure Frankincense was one, pounded together in equal proportion. It is frequently mentioned in the Pentateuch. Pure
Frankincense formed part of the meet offering and was also presented with the shew-bread every Sabbath day. With other spices,
it was stored in a great chamber of the House of God at Jerusalem.
According to Herodotus, Frankincense to the amount of 1,000 talents
weight was offered every year,
during the feast of Bel, on the great altar of his temple in Babylon. The religious use of incense was as common in ancient
Persia as in Babylon and Assyria. Herodotus states that the Arabs brought every year to Darius as tribute 1,000 talents of
Frankincense, and the modern Parsis of Western India still preserve the ritual of incense.
Frankincense, though the most common, never became the only kind of
incense offered to the gods among the Greeks. According to Pliny, it was not sacrificially employed in Trojan times. Among
the Romans, the use of Frankincense (alluded to as mascula thura by Virgil in the Eclogues) was not confined
to religious ceremonials. It was also used on state occasions, and in domestic life.
The kohl, or black powder with which the Egyptian women paint
their eyelids, is made of charred Frankincense, or other odoriferous resin mixed with Frankincense. Frankincense is also melted
to make a depilatory, and it is made into a paste with other ingredients to perfume the hands. A similar practice is described
by Herodotus as having been practiced by the women of Scythia and is alluded to in Judith x. 3 and 4. In cold weather, the
Egyptians warm their rooms with a brazier whereon incense is burnt, Frankincense, Benzoin and Aloe wood being chiefly used
for the purpose.
The word 'incense,' meaning originally the aroma given off with the
smoke of any odoriferous substance when burnt, has been gradually restricted almost exclusively to Frankincense, which has
always been obtainable in Europe in greater quantity than any other of the aromatics imported from the East.