Smell Like An Egyptian: Egyptian Perfume

 Ancient Egyptians valued perfume. We know this due to the discovery of beautiful fragrance flacons used to hold unguents scented with tree resins and sweet spices. These flacons were often ornately decorated and made from costly materials such as Alabaster, glass, gold, and ebony. Wealthy Egyptians were even buried with urns of perfume to take with them into the afterlife.

                                Create Your Own Egyptian Perfume.

In Egyptian culture there was actually a god charged with the protection of perfume makers and perfumed plants. This god was named Nefertem, who arose from the primal waters as a Water lily at the beginning of the world and later became the sun god, Ra.

 “I invoke Nefertem, in the following of Ptah [9]. Thou art the guardian and protector of the perfume and oil makers, protector and god of the sacred lotus. Osiris is the body of the plants, Nefertum is the soul of the plants, the plants purified. The divine perfume belongs to Nefertum living forever.”

Hymn to Nefertem, 18th dynasty. Steve Van Toller, G. H. Todd: Fragrance: Psychology and Biology of Perfume, 1992 Springer, p.290

It seems from this that Egyptians may have regarded the scent of the plant almost as if it were the distilled essence of its soul; which explains why rare aromatics took on an almost sacred significance, featuring in many mystic rites and during the embalming process.

Egyptian Perfume Lotus

 An Egyptian lady smelling a Lotus.

Egyptian Perfume

 Egyptians perfuming themselves!

But what exactly would we have found in an Egyptian perfume?

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the base of an Egyptian fragrance would not have been denatured alcohol as is common today, but an oil of some kind. Relatively unscented oils would have been chosen to hold the fragrance, such as Moringa oil, Caster Oil, Olive oil, or even Sweet Almond oil.

As you may have guessed, the scent of the indigenous Water Lily or Lotus was a very popular Egyptian fragrance. It was considered to be a sacred symbol of rebirth as it was present at the beginning of the world, and also because the Lotus blooms all year round and sinks down into the water at night, rising and opening again at dawn. 

                                       Create Your Own Egyptian Perfume.

The Blue Lotus was macerated in oils and used to anoint the body. The flower heads were used to scent baths; were worn on the body as a scented adornment; and were even inhaled at parties due to their mildly narcotic effects. So it is clear that the sweet and intoxicating scent of the Blue Lotus would have featured heavily in Egyptian perfume.

Aromatic tree resins and spices are amongst some of the other ingredients which would have been popular in Egyptian fragrance. Favourable climate conditions meant that it was possible to import many exciting and rare aromatics from India, Lebanon, Crete, and Punt (presumed to be somewhere near the Horn of Africa). Some of the most desirable imports were Cinnamon, Anise, Cedar wood, Sandalwood, Ginger, Cardamon, Juniper , Frankincense and Myrrh. These exotic aromatics were costly and served as a status symbol showing that the owner had great wealth and power.

Roses and jasmine were also appreciated by the ancient Egyptians- even now Egypt is one of the most prolific producers of jasmine essential oil.

Other more unusual scents which might have appeared in an authentic Egyptian perfume are honey and wine, as these were common additions to some of the earliest Egyptian fragrances. Now, of course, we could use a honey or wine fragrance oil rather than using the real thing- as it must have been a little sticky!

In short, Egyptian perfume was a combination of exotic resins, spices, and flowers; many of which they acquired by trading with other lands.  

Some popular components of an Egyptian fragrance would have been:

·         Frankincense

·         Myrrh

·         Honey

·         Wine

·         Sandalwood

·         Benzoin

·         Cedar

·         Ginger

·         Cloves

·         Nutmeg

·         Cinnamon

·         Lotus

·         Rose

·         Jasmine

...combined together in an oil base, such as Sweet Almond or Moringa oil.

Would like to capture the fragrance of ancient Egypt? Click here.