The history of perfume: origin, use, and production.

Jun 12, 2017

The history of perfume: origin, use, and production.

Today perfumes are widely used. We are surrounded by a huge collection of fragrances, making our lives more vivid and sensational. What is more, we tend to judge people’s character and personality by the perfume. 

However, today’s perfumes are very different from their “ancestors”. 

The history of perfumes is a reflection of the history of the human being. What does it mean? It means that the use of the perfumes was tightly related to the beliefs and customs of society in the past. This precious liquid has been used as a protection against diseases, as part of religious rituals, as a declaration of love, as a medicine, as a means of exchange and trade. 

Origin of the name: the word “perfume” has a Latin origin and means “through smoke”. The name itself speaks volumes about the early use of perfumes.  The origin goes back to the early religious rituals, which were accompanied by smoke from burning herbs and incense. In fact, it was the fragrant smoke which ancient people referred to as perfume. 

Origin and Use of Perfumes

People have applied fragrances and oils on their bodies since ancient times. The Egyptians are known for their tendency to use oils, especially during the ceremonies related to lovemaking, celebrations and of course mummifications. The oils derived from different plant sources such as roses, peppermint, lavender and other popular for that time herbs and flowers. Queen Cleopatra is the most famous example of how effective perfumes are when it comes to seducing the opposite sex. She was known for wearing oils and different fragrances on her body to attract lovers. 

How did they use the perfumes? Because the perfumes at that time actually were kinds of oils people rubbed them on the skin, making it soft and oily. Oils had the power to smooth the skin, but also to make the person relaxed. That old use of the perfume is preserved. Today’s massages, aromatherapies, and other spa procedures have a lot in common with the old traditions and customs.  

The oldest perfumes

Do you know where were discovered the oldest perfumes? According to archeological studies and discoveries, the answer is in Cyprus. There they found a tablet more than three thousand years old presenting a woman with perfume. 

The Egyptians had a major contribution to the development of the perfume. The earliest use of perfume bottles also took place in Egypt.  

Persian and Arab people had a lot to do with the history of the perfume. They contributed to the production and the distribution of the perfumes. 

However, there was a period when the use of the perfume was limited. It was during the Dark Ages, because Christianity considered the use of fragrance a part of Pagan customs.

However, during the 16th century among the upper classes and nobles in France, the fashion of perfumes returned with huge success.

Why Were Perfumes so popular?

In ancient Egypt, perfumes were associated with cleanliness which was very important. After having a bath, Egyptians used oils to make their bodies smell and look better. What about  Greece? Why did Greek people wear fragrances? They thought that by wearing perfumes, they would make the Gods more sympathetic. 

The ancient Greeks were also famous for their dexterity in preparing perfumes. They used olives which after pressing derived oil and then other ingredients such as herbs and flowers were added. Then they would wait until the divine scent is ready. 

In ancient Persia, it was common a member of the royalty to be pictured with a bottle of perfume because the liquid revealed high rank and fortune. 

Were Perfumes widely used?

Of course not. What is more, the perfume was a symbol of wealth and higher social status. Only nobles and royalty wear oils and fragrances. After all the valuable liquid cost a lot and it was of no use to the poor who spent their lives in labouring. 

In China perfume was also associated with purity and cleanness. First perfumes were used as an essential part of ceremonies where scents were derived by burning some fragrant materials. Spices and exotic flowers often were the main ingredients of the fragrances to shoo away evil spirits. 

How did perfumes turn into a necessity?

How perfumes became popular all around the world? The answer is by trade. The portable fragrances were among the most precious goods in the Middle Ages. At that time perfumes started to improve their consistency. It was believed that the first alcohol-based perfume had been created in honor of the Queen of Hungary.

Perfumes in Italy and France     

These are the countries where perfume production was and still is at its peak. So it is not a surprise that the production of perfumes was very popular in medieval Italy. A lot of discoveries were made at that time as a result of which Italy has turned into a center of the world perfume production and distribution. Catherine de Medici is famous for her passion for perfumes, and she was even suspected of killing people by poison perfumes. That, of course, is unlikely. The reason she was suspected was because for her wedding a perfume maker made a special perfume for her accompanied by a pair of gloves. 

Venice the cradle of perfumery

Venice was a centre for trade, where explorers and traders would bring different spices, herbs, and scents. Italians had only to blend them. Soon after that, the first boutiques opened offering exquisite fragrances.

The perfume in the today‘s world 

What about nowadays? The market is full of fragrances. Ladies have at least three different perfumes, and the role of the perfume as a signature of an individual is no longer applicable. The path of the perfume is really interesting. The perfume has undergone a lot of improvements throughout the years until now when it‘s quality is at a top level and after all the years and changes it still serves the same needs and is still a necessity that we cannot live without.