Roman Perfume Bottle

Roman Perfume Bottle

Our Pungent History: Sweat, Perfume, and the Scent of Death

Consider the sweet, intoxicating smell of a rose: While it might seem superficial, the bloom’s lovely odor is actually an evolutionary tactic meant to ensure the plant’s survival by attracting pollinators from miles away. Since ancient times, the rose’s aroma has also drawn people under its spell, becoming one of the most popular extracts for manufactured fragrances. Although the function of these artificial scents has varied widely—from incense for spiritual ceremonies to perfumes for fighting illness to products for enhancing sex appeal—they’ve all emphasized a connection between good smells and good health, whether in the context of religious salvation or physical hygiene.

“People felt that eliminating all these smells was the single most effective way to improve public health.”

Over the last few millennia, as scientific knowledge and social norms have fluctuated, what Westerners considered smelling “good” has changed drastically: In today’s highly deodorized world, where the notion of “chemical sensitivity” justifies bans on fragrance and our tolerance of natural smells is ever diminishing, we assume that to be without smell is to be clean, wholesome, and pure. But throughout the long and pungent history of humanity, smelling healthy has been as delightful as it has disgusting.

The desire to surround ourselves with ambrosial fragrances can be directly traced to the unavoidably rank smell of unwashed humans, and to get to the root of body odor, you have to start with sweat. According to journalist Sarah Everts, who’s conducted extensive research on the science of perspiration, human sweat by itself typically barely smells at all. “The problem is that bacteria living on our body like to eat some of the compounds that come out in our sweat,” she says. Eccrine glands all over the body and apocrine glands found mostly in the armpit and genital areas secrete various compounds that are consumed by bacteria, which in turn release molecules with a smell we recognize as body odor. “In particular, it’s one kind of bacteria called Corynebacterium, and they make a molecule which is really a top note of human body odor,” Everts says. “It’s called trans-3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid.”

Top: A Mum deodorant advertisement from the 1920s captures the beginning of the modern deodorized era. Above: This Egyptian relief carving illustrates the making of lily perfume, circa 2500 B.C. Via Wikimedia.

Of course, humans were unaware of such compounds throughout most of recorded history, which is why the first efforts to smell civilized consisted of smothering the odors with more favorable scents. “The ancient Egyptians applied concoctions made of ostrich eggs, tortoise shell, and gallnuts to help improve their personal body pong,” Everts says. Fragrances made during this time were often worn on the head, neck, and wrists as thick pastes or oil-based salves incorporating ingredients from fragrant plants like cardamom, cassia, cinnamon, lemongrass, lily, myrrh, and rose. One of the most complex and well-known Egyptian perfumes was kyphi, a mixture made up of 16 ingredients that was used in religious ceremonies but also to treat lung, liver, and skin ailments.

Besides direct application on the skin, Egyptians burned fragrances as incense and developed jewelry that incorporated scented materials, a tradition still practiced by cultures throughout northern Africa. Hieroglyphics also depict men and women wearing small cones above their wigs, which are believed to have been made of perfumed wax and animal fats.

A Roman perfume flask made from banded agate, circa late 1st century B.C.–early 1st century A.D. Via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Today, we know that humans can smell essential oils in extremely miniscule amounts—early alchemists believed these concentrated extractions were a spiritual embodiment of nature, sort of like a plant’s soul. For centuries, such botanical essences were distilled via two primary methods: “maceration,” meaning plant material was pressed to remove oils and then ground into powders or pastes, or the more complicated method of “enfleurage,” in which leaves or petals were placed in a thin layer of fat, which absorbed the plant’s essential oils.

In ancient Greece and Rome, aromatic spices and perfumes gained traction as coveted luxury goods, spreading along trade routes between the Mediterranean and the Middle East. “From the moment people start to trade internationally, migrate, and cross borders, you encounter references to foreign scents,” says Jonathan Reinarz, a professor of medical history who published a book called Past Scents: Historical Perspectives on Smell in 2014. “Travel literature is saturated with references to smell. You can imagine in every new market that people entered in Africa or Europe or Asia, they’d smell something they didn’t recognize, but were nevertheless still quick to judge.”

John Singer Sargent painted the Moroccan-inspired “Fumee d’Ambre Gris,” or “Smoke of Ambergris,” in 1880, long after the substance had become popular in the West for its aromatic qualities. Via the Clark.

Though travelers often had instinctive negative reactions to such foreign smells, many exotic herbs were becoming desirable, stimulating a global scent market. The earliest known perfumeries date to the Roman Empire, a rare period when it was normal to bathe daily, both as a social custom and for religious purposes. Following a soak, the body was typically anointed with scented oils, and these salves were sometimes carried in small bottles tied around the wrist.

Early fragrance concoctions incorporated floral scents like jasmine, rose, iris, lavender, violet, or chamomile, as well as spicy smells from natural materials such as yellow amber, camphor, and cloves. Perfumes derived from animals included civet (from civet cats), musk (found in musk deer), or ambergris (a secretion of the sperm whale). As a bonus, these animal scents were also thought to be natural aphrodisiacs.

Before the ability to suspend natural essences in alcohol, aromatic oils were prone to go rancid if not protected from heat, so most products were designed for immediate use by local customers. However, complex scents weren’t only intended for applying directly to the body: Scented powders made from talc were carried within fabric sachets, hardened pastes were made into beads and worn as jewelry, and garments were sewn from fabrics steeped in perfume.

By the 5th century A.D., scented oils and incense had become entwined with religious rituals across Europe, including those of Judaism and Christianity, even though such indulgences were previously shunned for their Pagan roots. In part, the mixing of various social classes at public worship spaces meant that everyone brought their own particular smells, and incense helped to mask the God-fearing funk. “In Katherine Ashenburg’s book, The Dirt on Clean, she wrote that Catholic priests were so overwhelmed by the stench of their worshipers that they would avidly burn incense to counteract the worshipers’ body odor,” Everts says.

Even while the clergy were exalting religious incense, they sometimes derided perfume as a sinful, decadent indulgence. For several centuries, many Christians rejected bathing for its connection to the sin of pride or vanity, which explains, if only in part, why they were seen as dirty and malodorous by the rest of the developed world. “With the emergence of Christianity, the whole meaning of smell changes and the vocabulary expands,” Reinarz says. “There were frequent references to the early saints with the devout often saying that, when these first martyrs died, their bodies had emitted fragrant scents. The problem, of course, is that when the scent industry started to develop, anybody could smell like a saint, so the religious language changed and instead of talking about the smell of a saint, people began to focus on detecting the false odors of sanctity—since even the harlot or prostitute could now buy perfume and wear these ‘sacred’ scents.”

Left, a 17th-century jar inscribed with “Mesue’s French Musked Lozenges of Aloes Wood” (in Latin) held lozenges made from aloe wood, ambergris, and musk to be taken for health purposes and to freshen the breath. Via the Wellcome Library, London. Right, a 1785 painting of a Turkish bath by Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier.

While Christians preferred not to wash (the ritual cleansing of hands and feet being a rare exception), Islamic communities kept the tradition of bathing alive and well. In the eastern part of the Byzantine Empire, Roman bathing customs evolved into the hamam, or Turkish bath. Around the 11th century, the return of Crusaders brought the hamam tradition back to Europe along with scented treasures like musk and civet.

At the time, most household soaps were rough and smelled like the ash and animal fats they were made from, so were rarely used on the skin. But during the medieval period, Middle Eastern inventors developed better formulas incorporating vegetable oils that were more gentle on the body, and soap-making became the primary application for perfumes.

By the 13th century, chemists had mastered the art of distilling, whereby a natural specimen is boiled along with water and the evaporating substance—a combination of water and essential oils—is captured and separated during the cooling process. Inventors combined these essential oils with alcohol to create the stable, quick-drying perfume that we know today. The first major alcohol-based fragrance was a late 14th-century rosemary perfume known as Hungary Water, since it was designed for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary.

This woodcut engraving from the mid-16th century depicts the process of distilling essential oils from plants with a conical condenser. Via the Wellcome Library, London.

By this time, most of Europe’s public bathhouses had been closed due to the bubonic plague, which killed more than a third of the population. Without a scientific understanding of germs, people believed that diseases like the plague were contagious through the air. “Before germ theory, there was the widely held belief in miasma or malaria,” which Reinarz says described unhealthy or disease-causing odors. “Today, of course, we associate malaria with a specific disease, but if you take the literal Latin translation ‘mal-aria,’ it’s bad air, which was thought to impact dramatically on people’s health and even create epidemics.”

