During Middle Ages, we keep perfuming with gum balms
Aristocrats from Ancient Egypt put under their headgear or wig, small cones of cooked dough that diffused nice scents of spices and resin when it melted. During Middle Ages, they kept perfuming themselves with cinnamon, amber and gum balms in the form of birds (The ‘Birdies of Cyprus‘). The Christian Middle Age didn’t really use perfumes (the Church being wary of these ‘artifices of the devil’ or when they used it some, it was in form of ointments, creams, balms, incenses, perfumed oil, flower crown during religious rites). In the medieval time, the perfumery has faced a decrease in West. Since Rome fell appart at the Vth century before Jesus Christ because of the barbarians, the art of perfum took refuge in the Byzantine Empire. Moreover, the profane use of scents, symbol of the frivolity of the heathens is sentenced by The Fathers of Church. The use of ointments, oils, incenses, and myrrh kept going lasted in the liturgy. From the middle of the XIIth century, the influence of the Arab world through the trades and crusades and the need of hygiene (use of soap) contributed to the revival of perfumes in the western world. In 1190, King Philippe Auguste allowed the corporation of glovers perfumers.
The Arabs, masters of the Spices Routes, brought back the spices and techniques from China and India. We award the Arabs, heirs of the antique knowledge on the subject, a determining role in the evolution of the perfumery, thanks to the development of the still and the serpentine in the XIVth century. These instruments allowed the distillation of the alcohol, a technique which developed the modern perfumes. Contrary to the wide-spread ideas, hygiene remains an important concern for the time. Then appeared ‘pomanders’, which are balls filled with perfumed products where the exhalations escaped by the perforations on the surface. Many fragrances were forgotten during these times of withdrawal and were only rediscovered during the reopening of the Roman commercial roads for the crusades or with the access to new civilisations during Marco Polo’s or Venice’s long travels. As the crusaders returned from their Easter expeditions, they brought back cosmetics and scents.
© Chaalis, Le Figaro, L’Art des Mets