Exploring the obscure – my journey

Reconstructing the scents of the past

In March of 2021 I had the opportunity to present my reconstructions of historical fragrances at the12th Experimental Archaeology Conference: World Tour.

Here is the link to the short talk dedicated to perfumes of Greco-Roman antiquity and the early Islamic states. It is a very basic introduction to ingredients and methods used to prepare fragrances in the past.

Spreading the knowledge of historical perfumery and cosmetics – available talks

The current list of talks I can offer:

This is the short introduction to the perfumery of the western world (3 parts)

1. Historical Perfumery in the West. From The Bronze Age To Classical Antiquity (90 minutes)

Part 1 of course dedicated to the earliest perfumery history in the western world. I will cover both written sources and archaeological discoveries.

2. Historical Perfumery in the West. How To Be Like Empress Zoe (Eastern Empire) (90 minutes)

Part 2 of the course dedicated to the historical perfumery in the western world. We will discuss the fragrant world of the Eastern Empire (Byzantium). By the way, Empress Zoe was known for her young looks and passion for creating her own perfumes. And driving mad her courtiers and eunuchs who spent a lot of time grinding and mixing her concoctions…

3. Historical Perfumery in the West. Late Medieval And Renaissance Recipes (90 minutes)

Part 3 of the course dedicated to the history of the perfumery in the western world. We will discuss late medieval and Renaissance recipes which survived both in materia medica and book of secrets texts. Be prepared for plenty of musk and other animalistic odors.

4. The perfumery handbook of Al-Zahrawi or how to perfume everyone and everything in 11th century Al-Andalus (120 minutes)

Al-Zahrawi (or Albucasis) is mostly known as author of major medical texts, but he was also renowned for his work on perfumery and beauty care. This class will discuss the basics of the early Arabic perfumery that shaped Albucasis’ approach to aromatherapy and fragrances. We will also cover major aromatics used in 10th century, technology of production of incense, fragrant oils/waters and the many varieties of fragrances used by elites of Al-Andalus.

5. Ramik, sukk and galiyah – the amazing scents of early Islamic states (2 hours)

The art of perfumery in early Muslim states influenced the use of fragrances from Byzantium to Song Dynasty China. I will cover the aromatics used in perfumery (including carryovers from antiquity and new imports), the methods of fragrance preparation, sources for recipes, and the view of contemporary authors on fragrance use in daily life. As a bonus, I will discuss the preparation of a few basic fragrances like sukk (a compound ingredients used in many recipes), bukhur (compound incense) and duhn of ben (a scented oil preparation). The modern substitute for major aromatics will be also included.

6. Roman cosmetics – archaeological extant samples and how to make them (60 minutes)

We know a lot about Roman cosmetics from literary works and figurative art. But the neglected part are the extant samples of cosmetics found within the Roman territories. I will discuss the archaeological discoveries and methods which can be used for recreation. Warning: some cosmetics are toxic and can be only used as part of display.

7. Roman makeup – a survey based on literary and archaeological sources (120 minutes)

A survey of makeup products used by the wealthy women and by the not so affluent. I will also discuss tools and methods used for making the cosmetics and applying the makeup.

8. Everything red, purple and pink – a survey of historical color cosmetics for lips and cheeks (60 minutes)The shades of red, pink and purple were always considered attractive to the human eye and pigments like red earth (iron oxide) were among first used for purpose of face adornment. I will present a survey of historical cosmetics in shades of red, purple and pink, from Bronze Age to 16th century. We will visit ancient Sumer, Egypt, Rome and its territories, China, and we will end up our journey in Renaissance Europe.

9. Renaissance perfumes – a practical approach (this is a class on starting own still room in the kitchen) (90 minutes)

This class will cover an introduction to perfumery in Renaissance Europe and best ways to start own journey into the art of compounding historical fragrances. I will discuss reputable sources of aromatics, cheapest way to start your own still room and safety precautions.

10. ‘Divine Beads, Beads from the Paradise’ – introduction to historical fragrant jewelry (90 minutes)

Fragrant jewelry made of aromatics appeared quite early though it is hard to find extant artefacts because of their fragility. We will visit ancient Rome, early Islamic caliphates, medieval China, and Renaissance Italy to have a look at recreated fragrant beads and pomanders.

11. Sticky stuff – binders used in Chinese fragrances (60 minutes)

There is much more to binders than just honey or plum pulp. Several plant-based ingredients were used as binders which is a unique tradition of Chinese fragrance technology. Each binder will be discussed in a context of a specific fragrance recipe. This class requires some familiarity with methods used in making traditional incense blends in the Far East Asia.

12. Tea – another look at the bitter herb (60 minutes)

Tea throughout Chinese history was used as medicine (directly or indirectly to prepare other ingredients), or as beverage. It was served in multitude of styles – as a thick beverage with milk and meat during the early period, as sweetened pills to quench thirst, to the exquisite flavored teas during Song Dynasty period (960 – 1279) though it was not our Earl Grey. I will discuss the various uses of tea and the proper way to prepare the flavored tea.

13. The art of perfumery in ancient Rome (90 minutes)

This class is dedicated to the perfumery in ancient Rome. We will discuss the aromatics used and their sources, methods used for preparation and contemporary views on perfuming. I will cover both written sources and archaeological discoveries.

This series of talks is a survey of perfumery traditions in pre-imperial and imperial China, and will cover the period from Warring States period to early 17th century (3 parts)

14. Perfumery handbook of China. The beginnings (Warring States period to Tang Dynasty) (90 minutes)

This talk covers the earliest olfactory traditions and the progress as new ideas and ingredients started to arrive in China with the opening of Han Dynasty China to foreign influences. It is a fascinating journey from simple bitter herbs use to complex blends, heavily influenced by Indian, and eventually Arabic perfumery.

15. Perfumery handbook of China. Dragon’s brain, dragon’s spittle – the exquisite fragrances of China’s Song Dynasty (90 minutes)

The art of incense compounding reached its height during Song Dynasty. The influences of Indian states and Muslim caliphates’ perfumery traditions were blended with Chinese aesthetics to create the most unique scents in Chinese history. No wonder that at least two emperors of Song were accused of spending more time on compounding new incense blends than on governing. It was also a period when incense compounding split into the art pursued by aristocracy and ‘democratic’ cheap blends accessible for the less affluent populace. We will discuss ingredients and their origins, the extant recipe sources and dissect a few recipes, showing the variety of fragrances available during this period.

16. Perfumery handbook of China. Fragrances of conquest dynasties to Ming Dynasty (90 minutes)

During the period of division and unrest (conquest dynasties of Liao-Jin-Western Xia-Yuan), the Chinese olfactory traditions were spread to the northern tribes as the books, physicians, and aromatics traveled to the newly established states. Many aromatics were exported at massive scale from China to the western world, especially during the Yuan rule. With the reestablishment of Han ruling family (Ming Dynasty), the olfactory traditions were consolidated and the division into the ‘high’ art of incense blending and ‘low’ type production of cheap incense for the masses was finalized. Some of the major written works on fragrances and materia medica were completed during this period, and we are lucky to have them still available.

The talks are available free of charge for the non-profit organization (offered online through the Zoom platform).

In-person lectures combined with displays and fragrance/cosmetics testing are available at a very limited basis in US and Poland (I do not travel much – not enough vacation time or funds for travel).

Historical perfumery online course

Learn the basics of historical perfumery at your own pace, in the comfort of your own kitchen/still room/whatever place you prefer.

We have currently 10 fragrances posted, each with step by step instructions. I cover not only the fragrance itself, but also details on preparation of compound ingredients needed to recreate it.

This is the list of the current fragrances:

#1 Telinon – a fenugreek oil made according to Pedanius Diocorides recipe.

Stypsis – the process of making oil receptive for perfumes of antiquity.

#2 Krocinon – a saffron oil made according to Pedanius Diocorides recipe.

#3 Linden perfume– a fragrant oil from Mochlos, Crete, ~1500 BCE.