The distinctive beaked mask worn by plague doctors was filled with aromatic substances supposed to prevent them from catching the illness, as seen in this illustration, circa 1656. Via Wikimedia.

Thus the stinking smell of sickness was fought with the sweet scent of other aromatics. “Specific diseases, like plague, believed to be conveyed by impure or corrupt air were frequently countered by building bonfires in public spaces and, in private, by burning incense or inhaling perfumes such as rose and musk,” Reinarz says. Doctors tending patients with the plague adopted a gas-mask style facial covering with a curved beak over the nose and mouth containing sweet-smelling substances to ward off the disease. Small bouquets of herbs and flowers called posies, nosegays, or tussie-mussies became popular accessories carried to overcome the stench of death.

In their book, Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell, Constance Classen, David Howes, and Anthony Synnott detail other fragrant methods used to protect one’s health: “Municipal authorities had bonfires of aromatic woods burnt in the streets to purify the atmosphere. Individuals fumigated their homes with, among other things, incense, juniper, laurel, rosemary, vinegar, and gunpowder. Even burning old shoes was thought to help, while, for added olfactory protection, some families kept a goat in the house.”

Today, we know that some of the odors used to overpower this miasma of illness were unhealthy pollutants, like the coal smoke of 18th and 19th centuries. “Coal burning was seen as an antidote to all the bad smells that accumulated in urban centers,” Reinarz says. “People at the time more likely thought, ‘Thank goodness we live in a manufacturing city where all of these chimneys belching out smoke are disinfecting the air.’”

A tiny, ornately decorated scent bottle meant for carrying on a chain, circa 16th century. Via the Museum of London.

Meanwhile, the true antidote to major epidemics—better hygiene via bathing and handwashing—was unattainable as long as most Europeans believed that bathing was dangerous to one’s health. In the 15th and 16th centuries, prominent scientists helped spread the falsehood that water’s ability to soften skin and open pores actually weakened the flesh, making it more susceptible to the foul smells of sickness. With this in mind, the few who did bathe regularly often took special precautions, like anointing the body with oil and wrapping themselves in a scented cloth immediately afterward.

Instead, layers of linen clothing and undergarments were thought to cleanse the body by absorbing its oils and smells, and clothing was believed to be much safer to wash than the skin. Hair could be rubbed with aromatic powders and bad breath was improved by chewing pungent herbs.

With its growing wealth and powerful trading ties to the East, Venice led Europe in the adoption of perfumed goods, especially devices to be carried or worn on the body that would mask unseemly odors. One popular form was the pomander, a word that came from the French phrase “pomme d’ambre” or “apple of amber,” referring to the ambergris often contained in the spherical pendants. While the original pomanders were simply fruits like oranges studded with cloves, the term eventually described a pendant made from precious metals with several small compartments for different fragrances.

This spherical pomander opens into separate compartments for different scents, circa early 17th century. Via the Victoria & Albert Museum.

As animal essences fell out of favor and more refined herbal or floral scents became trendy, France came to dominate the international perfume industry. One of its most popular fragrances was Eau du Cologne, a recipe originally produced as protection against the plague, which included rosemary and citrus essences suspended in a grape-based spirit.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the French aristocracy took perfumery to a new level, installing scented fountains at their dinner parties and making their own custom essences, sometimes wearing a different perfume each day of the week. In France, perfume also became closely linked with leather goods, as tanneries used them to cover the strong odors of chemicals used in the tanning process. Leather gloves infused with Neroli, an orange-blossom fragrance, were one of the country’s most successful products.

Small scent boxes designed to hold liquid perfumes eventually replaced pomanders as the fragrant accessory of the moment. Called “smelling boxes,” “pouncet boxes,” and, later, “vinaigrettes,” these decorative perforated cases held small sponges or fabric swatches soaked with alcohol- or vinegar-based fragrances hailed for their medicinal qualities, which worked to defend against unpleasant odors encountered on city streets. Other vinaigrettes contained a mixture of smelling salts, an ammonia-based inhalant used since ancient times to revive people who were feeling faint.

An agate-topped silver vinaigrette with an engraved interior grill, circa 1857.

In the late 18th century, vinaigrettes were often attached to chatelaines, which held utilitarian objects from small chains and typically attached at the waist of a woman’s dress. While not as popular, other forms of jewelry were also adapted to the perfume craze, including necklaces with pendant flacons of liquid fragrance and perfume rings with tiny hidden compartments for storing scented powders or pastes.

Yet even with access to all manner of perfumes, wealthy people often still stunk. “Descriptions of Versailles by a lot of people visiting the court of Louis XVI and his bride Marie Antoinette just before the revolution are really striking,” Reinarz says. “They described it as a stinking cesspit where everyone was relieving themselves in the corridors and even the ballrooms.”

This 1866 political cartoon by George John Pinwell plays on epidemiologist John Snow’s work linking London cholera outbreaks to contaminated water.

During the French Revolution, clothing styles shifted towards simpler silhouettes, fewer layers, and lighter fabrics made from cotton, which could also be more easily washed. Bathing had finally come back in vogue, as doctors now believed that accumulated filth prevented the body from releasing corrupt fluids. Despite concerns of sexual impropriety, bidets began appearing in the homes of the wealthy. By the end of the 18th century, chemists had also developed a way to produce soap using soda ash made from salt, avoiding the use of timber ash and resulting in soaps that were harder, milder, and less offensive-smelling. Meanwhile, steamboat trade allowed the soap market to expand and made it easier to import olive-oil-based soaps.

Outbreaks of cholera in the mid-1800s, like the 1854 London epidemic studied by Dr. John Snow, pointed to the importance of clean water and inspired cities across Europe to improve their sanitation practices by expanding access to fresh water, systemizing garbage disposal, and constructing new sewer systems to remove excrement, which were particularly beneficial to the lower classes. Some also focused their efforts on building new public baths, as was encouraged by Britain’s Baths and Washhouses Act of 1846.

As better hygienic practices took over, strong perfumes were no longer essential to combat stench, and their association with the aristocracy was becoming a hindrance to sales the industry thus aligned itself more with fashion. When perfumes moved from the pharmacy to the cosmetics counter, their use was increasingly linked with the feminine, especially as Victorian-era notions about separate spheres for each gender took hold of Western society. While some scents, like tobacco and pine, remained connected to popular ideas of masculinity, the general concept of good smell was increasingly associated with the world of women. The cultural fervor for celebrated male explorers and scientists meant that Victorians placed a higher value on sight than the other senses. “Smell, in turn, was now considered the sense of intuition and sentiment, of homemaking and seduction, all of which were associated with women,” explain Classen, Howes, and Synnott in Aroma.

Perfume was positioned as a feminine cosmetic by the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, as seen in this 1901 advertisement for Parfumerie Violet by Louis Théophile Hingre.

In the 1860s, Louis Pasteur first demonstrated the relationship between tiny microorganisms and infectious disease, work that Robert Koch expanded upon in the 1880s. Their research would establish what’s now known as “germ theory,” furthering development of antiseptics by doctors like Joseph Lister who advocated carbolic acid as a disinfectant for wounds and surgery. This represented a huge shift in thinking about illness and gave further support to the movement for better sanitation, which continued to reduce the olfactory assault of urban areas. Foul smells, whether from human waste or industrial byproducts, were increasingly pushed further from cities via zoning policies and waste management.

Americans had been as reluctant to bathe as Europeans, but by the late 19th century, the United States leapt toward the eradication of dirt and smells, adopting novel cleaning devices like showers and toothbrushes, which were supported by the latest studies on hygiene. In her book, The Dirt on Clean, Katherine Ashenburg points out that America’s clean regime was also made possible by the young country’s abundant space. “Water mains and sewers were more easily installed in new cities than in ancient ones,” she writes. “With abundant, cheap land, houses with ample space for bathrooms became the domestic norm, in contrast to Europe’s old, crowded apartments. Because servants were always in short supply in democratic America, labor-saving devices were prized. High on the list was plumbing, and from the 1870s, American plumbing outstripped that of every other country.”

Modern economies like that of the United States depended on an increasingly urban population, and as more people lived and worked in close quarters with others, body odor became a social issue. Unlike farm fields, offices and factories provided no respite from the trans-3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid emanating from your sweaty colleague.

