This was a time when the ancient Egyptians first burned incense made from aromatic woods, herbs and spices in honour of their gods. They believed that as the smoke rose up to the heavens, it would carry their prayers and wishes directly to the deities. Eventually, the development of aromatics as medicines would create the foundations that aromatherapy was built upon.
Look to eternity
During the 3rd Dynasty (2650–2575 BC) in Egypt, the process of embalming and mummification was developed by the Egyptians in their search for immortality. Frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, cinnamon, cedarwood, juniper berry and spikenard are all known to have been used at some stage to preserve the bodies of their royalty in preparation of the after–life.
The valuable herbs and spices they needed were laboriously transported across inhospitable deserts by Arab merchants for distribution to Assyria, Babylon, China, Egypt, Greece, Rome and Persia. The most sought after materials were frankincense and myrrh, and because during those early trading years demand outstripped supply they had a value equal to that of gems and precious metals.
Masters of perfumery
The Egyptians loved to use simple fragrances in their daily lives and did so at every opportunity. At festivals and celebrations women wore perfumed cones on their heads which would melt under the heat, releasing their beautiful fragrance. After bathing, they would anoint their bodies with oil to protect them from the drying effects of the baking sun and to rejuvenate their skin. During the period between the 18th and the 25th Dynasty (1539–657 BC), the Egyptians continued to refine their use of aromatics in incense, medicine, cosmetics, and finally perfumes. Until just a few hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Egyptian perfumery industry was celebrated as the finest in the whole of the Middle East and beyond. So great was their reputation as master perfumers, that when Julius Caesar returned home with Cleopatra after conquering Egypt around 48 BC, perfume bottles were tossed to the crowds to demonstrate his total domination over Egypt.
Enter the Greeks
The richness of the Egyptian botanical pharmacopoeia had already been assimilated by many other cultures during previous millennia, the Assyrians, Babylonians and Hebrews had all borrowed from their vast knowledge of aromatic medicine. As the Egyptian Empire crumbled into decline around 300 BC, Europe became the heart of empirical medicine, where new methods were steadily evolving into a more scientifically based system of healing.
The earliest known Greek physician was Asclepius who practiced around 1200 BC combining the use of herbs and surgery with previously unrivalled skill. His reputation was so great that after his death he was deified as the god of healing in Greek mythology, and thousands of lavish healing temples known as Asclepieion were erected in his honor throughout the Grecian world.