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Ancient Greece


The influence of perfume is also closely linked to Greek civilisation. As early as the Creto-Mycenaean era (1500 BC), the Greeks believed that divine beings revealed themselves through spices and perfumes.

The lush nature of the country offered a great variety of aromatic plants. Plant oils, such as olive oil, made it possible to stabilize these fragrances. The conquests of Alexander, and his discovery of the four spice roads, introduced the use of sandalwood, cinnamon, nutmeg, nard, benzoin and costus root. The first animal-based perfumes also began to be used: castoreum (a secretion of the beaver), musk, civet and ambergris.

Presumed to be of divine or mythical origin, perfumes were essential in worship ceremonies: after animal offerings, rare perfumed substances such as myrrh and frankincense were burned.

In the same way, perfumed ointments and smoke with purifying properties accompanied birth, marriage and death. Perfume played a major role during funerals, as it helped the souls onwards to the afterlife. Dead bodies wrapped in perfumed shrouds were burned or buried with precious urns and sweet-smelling plants such as rose, lily and violet, which may have symbolised eternal life. 

Apart from these rites, the Greeks devoted themselves to a true cult of bodily hygiene and external beauty. Thus, Hippocrates recommended remedies created from sage, mallow, cumin, etc., administered in the form of smoke, massages and baths. After showering in the public baths, a social meeting place, men and women perfumed their bodies with oils of iris, marjoram and others.  During banquets, guests’ feet were washed as a sign of hospitality. The guests were then offered garlands of flowers, flavored wines, rose unguents and clove oil.

In Crete, before the famous Minoan bullfights, the athletes coated their bodies in perfumed oil.