The word perfume comes from the Latin "per fume" which means "through smoke". This is appropriate since the earliest fragrance products in recorded history were the burning of aromatic herbs and incense during religious ceremonies. Eventually fragrances were incorporated for other purposes such as scenting our bodies and homes. The fragrance product industry as a whole produces more than ten billion dollars in sales each year today.
Egyptians were the first people to really introduce fragrance into the popular culture of the times. During the time of the Queen of Sheba, it became standard to include burning incense at funeral ceremonies to honor the dead. Soon scents were incorporated into other religious ceremonies and filtered out to the secular world as well. Egyptians valued all fragrances and they were a commodity worth more than gold at that time.
The people of Egypt anointed their bodies with cinnamon and honey and other scents. Many scents were brought to Egypt through being imported from Arabia, Persia and India. These fragrances were more rare and therefore more costly. Naturally certain fragrances were only available to the rich so scents became a symbol of power and wealth.
Egyptians became experts at distilling fragrance from plants and spices. Many temples show paintings depicting people extracting scents from flowers like the Madonna lily. One of the natural scents found in Egypt was kyphi which was very important in that time. This scent was found by archaeologists even in King Tut's tomb all those centuries after his burial.
Royalty in Persia had crowns decorated with fragrant plants like myrrh and labyzuz. Jasmine, lilac, violets and roses were grown in the gardens of the wealthy. Methods of distillation were used so that the powerful could be recognized by their scents when they were out in the city. Persians were early masters of preservation and sealed rose buds in pottery jars for later use on special occasions.
After defeating Darius III of Persia, use of fragrance was introduced to Greece by Alexander the Great. He scented his clothes and sprinkled scented water on the floors of his palaces. The Greeks studied perfumes and left detailed written records about which plants provided the various scents used in different ceremonies. They believed that fragrances were from the gods and scents were used in most of their religious rites. Even their recreation was accented by fragrances when athletes were given necklaces of flowers upon winning.
Current scientific research confirms what many have thought for years about the power of scents. Aromatherapy is the use of scent in affecting how we feel and is all the rage. From lavender which can soothe to peppermint for invigoration, you can find a smell to suit your needs. With synthetic scent creation and mass production methods, fragrance products are no longer just for the wealthy.
As you can see, fragrance products of one kind or another have been used since the beginnings of civilization. Our culture today seems obsessed with fragrance in every area. Scented soaps, detergents, dryer sheets, powders and air fresheners are just a few of the many ways we use aroma in our daily lives. Obviously, fragrance products are here to stay and probably will be here until the end of time.
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