Incense Route

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The Incense Trade Route encompassed an extensive network of both land and sea routes that connected the Mediterranean region with valuable sources of incense, spices, and other luxurious commodities. These routes spanned from Mediterranean ports through the Levant, Egypt, Northeastern Africa, Arabia, and extended to India and beyond.

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They played a crucial role in facilitating the exchange of various goods, including Arabian frankincense and myrrh, Indian spices, precious gemstones, pearls, ebony, silk, and high-quality textiles. Additionally, the trade routes facilitated the transportation of rare woods, feathers, animal skins, Somali frankincense, gold, and slaves from the Horn of Africa. This flourishing land trade in incense between South Arabia and the Mediterranean thrived approximately from the 3rd century BC to the 2nd century CE.

List of the Sites Associated with the Trade

circa 100 CE

Colonnade street in ancient city of Petra

City of Petra
The City of Petra, built by Nabateans, stood halfway between the opening to the Gulf of Akaba and the Dead Sea at a point where the Incense trade Route from Arabia to Damascus was crossed by the overland route from Petra to Gaza.

Petra National Trust

circa 629 CE


A fifth century CE Byzantine basilica near Adulis port, excavated in 1914 CE.

circa 629 CE

Leuke Kome
The Leuke Kome (identified with the Nabataean port of Aynuna) was a Nabataean port city located on the Incense Trade Route. The name meaning "white village", was a significant port city along the Nabataean segment of the Incense Route. Situated on the Red Sea coast, it served as a pivotal trading hub for the Nabataean Kingdom, particularly during the Roman period when it became the premier trade port. Leuke Kome facilitated the transportation of valuable commodities like frankincense and myrrh from southern Arabia to the Mediterranean world. Its strategic location allowed it to play a crucial role in maritime trade, connecting the Arabian Peninsula with Egypt and other regions. While the exact location of Leuke Kome is debated, its historical significance as a key trading center along the Incense Trade Route remains undisputed.

circa 500 CE

Ancient Shivta, also known as Sobata, served as a trading post along the Incense Trade Route in the central Negev region. While slightly off the main trade route, Shivta was an essential stop for traders moving goods between the Mediterranean world and eastern sources of frankincense and myrrh. Although not extensively excavated, Shivta's main monuments suggest its significance as a hub for commerce and cultural exchange during ancient times

circa 500 CE

Madain Saleh

circa 500 CE



The historical evidence suggests that Mecca was not directly part of the Incense Trade Route. While Mecca was a significant trade hub in pre-Islamic times, particularly for its role in caravan trade and pilgrimage, it was not directly situated along the path of the Incense Trade Route. The Incense Route primarily linked the Mediterranean world with eastern and southern sources of aromatic substances such as frankincense and myrrh, running through areas like southern Arabia and the Levant.

Mecca's importance in trade and pilgrimage was due to its strategic location as a crossroads for various trade routes in the Arabian Peninsula, including routes connecting southern Arabia with the Levant and Egypt. However, Mecca's prominence in trade was more associated with the broader network of trade routes in the region rather than specifically being part of the Incense trade Route.


Duma al-Jandal
Possible? Speculated at best.




The ancient Marib, located in present-day Yemen, was a significant part of the ancient incense trade route. The kingdom of Saba, with Marib as its capital, flourished within the semi-arid landscape of valleys, mountains, and deserts, serving as a crucial hub along the frankincense trade route through the Arabian Peninsula. Marib's strategic location made it integral to the trade of valuable commodities like frankincense, facilitating commerce between regions. The prosperity of Marib and its surrounding areas was deeply intertwined with the incense trade network that connected the Arabian Peninsula with distant markets such as India and the Mediterranean


Myos Hormos


Berenice Troglodytica


With a significant agricultural basin, Coptos port on the Nile was established at the mouth of one of the main tracks connecting the Valley to the Red Sea, the Wadi Hammamat, road that also allows access to popular mineral deposits ancient. For four millennia, the city has been a thriving economic center.


Remains of an old lighthouse at Muza

The Muza was an important Red Sea Port, it was a busy trading port during Nabatean and Roman era. It might have been one of the ports used by Muslim Migrants to cross Red Sea and reach Aksum.


The Avdat


Khor Rori (Sumhurum)
The Samharam also known as the Khor Rori, situated in modern day Oman,


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