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History of Scents, Part I

The word perfumes, derived from the Latin per fumus, meaning through smoke.

Aromatherapy or the practice of scenting dates back over 6,000 years. It has been an integral part of development and civilization throughout history. In the earliest written records, fragrance was many times exclusively used as a form of worship for the gods. In Ancient Times, fragrance had divine value and power.

In Ancient Times, the Egyptians were the first major civilization to use perfumes for personal enjoyment. They used incense, scented massage lotions and bath oils as part of their daily routines. Besides hygiene use, they were the first known civilization to use essential oils and herbs (myrrha and cassia, a type of cinnamon) to embalm the bodies of their dead. Additionally during special ceremonies in their culture, participants in these ceremonies would frequently wear hats that were made of oil and other materials that when burned or heated, would melt and release fragrances into the air. The Egyptians were even buried with perfume oil, in the belief that they would need the oils to make their skin smell and feel good in the afterlife.

Via The Egyptians, perfume next arrived in Greece. The Greeks in general used an enormous amount of perfume and would scent each area of their body differently. In Greece, scent remained an integral part of daily life. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine used aromatic fumigations to rid Athens of The Plague from 430-427 BC. Hippocrates in his treatment of the sick used plant based oils, both in bath and massage to treat the ill.

Another interesting aside on the history of scenting was the evidence that Ancient Romans would throw lavish “themed” parties. One such theme that was well documented during this time period was “scent.” In a funny antidote, Nero (yes, the same Nero who played the fiddle while Rome burned) threw a “scenting party.” In todays’ money, the cost of such a lavish affair would be the equivalent of $100,000.