Antiseptics like Listerine caught on as a way to prevent infection, but were eventually applied to specific areas of the human body, including the mouth, armpit, and genitals. The ad above is from 1917.

“Doctors were already using antiseptics to clean their tools and benches,” Everts says. “After they’d finished washing a whole bunch of surfaces, they started looking for new surfaces to wash, and why not the armpit? In fact, the earliest deodorant patent I’ve tracked down was given to a doctor in 1867 for ammonium chloride. Even in the patent he writes that this was a known disinfectant, and that it has ‘great value in counteracting the odor of the human body.’”

The earliest successful brand of commercial deodorant was developed in 1888 by an inventor in Philadelphia and dubbed Mum, as in “keeping silent” or “mum’s the word.” The first patented version of Mum was sold as a waxy cream that quickly inspired imitations, but these cumbersome products were unpleasant to apply and often left a greasy residue on clothing. In 1903, Everdry introduced the world’s first antiperspirant, which used aluminum chloride to clog pores and block sweat. Regardless of their success at preventing sweating, early antiperspirants were also highly acidic, meaning they often damaged clothing and left the wearer with a stinging or itching sensation. Despite their unappealing format, many early deodorants and antiperspirants included perfumes to minimize their chemical scents.

In the early 20th century, American marketers were also creating new standards of personal hygiene, like the importance of bathing daily to eliminate odors, with the ultimate goal of selling more products. In 1927, the Association of American Soap and Glycerine Producers created a lobbying arm called the Cleanliness Institute to publish marketing materials under the guise of education. The Institute distributed teacher’s curriculum, posters, and books, like 1928’s A Tale of Soap and Water: The Historical Progress of Cleanliness, which taught children and teens the value of hygiene throughout the ages. “Most of us want the good and beautiful and worthwhile things of life,” the book explained. “Soap and water alone cannot give them to us, but we know that they help.”

In 1928, “A Tale of Soap and Water” spread the good word of the soap and glycerine industry to schoolchildren via illustrations like this.

Although doctors had supported better sanitation to improve public health and curb major epidemics, companies now exploited this authority, using it to vilify normal bodily functions, like sweating. Early in the 20th century, a Cincinnati surgeon wanted his hands sweat-free while operating, so he invented an antiperspirant called Odo-Ro-No. In 1912, his daughter Edna Murphey hired an ad agency to boost the company’s sales, and their first successful ad positioned excessive sweating as a medical disorder with a doctor’s endorsement of Odo-Ro-No. A few years later, the company tried a new tack: Convincing self-conscious women that their body odor (which it dubbed “B.O.” for short) was a problem nobody would directly tell them about.

American marketers played on insecurities to make deodorant a must-have product, like with this Odo-Ro-No ad from 1939.

Odo-Ro-No helped launch a trend of advertising-by-fear, sometimes known as “whisper copy,” which focused on gossip around topics considered impolite to address in public. Similar campaigns were soon waged against every imaginable imperfection, whether it was flawed makeup, gray hair, torn stockings, acne, underarm hair, bad breath (strictly using the clinical-sounding term “halitosis,” so as not to offend), or the ultimate—bad “feminine hygiene.” To describe the “life-destroying” impact of bad breath, an oral antiseptic brand called Listerine (after Dr. Lister) coined the ubiquitous phrase, “Often a bridesmaid, but never a bride.”

During the 1920s, brands like Lysol began promoting disinfectant douches—long believed to be an abortifacient—as a way to keep women’s privates smelling fresh. Eventually, doctors recognized that douching actually disrupted the body’s natural pH balance, causing a number of health issues.

By the 1930s, American deodorant companies had secured a female customer base, so they began including subtle advertising copy referencing men’s body odor. In 1935, Top-Flite, the first deodorant targeted at men, hit store shelves in its sleek black bottle, followed by other stereotypically male designs, like the Seaforth bottle resembling a miniature whiskey jug. Advertisements for men’s deodorant products often focused on financial insecurities, positing that foul body odors might ruin one’s career.

Just as manufacturers had gendered deodorant, fragrance companies developed their own parallel language for men’s products, using terms like cologne, aftershave, and eau de toilette. Scents for men focused on the enhancement of sexual attraction with “masculine” names like Brut, Centaur, Dante, Old Spice, Macho, English Leather, and Denim.

At this point, manufactured scents were no longer bound to the natural world of essential oils, as chemists developed entirely new man-made compounds. “Today, we’re familiar with abstract, man-made scents like Chanel No. 5,” Reinarz says. “But people who first smelled that perfume in 1921 must have thought, ‘What a bizarre flower,’ because the tradition was distilling from nature, and most scents could be identified by naming a single floral ingredient.”

During the 20th century, deodorant companies marketed many damaging products as healthy, like the spray seen in this 1969 ad.

Meanwhile, the delivery method of deodorant was shifting from messy creams to more pleasant roll-on sticks, like the 1940s applicator developed by Mum employee Helen Diserens based on the design of a ballpoint pen. In the early 1960s, Gillette introduced Right Guard, the first aerosol antiperspirant. Despite a brief heyday, aerosols lost favor when the FDA banned aluminum zirconium complexes in 1977 and the EPA restricted chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in 1978, stemming from concerns for consumer and environmental safety.

In the 1960s, a Swiss company invented a deodorizing spray for female genitalia, adding a layer of specificity to the coy concern of “feminine hygiene.” The first American version, named FDS for “feminine hygiene deodorant spray,” launched in 1966 and quickly became a hit. Though the sprays fell out of fashion after an FDA ban on hexachlorophene in the 1970s, scented “feminine wipes” are just as popular today.

As with many products before them, advertisers continue to convince women that their natural odor is repellant, and they need to perfume their privates to get laid. Meanwhile, such companies are still suppressing information about the dangerous side effects of their products, as seen with the recent Johnson & Johnson lawsuit over talcum powder.

“Once the ball started rolling, there was no stopping it,” Reinarz says. “People felt that eliminating all these smells was the single most effective way to improve public health and make the environment more tolerable for everyone.” Today, we’re bombarded with a cornucopia of deodorants, antiperspirants, soaps, colognes, perfumes, and douches, all aiming to eradicate smells associated with the human body—even if those odors are the result of healthy processes.

“I think my favorite weird patent was based on baker’s yeast,” Everts says. “I just don’t think I’d want to put baker’s yeast in my armpit.”

The myth of the ancient origins of the tear catcher was inspired by the biblical book of Psalms where David says of God "You have kept count of my tossings put my tears in your bottle." Psalm 56:8 [1] These were widely used in Ancient Persia during funeral processions as they believed the dead should not be mourned and have progressed to the next stage of life. Thus a tear shed by those that remain would appear as obstacles on the souls passage from the material world to the next. While small bottles have been found in Greek and Roman tombs, chemical analysis show they contained oils and essences, not tears. [ citation needed ] Small bottles from Victorian era "were for scented vinegars, smelling salts, perfumes and toilet waters to scent handkerchiefs, many of the little bottles were suspended from chatelaines which hung at the waist." [ citation needed ] People in mourning during the Victorian era wore cameos and lockets designed to hold hair from the deceased however, no mention is made of tear catchers or lachrymatory bottles.

Supposedly, in Ancient Rome, analysis points to mourners filling glass bottles with tears, and then placing them in tombs as a symbol of their respect for the deceased. [ citation needed ] What significance they held is disputed between in a number of meanings and usages including remorse, guilt, love and grief. The more tears collected in tear bottles meant the deceased was more important. [ citation needed ]

The bottles used during the Roman era were lavishly decorated and measured up to four inches in height. [ citation needed ] However, chemical analysis of the contents of many bottles believed to be lachrymatories proved them to instead contain nothing more than perfume or unguents. [ citation needed ]

"Lachrymatory bottles" are sold in shops today as small perfume and ornamental bottles.


