The History of candles and their use in ancient times

The History of candles and their use in ancient times

Modern technology means that few people have to rely on candles as a source of warmth or light, yet they still remain hugely popular. In fact, take a look at the history of this simple yet ingenious invention, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a period when they haven’t been in widespread use. Indeed, you might say that candles were a game-changing invention which, once the process was figured out, has never gone out of fashion.

Today, we’re used to decorating our homes with high-quality organic candles thanks to the cozy warmth they bring to our properties. But did you know that when you buy Canadian made candles from Rich Hill, you’re actually participating in candle history that goes back some 5,000 years? It’s true. In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into the long and illuminating history of the humble candle. 

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The Candle: More than 5000 Years Old

Due to imprecise evidence, no one is quite sure when candles were first invented. But researchers generally believe that they’ve been used for at least 5,000 years. Those early versions of candles were a little different from the candles of today, but they were an important step along the way! 

It was the Ancient Egyptians, way back in 3,000 BC, who came up with the concept of a candle. Their process involved dipping papyrus in beeswax or molten tallow, with the papyrus providing the ‘wick’ aspect of the candle. The Egyptians would use these slow-burning flames to provide light, guide travelers along their way, and in ceremonies.

Fast forward slightly in human history, and you’ll find evidence of similar candles in China and India. They had a different method for producing wax, however: in China, they’d mix crushed bugs with seeds, and in India, they used cinnamon tree fruit. 

Candle Evolution in Ancient Rome

The early incarnations of candles got things moving in the right direction, but they were still what we would call rudimentary. They were imprecise and only marginally effective. The great leap forward in the history of candle-making happened in Ancient Rome, sometime around the 10th century BC. They were the first ones to use candle wicks, which allowed for a slower, more controlled burn. For this, they used animal fat. 

The art of candle making continued to develop into the middle ages, but the general principle remained the same — and it’s this type of traditional candle making that we practice here at Rich Hill Candles

The Role of Candles in Ancient Times

Candles play a big role in modern culture — can you imagine life without candles? — but they were of even greater importance in ancient times. After all, they didn’t have any electricity back then! So how were people using candles in ancient human history? Let’s take a look. 


Modern people do use candles to provide lighting, but we generally do so to provide a certain kind of light. In the pre-electricity era, candles weren’t used because they provided a nice glowing light: they were used because they were the only source of light available. You’d find candles in streets, temples, homes, and public spaces thanks to their relative safety (compared with larger flames). Plus, they were portable, which was a big advantage in an era when bathrooms were located outside of the home. 

Religious Ceremonies and Rituals

Ever wondered why you so often see candles used in modern religious ceremonies and rituals? That’s because many of our modern practices have their roots in traditions that date back centuries. Candles played an important role in worship rituals and ceremonies, especially in Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt. In Ancient Rome, for instance, candles were often used as an offering to the Gods. 

Measuring Time

Modern cultures have a million ways to measure time. In olden societies? Not so much. Once candles that produced a consistent burn were invented, ancient societies would mark those candles with measurements as a way to keep track of the passing hours. It wasn’t always precise, but it was more reliable than other methods. 

Practical Uses

There were other, practical uses for candles in ancient times, too. For example, people would use the flame to cook food and to warm their homes. 

Home Decoration

Just as with today, candles were also used for decorative purposes. However, it was much less widespread. Due to their expense, only wealthy people could typically afford to light candles for aesthetic purposes. In fact, due to the cost, wealthy people would often display candles as a way to show off their status.

Thankfully, today you don’t have to be wealthy to have a candle in your home for decorative purposes. We may use traditional methods here at Rich Hill Candles, but our prices are for everyone. Check out our custom orders to get a candle made especially for you. 


And there we have it! The next time you light a candle in your home, remember that you’re not just giving your home a wonderful soft light; you’re engaging in an activity that humans have been doing for thousands of years. And in all likelihood, probably will be thousands of years into the future, too. 

Here at Rich Hill Candles, we like to continue the tradition of making candles by hand, just as they did in the old days. Factory-produced candles can work well, but they lack the charm — and history — of handmade candles. Check out our excellent range of candles by clicking this link