Who Made the First Candle?

Although we have no historical record of the first candles used by humans, the oldest actual candle fragment ever found was unearthed by archaeologists near Avignon, France. The fragment has been dated to the first century A.D.

It is the Romans who have been given credit for developing the wick candle. These Roman wick candles were used for lighting travelers on their way, illuminating homes and public places, and for burning at night in the temples and public places, especially those used for worship to Roman gods, though we know that the Romans also made use of torches, both for exterior and interior lighting. However, our knowledge of candles such as we know them today dates only to the European Middle Ages.

Most people gathered around the light provided by an open fire at night until the invention of oil lamps, or rushlights, which were the first primitive candles. With portable light, people could venture abroad to forage or hunt, or to nearby villages to trade or visit.

Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

There is an old saying that necessity is the mother of invention, and as we have seen, early candles were the product of inventiveness in response to necessity — long before electricity made such needs obsolete for much of the world (except, of course, in times of power outages, when we again must rely on candles, just like our ancestors!).

We do not know for sure who invented the candle — there's not enough scientific evidence for proof — but we do know that the ancient Egyptians used rushlights for light. Rushlights were made by dipping grasses or reeds in melted tallow. Such “rush dips” were described by the Roman historian Pliny, and they had been quite common to countryfolk living in the villages of northern and central Europe until quite recently.

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