#4 Perfumed powder for rubbing body before bath – from 9th century India, made according to recipe from ‘Haramekhala’ by Mahuka.

#5 Perfumed water from 16th century Venice – made according to recipe from ‘Notandissimi secreti de l’arte profumatoria’ by Giovanventura Rossetti, 1555 edition.

Sampling the perfumed water from Venice.

#6 Incense shaped like small birds – from recipe included in ‘’I secreti de la signora Isabella Cortese: ne’qvali si contengono cose minerali, medicinali, arteficiose, & alchimiche, & molte de l’arte profumatoria, appartenenti a ogni gran signora : con altri bellissimi secreti aggiunti’’ by Isabella Cortese, 1565 edition.

The rose-scented carbone di salice.
I am not a talented artist – these are really the ugliest birds possible.

#7 Imperial Courtyard Incense – from Song Dynasty China, made according to recipe from Chen’s ‘Fragrances.’

#8 Perfect Royal Oil – made from recipe included in ‘’I secreti de la signora Isabella Cortese : ne’qvali si contengono cose minerali, medicinali, arteficiose, & alchimiche, & molte de l’arte profumatoria, appartenenti a ogni gran signora : con altri bellissimi secreti aggiunti’’ by Isabella Cortese, 1665 edition.

#9 Rhodides – spicy rose petal beads made according to Pedanius Diocorides recipe (translation by Lily Beck).

Necklace made of faux coral and rhodides beads

#10 Incense for moist method of scenting clothes – redacted from recipe by Wang Tao, Tang Dynasty China.

Preparing opercula the Tang Dynasty way.

I let the members of the group decide what fragrances are desired next. I post surveys on regular basis, and the fragrance with most votes is the next one to be redacted.

Come and join us! Brag about your creations! We love pictures!

This is the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/807436473052978

‘My’ dream event

That’s a Beautiful Event –

The Perfumery, Beauty Care and Adornment Virtual Symposium

Update: the event schedule is up!


I have been long thinking about an event combing all my favorite topics on perfumery, beauty care and adornments.

And it is happening this December, Friday the 4th to Sunday the 6th, 2020.

This is a virtual event (Zoom platform), and free for all to attend. No preregistration is required, we only ask the participants to obey the rules of mutual respect (no bullying, harassment or obscene behavior will be tolerated).

Link to the Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/340880087244437/


We are currently looking for instructors passionate about all things beauty related and willing to teach a class or more on the following topics, with time frame from Bronze Age (or earlier) to year 1600:
• Perfumery and fragrant jewelry
• Beauty care (defined as skin/teeth/body care)
• Bathing/baths/pleasure gardens
• Hair care /hair styling/hair pieces and wigs/hair adornments
• Makeup
• Soap making/laundry
• Permanent (tattoos, tooth inlays, piercing) and temporary (henna art) body embellishment.

We welcome pre-recorded classes/presentations combined with live Q&A sessions, live presentations and mix of the above.

Deadline for submitting classes is November 20th 2020 or until the class schedule is filled (whichever happens first).

This is the link for instructors’ sign up:


We are also planning a social room open throughout the event for less formal conversation, a break between classes and meeting new people who share similar interests.

There will be also discussion panels dedicated to the following issues:

• Round table discussion about historical cosmetics and modern racial sensitivity

• Centering persona development around activities related to beauty care and fragrances

• Round table for beginning cosmetic crafters (more guided) and another for more experienced (more about problem solving/sharing discoveries).

To avoid any infringement on copyrights, the classes and other activities will not be recorded during the event and/or uploaded into public domain.

How to perfume gloves according to The Treasurie of Commodious Conceits by John Partridge, 1573.

To perfume the leather glove, I used a combination of two recipes from John Partridge book. The full text can be access here http://www.medievalcookery.com/notes/treasurie.pdf5

To perfume Gloues.

cap. l

TAke Gloues, & wash them in Rosewater, or Damaske water, tyll the scurfs of ye Lether be gon, and then stretch them foorth softly, and keepe the water, you wash them with styll: Then hang them in a cleane lynnen cloth that is foulded .iii. or .iii. doubles: and when they be drye, let them lye in Rose leues dryed, a day or two: then take Oyle of Ciuet Almons, and Musk, and grind them together vp on a Marble stone. Stretch them foorth softly, and with your hande annoynte your Gloues .iii. or .iiii. tymes: & euer among stretch them foorth, then let them drye, and euer stretch them forth softly as thei dry. Then take Sandifer mixed with a lyttle Ambergreace, and strewe the powder of itthinly vpon them and laye them in a Paper: and in a Box, or els melte the Amber greace with a quantiti of Rosewater, and mixe the Sandifer to it, and so annoynt the Gloues with the same. Then let them dry, and lay them in fayre white papers.

3. A preparatiue for Gloues.

WAshe ye Gloues as afore is said, tyll the sent of the leather bee gon, then take Beniamin .ii. ounces, of Storax Calamit .i. ounce, let them be very fine, then take oyle of Ciuet Almons and mingle it with Beniamin & Storax vpon a Marbell stone: When it is wel grownd, put it into an earthen Potte with more Oyle of Ciuet Almond, then put in Cloues in powder, and so let is stand very close couerd: and when you neede, take a little Rosewater in a Sponge, and rub the Gloues softly, & then in lyke manner with the Oyle called Ciuet Oyle for the same purpose.

Let’s start!

Rosewater made from dried rose petals

Quick damask rosewater base made by simmering method

Rosewater made from dried rose petals

•Dried rose petals (best combination are equal amounts of Rosa gallica and Rosa damascena)

•Very often Siam benzoin, cinnamon/cassia and cloves were added (individually or in various combinations)

•Petals soaked in distilled water overnight

•Distillation by reverse pot cover method (no alembic required) or 30 minutes of simmering in double boiler

•Musk grains can be added after rosewater is done or before distillation (‘damask rosewater’)

–I add crushed muskmallow seeds (Abelmoschus moschatus), cloves and cinnamon to my dry rose petals before infusing overnight

–To preserve color, I add citric acid (lemon juice was used in period for the same purpose).

Soaking the gloves in rosewater, squeezing the excess of liquid and drying in shade in layers of linen. This process is repeated 3 times or more. Remember to stretch the gloves as they dry! 
Then store the completely dried  gloves in a box with dried petal roses for at least 2 days (R. damascena or other fragrant variant)

The preparation for gloves (scented super sticky paste)

• 1 oz sweetgum resin as most likely candidate for storax (Liquidambar orientalis)

• 2 oz benzoin resin, also known as gum Benjamin or Sumatra benzoin  (Styrax benzoin)

Grind and mix. Add some civet almond oil and continue to mix

• 1/4 oz cloves (Syzygium aromaticum)

Add powdered cloves and some more civet oil. Store in a pottery (or glass container)

(Fast: 10 mL sweet almond oil  with 21 drops of 3.5% civet tincture (Hermitage Oils))

(More accurate: macerate civet paste in sweet almond oil)

Making the scented paste
Prepare the quick damask rosewater base and a natural sponge. Dip the sponge in rosewater and squeeze the excess of liquid. Put the glove on, smear some paste on and work in the leather with the sponge. Dry and stretch. Repeat as needed.
The glove after application of the scented paste is sticky!
After drying, there are whitish stains from the scented paste.
In order to remove the white stains and make the leather supple, we need to apply the civet almond oil. Put the glove on and start working the civet almond oil in the leather with the sponge. Dry and stretch.
After drying, store scented gloves in a closed container or box. You can put in some dried rose petals. The process of applying the scented paste and civet almond oil can be repeated as needed.

I hope your gloves will be wonderfully scented!

Short history of rouge

The short history of rouge in the Mediterranean region and Far East Asia or ‘If it is red, purple, orange, lavender or pink, use it!’