The world's first recorded chemist is a woman named Tapputi, a perfume maker whose existence was recorded on a 1200 BCE Cuneiform tablet in Babylonian Mesopotamia. [1] She held a powerful role in the Mesopotamian government and religion, as the overseer of the Mesopotamian Royal Palace. She developed methods for scent extraction techniques that would lay the basis for perfume making. She recorded her techniques and methods and those were passed on, with her most groundbreaking technique in using solvents. [2]

Perfume and perfumery also existed in Indus civilization, which existed from 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE. One of the earliest distillation of Ittar was mentioned in the Hindu Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. [3] The perfume references are part of a larger text called Brihat-Samhita written by Varāhamihira, an Indian astronomer, mathematician, and astrologer living in the city of Ujjain. He was one of the ‘nine jewels’ in the court of the Maharaja of Malwa. The perfume portion mainly deals with the manufacture of perfumes to benefit ‘royal personages and inmates of harems’. The text is written as Sanskrit slokas with commentary by a 10th-century Indian commentator Utpala. [4]

According to a 1975 report, archeologist Dr. Paolo Rovesti found a terracotta distillation apparatus in the Indus valley together with oil containers made of the same material, carbon-dated to 3000 BCE. The report also states that terracotta vessels with plugged orifices of woven materials were used so that when fragrant plant materials were covered with boiling water the vapors impregnated the material, which was subsequently wrung out to isolate the oil. [ citation needed ]

To date, the oldest perfumery was discovered on the island of Cyprus. [5] Excavations in 2004-2005 under the initiative of an Italian archaeological team unearthed evidence of an enormous factory that existed 4,000 years ago during the Bronze Age. [6] This covered an estimated surface area of over 4,000m² indicating that perfume manufacturing was on an industrial scale. [7] The news of this discovery was reported extensively through the world press and many artifacts are already on display in Rome. [8] The Bible describes a sacred perfume (Exodus 30:22-33) consisting of liquid myrrh, fragrant cinnamon, fragrant cane, and cassia. Its use was forbidden, except by the priests. The women wore perfume to present their beauty.

Islamic cultures contributed significantly to the development of Middle Eastern perfumery in two significant areas: perfecting the extraction of fragrances through steam distillation and introducing new raw materials. Both have greatly influenced Western perfumery and scientific developments, particularly chemistry.

With the rise of Islam, Muslims improved perfume production and continued to use perfumes in daily life and in practicing religion. They used musk, roses, and amber, among other materials. As traders, Islamic cultures such as the Arabs and Persians had wider access to a wide array of spices, resins, herbs, precious woods, herbs, and animal fragrance materials such as ambergris and musk. In addition to trading, many of the flowers and herbs used in perfumery were cultivated by the Muslims — rose and jasmine were native to the region, and many other plants (i.e.: bitter orange and other citrus trees, all of which imported from China and southeast Asia) could be successfully cultivated in the Middle East, and are to this day key ingredients in perfumery.

In Islamic culture, perfume usage has been documented as far back as the 6th century and its usage is considered a religious duty. Muhammad said:

The taking of a bath on Friday is compulsory for every male Muslim who has attained the age of puberty and (also) the cleaning of his teeth with Miswaak (type of twig used as a toothbrush), and the using of perfume if it is available. (Recorded in Sahih Bukhari).

They often used to blend extracts with the cement of which mosques were built. [9] Such rituals gave incentives to scholars to search and develop a cheaper way to produce incenses and in mass production.

The Arabic philosopher al-Kindi (c. 801–873) wrote a book on perfumes called ‘ Book of the Chemistry of Perfume and Distillations’. It contained more than a hundred recipes for fragrant oils, salves, aromatic waters, and substitutes or imitations of costly drugs. The book also described one hundred and seven methods and recipes for perfume-making, and even the perfume-making equipment, like the alembic, still bears its Arabic name. [10]

The Persian Muslim doctor and chemist Ibn Sina (also known as Avicenna) introduced the process of extracting oils from flowers by means of distillation, the procedure most commonly used today. He first experimented with the rose. Until his discovery, liquid perfumes were mixtures of oil and crushed herbs or petals that made a strong blend. Rosewater was more delicate and immediately became popular. Both of the raw ingredients and distillation technology significantly influenced western perfumery and scientific developments, particularly chemistry.

Arabian perfume arrived in European courts through Al-Andalus in the west, and on the other side, with the crusaders in the east. For instance, eggs and floral perfumes were brought to Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries from Arabia, by returning crusaders, through trade with the Islamic world. Those who traded for these were most often also involved in the trade for spices and dyestuffs. There are records of the Pepperers Guild of London, going back to 1179 which show them trading with Muslims in spices, perfume ingredients, and dyes. [11] Catharina de Medici initiated the perfume industry in Europe when she left Italy in the 16th century to marry the French crown prince. [9]

Knowledge of something perfumery came to Europe as early as the 14th century due partially to Arabic influences and knowledge. But it was the Hungarians who ultimately introduced the first modern perfume. The first modern perfume, made of scented oils blended in an alcohol solution, was made in 1370 at the command of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary and was known throughout Europe as Hungary Water. The art of perfumery prospered in Renaissance Italy, and in the 16th century, Italian refinements were taken to France by Catherine de' Medici's personal perfumer, Rene le Florentin. His laboratory was connected with her apartments by a secret passageway so that no formulas could be stolen en route.

France Edit

France quickly became the European center of perfume and cosmetic manufacture. Cultivation of flowers for their perfume essence, which had begun in the 14th century, grew into a major industry in the south of France mainly in Grasse now considered the world capital of perfume. During the Renaissance period, perfumes were used primarily by royalty and the wealthy to mask body odors resulting from the sanitary practices of the day. Partly due to this patronage, the western perfumery industry was created. Perfume enjoyed huge success during the 17th century. Perfumed gloves became popular in France and in 1656, the guild of glove and perfume-makers was established. Perfumers were also known to create poisons for instance, a French duchess was murdered when a perfume/poison was rubbed into her gloves and was slowly absorbed into her skin.

Perfume came into its own when Louis XV came to the throne in the 18th century. His court was called "la cour parfumée" (the perfumed court). Madame de Pompadour ordered generous supplies of perfume, and King Louis demanded a different fragrance for his apartment every day. The court of Louis XIV was even named due to the scents which were applied daily not only to the skin but also to clothing, fans, and furniture. Perfume substituted for soap and water. The use of perfume in France grew steadily. By the 18th century, aromatic plants were being grown in the Grasse region of France to provide the growing perfume industry with raw materials. Even today, France remains the center of European perfume design and trade.

After Napoleon came to power, exorbitant expenditures for perfume continued. Two quarts of violet cologne were delivered to him each week, and he is said to have used sixty bottles of double extract of jasmine every month. Josephine had stronger perfume preferences. She was partial to musk, and she used so much that sixty years after her death the scent still lingered in her boudoir.

England Edit

Perfume use peaked in England during the reigns of Henry VIII (reigned 1509–1547) and Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558–1603). All public places were scented [ by whom? ] during Queen Elizabeth's rule, since she could not tolerate bad smells. [ citation needed ] It was said that the sharpness of her nose was equaled only by the slyness of her tongue. Ladies of the day took great pride in creating delightful fragrances and they displayed their skill in mixing scents in a manor houses' still room.

As with industry and the arts, perfume underwent a profound change in the 19th century. Changing tastes and the development of modern chemistry laid the foundations of modern perfumery as alchemy gave way to chemistry.

Russia Edit

Perfume manufacture in Russia grew after 1861 and became globally significant by the early 20th century. [12] The production of perfume in the Soviet Union became a part of the planned economy in the 1930s, although output was not high. [13]

In early America, the first scents were colognes and scented water by French explorers in New France. Florida water, an uncomplicated mixture of eau de cologne with a dash of oil of cloves, cassia and lemongrass, was popular. [ citation needed ]

Roman Perfume Bottle - History

A cute little squat Roman glass vessel, c. 1st - 2nd Century AD, in a pale yellow glass, the body with defined shoulder, constricted cylindrical neck and flattened rim. The surfaces are well preserved with attractive multi-colored iridescence. H: 2 1/8 in (5.4 cm). Ex collection of Raymond Beaugrand-Champagne, Montreal. #AR3296: $225 SOLD

Ancient Roman, 1st Century AD. Nice small white glass single-handled jar for oil. The body is rather squarish with light concave base, neck flaring to wide mouth with 4 lines of trailing down the inside disappearing into the vessel. Small added handle in deep blue color. Handle reattached, some patination and light cleaning. H: 1 7/8" (4.9 cm). Ex Los Angeles collection. #A12234: SOLD

