Cinnamon has been known from remote antiquity. It was imported to Egypt as early as 2000 BC, but those who reported that it had come from China had confused it with cinnamon cassia, a related species. Cinnamon was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and even for a deity; a fine inscription records the gift of cinnamon and cassia to the temple of Apollo at Miletus. Its source was kept mysterious in the Mediterranean world for centuries by those in the spice trade to protect their monopoly as suppliers. Cinnamomum verum, which translates as ‘true cinnamon’, is native to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Cinnamomum cassia (cassia) is native to China. Related species, all harvested and sold in the modern era as cinnamon, are native to Vietnam, Indonesia and other southeast Asian countries with warm climates.
The first Greek reference to kasia is found in a poem by Sappho in the seventh century BC. According to Herodotus, both cinnamon and cassia grew in Arabia, together with incense, myrrh, and labdanum, and were guarded by winged serpents.
In Ancient Egypt, cinnamon was used to embalm mummies. From Hellenistic times onward, Ancient Egyptian recipes for kyphi, an aromatic used for burning, included cinnamon and cassia. The gifts of Hellenistic rulers to temples sometimes included cassia and cinnamon.