Rouge may have been the earliest cosmetic invented by humans (red earths)
–Though this is the issue of ‘chicken versus egg’ as most of these cosmetics could have been also used as lip color
•Used in ancient Mesopotamia, in the Aegean, in the Middle East and Far East and Southeast Asia
•The application of rouge continued through the High Medieval period and Renaissance
•No proof that Egyptians used a rouge (the function of the Cypriot scented pink powder is ambiguous)
•Both toxic and non-toxic substances were used as rouge
•Many colorants were used as dyes in textile processing
•Colorants sourced from minerals, plants and animals.

Hematite and red ochre –the oldest mineral ingredients
•Hematite -mineral form ofiron (III) oxide (Fe2O3), one of several iron oxids(red earths)
–Earliest proof of use comes from ancient Sumer (city of Ur), ~3rd millennium BCE


–Ingredient of choice till medieval Persia
•Red ochre – clay earth pigment which is a mixture of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand
–Used for both cheek and lip color
–The painted faces and ears in Minoan culture were done with red ochre paste (ointment).

Red ochre in animal fat base on Caterina Sforza’s foundation. A cheaper though not so bright alternative to vermilion.

Toxic mineral ingredients
• Vermilion – brilliant red and scarlet pigment originally made from the powdered mineral cinnabar
• Cinnabar – bright red mineral consisting of mercury sulfide, natural ore.
• Realgar – orange red arsenic sulfide mineral, known as masculine yellow, bull’s blood or sandarac.
• Naturally occurring form of lead tetroxide, also known as red lead (minium).
• Vermillion was most desired and the most expensive ingredients for rouge from Bronze Age to Renaissance and later
• Vermilion color was unmatched until mid 20th century when intense red pigment was obtained from petroleum production byproducts.

Vermilion based rouge sample for the Northern Wei cosmetic project (5th century CE) and minium based rouge sample (medieval China).

Colors extracted from plants
•Brazilwood (sappanwood)
•Red sandalwood
•Gromwell (Far East)
•Malabar spinach seeds (Far East)
•Carthamin from safflower (Far East)
•Black mulberry fruits
•Rose petals
•Orchil extract (purple dye extracted from lichens)
•Red poppy flower
•Dregs of wine

The dyes were used in liquid form after extraction (like alkanet) or precipitated as lakes (salts) with alum on base of flour, starch, clay, gypsum (like madder or sappanwood).

Alkanet rouge on Caterina Sforza’s foundation.
Red sandalwood on Caterina Sforza’s foundation.
Orchil on the Londinium foundation.
Red poppy flowers on the Londinium foundation.
The petals of red poppy (Papaver rhoeas) are used fresh or soaked in tiny amount of water before use. It is quite possible that red-colored petals from various flowers were used directly on unprepared skin (without any base) by less well-to-do women. Gathering petals would not have required a trained slave to prepare the cosmetic or money to buy ready products.

Colors extracted from animals (mostly insects)
•Kermes – best was collected in Armenia (late antiquity and early medieval period) and Poland (High Medieval period)
•Lac (India and Far East) –deep red colorant extracted from the crude shellac resin excreted by the lac insect, indigenous to southeast Asia
–gives nice pink color on starch base
•Cochineal from Dactylopiuscoccus
–late arrival, used mostly in 16th century and later
•Purpurissum – Tyrian purple (Ancient Greek: πορφύρα, porphúra; Latin: purpura), also known as Tyrian red) dyeing bath mixed with any kind of white earth (like chalk, gypsum, kaolin) and dried to powder
–Tyrian purple dye comes from secretion produced by several species of predatory sea snails in the family Muricidae, rock snails originally known by the name Murex.

Lac dye on millet flour (China 4-6th century CE).
Lac rouge applied on the modified 胡粉 (húfěn) foundation. This is my favorite rouge and I usually have quite a heavy hand when I apply it to my face (I layer it several times).

A note on presentation for the non-toxic rouge
1 – lead white base in lard base with starch (based on 6th century China recipe from Qimin Yaoshu (齊民要術) and analysis of excavated sample of 胡粉  (húfěn) from 2nd century CE) – reference sample

2 – safe lead white alternative (titanium dioxide, starch, ground pearls) in lard base (modified from 6th century China recipe from Qimin Yaoshu (齊民 術) and analysis of excavated sample of 胡粉 (húfěn) from 2nd century CE)

3 – Londinium ointment (2nd century CE) (tin oxide IV in beef suet base, starch)

4 – safe lead alternative (titanium dioxide) makeup based on Caterina Sforza recipe from late 15th century (in rose water base with starch and micronized mica).

Recreated historical foundations. No.1 is a reference sample and Nos. 2, 3, 4 are made with ingredients generally considered as safe for use in cosmetics.

The ideal skin was fair and smooth, not white/whitish, and this beauty canon seems to prevail across Europe and Asia for millennia, very often regardless of gender.
Egyptians were wiser and seemed to enjoy a golden skin tone, brushed with tiny amount of pink. Though the lead containing cosmetic from 18th Dynasty may change my view on their healthy habits.

Selected references

Bimson, M. (1980). Cosmetic Pigments from the “Royal Cemetery” at Ur. Iraq, 42(1), 75. https://doi.org/10.2307/4200116

Cotte, M., Dumas, P., Richard, G., Breniaux, R. & Walter, Ph. (2005). New insight on ancient cosmetic preparation by synchrotron-based infrared microscopy. Analytica Chimica Acta, 553 (1-2), 105-110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aca.2005.07.067.

Diamandopoulos, A. A. (1996). Organic and inorganic cosmetics in the preclassical Eastern Mediterranean. International Journal of Dermatology, 35(10), 751–756. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-4362.1996.tb00659.

Dioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos., Tess Anne. Osbaldeston, and Robert P. Wood. 2000. De Materia Medica : Being an Herbal with Many Other Medicinal Materials : Written in Greek in the First Century of the Common Era : A New Indexed Version in Modern English. Johannesburg: IBIDIS

Dusenbury, M. M. (2015). Color in ancient and medieval East Asia.

Early Chinese Cosmetics. (Alec Story). Retrieved June 15, 2020, from https://sundries.alecstory.org/2017/11/early-chinese-cosmetics.html

Farnsworth, M. (1951). Ancient pigments: Particularly second century B.C. pigments from Corinth. Journal of Chemical Education, 28(2), 72. https://doi.org/10.1021/ed028p72

Jia, S., & Shi, S. (1974). A preliminary survey of the book Ch’i Min Yao Shu : an agricultural encyclopaedia of the 6th century = Qimin yaoshu gailun (2nd ed.). Science Press.

Kelly Olson. (2009). Cosmetics in Roman Antiquity: Substance, Remedy, Poison. Classical World, 102(3), 291–310. https://doi.org/10.1353/clw.0.0098

Nosch, M.-L., & Laffineur, R. (2012). KOSMOS : jewellery, adornment and textiles in the Aegean Bronze Age. Peeters.

Partridge, J., & Holloway, J. (2010). The treasurie of commodious conceits,  & Hidden Secrets, and may be called, The huswiues closet, of healthfull prouision. 1573. http://eebo.chadwyck.com/about/about.htm#chron

Pasolini, P. D. (2011). Caterina Sforza. Documenti (Vol. 3). Nabu Press. https://www.amazon.com/Caterina-Sforza-Italian-Desiderio-Pasolini/dp/124824365X

Pérez-Arantegui, J., Cepriá, G., Ribechini, E., Degano, I., Colombini, M. P., Paz-Peralta, J., & Ortiz-Palomar, E. (2009). Colorants and oils in Roman make-ups-an eye witness account. In TrAC – Trends in Analytical Chemistry (Vol. 28, Issue 8, pp. 1019–1028). Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trac.2009.05.006

Pliny, the Elder., and Harris Rackham. 1938. Natural History. Historia Naturalis : In Ten Volumes. 4, Libri XII – XVI (Loeb). The Loeb C. Cambridge Mass. [u.a.]: Harvard University Press. 

Pointer, S. (2005). The artifice of beauty : a history and practical guide to perfumes and cosmetics. Sutton.

