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The Origins of the perfume

The Origins of the perfume

The word "perfume" is a derived from the Latin word "parfumare" meaning "through smoke".

The ancients Egypt were using fumigation to honor their gods. They were looking for aromatic woods, herbs, roots, etc. ... to create perfumes. They were burning the famous incense called Kyphi, a mixture extremely fragrant composed of myrrh*, of lentisk*, juniper berries, fenugreek seeds, pistachio and comestible galingale, all crushed and mixed with wine and a cooked preparation resin and honey.

Archaeologists have discovered frescoes depicting scenes of daily life with the use of fragrant substances. They also discovered alabaster perfume vases dating from about 4000 BC

The Egyptians were making ointments* and essential oils for their religious practices and for their personal uses. They applied them on their skin for cosmetic or therapeutic purposes. Ointments were stored in buckets or vases of alabaster. There were also small bottles of ceramic or stone.

One of the supreme pleasures of Egypt was placing on their heads, small cones of fat and aromatic resins which, on melting, perfumed their hair and face.

The Cones of fat melt and perfumed
head women of ancient Egypt.

Alabaster ointment pot.
Egypt’s old Kinddom 3000 BC

Greenstone ointment pot, Egypt’s
middle Kingdom 2200 - 1600 BC
hieroglyph showing a Egyptian holding the small cup
Ointment pot

The Greeks continued the Egyptian practices with new scents brought from their travels. They coated the body of oils and ointments during the bath.

The Greeks scented the bodies of their dead and they buried with personal items including a perfume bottle. The aryballoi* allowed to spread the ointment on the skin. The Greek athletes rubbed on the body before each event.

In their turn, the Romans allowed a great place to perfume. They brought improvements in key ingredients and developed the use in religious rituals, funeral and daily practices. The Greeks believed that perfumes possessed medicinal properties. They used it to excess up to sprinkle on the walls and floors of their homes. A major innovation was the use of the glass container.

Glass bottle with double heads
blown in Rome at the end of the first,
second century AD.

Glass bottle with parallel gadroons
Dating from the second
or third century AD.

We owe it to Arab, the invention of the still, which allowed, of course, improving the distillation of plants. They discovered new odorous substances whose musk and developed the use of perfume.

In the West, the use of perfumes was slowed by wars and barbarian invasions.

° °

*Lentisk : Resinous exudation of a small tree, the Pistacia Lentiscus.

*Myrrh : Gum resin harvested from shrubs of Commiphora myrrha.

*Ointments : Ointments are fats, oils etc.

*Aryballoi : Bottle terracotta rounded and very wide brim, from Antiquity.

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