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Ancient Roman Holy Land, 2nd-3rd century AD. Beautiful small glass pendant depicting the facing head of Medusa. Nice blue-green glass with choice iridescence. 25 mm (1") tall. Holed through loop at top. Found in the Holy Land! #17656x3: $250 SOLD
Roman Holy Land, 1st - 2nd century AD. Lovely glass bottle with delicate ribbed design around neck. Golden yellow to reddish coloration, original sandy encrustations on body. Intact! A stunning piece (but a lousy washed-out photo). Measures 50 mm (1 7/8 inches) tall. #6148: $199 SOLD
Roman Holy Land, 1st-2nd century AD. Lovely glass flask / jar. Nice irridescent green to sandy patina, delicate raised vertical ridges on body. Small holes in one side. Stands 55 mm (2 1/8 inches) tall. #6901: $115 SOLD
Roman Holy Land, 1st-2nd century AD. Awesome glass shallow jar / mouthed dish. Possibly an ancient inkwell. Amazing irridescent purple patina with sandy highlight, nice designs around. A gem of a piece! 45 mm (1 3/4 inches) dia. #6884: $225 SOLD
Ancient Roman Holy Land, 1st - 2nd century AD. Gorgeous glass wide-bottomed vial. Nice eggshell patina, some original Judaean desert encrustation inside. Stands 51 mm (2 inches) tall. A nice piece (lousy photo really does no justice to the coloration of the piece). #6158: $160 SOLD
Roman Holy Land, 1st-2nd century AD. Lovely glass pharmaceutical flask. Beautiful, delicate thin glass band around neck, nice incised vertical lines on body. Iridescent, sandy patina. Intact! 57 mm (2 1/4 inches) tall. #6849: $225 SOLD
Roman Holy Land, 1st-2nd century AD. Large glass pharmaceutical flask. Interestoing raised lip with indented design around base of neck. Iridescent, sandy patina, small hole at bottom of one side. 64 mm (2 1/2 inches) tall. #6857: $225 SOLD
Roman Holy Land, 1st-2nd century AD. Bright-green iridescent glass jar. Lovely sandy highlights, small hole on one side. Stands 48 mm (1 7/8 inches) tall. #6867: $115 SOLD
Roman Holy Land, 1st - 2nd century AD. Small round glass vessel. Great iridescent green patina with sandy-earthen encrustation. 48 mm (just under 2 inches) tall. #2663: $110 SOLD
Roman Holy Land, 1st-2nd century AD. Lovely glass small jar. Iridescent green to sandy patina. Small chip on rim. Stands 50 mm (2 inches) tall. #6883: $110 SOLD
Ancient Rome, c. 1st-3rd century AD. An absolutely gorgeous blue glass bottle. 62 mm (2 1/2") tall, with attractive iridescence. On old wood base. Ex-R. Fletcher collection, Taos, NM, bought in the mid-1950's from a dealer in Los Angeles. #GL2019: $475 SOLD
Ancient Rome, c. 1st - 2nd Century AD. Very large Roman blue glass unguentarium. With large piriform body and long neck, the rim is flattened. The surfaces are nicely swirled and the walls are rather thick. H: 5 1/8 in (13.1cm). Intact with light iridescence and earthen deposits. Ex South Yorkshire, England private collection. An impressive display piece! #GL2023: $525 SOLD

Ancient Roman, 1st-2nd century AD. Fantastic green glass bottle. Graceful form with round body and tall neck. Colorful iridescence in greens, yellows and purples, light earthen deposits. Intact and very nicely preserved. H: 2 3/8" (6 cm). Gorgeous color! ex-West Palm Beach, FL collection. #GL2042: $250 SOLD
Holy Land. Roman period, c. 1st – 2nd Century AD. Small light blue glass bottle. With piriform body, tubular neck flared mouth. H: 2 1/4" (5.7 cm). Very well preserved with light deposits and light iridescence. ex-Alex G Malloy (purchased May, 1972). #GL2035: $250 SOLD
Holy Land. Roman period, c. 1st – 2nd Century AD. Small blue glass bottle. With piriform body, tubular neck flared mouth. H: 2 1/2" (6.5 cm). Well preserved with nice silvery to multicolored iridescence and light deposits. Mounted on custom plexi stand. From the Herbert B. Stearns Collection ex-CNG. #GL2033: $275 SOLD
Ancient Rome, c. 2nd Century AD. Great Roman light yellow-green glass bottle. The rounded body with lightly indented base, the tubular neck with widened mouth with inward folded rim. H: 3 3/4 in (9.5 cm). A lovely example with light deposits and beautiful iridescence. A few small holes. Ex collection of Dr. Michael A Telson. #GL2024: $399 SOLD
Ancient Roman, 1st century AD. Nice yellow glass bottle. With flattened base, short neck and flared rim. Colorful iridescence in greens, yellows and purples, light earthen deposits. H: 2 7/8" (7.4 cm). ex-West Palm Beach, FL collection. #GL2043: $250 SOLD Ancient Rome, Eastern Mediterranean, 2nd - 3rd Century AD. Gorgeous deep blue-green Roman glass Unguentarium. Of heavy construction, the body squat with flattened base, the neck is long and tubular, the rim flattened and folded inward. H: 3 1/4" (8.3 cm). Intact with deep blue-green color and light iridescence. Ex SSAC, Toledo, Ohio, 1980. ex-Alex Malloy. #A15188: $499 SOLD
Ancient Rome, c. 1st - 2nd century AD. Nice pale purple glass unguentarium. A beautiful, tall, free-standing piece. Finley made, intact, with attractive mottled surfaces and rounded, onion-shaped base. H: 4 5/8" (11.8 cm). #861303: $325 SOLD
Roman Holy Land, 1st-2nd century AD. Small glass bottle/flask. Iridescent purple to green patina. Very pretty (photo does no justice)! 48 mm (1 7/8 inches). #DV6934: $99 SOLD
Ancient Rome, c. 1st-3rd century AD. Gorgeous blue glass bottle. Intact with nice iridescence, old collection label "524" on side. 76 mm (3") tall. Very nice. ex 19th century French collection, found in France in the 1880's. #AR2095: $550 SOLD
Ancient Rome, 1st - 2nd Century AD. Light green Roman glass bottle with round body and indented base, the neck tubular with flattened rim folded inward. H: 3 1/8” (80 mm). Intact with nice iridescence. ex-Southern California private collection. #GL2015: $325 SOLD
Ancient Rome, c. 1st-2nd century AD. Nice little blue-green glass vial. Nice iridescence overall, repaired at the neck. 72 mm (2 7/8") tall. Ex-Los Angeles, Ca private collection. A cute little vessel at a budget price! #GL2007: $175 SOLD
Ancient Rome, c. 3rd - 4th Century AD. Fine Roman yellow glass jug. The bell-shaped body with a swirling pattern in low relief, indented base, cylindrical neck and flared mouth with rounded rim. Applied unmarvered threading around the underside of the rim and a single strand around the neck in a glass of a deeper, almost olive-greenish color, the same used for the applied handle which attaches from the shoulder to the rim. H: 5" (12.8 cm). Intact with light iridescence and deposits. Ex German private antiquities collection. A gorgeous display piece! #GL2012: $950 SOLD
Ancient Rome, c. 1st-3rd century AD. Great small black glass votive juglet. With rounded body, flared rim and small loop handle. Perhaps was used for small quantity of oils. H: 24 mm (15/16"). Ex-Washington, DC private collection, purchased from Marc Reid, Time Machine. Cf. Christie's Kofler-Truniger Collection (3/5/85) 204 for type. With small clear base. #GL2026: $199 SOLD
Late Roman, c. 4rd-6th century AD. Lovely glass bottle. Light blue-green glass with indented design around the lower portion, flared neck, gorgeous iridescence. H: 70 mm (2 3/4"). ex-R. Fletcher collection, Taos, NM, bought in NY in the 1960's. #GL2020: $250 SOLD