Rapp, G. R. (2009). Archaeomineralogy (2nd ed.). Springer.

Ribechini, E., Modugno, F., Pérez-Arantegui, J., & Colombini, M. P. (2011). Discovering the composition of ancient cosmetics and remedies: Analytical techniques and materials. In Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry (Vol. 401, Issue 6, pp. 1727–1738). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00216-011-5112-2

Schafer, E. (1956). The Early History of Lead Pigments and Cosmetics in China. T’oung Pao, 44(1).

Stewart, S. (Susan M. (2007). Cosmetics & perfumes in the Roman world. Tempus.

Van Elslande, E., Guérineau, V., Thirioux, V., Richard, G., Richardin, P., Laprévote, O., Hussler, G., & Walter, P. (2008). Analysis of ancient Greco–Roman cosmetic materials using laser desorption ionization and electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 390(7), 1873–1879. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00216-008-1924-0

Wouters, J., Grzywacz, C. M., & Claro, A. (2010). Markers for Identification of Faded Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.) Colorants by HPLC-PDA-MS: ANCIENT FIBRES, PIGMENTS, PAINTS AND COSMETICS DERIVED FROM ANTIQUE RECIPES. Studies in Conservation, 55(3).

If you like to make your own accurate rouge like the ones presented here, please contact me for detailed recipes.
Please check before attempting any experimentation for potential allergens. Nobody should be harmed by the hobby!

Starting your own journey into historical perfumery – equipment, tools, aromatics suppliers.

I have started putting together a list of the basics needed to start your own fragrance research laboratory at home. Here are my suggestions for tools and suppliers I have tested before.

Equipment and tools
Most items can be purchased on eBay, Amazon, science surplus store on university campuses.

Keep the tools/utensils separate from the regular cooking ones!

•Single use muffin forms for weighing
•Distillation apparatus
(for custom orders of glass sets visit https://historicalglassworks.com/)
•Source of heat (apartment living limits me to use of the electric stove top and tea lights use for open fire source)
•Flat and round bottom Florentine flasks
•Bowls of different sizes (I like glass)
•Tools for mixing like spoons, glass rods
•Funnels (I recommend stainless steel or glass ones, it is possible to also order custom made pottery funnels and sieves)
•Dark glass bottles for storage (I like the round boston glass bottles, the caps can be easily replaced as they tend to degrade)
•Larger containers for storing prepared waters (I recycle glass jars)
•Bain-marie or double boiler
•Cylinders, measuring cups and spoons
•Laboratory pipettes (0.2 ml and 1 ml)
•Filtering material (tightly woven cloth or paper coffee filters)
•Mortar and pestle (glass, porcelain, bronze, wood) or spice grinder (as replacement for servants!)
•Notebook for keeping notes (electronic or traditional)

Suppliers of aromatics
Store all ingredients in tightly closed containers.
Some raw resins should be kept in freezer to prevent mold growth (raw pine resin) and help with aliquoting (like labdanum resin).

This list is probably very subjective. I will be adding new places as I test them and can report my level of satisfaction. If anyone can recommend more good sources for aromatics, please comment on this post. Thank you!














•Your local herbal stores 

•And own garden (if you have access to one)

Historical Perfumery in the West. How To Be Like Empress Zoe

Supplementary material for the class taught on April 13th 2020 as part of online activities within Virtual Classroom and Artisan Display group on Facebook.

The history of perfumery covers over 6000 years so I decided to divide the class into several blocks. This second part is dedicated to Eastern Empire (Byzantium).

Fragrance use

•Religious ceremonies

–blessing of oil

–the perfumed scent of holiness

•Court ceremonies (procession, audiences, the augousta’s wedding night bath ritual, emperor’s bath, gifts to officials and foreign envoys)

–garlands of roses, laurel, myrtle, rosemary, marjoram, two apples and cinnamon stick gifted to highest officials on Holy Thursday of Easter, myrrh (incense for emperor’s bath)

–wild vine and rosewater mentioned when receiving ‘Saracens’ (envoys from the Muslim states)

–for military campaign, antidotes, ready incense and unguents, aromatics: mastic, frankincense,  first and second grade of cinnamon, musk, ambergris, wood and oil of agarwood, saffron, cane sugar

•Fumigation of enclosed spaces (air purification)

–perfumed oils were also used for lighting, especially the rose and lily ones.

•Medication (including antidotes)

•Body care and the art of seduction

*the use as  medication or for pleasure was considered as one.

Guilds and professions (10th century)
The Book of the Eparch to Leo the Wise

•Spicers (grocers)

–sold individual ingredients, used both for cooking and pharmacy •Perfumers

–could not sell simples drugs or individual aromatics

–traded in compound fragrances and dyes

•Apothecaries (manufacturers of simples)

–precursors to pharmacists

Sources for recipes

•Extant texts dedicated to perfumery or medicine

— Oribasius (4th century)

–Aëtius of Amida (late 5th century)

–Metrodora (5th-6th century)

(Byzantine deodorant recipe # 56: rose petals (Rosa centifolia), orris root (Iris x germanica), smyrna (Commiphora erythraea), myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), Malvasia wine)

–Alexander Tralles (6th century)

–Paulus Aegineta (7th century)


— Nicolaus Myrepsus (13th century)

–John the Physician (13th century)


Written by doctor practicing  in provincial town but bad smell and halitosis were still an issue)

(122. For smelling armpits: Grind a liquid astringent with myrrh, mix it with wine and apply to the armpits. Do this when there is smell. 2 Grind litharge, myrrh and cardamom, mix it with good wine and apply to the armpits)

•Extant samples

–catalog of organic plant material from excavations

•Period literary sources which discuss scents use in general

–these are not recipes but they give enough base information to facilitate archaeological experimental reconstruction

Fragrance types

•Scented oils and ointments

–mastic, rose, dill, quince, lily, saffron, marjoram…

— similar recipes to the ones from ancient Greece and Rome


–infusions of aromatics in wine


–compound incense, bound with wine and/or honey, also used as ingredient in antidotes

•Masuaphium (Masucha)

–type of incense cakes bound with wine and tragacanth gum from Astragalus


–antidotes (though often burnt as incense to increase body strength)

•Distilled flower or herb waters with musk and camphor (especially after 9th -10th century, when the influence of the early Arabic pharmaceutical technology started)

Молли / CC BY-SA

Glass alembic for distilling perfume. Early Byzantine period (ca. 6th-7th c. A.D.). Unknown provenance. Archaeological Museum, Nicosia, Cyprus

Aromatics from Byzantium

•Basil, rosemary, marjoram, savory, sage,  coriander, cumin, dill, fenugreek, mint, costmary, borage, myrtle, laurel bay, melilot, wild thyme (serpyllum), periwinkle (Vinca major), poppy, sweet flag, nut grass, asarabaca (Asarum europeum – nefrotoxic), birthwort (Aristolochiaclematitis – nefrotoxic), hyssop, rue (hepatotoxic), wormwood (toxic).

•Crocus (saffron), roses, lily, iris, chrysanthemum, narcissus, meadowsweet, violets, hyacinth, carnations.

•Peony, blue lotus, oleander (toxic) and orchid (all naturalized).

•Grapes (wine and raisins), olives, apples, almonds (bitter almond – toxic), figs, citrons, quinces, cherries and  peaches (both for resin), pomegranates, lemons, oranges, privet.

•Cedar, fir, cypress, savin (toxic), Pistacia trees (for terebinth and mastic), juniper,  ivy (for resin), tamarisk, wild poplar, oak (gall oak and oak bark), pine (pine nuts and bark), chaste tree.

•Sweetgum, styrax (Styrax officinalis), labdanum, balsam (?), colchicum (autumn crocus – nefrotoxic, hepatoxic, hallucinations), branched asphodel (Asphodelus ramosus – nefrotoxic and hepatoxic), scammony, southernwood.

•Honey, bee glue (propolis), beeswax.

