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December 29, 2021 8 min read

Most individuals wear perfume every day to mask their body odour, leave a good impression and please others. However, very few know the history of perfume or who even invented it. Luckily, that’s not a problem anymore, thanks to this article.

Here, we will take a trip down memory lane to discover the origin of perfume and how it spread throughout the world. Join us on this amazing journey.

When Was Perfume Invented?

The word perfume derives from the Latin phrase, “per” and “fumus”, which mean “thorough” and “smoke”, respectively. The art of perfume making and usage dates back 4000 years ago.

According to research, Ancient Egypt, Greek, Roman, and Mesopotamia Empire burned myrrh, frankincense, and other natural ingredients for several reasons. For instance, scents were important during religious ceremonies. Also, fragrances symbolised nobility.

Who Invented Perfume?

Based on clay tablets from early Mesopotamia, the first perfume maker was a chemist called Tapputi. She blended essential oils to create unique scents during the second millennium BC. Over the centuries, ancient cultures have found interesting ways of using fragrances.

Ancient Egyptian priests used scented oils blended with resins and flowers like lilies to sweeten the smell of sacrifices offered to their gods. Fragrances also played a crucial role in religious rituals.

In the past, only the upper classes used perfumes since the ingredients for making them were rare. As a result, the products were expensive. These nobles bathe and soaked their bodies in scented oil to smell good and appeal to others.

History of Parfume and Eau De Cologne

In Ancient Egypt

Perfume history starts in Egypt. Ancient Egyptians loved perfume so much that they even had a perfume god: Nefertem. They derived their fragrances by distilling ingredients, such as myrtle, resins, lilies, etc.

In Egypt, only the priests and the noble family enjoyed the benefits of perfume. As a fact, Queen Hatshepsut had a deep love for frankincense. She soaked her skin in frankincense-infused water. Another Egyptian queen who loved fragrances was Cleopatra.

When these nobles died, they got buried in their favourite fragrances. In fact, when archeologists opened the Pharaoh’s tombs in 1897, they found perfumes preserved in their original states.

Kyphi was an early perfume used in ancient Egypt for medical and religious purposes. It comprised sixteen ingredients, namely:

  • Resins
  • Honey
  • Sweat Rash
  • Juniper Berries
  • Myrrh
  • Cyperus
  • Calamus
  • Rush and others.

It’s said that Egyptians and even Greeks burned Kyphi to appease the gods, especially sun God Ra. They inscribed the recipe for this fragrance on the walls of Philae and Edfu temples.

In Ancient Greece and Rome

Perfume usage spread from Egypt to Greece and Rome, thanks to development of trade routes. The Greeks became the first individuals to create liquid perfumes. Not so long ago, archeologists uncovered a Greek perfumery in Cyprus that dates back to 2,000 BC. The factory produced flower-based scents like rosemary, lavender, and others. Greeks also documented the perfume-making process. The same applies to the Romans.

Perfume also had a significant influence on Roman civilisation. It transformed Rome from a tiny farming village to an Empire that extended to North Africa. Romans used perfume essence in several religious ceremonies and sacred rituals, including funerals, birth, wedding, etc. Besides that, Roman nobles and citizens loved bathing in scented water and covering themselves with ancient perfume.

Furthermore, perfume was the main trade product in ancient Rome. Every year, Romans imported approximately 2,800 and 500 tons of frankincense and myrrh, respectively. However, the popularity of perfume declined when Rome fell.

In Ancient Persia

Like the Romans, the Persians loved fragrances. The fall of the Roman empire allowed Persians to rule the perfume trade for hundreds of years. They were the first individuals to use steam distillation to produce perfume. Persians are also credited with inventing non-oil-based fragrances. They infused the oils with water to create liquid perfumes.

In Persia, perfume was a sign of nobility and political status. Popular Persian Kings, like King Xerxes had signature scents that no one else could own or use. Additionally, Persians used perfumes in purification ceremonies and even burials.

Persian alchemists and chemists loved documenting, experimenting with several fragrances, and improving the distillation processes. One of the most notable Islamic books on perfume–Book of The Chemistry of Perfume and Distillation- by Al-Kindi, documents hundreds of perfume ingredients and recipes. It also has information on perfume making equipment.

In Ancient India and China

Besides the Middle East, perfume usage spread to other ancient cultures, including India, China, and Japanese. In India, for example, fragrances played an integral role in religious rituals and various ceremonies held in temples.

Ancient Chinese and Japanese cultures provided the world with exotic spices, silk, and other commodities. But what stand out was their love for unique aromas. These cultures loved wearing perfume to mask body odours. They also infused various items like ink and other stationery with the same perfume.

Ancient Chinese applied fragrances to specific areas of their home and worship spaces. Additionally, they appreciated individuals who smelled nice. Most Chinese fragrances compose mainly of herbs and spices used most often as medication.

History of Perfume in Europe

The art of perfume making made its way to Europe with the help of the crusaders. They brought with them perfume making techniques and materials from as far as the middle east.

Perfumes had many uses in Europe besides helping to mask body odours resulting from poor hygiene practices. For example, doctors adored masks containing spices and scented oils during the bubonic plague to shield themselves from the illness.

Famous nobles like Catherine de Medici (she married a French King and developed her signature scent using bergamot and orange blossom) and Queen Elizabeth of Hungary loved rocking unique scents. They’re credited for helping to spread the popularity of perfume across Europe. During the reign of Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, all public spaces got scented with sweet aroma because the queen could not tolerate bad smells.

