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Cinnamon

Cinnamon has been known from remote antiquity, and it was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and other great potentates. It was imported to Egypt from China as early as 2000 BC, and is mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 30:23, where Moses is commanded to use both sweet cinnamon (Hebrew קִנָּמוֹן, qinnāmôn) and cassia, and in Proverbs 7:17-18, where the lover's bed is perfumed with myrrh, aloe and cinnamon. It is also alluded to by Herodotus and other classical writers. It was commonly used on funeral pyres in Rome, and the Emperor Nero is said to have burned a year's supply of cinnamon at the funeral for his wife Poppaea Sabina, in 65 AD. In the Middle Ages, the source of cinnamon was a mystery to the western world. Arab traders brought the spice via overland trade routes to Alexandria in Egypt, where it was bought by Venetian traders from Italy who held a monopoly on the spice trade in Europe. The disruption of this trade by the rise of other Mediterranean powers such as the Mameluk Dynasties and the Ottoman Empire was one of many factors that led Europeans to search more widely for other routes to Asia. Portuguese traders finally discovered Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the end of the fifteenth century, and restructured the traditional production of cinnamon by the salagama caste. The Portuguese established a fort on the island in 1518, and brutally protected their own monopoly for over a hundred years. Dutch traders finally dislodged the Portuguese by allying with the inland Ceylon kingdom of Kandy. They established a trading post in 1638, took control of the factories by 1640, and expelled all remaining Portuguese by 1658. "The shores of the island are full of it", a Dutch captain reported, "and it is the best in all the Orient: when one is downwind of the island, one can still smell cinnamon eight leagues out to sea" (Braudel 1984, p. 215). The Dutch East India Company continued to overhaul the methods of harvesting in the wild, and eventually began to cultivate its own trees. The British took control of the island from the Dutch in 1796. However, the importance of the monopoly of Ceylon was already declining, as cultivation of the cinnamon tree spread to other areas, the more common cassia bark became more acceptable to consumers, and coffee, tea, sugar and chocolate began to outstrip the popularity of traditional spices.