*Empress Zoe (11th century) was accused of getting rid of her two husbands. Prolonged serving of wine flavored with perfumes was enough to cause death due to kidneys and liver failure.

Aromatic substances imported from the East and the West

•Costus, valerian, Indian nard, Indian valerian, Celtic nard, galangal, cinnamon, cassia, black and green cardamom, long pepper, cubeb, betel nuts (Areca catechu), cassamum (plai), ginger, zedoary, turmeric, pepper (black and white).

•Bdellium, frankincense, myrrh, Smyrna, camphor, galbanum, gum ammoniac.

•Sow bread (cyclamen), Arabian and royal jasmine.

•White and red sandalwood, agarwood (especially after 9th-10th century), Indian aloes (Aetoxylon sympetalum).

•Deer musk, civet, castoreum, ambergris, onycha (from Red Sea and from India, also use of local opercula from the snails producing the Tyrian purple dye).

•Oak moss, camel grass, rosewood (Dalbergia sissoo), sweet cane, elecampane, cassia fistula, cloves, black myrobalan (Terminalia chebula).

•Tragacanth gum from Astragalus, gum Arabic.

*Independent books or chapters in medical texts discussed replacements for ingredients not available at any given time. It later inspired similar works within Arabian medicine.

Opercula from the Red Sea

Preparing onycha (onyx) or the operculafrom marine snails

–soaking overnight in wine vinegar

–cooking in white vinegar

–washing with water and brush

–burning (in an old frying pan)

–grounding to powder


Oil of Indian nard in sesame oil (cold maceration). Byzantine texts mentioned this oil as ingredient  in compound  oils and ointments.

Examples of perfumery containers






Selected bibliography

Al-Helabi, Abdulaziz, Dimitrios G. Letsios, Moshalleh Al-Moraekhi, and Abdullah Al-Abduljabbar, eds. 2012. Arabia, Greece and Byzantium. Cultural Contacts in Ancient and Medieval Times: Proceedings of the International Symposium on the Historical Relations between Arabia, the Greek and Byzantine World (5th Century BC – 10th Century AD) Riyadh, 6-10 December, 2010. Vol. 2. Riyadh: King Saud University.

Bodin, Helena, and Ragnar Hedlund. 2013. Byzantine Gardens and beyond. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Studia Byzantina Upsaliensia, 13. Uppsala.

Dalby, Andrew. 2003. Flavours of Byzantium. Prospect.

Dalby, Andrew, Scholasticus. Cassianus Bassus, and Emperor of the East Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. 2011. Geoponika: Farm Work: A Modern Translation of the Roman and Byzantine Farming Handbook. Prospect Books.

Lafont, Olivier. 2005. “Le Livre Du Préfet de Léon Le Sage: Intérêt Pour l’histoire de La Pharmacie et Des Médicaments .” Revue d’Histoire de La Pharmacie  346: 247–56. https://www.persee.fr/doc/pharm_0035-2349_2005_num_93_346_5804.

Moffatt, Anne, and Maxeme Tall, eds. 2018. Constantine Porphyrogennetos – The Book of Ceremonies. BRILL. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004344921.

Panas, Marios, Effie Poulakou-Rebelakou, Nicoalos Kalfakis, and Dimitrios Vassilopoulos. 2012. “The Byzantine Empress Zoe Porphyrogenita and the Quest for Eternal Youth.” Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 11 (3): 245–48. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1473-2165.2012.00629.x.

Pointer, Sally. 2005. The artifice of beauty: a history and practical guide to perfumes and cosmetics, Stroud: Sutton.

Zipser, Barbara. 2009.  John the Physician’s Therapeutics. Brill. https://doi.org/10.1163/ej.9789004177239.i-378.

The survey of perfume and incense

Travel in time and place starts here…

Metrodora’s incense recipe # 58 (5th-6th century CE manuscript)

Metrodora’s incense recipe # 57 version 1 (5th – 6th century CE manuscript)

Metrodora’s recipe # 58 (5th-6th century CE manuscript) – scented oil version

Metrodora’s recipe # 57 version 1 (5th-6th century CE manuscript)

Metrodora’s recipe # 57 version 1.2 (5th-6th century CE manuscript)

Oenantharium called Mesopotamenum, Paulus Aegineta, 7th century CE

Oenantharium, Paulus Aegineta, 7th century CE

This is oenantharium (or infusion of aromatics in wine) in making.
It takes 40 days for the infusion to be ready.
The Paulus Aegineta’s text from mid 7th century described oenantharia as scented wines used solely for their fragrance. They were used to wash the body, the household objects like furniture and even sprinkled on the flooring.

Suffimentum rosatum, Paulus Aegineta, 7th century CE

Suffimentum liliaceum, Paulus Aegineta, 7th century CE

*Myrtle is used here as replacement for opobalsamum/balsam (Commiphora opobalsamum) which is not available commercially. From Paulus Aegineta’s work.

Suffimentum rosatum – drying disks.
Suffimentum is both an incense and an ingredient for making antidote

I hope you have enjoyed the journey!

For more information, please contact me by email at murcielago53@hotmail.com

An ongoing perfumery course on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/807436473052978/

For perfume samples or customized products: https://www.etsy.com/shop/TreasuresofTrecio?ref=simple-shop-header-name&listing_id=655226216

Historical Perfumery in the West. Late Medieval And Renaissance Recipes

Supplementary material for the class taught on April 17th 2020 as part of online activities within Virtual Classroom and Artisan Display group on Facebook.

The history of perfumery covers over 6000 years so I decided to divide the class into several blocks. This part is dedicated to the western world and covers High Medieval period and Renaissance.

General use – fragrances are still considered as both luxury item and as medication.

•Religious ceremonies (oils, incense)

–individual saints are associated with oils curing/preventing disease

•Fumigation of enclosed spaces (air purification)

•Medication (including antidotes)

•Body and clothing scenting

  1. Added to laundry
  2. Pomanders
  3. Storage of linens
  4. Perfumed gloves.

•Art of seduction

–spiced wine and food.

Sources for recipes – extant texts dedicated to perfumery (book of secrets) or medicine (materia medica)

Full texts of Renaissance beauty recipe books

1. Notandissimi secreti de l’arte profumatoria by Giovanventura Rosetti


2. I secreti de la signora Isabella Cortese : ne’qvali si contengono cose minerali, medicinali, arteficiose, & alchimiche, & molte de l’arte profumatoria, appartenenti a ogni gran signora : con altri bellissimi secreti aggiunti by Cortese, Isabella


3. Manual de mugeres en el qual se contienen muchas y diversas reçeutas muy buenas.


http://www.larsdatter.com/manual.htm (English translation though the names of ingredients have to be carefully checked)

4. Liébaut / Liébault, Jean. Trois Livres de l’embellissement et ornement du corps humain, pris du latin de M. Jean Liebaut… et faict François. A Paris, chez Jacques Du Puys, 1582.


5. Gli ornamenti delle Donne. Marinello, Giovanni. 1574. Gli Ornamenti Delle Donne. Venice.


6. Ruscelli, Girolamo, and William Ward. 1595. The Secrets of the Reverend Maister Alexis of Piemont: Containing Excellent Remedies against Diverse Diseases, Wounds, and Other Accidents, with the Maner to Make Distillations, Parfumes, Confitures, Dying, Colours, Fusions, and Meltings. London.


7. Partridge, John, and Johnna Holloway. 2010. The Treasurie of Commodious Conceits,  & Hidden Secrets, and May Be Called, The Huswiues Closet, of Healthfull Prouision. 1573.


Links to other texts (not available for free download)

1. Delightes for ladies to adorn their persons, tables, closets, and distillatories: with beauties, banquets, perfumes and Waters. (1608) by Hugh Plat

2. Ricette d’amore e di bellezza di Caterina Sforza, signora di Imola e di Forlì

3. Ricettario galante del principio del secolo XVI by Olindo Guerrini

4. Ricettarrio fiorentino 1498 (and later version of the Ricettario). Crocetti, Luigi, ed. 1968. Ricettario Fiorentino, 1498. Collana di. Biblioteca Nazional Centrale.

