Perfumes have come a long way from their origins. While most contemporary scents are produced from synthetic materials, the original fragrances were a combination of plant or animal products and rich oils. Today, archaeologists continue to find evidence of perfume's use throughout the ancient world, often in the form of intricate perfume vessels.
Where Did Perfume Come From?
Perfumes and fragrances can be traced to multiple ancient cultures, most notably to the ancient Egyptian civilization. In fact, Egyptians associated their perfumes with the gods: The fragrances were considered to be the sweat of the sun god, Ra. Given the influences of ancient Egypt on the ancient Roman and Greek civilizations, the use of scents spread throughout the ancient world. Other ancient cultures, such as ancient Iranians and the ancient Chinese, also prized fragrances, though the Chinese used scent in the form of incense instead of perfumes to be worn.
What Was In Ancient Perfume?
Ancient perfume varied in many respects from modern fragrances. In ancient Egypt, frankincense, opopanax, and myrhh were used. Throughout ancient Africa, various scented oils were used as sun protection as well as for their smell. In Mesopotamia and Babylonia, favored scents included cedar, myrrh, frankincense, and cypress. Generally, oils were used as the "carriers" or fluids to take on the strong scents. In modern times, alcohol is usually used as a carrier. Most of the substances that were the source of scents were plant-based, ranging from flowers to resins and woods.
Why Was Perfume Used?
One purpose of perfume has remained the same, from ancient times to the present: Ancient populations were likewise attracted to appealing smells. In ancient Egypt, cleanliness was highly valued, and it was common to bathe daily or after each meal. Perfume was a further way of cleansing oneself. In ancient Greece, wearing a sweet-smelling fragrance was also considered to be pleasing to the gods. In addition, Greek medical thinkers of the time practiced an ancient form of aromatherapy, finding certain smells to improve health and vitality.
Who Wore Perfume?
Because perfume was a precious and costly substance, it was typically restricted to the wealthy. Royalty and clergy were most likely to use fragrance, a tendency that continued throughout ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and elsewhere. In ancient Greece, a person who was too poor to afford perfume might simply have a perfume bottle painted on their coffin, a tribute to the gods.