Do you realize human beings are using candles for thousands of years? Based on the evidence discovered in Israel, in 2008, the human race has been using fire since 790,000 years. The discovery of fire is the first remarkable step for the development of the human race. The history of the candle is also associated with the discovery of fire. The first candles were the torches that people used to transport fire. However, the proper candles, the candles made from wax and wick, were made 5000 years ago.
The prototypes of the candles that we know today were first made by Egyptians. They made candles by covering the straw with animal fats or resin. In 3000 BC, the Egyptians were already using wicked candles. The Romans also made candles. Their candles were made from papyrus, tallow or beeswax.
Just like the human species evolving simultaneously in various regions, candle making also developed at the same time in various cultures. The Roman, the Chinese and the Indian civilization began making candles in the ancient times. However, the candles were not used in Europe, the Middle-East, and Africa because olive oil lamps were popular in these places. These cultures did not know candle making until the middle ages. In the beginning, candles were made from tallow and beeswax, however, later people began making candles from spermaceti, purified animal fats, and paraffin wax.
Candles in the Antiquity
The Romans used oil lamps for lighting purpose, however, they were already making candles around 500 BC. These candles were made from tallow. The Romans gave candles as gifts during the festival of Saturn.
The earliest evidence of candle in China dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC). Candles made from whale fat have been found in a mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty.
A Jizhupian dictionary that dates back to 40 BC mentions about candles made of beeswax. Another ancient Chinese text, the Book of Jin dating back to 648 AD that features the Jin Dynasty (265–420), mentions that beeswax candles were used by the statesman Zhou Yi.
The Chinese candles were molded in paper tubes, using rolled rice paper for the wick, and wax from an indigenous insect.
The Japanese have also been making candles since ancient times. Their candles were made from wax extracted from tree nuts.
In Tibet, yak butter was used to make candles, which is still in use.
Candles were also made in India. These candles were made from the wax derived by boiling cinnamon.
During the 1st century AD, the indigenous people in Alaska made candles from fish oil, they referred the fish as candlefish.
Candles in the Middle Age
In the middle age, olive oil was the primary source of fuel for oil lamps. Olive oil lamps were used in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. After the Roman Empire collapsed, there was a trading disruption between Europe and North Africa and the Middle East. The trading disruption made olive oil scarce in Europe. This provided a fertile ground for candle making. Contrarily, the North Africans and Middle Eastern continued using olive oil and did not explore candle.
The Romans and the Egyptians were the early candle makers. However, the candle as we know today is actually credited to the Byzantine Empire. In the Byzantine Empire, as early as the 7th century, there were professional candle makers referred as chandlers. The Book of Eparch contains instruction on candle making.
There were two kinds of candles available back then, one that was made from tallow, and two that were made from beeswax. Tallow candles gave smoke and smell. Interestingly, due to its unpleasant odor, some European countries passed an ordinance that banned tallow candles. Beeswax candles were not smoky and smelly. Actually, they produced a sweet smell. Beeswax candles were expensive and beyond the reach of ordinary people, they were used by rich people. Beeswax candles were also used in worship.
By the 13th century, candles became popular and candle making was considered a decent vocation. The candle makers, or Chandlers, made candles from the fats of goats, sheep or cows, beeswax, or tallow. The first candle making company was established in England in 1300 by the name The Tallow Chandlers Company of London, the company gained the coat of arms in 1456. London streets were being lighted by tallow candles by 1415.