following the amber road

Following the amber road

Fascinated by the Baltic Sea, some time ago I decided to take a trip to the coast and I am very eager to tell you about all the gems that you can find there. As soon as I arrived I immediately started to look for gems on a white shore, I was particularly fascinated by the amber that seems to be found in these places that is also known as “Northern Gold” or “Red Gold”. The Germans call it “Tears of the Gods”.

I will not go into too much detail about the description and the chemistry of this organic stone. All you need to know about this stone is that amber is used in jewellery all around the world.

The Amber Road

Electron was the name by which the ancient Greeks called amber due to its ability to generate an electrostatic charge when rubbed, it is from this name that we also got the word ‘electricity’. Thales of Miletus has already demonstrated ambers unusual magnetic properties in the 6th century BC. For a long time amber was believed to have magical healing powers, like many other stones in this period. Not only in ancient times was this believed, remember the German philosopher Immanuel Kant carried with him a valuable piece of amber. Who knows if the philosopher really believed in the magic of this stone, or if he decided to keep it only for its intrinsic value?

The trade route of amber, known as the amber road which sees amber travel from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean, has been functioning since ancient times. There has been evidence of Baltic amber in the Mediterranean from 1600 BC, traces of amber have been found in the Sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi, Greece. Pieces of amber were even discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamen! Historians have put forward much evidence to prove the existence of the “amber route”, crossing Europe to allow Egyptian, Greek and Phoenician civilizations to make jewellery with the “gold of the north”.

The first evidence of the presence of amber in the Baltic area is from Pytheas of Massalia (Marseille). He was a Greek merchant, explorer, geographer and scientist. While many archaeological excavations have revealed the use and trade of amber by Germanic tribes before Phytéas travels. Pytheas organised an expedition by sea to the islands of northern Europe in 340 BC, the great traveller and scholar claimed to have found amber on the island and called it Abalus. It is likely that these were the Frisian Islands, an archipelago of islands on the north of Netherlands, which extends itself to the coast of Denmark. Pytheas described the amber as the fossil of tree resin.

It is certain that the amber trade was going through the waterways of northern Europe. Pliny the Elder (23-79 BC) was the first to have mentioned the “Amber road” in his writings. This trade route, or rather these roads, travel down to southern Europe using rivers such as the Rhine, Danube, Vistula, Oder etc. The amber route runs between Pomerania and Poland, through the “Gate of Moravia” and the Alps. The area, which extends today to Austria and Slovenia, was crossed to reach the Adriatic Sea. From there, the amber trade went on further through the Mediterranean and traders were able to trade this rare commodity to other ports around the Mediterranean.

Thanks to recent archaeological excavations, researchers have found an amber seal from the Baltic region and gold from Egypt near the city of Kranzberg Bavaria, more precisely in Bernstorff. The seal is now kept in the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich. This discovery confirms the exchange of amber from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, something which made this city a hub on the long road that crossed Europe for hundreds of years and thousands of kilometres.


Want to learn more about amber? Go in search of the Amber Room …

Or read our article on the myths of Phaeton & Jurate, and why amber is washed up on our shores.