5. Magistro Gasparino da Venezia, and Carlo Castellani. 1959. Secreti Medicinali Di Magistro Guasparino Da Vienexia: Andidotario Inedito Del XIV-XV Secolo. Athenaeum Cremonense.


Fragrance types

•Scented oils and ointments

•Distilled waters

  • Homemade distilled rose water made from soured dried petals (Water, soured rose petals (Rosa centifolia).
  • Homemade rose water (distilled) (Water, red rose petals (Rosa gallica), benzoin styrax (Styrax benzoides)).

•Alcohol based perfumes (distilled and infusions)


•Powders (like ciprino – powder of Cyprus)

*Distillation apparatus made of glass, lead, pewter and pottery. Sometimes choice of distilling or not is left to the choice of person using the recipe “distill or not, as you like.”

Aromatics in use

•Basil, pellitory (Spanish chamomile),  Roman and German chamomile,  rosemary, marjoram, savory, sage,  coriander, mint, costmary, borage, myrtle, laurel bay, melilot, wild thyme (serpyllum), sweet flag, nut grass, asarabaca (Asarum europium), hyssop, rue, Syrian rue, wormwood, pennyroyal, winter savory, rhodiola.

•Roses and rosehip, lavender, elderflowers, crocus (saffron), lily, iris, meadowsweet, violets, yarrow, broom, carnations.

•Grapes (wine and raisins), citrons, quinces, pomegranates, lemons, oranges.

•Cedar, fir, cypress, savin, Pistacia trees (for terebinth and mastic), juniper, ivy (for resin), oak (gall oak and oak bark), pine (pine nuts and bark), chaste tree, willow charcoal (used to make fragrant carbone di salice or carbone dulce).

•Sweetgum, styrax (Styrax officinalis), labdanum, balsam (?), scammony, southernwood.

•Honey, bee glue (propolis), beeswax.

•Almond oil, laurel bay berry oil, olive oil.

*Balsam of Gilead appeared regularly in materia medica recipes and in some books of secret. Since balsam was not widely cultivated (the last orchard was in Alexandria and seemed to stop operating by 12th century), the question remains what was traded and sold under the name ‘balsam.’

Aromatic substances –  imported

•Costus, valerian, Indian nard, Indian valerian, galangal, cinnamon, cassia, black and green cardamom, long pepper, cubeb, betel nuts (Areca catechu), cassamum (plai), ginger, zedoary, turmeric, lemongrass, pepper (black and white), grains of paradise, nutmeg, mace.

•Bdellium, frankincense, myrrh, Smyrna, Borneol camphor, galbanum, gum ammoniac, amber resin (succinum), Siam benzoin, styrax benzoin.

•Arabian and royal jasmine.

White and red sandalwood, agarwood.

Deer musk, civet, castoreum, ambergris.

•Oak moss, camel grass, rosewood (Dalbergia sissoo), sweet cane sugar, elecampane, cassia fistula, cloves, black myrobalan (Terminalia chebula).

•Tragacanth gum from Astragalus, gum Arabic.

*I use real civet tincture, castoreum macerate in sandalwood oil, muskrat tincture and musk mallow seeds (musk replacement), Ambergris essence (IFF). In US, even possession of raw ambergris is prohibited (prison sentence and/or fine).

Selected bibiography

Messinis, Anna, and F. (Frederick) Lauritzen. 2017. The History of Perfume in Venice. Lineadacqua

Orta, Garcia. 1913. Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India. Edited by Clements Markham. London: Henry Sotheran and Company. https://archive.org/details/colloquiesonsimp00orta/page/n8/mode/2up.

Pennestrı̀, Serafina. 1995. Aromatica: ProfumiTra Sacro, Profano e Magico. Selcom

Pointer, Sally. 2005. The Artifice of Beauty: A History and Practical Guide to Perfumes and Cosmetics. Sutton.

Treccani, Elisa., and Michelangelo. Zaccarello. 2012. Recipe …: Pratiche Mediche, Cosmetiche e Culinarie Attraverso i Testi (Secoli XIV-XVI). Cierre grafica

Zupko, RE. 1981. Italian Weights and Measures from the Middle Ages to the Nineteeenth Century. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=GrVoh1JxRRAC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=Italian+weights+and+measures+from+the+Middle+Ages+to+the+nineteenth+century&ots=yF3–c5_rj&sig=N6Guk3wHBI5mdkGwvZXCHeOJuqk.

The survey of perfume and incense

Travel in time and place starts here…

Late 14th century Italy

Magistro Guasparino’s recipe # 155

Magistro Guasparino’s recipe # 138

Ricettario fiorentino  1498

Olio nardino cioe di spigonardi di Mesue et usasi (recipe copied/inspired by Arabic text of Mesue or Yuhanna ibn Masawaih)

Olio di Gugliemo Piacentino il quale si usa in lugo di balsamo (the way to replace true balsam oil)

16th century Italian recipes

Secreti di Isabella Cortese (16th century Italy) recipe # 187 – ‘’Perfect royal oil’’

Perfumed water from 16th century Venice (Giovanventura Rossetti, Notandissimi secreti de l’arte profumatoria, 1555)

Extant scent bottle

16th century French recipes

Monsieur Liebaut recipe from page 379 ‘’On beautification of human body’’ (France, 2nd half of 16th century), to be used as 1:12 dilution in rose water

Monsieur Liebaut recipe from page 381 (middle one) from ‘’On beautification of human body’’ (France, 2nd half of 16th century)

Monsieur Liebaut recipe from page 380 (lower recipe) from ‘’On beautification of human body’’ (France, 2nd half of 16th century)

Monsieur Liebaut recipe from page 381 (‘lower recipe’) from ‘’On beautification of human body’’ (France, 2nd half of 16th century)

Monsieur Liebaut recipe from page 379 (‘lower recipe’) from ‘’On beautification of human body’’ (France, 2nd half of 16th century) – distilled

Monsieur Liebaut damask (musk) water recipe from page 379 (‘top recipe’) from ‘’On beautification of human body’’ (France, 2nd half of 16th century) – distilled

Monsieur Liebaut damask (musk) water recipe from page 379 (‘top recipe’) from ‘’On beautification of human body’’ (France, 2nd half of 16th century) – cooked

Late 16th century English recipes

Hugo Platt’s ‘’Rosa solis’’ or ‘’Aqua Solis” (recipe #6 in Distillation chapter) (early 17th century, 1604)

Hugo Platt’s ‘’Stevens Aqua Composita” (recipe #8D in Distillation chapter) (early 17th century, 1604)

My pomander replicas.
Replica based on pomander from Germany, dated to ~1580.
Replica based on pomander from Germany, dated to ~1600.

Italian incense

Incense shaped like small birds from 16th century Venice (I secreti de la signora Isabella Cortese: ne’qvali si contengono cose minerali, medicinali, arteficiose, & alchimiche, & molte de l’arte profumatoria, appartenenti a ogni gran signora: con altri bellissimi secreti aggiunti by Cortese, Isabella, 1565)

Uccelletti – incense shaped like ”ugly ducks” instead of small birds.

I hope you have enjoyed the journey!

For more information, please visit my website at www.kasiagromek.com

Or contact me by email at murcielago53@hotmail.com

An ongoing perfumery course on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/807436473052978/

For perfume samples or customized products: https://www.etsy.com/shop/TreasuresofTrecio?ref=simple-shop-header-name&listing_id=655226216

Historical Perfumery in the West. From The Bronze Age To Classical Antiquity

Supplementary material for the class taught on April 3rd 2020 as part of online activities within Virtual Classroom and Artisan Display group on Facebook.

The history of perfumery covers over 6000 years so I decided to divide the class into several blocks. The part is dedicated to the western world, narrowly defined as the Mediterranean Sea region (including Egypt) and the Palestine (defined as province of Rome) from the Bronze Age to the Ancient Rome times. I feel that the region of the ancient Fertile Crescent is worthy of its own class which is in preparation.