Ancient Roman, 5th century AD. Tall green glass bottle. Long and thin, with pointed foot and slightly flared, rounded rim. Light iridescence, earthen deposits including remains of what may have been the original contents on the inside. H: 4 5/8" (11.7 cm). ex-West Palm Beach, FL collection. #GL2044: $150 SOLD
Ancient Roman, Eastern Mediterranean,
3rd – 4th Century AD. Light olive green Roman glass round-bodied jar. An attractive vessel, the body round with pontil mark, lightly flaring tubular neck with constricted opening, the mouth stepped out with lip and vertical sides. Intact with light deposits. 95 mm (3 3/4") tall. Ex Los Angeles collection. #AR2098: $499 SOLD
Ancient Roman, 2nd - 3rd Century AD. Great mold-blown green glass single-handle juglet. Nice texture overall, lovely blue-green iridescent color. Light earthen deposits. Repaired. H: 4 3/8" (11 cm). Great color! ex-West Palm Beach, FL collection. #GL2041: $175 SOLD
Ancient Rome, c. 2nd - 3rd Century AD. A lovely green glass single-handled jar. A nice example with squat body, base indented lightly with pontil mark, neck narrows with flared mouth. The single strap handle folded outward. H: 4" (10.4 cm). Intact, small area with some cracking. Earthen encrustation throughout. Ex old New Jersey collection. Beautiful! #A12237: $325 SOLD Roman Holy Land, 1st-2nd century AD. Lovely glass pharmaceutical flask. Beautiful, delicate thin glass band around neck, nice incised vertical lines on body. Irridescent, sandy patina, small chip on rim. #6918: $175 SOLD
Light yellow Roman glass vial, c. 1st - 2nd Century AD, with pear-shaped body and tubular neck with flared mouth. H: 4 3/4" (12.1 cm). Intact with light iridescence, a band of silvery iridescence at the top. #272114: $250 SOLD
Ancient Rome. 1st - 2nd Century AD. Lovely miniature glass vial. Amazing irridescent blue to green coloration and a nice, sturdy piece. Good surfaces. Ex-Canadian collection, acquired in the 1960's. Stands 47 mm tall. #G140x2: $275 SOLD

Ancient Rome, 1st-2nd century AD. Lovely glass bottle. Blue-green glass with nice iridescent surfaces and some earthen deposits. Repaired at base of neck and body- well done and hard to see. Stands 65 mm (2 1/2") tall. Very nice. #18343: $299 SOLD

Ancient Rome, c. 1st century AD. Nice yellow glass jar. Larger piece, rounded base with pinched ridges around the body. Some areas of nice iridescence, chip missing from rim. Stands 85 mm (3 1/4") tall. #901258: $325 SOLD
Small Roman blue glass vial, c. 1st - 2nd Century AD. Beautiful blue to purple iridescent tone, with pear-shaped body, tubular neck and flared rim. H: 2 5/8" (6.6 cm). Some chipping to mouth and internal earthen deposits. Light iridescence throughout. Lovely! #272111: $275 SOLD
Ancient Rome, c. 1st - 2nd Century AD. Wonderful blue glass unguentarium, sealed with earthen deposits! The body with lightly indented base, long cylindrical neck and flared mouth with inward folded rim. Retains earthen deposits within the mouth and inside, light iridescence. 4 3/4" (121 mm) . Intact and gorgeous! Ex South Yorkshire, England private collection. #GL2011: SOLD
Roman Gaul (France), 1st - 3rd Century AD. Excellent light blue-green glass bottle. Used for cosmetics or medicine which was accessed with an applicator. Stands 10 cm (3 7/8") tall. A 4 cm long area of surface loss on one side of neck, otherwise intact with attractive iridescence. Ex-19th century French collection, found in France in the 1880's. #AR2096: $325 SOLD
Ancient Rome, c. 1st-4th century AD. An interesting glass ingot. Made of solid light blue glass, with a small lead (and silver?) "cap" or "base" depending on how it's held. 61 mm (2 1/2"). Definitely an intriguing piece with much eye-appeal! ex-Los Angeles, CA collection. #GL2017: $199 SOLD

Tall Roman yellow glass pitcher, c. 4th Century AD, the body with vertical ribbing with flared foot and indented base, a trefoil pouring spout sits atop a narrow neck and a thick handle is attached from the shoulder to the rim. H: 7 1/4" (18.5 cm). One broken area repaired on side, but well preserved with deep yellow color and surface deposits. Ex-estate of Donald Brown, Boston, Mass of a collection formed in the 1960's. #NAV135: $650 SOLD

A fantastic Roman pale blue glass cosmetic vessel, c. 2nd - 3rd Century AD, the body with rounded shoulders and tapered bottom terminating with a pontil mark the widening neck with central ridge for fastening a stopper and inward folded rim. H: 4" (10cm). Wonderfully preserved with a gorgeous multicolored iridescence with light deposits. With custom metal stand. Ex Southern California private collection. ex-Southern California private collection ex-I.M. Chait, Beverly Hills, CA. Probably the most brilliantly colored glass piece I've ever had! #NAV150: $750 SOLD
Large Roman blue-green glass "pilgrims" flask, 2nd - 3rd Century AD, the rounded body with narrow profile and indented base and long cylindrical neck with light constriction at base. H: 7 1/2 in (18.5 cm). Repaired chip on rim, otherwise nicely preserved with light surface deposits and attractive iridescence. A very nice piece. Ex North Yorkshire, UK private collection. #NAV151: $550 SOLD
Choice Roman yellow glass trefoil lipped jug, c. 3rd - 4th Century AD, the rounded body with light mold blown surface bumps and deeply indented bottom, the neck is short and narrow with a trefoil pouring spout with rounded rim, single trailed handle attaching from the shoulder and the rim. H: 4 1/2" (11.4 cm). Well-preserved with light surface deposits. ex-Southern California private collection ex-I.M. Chait, Beverly Hills, CA. #NAV149: $650 SOLD
A Roman blue-green glass flask, c. 2nd - 3rd Century AD, the body round with narrow profile, the neck long and cylindrical with constriction at bottom and flat rim. H: 4 in (10. cm). Light deposits and iridescence. Ex Southern California private collection. #AR3293: $375 SOLD
A lovely Roman green glass "candlestick" unguentarium, c. 2nd - 3rd Century AD, the body bell-shaped with lightly indented bottom, tall cylindrical neck with constricted base and wide splayed mouth with inward folded rim. H: 5 1/2 in (13.9 cm). Well preserved with light iridescence and deposits. Ex Southern California private collection. #AR3295: $399 SOLD
Ancient Rome, 2nd - 3rd Century AD. Nice Roman light green glass bottle. The body rounded with tubular neck and flattened mouth, the rim folded inward. H: 3 1/4" (82 mm). Intact with nice iridescence. Ex Ancient Arts, Buffalo, NY, 1980. #GL2016: $299 SOLD

Uses of Perfume

One of the oldest uses of perfume comes from the burning of incense and aromatic herbs for religious services, often the aromatic gums, frankincense, and myrrh gathered from trees. It did not take long, though, for people to discover perfume’s romantic potential, and it was used both for seduction and as preparation for love-making.

With the arrival of eau de Cologne, 18th-century France began using perfume for a broad range of purposes. They used it in their bathwater, in poultices, and enemas, and consumed it in wine or drizzled on a sugar lump.

Although niche perfume makers remain to cater to the very rich, perfumes today enjoy widespread use—and not just among women. The selling of perfume, however, is no longer just the purview of perfume makers. In the 20th century, clothing designers began marketing their own lines of scents, and almost any celebrity with a lifestyle brand can be found hawking a perfume with their name (if not smell) on it.

Ancient Cosmetic Cases

Back then, beauty cases were crafted using cherished woods and containers made of hand-blown glass. Glass pastes or fragrant amber was used to mold them together. The final product would be a beautifully encased cosmetic case, lined with an array of lipsticks, and several varieties of eye make-up. This case had a special purpose: here, shapely perfume vials were safely kept. They were melted by fire to seal them shut, having to be broken at one end to be opened.

Glass jars and containers from the Palazzo Altemps – Photo from Kent

Ancient Cosmetic Basics – The Make-up Base/Foundation

Ancient make up case – Photo from Italymagazine

The makeup base or “foundation” began its life as a greasy liquid substance that was used to cover up imperfections of the skin. Ancient women used to prepare recipes with whatever they had at their disposal: some whipped concoctions made with a waxy substance called biacca, which was melted into honey and then added to any fatty substance. Roman ladies were aware biacca was highly toxic, hence they had some serious doubts about the final result.

Lucilius, in the XVI Book of his Satirae, once commented on beauty in this way: “curls, makeup, cosmetics, greasepaint, and teeth you could buy, and with the same money you could have even purchased a new face.” He said this in the 2 nd century BC.

Roman cosmetics – Photo from Fleurtyherald

How did Roman women made use of Ancient Cosmetics

Despite shouts of displeasure from men, blasphemous comments, the gross applications, and heavy drippings of putrid creams, Roman women did not feel discouraged. Keeping on with their womanly operations, they continued to highlight their brows with powders made from stibium (antimony, a metallic element) or fulgio (lampblack, fine black soot created by the burning of certain materials and used mainly as a pigment) and coloring their eyelids with green shadows obtained from malachite or blues derived from azurite. They could obtain a substance called fuco (a red alga) from mulberry and sought out mineral substances like cinnabar, red plaster, and miniate (which is highly toxic) to mix with animal extracts and vegetables, thus turning them all into berry or red-toned lipsticks.

