Besides Chian mastiha, ancient texts mention Illyrian, Ethiopian, Indian, and Egyptian mastics. Information exists only on the Egyptian, which was black and did not produce mastiha oil. The Chian wholesalers and bankers who maintained commercial offices in Egypt since 500 BCE had firsthand knowledge of these mastics. They saw them being sold along with other precious resins (frankincense, myrrh, sylphium, balsam) in the markets of Memphis and Alexandria.
When they ascertained that there was a growing demand for the product, they decided to enter the game. The climate on their island was ideal and lentisc trees grew wild. So, they organized their cultivation and exploitation and began exporting mastiha. According to all indications, Chian mastiha made its first dynamic entrance on the market in Hellenistic times (336-146 BCE).
In Rome, as in Alexandria earlier, mastiha was an expensive product that appealed only to the privileged. According to Pliny the Younger, its price was ten denarii or libras at a time when black pepper (which was imported from India!) cost only four denarii, white pepper seven, ginger six, and cassia fifteen.
Syria was one of its best customers then, so much so that mastiha was called “chio” in the Syrian markets. Chios’ profitable products included wine, marble, Chian clay, silk and cotton fabric (a variety of dry-grown cotton was cultivated), and of course mastiha, which was exported to Egypt, Syria, Armenia, Asia Minor, Constantinople and Western Europe.
Business flourished for Maona in Chios. They constructed, fortified, irrigated, organized and then reaped the fruits of their investments, amassing immense fortunes. The dividend distributed to its shareholders was 2,000 ducats in bad years, reaching ten times that amount in good years. The total annual turnover never fell below 120,000 ducats. Of this, 30,000 came from mastiha sales, the rest from direct and indirect revenues, port charges, duties, land leases, exploitation of tin deposits, trade of Chian clay, textiles, etc.
1970 was a record year for mastiha production. 303,527 kilos were collected.
Arak is a colorless, distilled liquor similar to the Greek ouzo or raki and highly popular in the Middle East. In Iraq it was flavored with Persian gum and mastiha, and was available in various gra des. However, in 1959 a law was issued prohibiting the use of Persian gum and designating only one official grade of arak, which was required to contain eight kilos of mastiha per 100 kilos of spirit. So, suddenly, Iraq became the mastiha producers’ best customer. During the period 1955-58 it absorbed 38,500 kilos of mastiha a year, while in the period 1963-64 consumption increased to 157,500 kilos (52% of total sales). But then the customer disappeared. In 1972, a few years after the Sadam Hussein’s B’ath Party seized power, arak was deregulated for mastiha content and exports to Iraq were wiped out.