Introduction: Reliable evidences indicate that perfumery, or the art of making perfume was firstly started in ancient Iran and it was then transferred to ancient Egypt. It was later developed and further refined by the Romans. Knowledge of perfumery came to Europe as early as the 14th century. By the 18th century, aromatic plants were being grown in Grasse, a town in southeast of France, to provide the growing perfume industry with raw materials. Presently, Grasse is known as the world’s perfume capital, and it produces over tow-third of France’s natural aromas. This industry turns over more than 600m Euros a year and today, France remains the centre of the European perfume design and trade. In this article the mythological, archeological, historical, and poetical evidences indicating that ancient Iranians were familiar with perfumery and they were the first people who introduced the art of making perfume will be studied and discussed.
Mythological Evidences: The famous Iranian Sunni historian and theologian, Tabari, believed that Jamshid, one of the first ten mythological kings of ancient Iran, was the original maker of perfumes. He wrote: “Jamshid picked up many useful things, including aromatic plants when he was traveling in various lands, seas, and mountains”. Famous Iranian poet, mathematician and astronomer Omar Khayyam documented that Jamshid had an access to ambergris (a solid, fatty, flammable substance of a dull grey or blackish color, the shades being variegated like marble, possessing a peculiar sweet, earthy odor), myrrh (in Persian: Mor), camphor, saffron and other aromatic plants. It is also documented that Manouchehr, another mythological king of ancient Iran, had some roles in the discovery of perfumes and aromatic flowers. Researchers have reported that Manouchehr brought many blossoms, flowers and herbs from mountains to towns and cities. He ordered a park (in Persian: Paradise) to be built, and when the blossoms appeared and a pleasant smell was in the air, he called it the Garden of Pleasant Odors (in Persian: Boostan). Ferdowsi in his famous epic book of Shah Nameh recalling the triumphed ceremony of Fraydoon, another mythological king of ancient Iran, over the Dragon King (in Persian: Zahaak) wrote that Fraydoon put the crown on his head and ordered to set fire and stir up ambergris and saffron.
Archeological Evidences: Based on archeological findings, William James Durant (The American Philosopher and the author of The Story of Civilization) and some other western scholars wrote that Iranians were the first manufacturers of various kinds of perfumes, discoverers of decorative and cosmetic powders. In one of the ornaments and carvings in Persepolis, Darius the Great (ruled 521 to 485 BC) is shown while sitting on a chair with two scent bottles in front of him, and Xerxes (ruled 485-465 BC) is standing behind him while holding the same kind of flowers in the left hand. These flowers are probably Lily of the Valley or Narcissus (a yellow, white or orange flower, similar to a daffodil), which were peculiar to Fars (a province in the south of present-day Iran). In another ornament and carving, an Iranian girl is holding an aromatic flower or an apple in front of her face or nose.
Historical Evidences: These evidences indicate that cultivation of many types of aromatic plants and flowers, extracting roses to obtain Rose Water (in Persian: Golaab), preparation of perfumed oil, manufacturing musk and ambergris were widespread in ancient Iran, particularly in Fars. The traditional equipments and instruments to obtain Rose Water were abundant in many towns and villages of Fars province, particularly in Firouzabad and Kazeroon. According to Greek historian, Herodotus, Darius’ infantry (the part of an army that fights on foot) was 10,000 in number, all of whom were crowned. The crowns were made of aromatic flowers and leaves of myrtle (in Persian: Moord or Parvanash or Gol-e-Telephoni).
Mohammad Hossein Abrishami in his rticle quoted the late Abbas Eghbal-e-Ashtiani who wrote that, “Use of perfume and aromatic materials, burning of myrrh and ambergris were among the followers of Mani”. (Manichaeism was one of the major ancient religions. The religion was founded by Mani, who was born in western Iran and lived approximately 210-275 AD. Mani’s holy book was called Arzhang and was beautified with paintings. This gave him a title as the painter prophet).
Also according to the Old Testament, Ester Book, when Ester (Star), a Jewish girl, wanted to be included among the women of the court of Achaemenids, she had to be cleaned and purified. The purifications of six months with myrrh oil and six months with perfumes were carried out.
Available documents on the history of science also reveal that the famous Iranian physician and chemist Pur Sina, aka Ibn Sina or Avicenna, introduced the process of extracting oils from flowers by means of distillation, the procedure most commonly used today. He first experimented with the rose. Until his discovery, liquid perfumes were mixtures of oil and crushed herbs or petals, which made a strong blend. Rose water was more delicate, and immediately became popular. Both of the raw ingredients and distillation technology significantly influenced western perfumery and scientific developments, particularly chemistry.
Poetical Evidences: Many famous classic poets of Iran have referred to Perfume (in Persian: Atr) and Perfumery (in Persian: Atr Saazi) in their excellent and thoughtful poems. Here is a link to some of those poems as composed by Ferdowsi, Hafez, Mowlana Rumi, Attar, Jaami, and Nezami.
1. Since 1988, Bijan Pakzad (known simply as Bijan), a famous US-based Iranian designer of menswear and fragrances, has also played a very significant role in introducing various perfumes. Bijan’s fragrances for both men and women are globally known. In 1997, Bijan had success at the FiFi Awards with the Michael Jordan Cologne winning awards for “Men’s Fragrance Star of the Year Specialty/ Department Stores” and “Best National Advertising Campaign – Men’s”. Another fragrance from Bijan, DNA, earned Bijan the Ig Nobel Prize in 1995 for chemistry. The perfume contained no deoxyribonucleic acid and came in a triple helix-shaped bottle (as opposed to the double helix structure of DNA). The DNA name was inspired by Bijan’s children’s initials, Daniela, Nicolas, and Alexandra, not the DeoxyriboNucleic Acid. 2. In today’s world of economic challenges, making perfume at home may interest many peoples and families. In his article on Making Perfume at Home, G. Emme noted that, “To make a perfume, the only necessary ingredients are oil, water and vodka. The combination you make determines the strength of the scent. The most potent consists of between 15 to 30 percent oil, 5 percent water and 100% proof vodka”. It sounds amazing, but it may be just a claim!
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
References Abrishami, M. H. (2005): Online Article on “Historical Background of Perfume & Perfume Manufacturing in Iran”. Durant, W. (1935) Our Oriental Heritage, ed. , Simon and Schuster, New York, USA. Edwards, M. (1997): Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances, ed., Crescent House Publishing, USA. Emme, G. (2010): Online Article on “Making Perfume at Home”. Ganjoor Website (2010): Selections of Poems (in Persian). Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Online Article on “First Iranians who were engaged with the Art of Perfumery”. Saadat Noury, M. (2010): Online Note on “Perfume & Perfumery in Classic Persian Poetry” (in Persian). Saadat Noury, M. (2010): Various Articles on the History of Iran. Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2010): Online Articles on Perfume, Bijan (designer), and Grasse.