Cinnamon has been renowned from remote antiquity, and was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and other great dignitaries. The reason the island of Ceylon was invaded by the Portuguese in the 16th century, the Dutch in the 17th and why the British fought them for it in the 18th was “Cinnamon”
Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels,
And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil. Exodus 30:22-25 NKJV
The ointment or oil was used to anoint the tabernacle of the congregation, the ark of the testimony, the table and all the vessels, the candlestick, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt-offering, etc.
In the ancient world cinnamon was more precious than gold. This is not too surprising though, as in Egypt the abundance of gold made it a fairly common ornamental metal.
In ancient Egypt cinnamon was used medicinally and as a flavouing for beverages, It was also used in embalming, where body cavities were filled with spiced preservatives.
Those people who could afford the spice used it in meals for flavor and to impress those around them with their ability to purchase a condiment from the "exotic" East. Some scholars speculate that the upper crust of European society consumed large quantities of spices during the Middle Ages in order to cover up the taste of cured meats, which began to spoil during the winter. Only the wealthy could afford large quantities of meat; therefore, it is not surprising that consumption of spices in general occurred in the top layers of society. At a banquet, a host would offer guests a plate with various spices piled upon it as a sign of the wealth at his or her disposal. The social rank of hosts was revealed by the excess or moderation with which they offered spices to their guests
The first Portuguese visiting Ceylon was Dom Lourenço de Almeida in 1505 or 1506. Accidentally, after a storm, adverse winds drove him to the island’s coast near Galle. The Portuguese signed a treaty with the King of Kotte, and developed the traditional production of cinnamon.
Before Portuguese arrived at that island, the state had organized the cultivation of cinnamon. Members of the salagama caste peeled the bark off young shoots of the cinnamon plant in the rainy season, when the wet bark was more pliable. During the peeling process, they curled the bark into the "stick" shape still associated with the spice today.The salagama caste then gave the finished product to the king as a form of tribute.When the Portuguese arrived, they wanted to increase production significantly, which meant that they had to change the traditional patterns of cinnamon cultivation by introducing new groups into the harvesting process.14 In 1518, the Portuguese built a fort on the island, which permanently changed the trade of cinnamon by allowing the Europeans to develop a monopoly in it.15 This allowed the Portuguese to generate very high profits in the exchange of the spice
When the Dutch began to arrive off the coast of southern Asia, they set their sights on displacing the Portuguese from their cinnamon throne
Dutch traders finally dislodged the Portuguese by allying with the inland Ceylon kingdom of Kandy. They established a trading post in 1638, took control of the cinnamon factories by 1640, and expelled all remaining Portuguese by 1658. "The shores of the island are full of it", a Dutch captain reported, "and it is the best in all the Orient: when one is downwind of the island, one can still smell cinnamon eight leagues out to sea." (Braudel 1984, p. 215)
According to the International Herald Tribune, in 2006 Sri Lanka produced 90% of the world's cinnamon,