“King of Assyria Ashur-Nasir-Apal sent his people to amber land, where seas wash ashore amber like copper…”
Assyrian record on the obelisk in year 883 BC
In the Baltic lands amber trade began in Neolithic period. Amber spread from the main centres of its extraction from Jutland and eastern Baltic countries, including Lithuania, to the Central, Eastern Europe and even reaching Egypt. German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann during the digging in Troy with many other things found amber beads in 1871-1890. Scientists determined that the article came from the shores of the Baltic Sea 3000 years ago. This archaeologist found Baltic amber when dug Mycenaean domed graves which were poured in about 1600-800 BC. About 400 small amber beads were found in two graves. Baltic amber was also found in Tet pyramid, in graves of pharaohs (3400-2400 BC). This shows that Baltic amber was worshiped not only by Greeks and Romans. Philologists are surprised that in Egyptian amber is called “sakal”, which is very similar to Lithuanian “sakas”. Englishman G. Williamson, the author of the popular monograph about amber, says that there used to be a place called Sakų uostas (Resin Harbour) (in Latvian Sakaosta) to the North from Königsberg (present day Kaliningrad).
In the 1st – 3rd centuries intense amber trade was with Roman Empire and its colonies, so called Amber Road. Amber Road is a so called land, trading road, which used to connect Roman Empire with Baltic region in old Iron-age. There are known two “Amber Road” branches – Kolodzk and Moravia. Later, when barbarians began to attack Rome land roads, it became unsafe and trading was disturbed. More stable roads were by the Baltic Sea.
Greeks and Romans worshiped amber very much and called it “Northern Gold”. In ancient times Roman emperor Nero admired hair of his wife dyed in amber colour a lot, that it actually came into fashion. Ladies of Rome used to dye their hair in amber colour. They also insisted on real amber. At that time amber was considered as luxurious item: it was fashionable to wear amber jewellery, to drink from amber goblets, to burn incenses for pleasant smell of resin. During the ruling of Nero a small amber statuette was more valuable than a young healthy slave. The most valued colours were transparent reddish and golden, people used to make jewellery and small household items. Non-transparent amber was used only for incenses.
Pliny the Elder wrote that transparent reddish and golden amber was worshiped by Romans, and that this type of amber (succinita) could be found only on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Thus, Pliny the Elder wrote in “Historia Naturalis” (lib. XXXVII, cap. 45-46) about the mentioned Amber Road by describing the journey when Roman knight went for amber in the middle of the 1st century: “The road from Panonia Karnuntum (Celtic town by the Danube near current Bratislava) to the coast of Germania took almost 600.000 steps (about 888 km). Roman knight was still alive, and he was sent by Julian (Nero’s chairman, who was preparing for games) from Panonia Karnuntum to the coast of Germania for amber. He travelled all shores for trading purposes and brought such amount of amber that the nets, which were spread to protect spectators’ gallery from beasts, were buttoned with it. Even weapons and chapels for the dead were decorated with amber, and all daily clothes… were of amber… The heaviest piece weighed 13 pounds (4.2 kg)…”
Treasure of raw Baltic amber material proclaims that there were lots of amber from the Baltic shores to Rome and its colonies carried. Amber was kept in mediate points while it was carried to Rome. Before World War II there were three big raw amber material sources found (altogether 2750 kg) in Poland near Wroclaw, not far from the old trading road. In 1867, in Sambian peninsula there was a barrel of 50 litres full of amber. In 1900, near Gdansk there was pot of clay with 9 kg of amber excavated. In 1924, in Eastern Prussia near Leižūnai, not far from the Curonian Lagoon there were three hundredweights of raw amber material found. These findings prove that Baltic amber was very popular. Baltic trades early got into written historical records because of amber trading.
At the end of the 3rd century trading roads flourished to the East along Dnieper, Dnester, Prut Rivers, also they get affiliated with Slavic tribes, Roman colonies near the Black Sea, later with Byzantine Empire and Arabic countries. Soviet scientist V. Janin says that at the end of the 8th century lots of silver Arabic money (dirham) came to Europe for amber after the spread of trade between Europe and Arabia.
Amber trading and its roads tell us not only about wide Lithuanian connection with far countries. Wide trading with civilizations and their cultural centres nurtured European culture.
However, since the 12th century amber extraction, treatment and trading were monopolized by crusaders. In 1264, according to the agreement with Sembian bishop, Teutonic Order got all the lands full of amber and the Order gave the third of gathered amber to the bishop. Local people who used to gather and sell amber for many years lost their right to do that. According to regalia of the Order, all the gathered amber had to be given to appropriate servants, and it was cruelly punished for hiding a single piece of amber. Even at the beginning of the 19th century there used to be a headsman who executed people for wilful amber gathering.
There is a possibility for people to see an exposition of Amber Gallery of Mizgiris (established in 2001-2002) and to travel a part of “Amber Road”. It starts from the Baltic Sea and extends through all Europe to the Etruscan lands in Italy. A discovered token confirms that small Royal workshops were earlier here, where 21 person could work. The facts show that the biggest amber pieces were found here and brought to Etruscan lands. This exposition and the obelisk standing near the Curonian Lagoon witness that Amber Road starts in Nida.
Two-metre guards – amulets of Juodkrantė’s Treasure carved of wood meet the visitors. The museum presents all 434 amulets of original size, provides information about Juodkrantė’s Treasure and the meaning of the amulets. Then, following the Amber Road, visitors can take a look at old amber treatment workshop where not only present day amber treatment but also old tools that were used by people at Roman Empire times are exhibited. Visitors can become “masters” themselves and make amulets that bring luck. Later people can view the collection with inclusions and to open a “50-million-year-old pine tree” and understand how amber formed; how resin accumulated inside of the pine tree and flowed from wounded pieces of the tree or just drifted down the bark. A boat and old tools which were used for amber fishing are also exposed here. Visitors have a possibility to visit the Artists’ House where artists work and exhibit their works. But that is not the end: on the coast of the Curonian Lagoon established amber castle of Jūratė will tell you a sad love story of fisherman Kąstytis and goddess Jūratė – a legend of amber origin.