• English
  • Cymraeg


Incense was very important in ancient Egypt. Incense trees were brought to Egypt by Hatshepsut when she went to Punt (somewhere in South Africa) and other aromatic items were imported from the Mediterranean. Incense was used in temple rituals and for scenting bodies, both in life and death, and used to purify the home and for medicinal reasons. It seems that one of the common ingredients of incense was pistachia resin. However, we also know that one of the most common incenses burnt was known as kyphia, though we do not know all the substances used for this. Although we have recipes, some of the words used in the recipes have not been translated.  

The terms snTr and antyw were used by the Egyptians to refer to incense, and both are recorded as coming from Punt. It is has usually been assumed that these two ingredients were, respectively, frankincense and myrrh. However, analysis of actual New Kingdom resins by Serpico and White (2000) has suggested that snTris probably largely pistachia, though other ingredients could have been added. Frankincense has however been found at Qasr Ibrîm (AD400-500; Evershed at al. 1997). 

Items associated with incense in the Egypt Centre:


EC271 Faience incense burner

W154 a fragment from Amarna depicting incense being burnt

W946 Stela showing Commodus offering incense to the mother of a Buchis bull

W1043 Stela listing offerings including incense 

W1400 Incense burner from Amarna


Further Reading 

Blackman, A.M. 1936. The significance of incense and libations in funerary and temple rituals. Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde, 72, 118-120. 

Evershed, R.B., van Bergen, P.F., Peakman, T.N., Leigh-Firbank, E.C., Horton, M.C., Edwards, D., Biddle, M., Kjølbye-Biddle, B. and P. A. Rowley-Conwy, P.A. 1997. Archaeological Frankincense. Nature, 360, 667-668.

Manniche, 2009. L. Perfume. UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 

http://escholarship.org/uc/item/0pb1r0w3#page-2 (accessed Nov. 2011) 

Serpico, M. and White, R. 2000. The Botanical identity and transport of incense during the Egyptian New Kingdom, Antiquity. 74 (286), 884-898. 

Serpico, M. 2000. Oil, fat and wax, in Nicholson, P.T. and Shaw, I. Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 390-429.

Wise, E. 2009. An “Odor of sanctity”: The iconography, magic and ritual of Egyptian incense, Studia Antiqua 7.1 – spring 2009, 67–90.