The Danube River, a major route for the ancient amber trade.
There’s a rich history of trade in the Baltic region, and amber jewelry has always played a large role in that market. Baltic amber has been highly prized throughout history, and continues to be sold around the world today. But while we can now easily ship goods in bulk to the farthest corners of the Earth, historically there were crucial trade routes that determined where goods could end up. One such trade route was the Amber Road, which originated thousands of years ago. It was very much like the Silk Road that silk traders used to move their goods. But while the Silk Road connected Asia and Europe, the Amber Road ran between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean region. Let’s take a closer look at the Amber Road, where it leads, and what it can teach us about the history of amber jewelry!
Where Does the Amber Road Begin?
The ancient Amber Trade Route began at the coast of the Baltic Sea, where amber has been collected for thousands of years. Not only can amber be mined in the region, but it can also simply be found washed up on the seashores. Some of the earliest trade routes travelled through the Danube River, heading east to the Black Sea. From there, the Baltic amber was shipped to a variety of destinations, including ancient Greece.
Throughout the first and third centuries AD, Rome traded amber heavily, inspiring them to build a land route linking the Danube River to the Port of Aquileia in Italy. Baltic amber was recognized as prestigious within the Empire and was very valuable. This was due not only to the gem’s innate beauty, but also to the belief that it contains protective and healing properties. The amber passed through many intermediate points before it was delivered to the Empire, spreading its trade throughout Europe. By the end of the third century, other amber trade routes had popped up and began to spread east.
Although the Amber Road focused on trading the gem from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, other routes developed that spread throughout the area. One such route traveled the Baltic and North Seas to Britain, while others used ships to travel past the Mediterranean. It’s thought that amber travelled into Egypt and even spread to Asia via the Silk Road.
The Amber Road Today
There are still traces of the Amber Road today. It’s most common to see in areas of the world where amber is still considered a large part of the culture’s heritage. For example, you can find the ‘Amber Highway’ in Poland, which is one of the main highways of the area. Along with highways named after the gemstone, there are also museums in Lithuania and Poland that inform the public about amber and its rich history of trade. There’s also an option for tourists to actually travel along the original Amber Road from Kaliningrad to Latvia. Along this route, you can learn about amber sources, processing, and its history. If you’re lucky enough, you may also find your own piece of raw amber stuck in the sand while you walk along the beaches of the Baltic Sea!
Archaeological Interests in Baltic Amber
Many archeologists are interested in Baltic amber, because it can be used to track ancient trade routes. If an archaeological site produces amber jewelry, it can indicate that a trade route existed between that location and the Baltic region. Baltic amber contains succinic acid, so testing for this substance allows the archaeologists to prove its origin. In the past, testing the gem for this type of acid was expensive and caused damage to the piece. However, a method was discovered in the 1960s that uses infrared scanning instead, making it easier and less destructive to do the test. This created a bigger drive to find Baltic Amber at sites around the world to prove the long reach of trade along the Amber Road.
For centuries, people in many parts of the world have prized Baltic amber for its beauty. The Baltic Amber Road was just one route that our ancestors used to transport this commodity around Europe and beyond. It was a major part of ancient trade and the economy of the area, and we’re still learning about this subject from amber artifacts found at archaeological sites today. If you want to learn more about the history of Baltic amber, check out Aistre for Amber’s blog here!