Ancient Roman Cosmetics applying tools – Photo from Ancientrome

Ancient Teeth Cleaning Cosmetics and Methods

Teeth were also viewed as objects of vanity, and searches were conducted for materials to beautify them. Basically, Toothpastes were made by blending pumice powder (a variety of light spongy volcanic rock used as an abrasive) , chio putty (a metallic powder), baking soda, and sodium bicarbonate (salt in the form of powder used as a key component in baking powder and self-rising flour)

Ancient teeth cleaning ustensils and cases – Photo from Huffpost

Bad breath was relieved with miraculous pills that Romans sold in the markets. They had the need to subdue the thick scents of heavy drinking from their “yesterdays”. They spent their time doing exactly that. Then, they continued to lush along with the tunes of great Roman songs- such as the “Fescennia”- perhaps the equivalent to modern-day drinking songs. These pills were manufactured by Cosmo, a famous Roman perfume maker. About them, however, Martial wrote “…furthermore, the pestiferous breath will be mixed with these pills, therefore stinking much more, a double amount of bad breath that will fire out even further!”

The Art of Ancient Cosmetics – Facemasks

Cosmetic clays for skin care masks – Photo from Chagrin

Firstly the work that went into the production of cosmetics was leveraged by the use of female slaves called cosmetae. They came in handy and spent their days dissolving various ingredients in their own saliva. The result was then set into small containers. Ingredients were mixed together with spatulas, small spoons, and ring-shaped mixers made of wood, bone, ivory, amber, glass, or metal.

It was common for the Romans to whip various beauty masks to counteract the aging of the skin and cancel out imperfections such as freckles, skin flakes, and sunspots.

These masks could also be produced using vegetarian-based ingredients. They used ingredients like lentils, honey, barley, lupine, or fennel. (any of a number of leguminous plants which bear tall clusters of flowers). These could be added to the essence of rose or myrrh. Animal-derived bases for cosmetics included frail deer horns, excrements of kingfisher, mouse or crocodile, placenta, marrow, genitalia, bile, calve, horse, or mule’s urine. These ingredients were blended with oils, goose grease, basil juice, oregano seeds, hawthorn, sulfur, honey, and vinegar. The masks obtained with the mule’s urine seemed to be efficient only if utilized in the moment that the “Dog Constellation was Rising.”

Cosmetics – Ancient Roman Perfumes

Perfumes deserve some special attention. Archaeological findings show us how the use of perfume was widespread among the Romans. However, it wasn’t distilled perfume as we know it today. The distillation process was introduced by the Arabs and wasn’t even known until the 9th century. Plant essences were obtained by squeezing and macerating leaves, roots, petals, and flowers. The base of perfume was an oily substance called onfacio. It was made by macerating olives or grape juice, which was called Agresto. The perfumed substances were mixed along with dyes.

Fountains flowed with rose water in Ancient Rome – Photo from Perfumesociety

The essence of rose petals (rhodium) was produced mainly in the town of Palestrina on the outskirts of Rome. Various species of lilies were used too, found in and around Pompeii. Myrtle and laurel (mirtum and susinum), were used, as well as melinon which was extracted from quince apples, and Iasminum, which was extracted from jasmine.

Imperial times were ready for Alexandria, the central point (at the time) of spices and aromatic herbs commerce. From here, they shipped to Rome, Preneste, Naples, and Capua. These cities housed the top manufacturers of perfumes and fragrances.

Essences were tagged with staggering prices starting from the 1 st century AD. A simple ounce of perfume was worth more than 400 dinars.


The tale of Lalique is inextricably bound up with the history of perfume itself. René Lalique, the most innovative glass designer of his time – almost certainly of all time, in fact – created the flacons for many of the world’s most exclusive and iconic perfumes.

Born in 1860 in Aÿ, in France’s Marne district, Lalique moved with his family to Paris aged two. But he returned regularly for summer holidays, which are believed to have influenced his naturalistic approach to glasswork. While at school, at a young age he discovered a love of drawing and sketching, enrolling for evening classes at Paris’s École des Arts Décoratifs from 1874-1876. Then, we were surprised to learn, Lalique actually spent a couple of years in London, at the (appropriately-named) Crystal Palace School of Art in Sydenham, honing his graphic design skills.

Back in Paris, Lalique worked as a freelance, designing jewellery for Cartier, Boucheron and other leading French houses. But by 25, he’d opened his own studio, starting to create his own jewellery – and the glass pieces which made his name. By the age of 30, Lalique was recognised as one of France’s most inspired and gifted designers of Art Nouveau jewellery – and went on to become the most famous in his field. He became known, in fact, as ‘the inventor of modern jewellery’.

As Art Nouveau’s fluid, flowing lines evolved into the more graphic shapes of the Art Deco era, Lalique‘s star rose even higher: he created walls of lit glass and stylish glass columns for the dining room and grand salon of the state-of-the-art ocean liner SS Normandie. For St. Matthew’s Church in Millbrook, on the island of Jersey (known as ‘Lalique’s Glass Church), he produced a gold cross, screens and even the font. At the same time, Lalique – described as ‘the Sculptor of Light’ – was designing exquisite car mascots, to ornament radiators on the world’s priciest automobiles’.

But it’s his design work for perfume houses that put Lalique on the radar of many, around the world. He worked most closely with François Coty, at the beginning of the 20th Century. Their collaboration revolutionised the perfume industry: never before had fragrance bottles been so desirable, so collectible, in their own right. Many were numbered and signed – and fetch heart-stopping prices, at auction today.

By the 1920s and 1930s, the houses of Worth, Molyneux, d’Orsay, Houbigant and Roger & Gallet were all seeking out Lalique‘s design genius and craftsmanship, which so perfectly expressed the essences inside. His most famous bottle, however, has to be the crystal dove for Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps – created just after the war, gracing countless dressing tables around the world. It has been honoured as ‘flacon of the century’, and was a collaboration between Marc Lalique – René Lalique’s son – and Robert Ricci.

With a name synonymous with luxurious fragrance, then, it was a natural evolution for Lalique to launch a perfume line of its own. But it was the designer’s granddaughter, Marie-Claude, whose inspiration it was to create Lalique de Lalique, the debut scent – combining the know-how of crystal glassmaking with the art of perfumery itself. Developed by Max Gavarry and Béatrice Piquet, it fuses rose, jasmine, wallflower and iris in the top notes, a tart whisper of blackcurrant leaves and wild blackberry, and the most sensual dry-down of vanilla, white musk and sandalwood.

Every single bottle, of course, is exquisite. But since 1994, Lalique‘s own fragrances have also been available as limited, signed and numbered editions: the Lalique artisan glassmakers’ chance to showcase their talent for creating and finishing curves, and sculpting the detail for which the glass house is world-renowned. (On the right, see some of Lalique’s artisans, working in the glass foundry in time-honoured tradition.) In autumn 2014, Lalique unveiled a collection which revisits their heritage in towering black glass bottles, referencing many of the historic symbols of the house, Noir Premier is available in only the most exclusive locations (such as Harrods).

Lalique continues to work with the world’s top ‘noses’, for each new creation: a dozen or more each, for women and for men. Lalique Encre Noire, by Nathalie Lorson, was hand-picked for our co-founders’ book, The Perfume Bible as one of the 10 men’s scents in the world that you simply must smell. (Preferably, on a man’s neck.) It can now be enjoyed in a more intense and a Sport version, while the Lalique male fragrance wardrobe has expanded to include the fabulous L’Insoumis (it means ‘the unvanquished) a timeless and refined fougère by Fabrice Pellegrin, among other creations.

For Lalique Le Parfum, meanwhile, celebrated perfumer Dominique Ropion took his inspiration from one of Lalique’s most famous works, the ‘Masque de Femme‘ (Mask of Woman), which is sculpted onto the flacon: the most opulent of Orientals, bursting with flowers at its heart (heady jasmine and heliotrope), on an inviting bed of vanilla, tonka bean, sandalwood and patchouli.

Lalique‘s beautiful bestselling Amethyst is lush with blackberries, blackcurrants and raspberries, used in such a sophisticated way that it’d surely convert anyone to the delights of ‘fruity-florals’. And Living Lalique, from perfumer Richard Ibañez has been widely acclaimed – with The Candy Perfume Boy describing it as ‘a multi-faceted olfactory experience that conjures up the idea of a luxurious life well-lived. I’m absolutely smitten…’ (See its most precious crystal bottle, left.)

