Cinnamonium zeylanicum Nees
Ancient Egyptian: ti-sps
The latest research (1988) suggests the East African camphor, (Cinnamonium camphoria or Ocotea usambarensis) for ti-sps. The constituents of the roots of C. zeylanicum and C. camphora are very
similar, but traditionally ti-sps is taken to mean cinnamon. In the classical texts cinnamon is often comfused with cassia ( Cinnamonium cassia). The Egyptian text may not make thedistinction either. The two are very similar to each other. The C. zeylanicum tree is smaller than cassia, and the quills of the bark are thinner and more fragile. The flavour of cassia is more pungent. Even in a powdered state, the two can be distinguished under a microscope. Prospero Alphini knew the thin quills as quirfa, whereas thick quills were called darsini.
The evergreen cinnamon tree is native to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), whereas cassia originated in China and Burma. It was thus imported into Egypt. Cinnamon is a stimulant, digestive and antiseptic. A tea made of cinnamon, water and sugar is widely drunk in the Middle East in cold weather. Another winter drink is made from milk, powdered resin, chopped pistachios and cinnamon. In Europe it is a favourite addition to pudding and cakes, in Mediterranean countries also for a dish including tomatoes, and it is an ingredient in curry spice. The ‘buds’ (immature fruits) of cassia are used for scenting potpourri and for commercially produced sweets and beverages.
both cinnamon and cassia are mentioned in the Bible. The classical sources mention cinnamon as an ingredient in Egyptian perfume*.
Theophrastus, for instance, says that a perfume called megaleion was made of burnt resin and balanos oil to which is added cassia, cinnamon and myrrh: ‘This purfume and the Egyptian are the most troublesome to make, since no others involve the mixture of so many and costly ingredients. To make megaleion. they say, the oil is boiled for 10 days and nights, and not until then do they put in the resin and the other things, since the oil is more receptive when it has been thoroughly boiled’ (Concerning Odours vI .30).
There is no record from pharaonic Egypt of cinnamon having been taken internally for any purpose. But there are prescriptions for cinnamon unguents, where the characteristic sent and antiseptic qualities would be appreciated:
An unguent to sooth the members: kohl 1; wax 1; frankincense 1;
cinnamon 1; dry myrrh 1; ox fat 1; sweet moringa oil 1; to be used as a poultice for four days.
A remedy to make grow: carob pod pulp(?) 1; beans1; cinnamon 1; oil or fat 1; honey 1; is ground together and the [the member] is bandaged therewith.
A remedy to heal every effluency: goat’s fat 1; wax 1; fragrant gum1; cinnamon 1; fresh moringa oil 1; is mixed and applied to the effluency until it is healed.
A remedy for destruction of an eating ulcer on the gums: cinnamon 1; gum 1; honey 1; oil or fat 1; to be used as a bandage.
Cinnamon,on was one of the ingredients in a suppository ‘ to cool the anus’, made up from equal parts juniper berries, frankincense, ochre, cumin, cinnamon, honey , myrrh, and three unidentified ingredients.
As we have seen, the wood of the cinnamon was used in a fumigation
‘ which one makes to make the smell of the house or dress pleasant’. It may be added that cinnamon is an ingredient in one of the modern day brands of natural toothpaste.
Cinnamon or cassia are the only true spices actually to be mentioned in connection with mummification. Diodorus described how after cleaning the body with palm wine and (unspecified) spices and anointing it with ‘cedar oil’ (probably oil of juniper) and other unguents it was then rubbed with myrrh, cinnamon and other materials to preserve it. What appears to be cinnamon has been found on actual mummies, although the statements cannot at present be verified. A mummy from the 20th Dynasty is described as having ‘a thick layer of spicery covering every part of it…this external covering, which is nowhere less than an inch in thickness and which is interposed everywhere between the bandages and the skin…still retains the faint smell of cinnamon or cassia…but when mixed with alcohol or water and exposed to the action of heat the odour of myrrh become powerfully predominant.’ (0sburn, quoted in Lusas, Anc. Eg. Mat, pp 308-9). Another mummy examined in the last century was also said to be filled with the ‘ the dust of cedar, cassia, etc.’ ( Pettigrew, quoted ibid., p, 309).
Cinnamon was among the items presented to the temples by the king. In a papyrus listing the revenue ceded to the various gods by Ramesses lll, there is frequent mention of measures of cinnamon. Once in the temple, the goods would pass into the hands of the priests who would either recirculate them in exchange for other commodities, or, since they formed the medical profession as well, use it in their preparations of drugs. There I no evidence of it having been burnt in front of the god whose property it was. Th king’s gift to the god Amun included one whole log, 246 measures and 82 bundles. When new feasts were instituted by the king 220 bundles and 155 measures were included among the allowances.
Earlier on, in the 18th Dynasty, when Queen Hatshepsut sent out her famous expedition to the land of Punt in search of incense and spices, the ships were loaded for their homeward journey not only with frankincense and myrrh, but with other fragrant woods, including cinnamon. Wherever the land of Punt may have been located, cinnamon trees did not grow there. Punt was once part of the chain of commerce which spread from the East to Africa and Europe, and cinnamon was one of the costly commodities which made the long journey. In the 19th Dynasty Sethos l also connects cinnamon with Punt when displaying to the god Amun how he has conquered the world: ‘I turn my face to the East, I work a wonder for you… I gather together all the countries of Punt, all their tribute of gum and myrrh and cinnamon and ll the pleasant sweet wood of the God’s land’.
Valley of the Kings. Ramesses III, KV11. Details form the east wall of the third corridor with Ramesses making an offering of incense. The head-dress infers Ra and Osiris. The cartouche was originally Sethnakht’s (his fathers).
By Joanna Linsley-Poe
Copyright August 28, 2013
An Ancient Egyptian Herbal,by Lisa Mannich