The Origins of Perfume


Perfume is poetic mastery of some of the most exotic scents in the world and the artful combination of each in just the right quantities. So, its a little bit of this and a little bit of that to produce the desired aroma and even though the ingredients in a bottle of Channel No.5 are identical, the responses that it invokes in individuals is by no means the same

Most people are under the impression that perfume originated in France, after all Paris is the  City of Love. But not true (to the perfume part anyway). The Egyptians beat them to it thousands of years before and their perfumes were used for religious ceremonies, burial rites and (most likely) to hide obnoxious smells eminating from the Hoi polloi. A big favourite among all the fragrances was from the Lily plant. They even had a God of Perfume called Nefertum, (“He Who is Beautiful” and the “Water-Lily of the Sun”) who wafted about the universe, wearing Blue Lotus blossoms on his head and very little else

Also, the richer you were, the more perfume you could afford to wear on your person and on your head. So that acted as a status symbol and elevated you within the ranks of high society. The whole perfumed cone thing is a bit peculiar. These cones were made of perfumed wax, oils or fat, which the Egyptians would wear on top of their hair pieces and wigs to parties, feasts and a couple of sacrifices thrown in for good measure. During the hot summer nights the wax would melt and release wonderful aromas and the moisturising oils from the actual wax. The oil in the hair bit was relevantly healthy (as we are still doing it today) but I cannot imagine warm sticky oil dripping down from anybody’s forehead as particularly desirable

It was only after the Greeks and more so the Romans who were out on their conquering sprees that encountered perfume from the Egyptian and Persian lands (where it also enjoyed quite a following) and when they started mass producing it, the ingredients and quantities became standard, so one bottle of Opium smelled exactly the same as another bottle of Opium and not like pig trotters. A perfume factory located in Cypress dating from 2,000 BC seemed to have specialised in the production of scents like coriander, laurel, myrtle, lavender, and rosemary (which is a personal favourite, right up there with Bergamot, which by the way, used to be the main ingredient of all perfumes, but more on that in another post)

From then onward, perfume started spreading around the world via traders (and probably a couple of Pirates too), but it was only in 1190 that perfume began to be commercially produced in France and and as they say, the rest is history

14 thoughts on “The Origins of Perfume

  1. Me again….
    My culture uses oil all the time and in ways foreign to my next door neighbor.
    I infuse oils for personal use. Last night I poured warm lavender oil on top of my head and let it run down my neck. It’s so relaxing. I massage it through my hair. As I do, I forget about the roots of perfumed oils. I don’t care about spice trade. I forget about my heritage. Those moments with warm oil take me to a beautiful, aromatic silky, wax-free nirvana.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love learning something new, even when it’s as “simple” as understanding the phrase Hoi polloi. Spell check keeps denying the phrase. Anyway, I love the art with this piece and can appreciate the Biblical significance of perfumes used as gifts and in burials. I think the Bible talks about different aromas all through it, which gave me a challenge to somehow experience as many as possible. I don’t /didn’t just want a quick whiff, I also want the back story. That challenge was joined by my desire to taste and collect tea from across the globe. In the tea, I have tasted the earth. I’ve tasted history as well as the very soul of those who toil to pick and package it. I love the history of leaves used as currency, in burials and on the tables of the Hoi polloi.
    What a joy to have read several of your entries today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment and input was spot-on (and appreciated).
      Unfortunately, as the “instant satisfaction generation” we have all become, we fail to take anything into consideration except the immediate gratification of whatever it is we are currently eating, smelling, using or wearing. Its not as though we don’t have time to question or ponder upon the origins (and in fact the journey) of stuff we consume, its because we no longer care. We have lost the “spiritual” connection (or whatever you wish to call it) with things such as tea, perfume, food, each other and most importantly, the earth


  3. The image conjured up by all the fancy people sitting around with perfume cones on their heads, melting, just sent me into convulsions of laughter. What a fascinating post!!!


  4. There’s something about such tales of trading, piracy and empire building in the classical times (East and West) that gets me all inspired to write… Keep posting these snippets of history, I love it! ❤


      1. Yes, the Spice route.. It’s magic! And the Silk Road … Jade and camel caravans, frankincense. Rubies and Genies 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

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