A History of Perfume: from Ancient Greece to the Arabic Countries

In our previous post, we have already established that the history of perfume dates back to the ancient world. The Egyptians employed fragrances as part of their religious ceremonials, believing that they could communicate with the gods by raising scented smoke. This is actually where fragrances were born. It was also the Egyptians that invented glass and later utilized it to store their perfumes.

Ancient Greece

The Phoenicians were the ones that introduced the world of perfume to the Greeks. In only a few centuries, the Greeks became the dominant nation in the trade of perfume. It is notable to mention the fact that most of the recipes and techniques the Greeks would use came from the Egyptians.

Perfume was so popular in Greece that its use became restricted in 640 BC when Solon decided too much perfume was actually a real waste. Although the sale of fragrances was restricted by law, Solon’s law wasn’t successful, as perfume remained the best sold product in Ancient Greece.

While the Greeks were those that categorized fragrances and kept a detailed record of their composition, it was the Persians that actually improved the art of preserving scent.

The art of perfumery in the early Middle Ages

It is interesting to note that, as Christianity spread, the use of perfume diminished throughout the European countries. This only lasted until the 12th century, when the routes for commerce opened to Asian countries and traders coming from the international routes would bring in more scents and spices. Perfume use revived, as it was a great addition to personal grooming. In those early days of fragrances, people often developed their own fragrances by mixing flowers, herbs, spices and oils in their own home. 

The Arabic worlds

After the rise of Christianity in Europe, the use of perfume in daily life became obsolete. However, the Arabs did preserve it. The followers of Mohammed mostly loved musk, but also roses and amber. They used to blend the substance even with the cement of which mosques were built. One of the largest discoveries originates from the 10th century, when the still was invented, as a consequence of which the distil techniques improved. Through the Spaniards and the crusaders the perfume arrived in Europe again. Catharina de Medici initiated the perfume industry when she left Italy in the 16th century and married the French crown prince. Suddenly everyone wanted gloves of perfumed leather. The best glove perfumers came from Grasse in France. Grasse developed in such a way that this became a leading perfume city, and still is important today


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