Perfume History

Perfume History

Etymology

of the word perfume: most recently the word “perfume” was derived from the French word “parfum”, which in turn originated from the Italian words “parfumo”, and slightly older Italian name “parfumare”.  Fumare in Italian was derived from the Latin word “fumare”, which can mean “smoke, fumes, or steam”.  The word “fumare” is derived from the Medieval Latin word “fumus”.

In a nutshell it went like this from recent to old: Perfume (English) > Parfum (French) > Parfumo (Italian) > Parfumare (Old Italian) > Fumare (Latin) > Fumus (Medieval Latin).

So Per Fumare, or Per Fumus means Through (per) Smoke (fumare), essentially perfume history started as mostly as burning incense and resins.

Antiquity Period (period before the year 476)

As mentioned above, perfumes started out as burning incense or resins, and was mostly for religious ceremonies, rituals, and embalming especially in Egypt.  Balms were used by the Egyptians in religious ceremonies first, and then later used more charnel pleasures such as love making, or foreplay.   It is estimated that the history of perfume started being prominent about 3500 years ago in Egypt for these purposes.  Cleopatra is said to have been one of the earliest historical figure to use perfume on her person, which she used to seduce her lovers.  Others wore perfume to mask body odors.

Two popular early fragrances were used in Egypt, Myrrh, and Frankincense, both also cited in the Bible.  Myrrh, and Frankincense are derived from tree saps, then burned to defuse the aroma in the air especially during ceremonies and rituals.  Frankincense is milky white, and Myrrh is reddish.  Two other fragrances used at the time were derived from plants, Rose and Peppermint, which they infused with a carrier oil, and used on their person as body fragrance oils.

Known civiliazations who used burning fragrances during the Antiquity period:  Egypt is believed to be the first civilazstion to use perfumery.  Egyptian people were among the first to use overall cosmetics, such as eyeliners, and fragrances.  Later perfumery was used by the Arabs, the Greeks, and the Romans,  who improved on what the Egyptian knew about perfume.  Even though scents and fragrances were not foreign to East Asian Civilizations, they used fragrances more in the form of burning incense than on the body.

The Middle Ages (period from the 5th to the 15th century)

During the first part of the middle ages, Europe experienced a kind of cultural stagnation, and perfumery was not thriving there.  Meanwhile eastern civilizations such as India, Japan, China, and North Africa thrive in the trade and use of fragrances.  Finally towards the 12th century, Europe caught on and learned the art of distillation, learned from the Arabs.  Europeans used herbal fragrances to ward off epidemics, and also used them as disinfectants.  A metal ball, called a pomander, was used to transport and store perfumes, where holes on the ball would allow the fragrance to sip through the ball.

The Renaissance (from 1490 to 1600)