Origin of Fragrances : Through smoke…
Origin of Fragrances
Through smoke…
T.B., June 21, 2016
The word "perfume" is a derivative of the Latin word "parfumare" meaning "through smoke". The old ones of Egypt were useful of fumigations to honour their gods. They sought wood aromatic, grasses, roots, etc... to create perfumes. They burnt the famous incense called Kyphi, a very odorous mixture composed of the myrrh, Matsic tree, bays of juniper, seeds of fenugreek, pistachio and edible shoveler duck, the whole crushed and mixed with wine and a preparation cooked containing resin and of honey.

Perfumes/Égyptiennes 1300 B.C_Africa
Perfumes/Égyptiennes 1300 B.C_Africa


The archaeologists discovered frescos representing of the scenes of everyday life with the use of scented substances in Egypt. They also discovered mud with alabaster perfume, which go back to approximately 3 500 before J.C. The Egyptians manufactured ointments and essential oils for their religious practices and their personal uses. They applied them to their skin to fine cosmetics or therapeutic. The ointments were preserved in cups or mud out of alabaster. There were also small stone or ceramics bottles. One of the supreme pleasures of the Egyptian women was to place, on their head, of the small cones of greases and aromatic resins, which, while melting, scented their hair and their face.

Bust of Nefertiti_Ancient Egypt, 1360 B.C.
Bust of Nefertiti_Ancient Egypt, 1360 B.C.


The Greeks continued the Egyptian practices with new reported fragrances their voyages. They coated the body of oils and ointments during the bath. The Greeks scented the body of their dead and they buried them with personal objects of which a perfume bottle. The aryballes made it possible to spread the ointment on the skin. The Greek athletes coated the body with them before each test. The Romans, in their turn, granted a great place to the perfume. They made improvements as for the ingredients and developed the use at the time of the religious, funerary rites of it and of the daily practices. The Greeks thought that the perfumes possessed medicinal virtues. They consumed some with excess going until sprinkling some on the walls and the grounds of their house. A great innovation was the use of the container out of glass.

Perfumes/Maler der Grabkammer des Menna
Perfumes/Maler der Grabkammer des Menna


Oils and perfumes were used in Egypt even before unification around 3100 B.C. Although burials from the predynastic period were generally little more than shallow graves in the sand, the presence of grave goods indicates that the early Egyptians already believed in an afterlife. In addition to such essentials as food and drink, the dead were often buried with a range of cosmetics and the raw materials for their preparation. Perfumes made of resin, lime and oil have been discovered in predynastic graves, along with ingredients such as juniper and henna, oil-producing seeds and imported coniferous resins. One royal tomb at Abydos (circa 3,000 B.C.) contained jars complete with their original contents of coniferous resin mixed with plant oils and animal fats, and the excavators of another royal tomb at the site found the sandy floors saturated with perfumes to a depth of 1 meter (3 feet); the scent was so strong that it still pervaded the entire tomb.

Perfumes/Diffuseur of perfumes
Perfumes/Diffuseur of perfumes


This lavish use of perfumes in burials continued into the Old Kingdom, and numerous tomb scenes from this period show the tomb owners inhaling perfumes and flowers whose scent was thought sufficiently potent to restore their senses. The earliest evidence for massage also dates from this time: contemporary reliefs in tombs at Saqqara show both foot massage and reflexology, while scenes from the Temple of Niuserre show the king';s feet being massaged with oil. Tomb walls also portray scenes of perfume production and jars marked with the perfumes they contain, known as the Seven Sacred Oils: Festival Perfume, Hekenu Oil, Sefeti Oil, Nekhensem Oil, Tewat Oil, Best Cedar Oil and Best Libyan Oil. Listed in the Pyramid Texts, the oldest body of religious writings in the world, these oils appear on tomb walls, offering slabs, coffins and papryi. They were used in daily temple ritual, funerary rites, cosmetics and medicines, and although only the wealthy were likely to own a full set of oils, most people could afford at least one or two.

Perfumes/Unguentarium egyptian, 1323 BC
Perfumes/Unguentarium egyptian, 1323 BC


The Egyptians often travelled far afield to obtain the materials to make their oils and perfumes, and by the Middle Kingdom the myrrh imported from Punt - the region around present day Somalia - was added to the seven existing Sacred Oils. Perfume jars of this date from Dahshur still contain myrrh and pistacia resin, and a jar found in a tomb at el-Bersheh contained cedar resin that had been used to preserve the internal organs of the mummy. The use of such fragrant imports in mummification is referred to in literature of the time, one text bemoaning the state of the nation when supplies of the cedar and oils used in mummification had run dry.

Perfumes/Pellat_Cave  à parfums
Perfumes/Pellat_Cave à parfums


In the famous Middle Kingdom story of Sinuhe, the once-exiled courtier returns to a hero's welcome in Egypt. After being anointed with the best oil (instead of the inferior grease he had used when abroad) he is given a palace with choice perfumes in every room. Many of the raw materials for such perfumes including myrrh, ladanum, pistacia resin, cinnamon, perfumed oil and frankincense, were imported from Punt where they were imagined to be guarded by a huge golden serpent, the Lord of Punt. Fabled was this land of perfume that even its birds were said to be anointed with myrrh and have claws full of unguent.

Perfumes/Infusions Musc Tonkin & Castoreun
Perfumes/Infusions Musc Tonkin & Castoreun


Four hundred years later, scenes in the temple of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari recored a great trading expedition to the land of Punt to obtain the fragrang woods and resins used in temple rituals. The mission also took incense tree saplings back to Egypt: Thiry-one fresh 'antiuw' (resin) trees brought back as wonders of Punt are shown on the temple walls. Several of Hatshepsut's New Kingdom successors also attempted to import trees and plants. During his military campaigns to Syria and Asia Minor the great conqueror Tuthmosis III also found time to collect rare plants, which he sent back to Egypt to be planted in the gardens of Karnak temple; the relief scenes recording these exotic plants are regarded as the oldest herbal in the world. Such temple gardens supplied the millions of flowers, herbs and spices used in rituals, medicines and perfume production; At Amarna, traces of almonds were found along with imported jars of resin and quantities of incense at the city's temple sites.

