Balthazar, also called Balthasar, Balthassar, and Bithisarea, was according to tradition one of the biblical Magi along with Gaspar and Melchoir who visited the infant Jesus after he was born. He is traditionally referred to as the King of Arabia and gave the gift of myrrh to Jesus. In the Western Christian church, he is regarded as a saint (as are the other two Magi).
The Gospels of the New Testament in the Bible do not give the names of the Magi (or even how many there were), but their traditional names are ascribed to a Greek manuscript from 500 AD translated into Latin and commonly accepted as the source of the names. In this original manuscript, Balthazar is called Bithisarea which later developed into Balthazar in Western Christianity. Balthazar was described in the 8th century by St. Bede as being "[of] black complexion, with [a] heavy beard" with the "myrrh he held in his hands prefigured the death of the Son of man".
As part of the Magi, Balthazar followed the Star of Bethlehem first to the palace of Herod the Great who instructed them to return to him when they had found Jesus. When they arrive at the house, the Magi worshipped him and presented their gifts. Balthazar gave the gift of myrrh, which symbolized the future death of a king, as myrrh was an expensive item at the time. Following his return to his own country, avoiding King Herod, it is purported that Balthazar celebrated Christmas with the other members of the Magi in Armenia in 54 AD but later died on 6 January 55 AD aged 112.
Balthasar and Gaspar are characters in the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ and the various film adaptions of the novel, which chronicles his later years.
Balthazar, along with the other Magi, is purported to be buried in the Shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral following his remains being moved from Constantinople by Eustorgius I in 344 AD to Milan. In 1164, Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa moved them to Cologne. Balthazar is commemorated on Epiphany with the other members of the Magi but in Catholicism, Balthazar's feast day is on 11 January.
In Continental European countries where the Magi are portrayed, because of St. Bede's description of him, Balthazar is often portrayed by a person in blackface in a tradition that dated back to the Middle Ages where dark skinned people were described as bringers of gold. In the 21st century, there have been a number of campaigns in Spain for a black person to play Balthazar rather than a person in blackface, which is problematic due to the tradition that local city Counselors play the role.
Also, others have indicated that the controversy of blackfacing has no historical support in Spain, indicating that until very recent times, in many Spanish populations there were no people of sub-Saharan origin, which motivated that in the cavalcades of Three Wise Men, King Balthazar (Balthazar (Magus)), who in traditional pictorial representations -from the Late Middle Ages- used to show himself as a black person (as an integrating or cosmopolitan graphic symbol, in the tradition that the "wise men" or "magicians" who worshiped Jesus in Bethlehem represented the peoples of the whole world), was usually represented by a person of white race made up in black to fit in with the traditional icon. In many Spanish towns that custom continues, and in others they are being Africans of origin who live in them who now represent this role in the cavalcades.