Among the luxury items that traders brought to symbolic “Babylon the Great” were included articles “in scented wood.” (Rev. 17:5; 18:11, 12) Such wood likely came from N Africa. It was prized by the ancient Romans for the making of costly furniture. One table made for Cicero is said to have cost the equivalent of $45,000. The Roman historian Pliny speaks of a veritable mania developing among the Romans for tables of this wood. The most costly wood was that from the lower part of the trunk, due to the variety in the grain and the broadness of the sections obtainable. The wood was fragrant, hard, and took a high polish; and because of wavy or spiral lines in the grain some of the tables came to be called “tiger tables” or “panther tables.” Among the Greeks the balsamic wood was used in temple worship, and its name is derived from the Greek term for making burnt offerings.
The tree producing this scented wood is understood to be the sandarac tree, a coniferous tree native to N Africa and of the cypress family, growing to a height of fifteen to twenty-five feet (4.6 to 7.6 meters). Its wood has a rich reddish-brown hue and is finely marked.