Introduction to perfumery

•In the beginning, the perfumery was under tight control of rulers and priests. “Democratization” of perfume usage happened during the Hellenistic period (in Greece) and Late Republic (in Rome).

•Cyprus seems to be an exception since the of use of perfumes oils and other fragrances was spread across the population (and not restricted to the elites).

•Around 4-5th century CE, independent warehouses, shops and stores were set up. Very often stores provided customized containers for clients looking for luxury goods.

•Adulterated and second grade products were sold to unsuspecting customers (and we still deal with the same issue in the 21st century CE).

•Trade both from the West to the East and from the East to the West developed in the 3rd millennium BCE.

•Wrecks of ships (like Uluburun), extant trade documents  and excavated containers show the extent of trade (we source the ingredients from the same places even today).

•The Cyprus, Crete, Arabian Peninsula, India, China, Persia, Egypt were sources of raw ingredients or ready products (including glass).

Perfume ingredients – methods of processing aromatics

•The most common perfumes of Bronze Age and antiquity were made in form of oil (plant-derived or animal grease) infused with fragrant materials like resins, spices, flowers and seeds.

3 major techniques for extracting the aroma from any plant material

Pressing involved crushing the aromatic material, very often in a press and then recovering the aromatic liquid by twisting them from a cloth bundle. This was one of the oldest methods and the most inefficient in expelling the aromatic ingredients.

Cold steeping or enfleurage was applied mostly to the delicate flowers. The petals were spread on layer of animal fat and then placed between two boards in order to recover the aromatized fat after a few days of exposure.

The hot steeping was the most popular method throughout antiquity. The oil was pre-treated by addition of astringent substances like cardamom, coriander seeds  or calamus (sweet flag) root mixed with wine or water (stypsis). Afterwards the oil was heated either

–Directly on fire (Assyria, Egypt)

–In the hot ashes (Aegean)

–In a double boiler (bain-marie) (late Hellenistic Greece and ancient Rome from Late Republic period).

Perfume ingredients

•The main oils used in antiquity for perfumery:

  • olive oil from unripe olives (omphacium)
  • ben (moringa) oil
  • sweet and bitter almond oil
  • balanos oil
  • sesame oil

•The main animal fats used for perfumery:

  • lard
  • beef suet and marrow
  • fat from goose, duck, goat, donkey
  • beeswax

Perfumes were very often dyed with:

  • madder extract
  • alkanet extract
  • saffron

–After the process was finished, the infused oil was strained, filtered and transferred to containers, preferably made of stone, lead or glass. Especially alabaster containers were recommended as they kept the perfumes cool (both air and heat are the biggest enemies of perfumes).

–Honey was used to cover the interior of perfume bottle (as preservative).

Perfume ingredients – Predynastic Egypt (4000-3000 BCE)

  • Bitumen
  • Beeswax
  • Animal fats
  • Pistacia sp. resins
  • Myrrh
  • Amber resin (succinum)
  • Pine, cedar and juniper wood and resins
  • Sweetgum wood and resin (Liquidambar orientalis)


Hazel, Judith, and Seath Burrows. 2010. “A Non-Destructive Analytical Study of Predynastic Period Unguents from Ancient Egypt.” Manchester: University of Manchester.

Perfume ingredients – Dynastic Egypt (3000-100 BCE)

  • Plant oils: Balanos oil, almond oil (imported), olive oil (imported before New Kingdom), ben oil (imported)
  • Animal fats (lard, beef tallow, goose, duck)
  • Native/naturalized plants: sweet marjoram, juniper, myrtle, rose, henna, white lily, lotus (Nymphea caerulea), cyperus (sedges)
  • Pistacia sp. resins (imported)
  • Myrrh and frankincense
  • Imported plants: sweet flag, saffron, cassia, cinnamon, alkanet, aspalathos, camel grass, green cardamom, Indian nard.
  • Pine, cedar and  fir wood and resins
  • Galbanum, labdanum and sweetgum resin (Liquidambar orientalis) (all imported)


Byl, Sheila Ann. 2012. “The Essence and Use of Perfume in Ancient Egypt.” University of South Africa. https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Essence_and_Use_of_Perfume_in_Ancien.html?id=SZXZoAEACAAJ.

Replica of the cosmetic spoon from the Eighteenth Dynasty, Old Kingdom, reign of Amenhotep III, now in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, made from ivory and ebony, has the ‘swimming girl’ propelling a container in the form of a red lotus flower (with a hinged lid).

Perfume ingredients –  Aegean Sea (Bronze Age)

  • Olive oil, almond oil, sesame and safflower oils (imported)
  • Wine, wool, honey
  • Coriander, cyperus (sedge), iris
  • Rose, linden flowers, carnation flowers, wormwood,
  • Green cardamom, clary sage, mint, fenugreek,
  • Myrrh (?), cinnamon, anise, cumin, labdanum, oak moss, sweetgum (Liquidambar orientalis)


Foster, Ellen Douglas Hamill. 1974. “The Manufacture and Trade of Mycenaean Perfumed Oil (1995 Edition) | Open Library.” Duke University. https://openlibrary.org/books/OL16169635M/The_manufacture_and_trade_of_Mycenaean_perfumed_oil.

Tzedakis, Yannis., Holley. Martlew, Greece. Hypourgeio Politismou., and Ill.) Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago. 2001. Archaeology Meets Science : Minoans and Mycenaeans, Flavors of Their Time : Museum of Science and Industry, November-December 2001. Athens: Kapon Editions.

Perfume ingredients – Hellenistic Greece and ancient Rome

  • Rose petals, wild wine flowers, Egyptian blue lotus flowers, meadowsweet, Arabian and royal jasmine, saffron, white lily, narcissus, broom, carnation flower.
  • Myrrh, frankincense, labdanum, balsam of Gilead, oppoponax, galbanum, Aleppo pine resin, styrax, sweetgum, Siam benzoin, Burgundy spruce resin, mastic resin, terebinth resin.
  • Sweet flag, nut grass, mint, camel grass, Indian bay leaf, violet leaf, thyme, wild thyme (serpyllum), cypress, fenugreek, horsemint, marjoram, white wormwood, wormwood, myrtle, laurel berries, sweet basil.
  • Cardamom, black cardamom, cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg, juniper berries, oakmoss.
  • Costus, patrinia, valerian, Indian nard, Indian valerian, Celtic nard, galangal.

*The redaction of recipes is complicated by the ambiguity of the aromatics’ names. Example: 4 versions of nardinon muron since the main ingredient was identified as at least 4 different plants.

*Agarwood (oud) was known. Dioscorides mentioned that it ‘sweetens breath, powdered - perfumes body and could be burnt instead of frankincense.’ Though I have not really seen it in use until 8th century (Eastern Empire). White sandalwood was imported to Egypt but it doesn’t seem to be known in the Roman world (unless one of the ‘teak from India’ is really sandalwood). Sandalwood was used by the ‘Persians’ and it is possible that some of the exotic scents were imported to Rome (that’s why it is included in ‘My myrrh, my cinnamon’ fragrance).
*Camphor was used in India and Far East Asia both as pure aromatic and in form of highly camphorous plants. In the West, plants like white wormwood and common wormwood were used as camphor source. Pure camphor was used in medicine and perfumery in the West by mid-8th century.

Animal ingredients:

  • Onycha (opercula of marine snails) – used as fixative in perfumes and incense
  • Castoreum (beaver) – known as medicinal material only, not in fragrances
  • Musk (deer) – first mentioned in Byzantine medical text from late 5th  century, in late 7th century Paulus Aegineta mentioned that it was used in female perfumes as aphrodisiac to arouse sexual partners
  • Ambergris – first mentioned in 7-8th century Byzantine text of Paulus Aegineta (for medicinal use)
  • Civet – used in India from 1st century CE or earlier, made it to Europe probably around  8-9th century
*Many internet sources (including unfortunately museum websites) claim that classical Greeks (Hellenistic period) and ancient Romans used a lot of musk, civet and ambergris. These aromatics were used in the Far East, so it is possible that a ready fragrance or incense made it to Greece or Rome as exotica. But there are no local recipes in the West until  late 7th to early 8th century.


Dioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos., Tess Anne. Osbaldeston, and Robert P. Wood. 2000. De Materia Medica : Being an Herbal with Many Other Medicinal Materials : Written in Greek in the First Century of the Common Era : A New Indexed Version in Modern English. Johannesburg: IBIDIS. https://www.worldcat.org/title/dioscorides-de-materia-medica-being-an-herbal-with-many-other-medicinal-materials/oclc/59267898&referer=brief_results.

Link to PDF version: https://archive.org/details/de-materia-medica

Duke, James A., and Peggy-Ann K. Duke. 2008. Duke’s Handbook of Medicinal Plants of the Bible. Boca Raton  FL: CRC Press. https://www.worldcat.org/title/dukes-handbook-of-medicinal-herbs-of-the-bible/oclc/226087992&referer=brief_results.

Pliny, the Elder., and Harris Rackham. 1938. Natural History. Historia Naturalis : In Ten Volumes. 4, Libri XII – XVI (Loeb). The Loeb C. Cambridge Mass. [u.a.]: Harvard University Press. https://www.worldcat.org/title/historia-naturalis-in-ten-volumes-4-libri-xii-xvi/oclc/916660297&referer=brief_results.

Theophrastus., 372-287, and Arthur Hort. 1916. Enquiry into Plants, and Minor Works on Odours and Weather Signs. Volume II. The Loeb C. [Place of publication not identified]: Harvard University Press. https://www.worldcat.org/title/enquiry-into-plants-and-minor-works-on-odours-and-weather-signs-vol-ii/oclc/852018037&referer=brief_results.

Perfume – basic forms

Perfumes  existed in 3 different form:


--the solid matter left after the perfume making process was called magma and was re-used to make a second grade perfumes or ground to be used for scented sachets or scenting clothing and bedding 


–very often made with animal fat and beeswax

•Powders (diapasmata)

–the most famous is the scented  pink powder from Cyprus which was imported to Egypt during the Old Kingdom period

–scented with oakmoss and other aromatics and dyed with expensive imported Indian madder.


•Early incense was composed of single aromatics (herbs or wood chips) thrown into fire.

•Egyptians were probably first to introduce the compound incense like kyphi.

•By the 4-5th century CE, incense mixes in the West were compounded of several ground ingredients, moistened with fragrant wine and held together in form of flat cakes with honey. The ingredient composition suggest some influence of Indian perfumery, as both methods and raw ingredients were  disseminated through trade.

Sources for recipes

•Extant texts dedicated to perfumery or medicine



–Pliny the Elder

–Athenaeus of Naucratis

–Linear B script writings

–Egyptian extant texts preserved on papyrus

•Extant samples

–analysis results published in scientific journals (I set up notifications in Google Scholar for some of my searches)

–catalogs of organic plant material from excavations

–public domain database http://openarchem.org/ (it is temporarily down)

•Period literary sources which discuss scents use in general

–these are not recipes but they give enough base information to facilitate archaeological experimental reconstruction.

Selected bibliography

Manniche, Lise. 1999. Sacred luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy, and Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt. 1st publ. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press (excellent book, Egyptian perfumes were a rage in ancient Greece and Rome).

Pointer, Sally. 2005. The artifice of beauty: a history and practical guide to perfumes and cosmetics, Stroud: Sutton.

Stewart, Susan M. 2007. Cosmetics & perfumes in the Roman world. Gloucestershire: Tempus.

The survey of perfume and incense: Travel in time and place starts here…

Cypriot powder (Bronze Age Aegean) (Belgiorno, Maria Rosaria. 2007. Mavrorachi : Il Profumo Di Afrodite e Il Mistero Della Dea Senza Volto : Dal 2000 a.C. Ad Oggi Quattromila Anni Di Profumo. Roma: Gangemi. https://www.worldcat.org/title/mavrorachi-il-profumo-di-afrodite-e-il-mistero-della-dea-senza-volto-dal-2000-ac-ad-oggi-quattromila-anni-di-profumo-mostra-florence-officina-profumo-farmaceutica-santa-maria-novella-17-marzo-13-aprile-2008/oclc/922704079&referer=brief_results).

Carnations and anise scented Middle Minoan (based on analysis of sample from pottery), ~ 1600 BCE.

Perfume based on extant sample from Mochlos (extant sample found in an amphora at Mochlos, Crete, dated to ~1500 BCE (Late Minoan IB)).

Rose-scented perfume from Pylos, Middle Bronze Age (based on recipes from linear script B tablets) v.1.2. (Shelmerdine, C. W. (1985) The perfume industry of Mycenaean Pylos. Göteborg: P. Åströms Förlag. Available at: https://www.worldcat.org/title/perfume-industry-of-mycenaean-pylos/oclc/1014841079&referer=brief_results (Accessed: 8 November 2018).

Late Minoan from Tourloti (based on analysis of sample from pottery) (Koh, Andrew J, and Kathleen J Birney. 2017. “ORGANIC COMPOUNDS AND CULTURAL CONTINUITY: THE PENN MUSEUM LATE MINOAN IIIC STIRRUP JAR FROM TOURLOTIt.”  Mediterranean Archaeology & Archaeometry 17 (2): 19–33. http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=be7f4de4-992c-4918-b0a3-32ae27c23c21%40sessionmgr4008&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPWlwLHVpZCZzaXRlPWVob3N0LWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3D%3D#AN=126510395&db=aph).

Etruscan ointment from Chiusi (based on analysis of extant ointment) (Colombini, M. et al. (2009) ‘An Etruscan ointment from Chiusi (Tuscany, Italy): its chemical characterization’, Journal of Archaeological Science, 36(7), pp. 1488–1495).

Roman pottery unguentaria. A, Approximate chronology of ceramic unguentaria present in Milwaukee Public Museum collection (Mortensen 2014) and B, the replica that forms part of my collection. Because it is unglazed inside, it would have been covered with beeswax before actual use.

Susinum (Dioscorides recipe).

Iasmelaion (Dioscorides recipe).

Telinon (fenugreek oil made according to the Dioscorides recipe).

Krocinon (saffron perfume made according to the Dioscorides recipe).

Metopion (classic Egyptian perfume, based on Dioscorides recipe).

Nardinon muron in 4 versions (Dioscorides).

The King of Parthia’s perfume version 1 (according to recipe in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History).

King of Parthia’s version 2.1 (literary sources on aromatics used in Parthian and Sasanian Empire) (Monchi-Zadeh, D. (1982) ‘Xusrōv i Kavātān ut Rētak’, in Monumentum Georg Morgenstierne II (ActaIranica 22), pp. 47–91).

‘My myrrh, my cinnamon’ Roman perfume (name is based on perfume mentioned in literary sources, but no recipe survived so the ingredients are chosen from works of Pliny and Dioscorides).

Late Gallo-Roman perfume in 2 versions (based on one of the earliest attempts to analyze an extant sample (Reutter de Rosemont, L. (1921) ‘Analysis of a remains in a Gallo-Roman vase’, Schweiz Apoth. Zig (Schweizerische Apotheker-Zeitung), 59, pp. 233–235).

Persian ‘Intoxicating violets’ v.1.2 (Grami, B. (2013) ‘Perfumery Plant Materials As Reflected In Early Persian Poetry’,  Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 23(1), pp. 39–52. Available at: https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/docview/1327720117?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo (Accessed: 21 July 2017).

Additional information

For more information, please contact me by email at murcielago53@hotmail.com

An ongoing perfumery course on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/807436473052978/

For perfume samples or customized products: https://www.etsy.com/shop/TreasuresofTrecio?ref=simple-shop-header-name&listing_id=655226216