But perfume enjoyed huge success in the 17th century, during the renaissance. The are of making perfume leaped forward because of the improvement of distillation techniques and advancement in chemistry. Scientists began developing synthetic chemicals that mimic natural ingredients. That’s because the ingredients were becoming hard to source.

In the same century, an Italian barber living in the German City of Köln created Eau de cologne. Originally known as Aqua Admirabilis, cologne was usually used by men. It was also sold as miracle water that can cure and prevent any disease. Even Napoleon praised this fragrance.

Cologne gained lots of traction in France because it was a lighter version of the stronger scents produced in the country. Throughout the seventieth century and beyond, France remained the centre of perfumery. All thanks to the perfumed court of the King of France, Louis XIV.

The 19th century ushered in a new age for the western perfumery industry. Perfumeries began developing perfumes based on the taste and preferences of individuals. Perfumes were no longer extracted from a single flower fragrance. 

Scientists combined natural and synthetic ingredients to create extraordinary aromas never produced before. Chanel No5 became the first modern perfume. 

Today, the perfume market features lots of synthetic and natural products. However, natural products containing musk, citrus fruit extracts, flowers, or leaves tend to cost more because of the rare nature of their ingredients.

Early Perfume Making Process

Over the years, the process of making perfume has undergone some serious changes. The oldest perfumes consisted of scented materials placed in a small pouch. Today, a fragrance can comprise 16 distinct aromas blended and stored in perfume bottles in liquid form.

In the early ages, people created perfumes from ingredients like roots, leaves, tree bark, seeds, and flowers. Perfume making began in Mesopotamia. Later, the art spread to Egypt, Rome, Greek, Persia, and Europe.

Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks turned fragrant materials into natural oils through pressing and steaming. They later convert the oils into balms used for body anointing and in several religious rituals. They infused flowers and spices into oils to create unfamiliar scents.

These civilisations also extracted frankincense and myrrh from trees and made them into incense. Other ingredients used include extracts of lavender, citrus fruits, bay, pine, bergamot, almond, and anise. The Egyptians, Persians, and Romans developed trade routes, which allowed them to buy exotic aromas, herbs, and spices. 

Perfume Bottles 

As perfume gained popularity, so did perfume bottles. Initially, Egyptians crafted a perfume bottle from wood and clay. 

But over the years, glass bottles became the preferred storage option. Ancient Romans hollowed out precious stones to transport perfume.

The Greeks used terracotta sculpted into shells or animal forms to hold their fragrances. Even today, many perfumes get stored in beautifully coloured glass bottles.

Modern Perfumery: Extraction of Scented Oils

Companies making perfumes today still use the methods used in the past to make the first perfumes. The only difference is the techniques are improved or refined, resulting in better products. Distillation is perhaps the most popular method used to make perfumes in this modern world.

In steam distillation, perfumers extract essential oils from raw materials by boiling them in water. The oils from the natural material evaporate with the steam and get directed to a condenser. Once the steam cools down, the oil gets separated from the water.

A kilo of perfume oil needs hundreds if not thousands of flowers. This explains why a natural fragrance is quite costly. The fragrance essence gets diluted in an alcohol solution to reduce its evaporation rate. 

Next, the perfumer will transfer the blend into stainless steel or copper containers to allow waxy particles and resins to settle at the bottom before filtration. After that, the fragrance gets packaged based on the concentration of perfume oil it contains. According to fragrance concentrations, we have four classes, including:

  • Parfum–It’s the strongest fragrance with 20% to 50% of perfume essence. It also lasts longer and is expensive.
  • Eau de Parfum–contains approximately 15% to 20% of essential oils and is less costly compared to parfum.
  • Eau de toilette–Comes with a fragrance concentration of 5% to 15%.
  • Eau de Cologne - Has a lower concentration of oils, approximately 2% to 5%, and it’s affordable.

Due to the scarcity of natural materials used in perfume manufacture, most companies currently use synthetic compounds. Perfumers develop these compounds in the lab to mimic ingredients found in nature, like musk from beaver or deer. Sometimes lab-produced chemicals can create an entirely new scent.

Fragrances created by blending natural and synthetic ingredients often result in rich products, delivering several impressive and lasting scents and notes.

Uses of Perfume

Early Uses

Ancient civilisations used fragrance for several ceremonies, including birth, wedding, burial, etc. Some cultures burned incense to make their sacrifices sweet to appease the gods.

Ancient Chinese, Indians, and Egyptians bathed in fragrance-scented water to purify their bodies. The fragrance also helped purify the air and treat illness and sometimes mental issues.

Some cultures believed perfume could strengthen the body, enhance beauty, and prevent aging.

Modern World Uses

Enhance Mood

A liquid perfume with citrus scents and complex notes can lift your spirits. It can also reflect your moods, whether you’re feeling happy or reserved.

Trigger Good Memories

Certain sweet smells can trigger happy memories. Most people often associate a particular experience with a fragrance. It can be that happy vacation you took at the beginning of the year or your wedding event.

Boost Confidence

A spritz of your favourite perfume before an interview or meeting can help boost your confidence or personality.

Makes You Appealing

A great perfume will make people attracted to you. Some contain pheromones that make you attractive to the opposite gender.

Final Thoughts

From this piece, its clear perfume has a rich history. So, the next time you wear your signature fragrance, keep in mind the humble beginnings of ancient perfumers like Tapputi. Because of their work, we enjoy products that can boost our confidence, make us feel attractive, and improve our mood.

Hopefully, now you understand the history of perfume. Thank you for stopping by, and we hope to see you soon!