Perfumes/Albâtre et verres
Perfumes/Albâtre et verres


The funerary uses of perfumes and oils also continued into the New Kingdom. The burial of the young pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes was accompanied by huge quantities of perfumes, oils, incense, flowers and herbs - his mummy was doused in sacred perfumes, swathed in floral garlands and surrounded by jars originally containing over 350 litres (77 gallons) of perfume! On the back of the golden throne found in the tomb is a massage scene involving the king and his wife Ankhesenamun.

Many perfume ingredients were still imported. At Amarna, bulk imports of scented resins were found inside Canaanite amphorae, and a number of other oils and perfumes were imported from Cyprus, Asia Minor, Babylon and the Kadesh region. Scenes on the walls of the hypostyle hall of Seti I at Karnak temple depict conquered Asiatics extracting cedar resin for export to Egypt, and Seti himself announced how he had conquered southern lands in order to bring the gods' tribute of gum and myrrh and cinnamon and all the pleasant sweet wood of Punt.


Perfumes/Monoi Coco Banane_M.
Perfumes/Monoi Coco Banane_M.


Before setting out on campaign the army itself was anointed with imported perfumes, while a contemporary text also refers to the young men of the city in festive attire every day with sweet oil upon their heads. Even workmen received regular supplies of ointment for anointing their heads every week: the first recorded strike in history occurred during the reign of Rameses III (1165 B.C.) when supplies of oil to the tomb builders in the Valley of the Kings were interrupted. The same king was rather more generous in his donations to the temples, however, importing incense trees and vast quantities of cinnamon, offering floral bouquets by the million and planting oliver groves to supply the temples with lamp oil.

Italian Cypress_Tom Ford
Italian Cypress_Tom Ford


The use of oils and perfumes continued down the centuries and perfume jars containing resins and oils have been found in tombs of the Late Period. The Greek poet Homer stated that Egypt was a fertile land rich in herbs; his fellow countryman Herodotus, visiting Egypt in c.450 B.C., also commented on the use of perfumes and spices when he wrote that the myrrh and cinnamon used in mummification at that time were obtained from Arabia, where it was apparently guarded by mythical creatures. A century or so later another Greek writer, Theophrastus, stated in his work Concerning odors that Egyptian perfumes were undoubtedly the best in the world, relating that one Greek perfume merchants had Egyptian perfume in his shop for eight years….and it was still in good condition, in fact better than fresh perfume!. In the 4th century B.C., the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty established their new capital at Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast. By this time many perfume ingredients, including frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon, galbanum and cardamom were being imported from as far away as India and Alexandria soon became the greatest trading center of the ancient world.

The Ptolemies also continued pharaonic traditions in their lavish use of perfumes. The great temples they built to honor their adopted gods at Edfu and Dendera included perfume laboratories where the ritual perfumes and ever-increasing varieties of incense were produces, and in the perfume factories of Alexandria materials imported from Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Asia Minor and India were comb imbed with native products to produce oils and perfumes which were then exported, mainly to Rome.

Tabac Blanc, Caron
Tabac Blanc, Caron


Cleopatra VII, the last of the Ptolemies, was reputed to have used a different perfume for every part of her body - her perfumed hand cream alone was said to cost the exorbitant sum of 400 denarii. However, since she owned the huge and valuable estates which produced the perfumes in the first place she could easily afford such luxuries and obviously used them to great effect: Shakespeare, writing 1600 years later, recalls how the perfumed breeze announced the arrival of her cedar wood ship with its lily-scented sails. So adept was Cleopatra in the dramatic use of perfumes that she was credited with writing a Book of Beautification in 50 B.C. and was regularly quoted by Roman authors as late as the seventh century.

Chanel number Five
Chanel number Five


In fact, Rome was the main market for the highly lucrative Egyptian perfume industry, even with the taxes and duty levied on imports of frankincense. Perfume dealers had to pay taxes of 60 drachmae a month or the equivalent in spices, but so lucrative was the trade that perfume merchants were still rumored to make a hundredfold profit. In his book Natural History, the Roman Pliny the Elder echoed the comments of earlier Greek writers when he stated that Egypt was the country best suited to perfume production, while his contemporary Discords gave detailed recipes for perfumes in his Herbal. Roman poets such as Ovid also wrote on the subject of perfumes, and the female poet Lais composed a risqué work designed for a special class of woman! Although unaware of the religious and mystical overtones of many of the Pharaonic

Idole Armani
Idole Armani


fragrances, Lais did at least understand the Egyptians’ appreciation for the sensual uses of perfumes, and it was only with the sanctimonious attitude to the body demonstrated by the early Christians that the Egyptian art of perfumery was finally lost. Pagan habits of indulgence and luxury were forbidden and abstinence was made a virtue: the faint wisp of incense permitted in church was soon the only memory of the billowing clouds once offered daily at every shrine in Egypt. We owe with Arabic the invention of the still, which allowed, of course, improving the distillation of the plants. They discovered new odorous substances whose musk and developed the use of the perfume. In occident, the use of the perfumes was slowed down by the cruel wars and invasions...


Miss Dior Chérie
Miss Dior Chérie


Prada_Eau Ambrée
Prada_Eau Ambrée


Perfumes/YSL
Perfumes/YSL


Flower by Kenzo
Flower by Kenzo


Kenzo Power
Kenzo Power