What Was Cinnabar Used for in Ancient Times?

Cinnabar is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used by humans for thousands of years. This bright red pigment is also known as mercury sulfide and has played a significant role in many ancient cultures. Let’s explore what cinnabar was used for in ancient times.

Art and Decoration

One of the most common uses of cinnabar in ancient times was as a pigment for art and decoration. The bright red color of cinnabar made it a popular choice for painting pottery, creating murals, and making sculptures. Ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Egyptians all used cinnabar in their artwork.

The Egyptians

The ancient Egyptians used cinnabar to decorate their tombs and temples. Cinnabar was often mixed with other minerals to create different shades of red. It was also used to make jewelry and amulets.

The Chinese

In China, cinnabar was highly valued as a decorative material during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It was used to create intricate lacquerware pieces that were often given as gifts to royalty. Cinnabar was also used in traditional Chinese medicine.


Cinnabar has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. In ancient times, it was believed that cinnabar had healing properties and could cure various ailments such as skin conditions, respiratory problems, and digestive issues.

The Greeks

The ancient Greeks believed that cinnabar had medicinal properties and used it to treat wounds and skin conditions.

The Chinese

In traditional Chinese medicine, cinnabar is still used today to treat various illnesses such as high blood pressure, insomnia, and anxiety.

Rituals and Ceremonies

Cinnabar was also commonly used in ancient rituals and ceremonies. It was believed to have mystical properties and was used in religious ceremonies, funerals, and other important events.

The Mayans

The Mayans used cinnabar in their religious ceremonies to honor their gods. They believed that cinnabar was a powerful substance that could connect them to the spiritual realm.

The Aztecs

The Aztecs also used cinnabar in their religious ceremonies. They believed that cinnabar was connected to the god Quetzalcoatl and would use it to make sacrifices.

Dangers of Cinnabar

While cinnabar has been used for centuries, it is important to note that it is also toxic. Cinnabar contains mercury, which can be harmful if ingested or inhaled. In ancient times, many people who worked with cinnabar were exposed to high levels of mercury and suffered from mercury poisoning.

The Romans

The Romans were aware of the dangers of cinnabar and would only use it for decorative purposes. They would not use it in medicine or consume it in any way.

In conclusion, cinnabar played a significant role in ancient cultures for its bright red color as a pigment for art and decoration, its healing properties as a traditional medicine, and its mystical properties for rituals and ceremonies. However, it is important to note that cinnabar is also toxic and should be handled with care.