We wonder: for the perfume-lover, has history ever been more wearable…?

The oldest bottle of wine in the world remains unopened since the 4th Century

Historians have split opinions on whether the bottle should be opened or not.

This extremely rare artifact is 1,650-years-old and it is placed in the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Germany.

The glass amphora has handles in the shape of dolphins and is sealed with wax. The contents of the bottle is about one-third olive oil which in the past was used as a preservative that prevented the wine from oxidizing.

The world’s oldest known bottle of wine, 325 AD, Historical Museum of the Palatinate, Speyer, Germany. Photo by Following Hadrian CC-BY 2.0/ Flickr

The Speyer bottle was found in the grave of a Roman nobleman in 1867, in the Rhineland-Palatine region of Germany and caused a real stir among historians and archaeologists at the time.

It’s been said that the noble owner, believed to be a high ranking Legionnaire, was buried with the bottle of wine, an ancient custom which represents the Romans’ beliefs in the after-life, that is, sending valuable objects with the body of the deceased so she or he can use them in the “hereafter.”

Reportedly, the tomb near the city of Speyer also contained the sarcophagi of his two spouses.

The Speyer wine bottle. Photo by Immanuel Giel CC BY-SA 3.0

The antique bottle, which represents thousands of years of human history and customs, was named after the city of Speyer. In the glory days of Ancient Rome, wine and wine cults were diligently observed.

One of the inventions of Hero of Alexandria, an engineer who was centuries ahead of his time, was a delightful party centerpiece that seemingly turned one liquid into another.

His trick jug incorporated two separate, sealed compartments and some clever pneumatics to make it seem that water added to the vessel was dispensed as wine. This is one of several similar devices that Hero describes in his Pneumatica.

Georgian pots hold key to world’s oldest wine-making

During WWI, a chemist analyzed the Speyer bottle but never opened it so the wine was given to the Historical Museum of the Palatinate collection in Speyer. Over time, numerous scientists have hoped to obtain permission to analyze the bottle’s contents thoroughly, though nobody has been granted one yet.

Some scientists and microbiologists are adamant that the bottle shouldn’t be opened, among them Ludger Tekampe, the curator of the Folklore Wine Museum collection. “We are not sure whether or not it could stand the shock to the air. It is still liquid and there are some who believe it should be subjected to new scientific analysis but we are not sure.” said Tekampe on the matter.

“The Roman wine from Speyer.” Photo by Altera levatur – CC BY SA 4.0

This rare artifact of the ancient world was created during the early days of the tradition of wine production and consumption, which was begun by the ancient Greeks. The tradition was later embraced by the ancient Romans, who also took Dionysus, the Greek god of agriculture, wine, and fertility, and renamed him Bacchus.

Contrary to the general notion and belief that the older the wine is, the better, the Speyer wine is presumed to be undrinkable. According to the Daily Mail, Professor Monika Christmann said that although the Speyer wine might not be microbiologically spoiled, it “would not bring joy to the palate.”

Vintage perfumes hold their allure

W hile helping my 81-year-old mum clear out unwanted clothes from her wardrobe to take to the local Oxfam shop, we came across three half-used bottles of perfume stashed in their boxes since the 1980s and 1990s, when she stopped using them.

Kept in the dark, the trio were still fresh – it is exposure to sunlight and heat that makes perfumes go off. None of the scents was to my taste but, rather than throw them out, we wondered if they might be of use to someone else.

An hour or so searching the internet revealed the existence of a healthy vintage perfume collectables market where enthusiasts are willing to pay good money to get their hands and their noses on old scents that have been discontinued or reformulated. It transpired that my mum's three bottles could be worth around £80.

To find out more about the market, I contacted self-taught perfumer and vintage scent collector Sarah McCartney. Following 14 years as head writer for handmade cosmetics retailer Lush, during which time she read 200 books on essential oils and herbalism and played with the materials her boss gave her to learn what everything smelled like, McCartney gave up her day job to start creating fragrances.

"After years writing and learning about scents, I wanted to create those I couldn't find in the shops," she says. Two and a half years on, the result is her 4160Tuesdays brand, sold mainly through her website, where she also sells vintage perfume samples.

For McCartney, collecting vintage perfumes is all about finding out what older scents smelled like as an essential part of creating new ones.

The attraction for many collectors is that the formulas for famous perfumes change over time, often because perfumers have to remove ingredients used in the original formula that have been banned or restricted by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), the body that regulates the guidelines for safe usage of chemicals and oils in perfumes. So vintage scents often smell very different to their modern versions.

The use of oakmoss, for example, a species of lichen that grows on oak trees and a common ingredient in a lot of classic scents, has been severely restricted in recent years. Other natural materials such as certain musks, once much used by perfumers, are no longer considered safe and have been banned.

"In shops, perfume retailers will often tell you that the formula in a particular scent has been the same for ever, but that is not true," McCartney says. "The art of the commercial perfumer is to make scents smell as close as possible to the original. Perfumes are also sometimes reformulated to follow fashion trends or to reduce costs by using cheaper versions of an expensive ingredient. So my interest in smelling vintage and discontinued perfumes is to compare the old with the new."

The term vintage is quite loosely defined in the perfume world. If, hidden at the back of a cupboard, you have Shocking by Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, in its original 1930s mannequin-shaped bottle, then congratulations – it is worth up to £1,000. Bottles of Chanel No 5 from periods such as the 1950s are also highly prized. However, collectors will be interested in any pre-2000 recognisable brands because it was around this time that a number of EU restrictions came in, causing many perfumes to be discontinued or reformulated.

"So if you have some old perfumes from as recent as the 1980s and 1990s, don't chuck them out," McCartney says. "If you are not interested in starting a collection yourself, you can make money out of them."

There is no price guide telling you what particular vintage perfumes are worth in the UK, where most buying and selling is done online via eBay. "Like many collectables, they are worth what someone is prepared to pay for them on any one day, though looking at 'completed sales' on eBay will give you an idea of how much particular scents have sold for recently," she says.

Sought-after scents at the moment include vintage Miss Dior, Diorella and Eau Sauvage, all by Christian Dior, 1970s scents by Mary Quant, 1970s hippy-chick scent Aqua Manda by Goya and, as always, pre-2000 Chanel No 5.

Smells good: Jill Papworth's mother's perfumes. Photograph: Guardian

Appraising my mother's three scents, McCartney tells me all are in good condition, definitely pre-2000 and saleable. The half-full atomiser of Eau My Sin by Lanvin is a 1970s or 1980s bottle, she reckons, and would fetch around £30. The third-full bottle of Lancôme Trésor first came out in 1990 and smells similar to the current version, so is not quite as desirable and would probably go for £12-£15. Meanwhile, mum's nearly full bottle of Yves Saint Laurent Yvresse would sell for £30-£40. Had it been branded with its original name, Champagne (changed when France's champagne producers sued), it would be worth more.

If you are selling vintage scent on eBay, it is best to restrict your sales to UK buyers because international rules agreed by Royal Mail and other bodies such as the Civil Aviation Authority forbid the mailing of perfumes overseas. Knowing that some individuals and businesses have long flouted this rule, Royal Mail tightened up its enforcement procedures in January this year. Now, if you send a bottle of perfume by Royal Mail to an overseas buyer, you risk your parcel being scanned and the bottle confiscated.

Similar rules banning UK sellers from sending perfume in the domestic mail will be relaxed in July, when individuals, like business customers, will be allowed to send up to four bottles (maximum 150ml each), subject to strict packaging and labelling rules.

There are thought to be several thousand vintage perfume collectors in the UK, most of whom make use of The website has been described as the biggest online reference guide to the world of fragrances, with a searchable database of more than 20,000 new and vintage perfumes, consumer reviews and forum discussions. Meanwhile, many scent fans will be familiar with the book Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez.

If you are inspired to start collecting, it is worth scouring car-boot sales, junk shops and the dusty back shelves in old chemist shops.

"Last year I found a bottle of Nina Ricci's Deci Dela, which was discontinued in the 1990s, in a chemist shop in London," McCartney says. "Unfortunately they only had one left."

And don't despair if you come across old perfume bottles whose contents have evaporated – there is a separate collectables market for empty perfume bottles … but that is another story.