The history of perfumes.

Today we talk about the history of perfumes. In my first post about learning about perfumes for dummies I told you everything you need to know about notes. Today I am going to talk about the history of perfumes. There is a lot to tell about the background of perfume making, but to me it’s not that interesting. I wanted to learn more about why people used perfumes, what the perfumes included and how they stored it.


The oldest perfumes were found in Egypt inside graves. (3100 BC). And were made of resin from pines and vegetable oils. There were temples that included a perfume workspace. And there also were recipes on how to make perfume written in hieroglyphs. These were found in Edfou and Philae.

A very famous way of making perfume in ancient Egypt is called: Kyphi. This way of making perfume contains the most important ingredients form that period of time. Mirr, Mastic, Juniper Berry, Fenugreek, Pistache, and Almond. All these ingredients were pulverized and sieved. The powder was mixed with wine and a mixture of cooked pine resin and honey. People used animal fat or plant oils to absorb the resin. Pure alcohol did not exist in that time. Pigments and herbs were added to the blend. That later on also was used as a medicine.



The word ‘perfume’ comes form the Latin word ‘per fumus’. It means ‘trough smoke’. The Greek people used perfume in a lot more different ways. Besides the religious usage perfume, the Greeks also used scents in their daily routine. Like using oils in a bath, or as skincare. Even death people were perfumed. The aryballos (a perfume bottle) was placed into the coffin and went into the grave together with the dead person.


In Italy, people saw the perfume salesman as a healer or pharmacist. The people of the Roman Empire really appreciated perfume. Julius Caesar was against the use of exotic scents. People that did not listen were punished!


In Syria happend something that really changed the storage of perfume. Glassblowing was invented, and this is where people started to put their perfumes into glass flacons.

Arabic world

When Christianity became more popular, the usage of perfume in the middle east became less prominent. Even the religious usage went away. The Arabs and the Persian people tried to keep the usage of perfume alive due to their business in herbs, spices and the invention of the alambiek. (Vase) That created better distillation techniques. After the fall of the Roman Empire, perfume completely disappeared.

A Pomander

12th century

But things started to change. People started going to big universities in larges cities. This is where they learned more about perfume production together with great alchemists. The hygienic aspect of perfume and seduction started to be more appreciated by then. Homes were sprayed with scents. Also a new perfume holder was created, the pomander.

The pomander was used to keep the oils of musk, amber, resin and perfumed oils. Trough the holes of the pomander the scent is spreading in the air. The people in that time believed that the damps of this perfume contained power and helped reducing the pest and other diseases. It would support the intestines, the female organs, and the male potential.


Venice was the perfume capital of the world. Most spices from the far east were traded there. Arabic boats arrived with cinnamon, ginger, saffron and cardamom. Even Ceylon from India, and other spiced from China and Malaysia. Marco Polo brought pepper , nutmeg and clove with him to Venice.


In the 2nd half of the 14th century , liquid perfumes based on alcohol and ethical oils started to became popular. These perfumes got the name “perfume water”. During the 15th century America was discovered and Venice lost the name of perfume capital. Portugal and Spain also extended the perfume industry with vanilla, cocoa, tobacco and cinnamon. In the 16th century The Netherlands took an important place in the perfume industry because they not only cared about business but also about agriculture.

4711 La Veritable Eau de Cologne4During the 18th century ‘Eau de Cologne’ was invented. This is where things started to speed up. This refreshing water consisted of neroli, orange blossom, bergamot, rosemary and lemon. The name of this perfume was 4711 and was used in many ways. Bathwater, mouthwash, injections and even in wine.

The 19th century.

The industry and the art world changed. So did the perfume industry. Under the leadership of Karel X , people perfumes themselves in Dame Blanche or Troubadour. During the emperorship of Napoleon and Eugenie, the taste of heavy scents was introduced by the usesage of patchouli. But perfumes decided it was time for more lighter scents …

The French city of ‘Grasse’ became the bigger production centre in the perfume world. Especially in jasmin, roses and orange trees.

The next episode of ‘learning about perfumes for dummies’ will be about the city of Grasse in particular.

Thank you guys for reading,

Much love!




Author: FragrancyKim

The first Dutch perfume blog written by a girl. My name is Kim and I run the perfume blog Fragrancy. Fragrancy was born on April the 15th. I was looking for a place online to share my love for perfumes with other people. Besides this blog I work as a fulltime teacher.

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