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Eau de Ancient Egypt: Scientists Claim to Have Recreated Perfume Worn by Cleopatra

CC0 / / The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra by Lawrence Alma-Tadema
The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra by Lawrence Alma-Tadema  - Sputnik International
Cleopatra, the last ruler of Egypt before the Romans seized power, has become the stuff of legend, sparking debates on whether she was beautiful, despite no one really knowing what she looked like.

A team of experts claimed to have recreated one of ancient Egypt’s most sought after perfumes, which may have been worn by Cleopatra, the last ruler of Egypt before the Romans took over, according to a press release of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Robert Littman and Jay Silverstein came up with the idea of recreating Eau de Ancient Egypt as they headed digs at a site called Tell-El Timai, which in ancient times was known as the city of Thmuis.

The latter was also home to two of the most well-known perfumes in the ancient world, Mendesian and Metopian. “This was the Chanel No. 5 of ancient Egypt,” says Littman.

In 2012, archaeologists discovered what they believed to be the home of a perfume merchant, with an amphora and glass bottles with residue.

The mysterious liquid had no smell, but subsequent chemical analysis revealed some of the ingredients.

The findings were taken to two experts on Egyptian perfume, Dora Goldsmith and Sean Coughlin.

Following formulas found in ancient Greek texts, the two experts recreated the ancient perfumes.

The scents are based on myrrh, a resin extracted from a tree native to the Horn of Africa and Arabian Peninsula, with ingredients including cardamom, olive oil and cinnamon.

The produced perfumes offered lingeringly-strong, spicy, and somewhat musky scents.

“What a thrill it is to smell a perfume that no one has smelled for 2,000 years and one which Cleopatra might have worn,” Littman said.

No one really knows what the last ruler of Egypt before the Romans claimed power, Cleopatra VII, looked like, and whether she was beautiful.

One can only speculate if the ruler did, indeed, wear a scent resembling one of the recreated ones. What is more likely is that some of the elite in the ancient world wore scents similar to these perfumes.

Historians maintain that Cleopatra owned a perfume factory near the Dead Sea. It worked more like a spa in ancient Egypt, they claim. The place where her factory stood was called En Gedi and offered customers a number of beauty treatments. Cleopatra even had her perfume recipes recorded in a book called Gynaeciarum Libri, which has unfortunately been lost, possibly perishing in the fire at the Library of Alexandria, according to research.

There are numerous legends about Cleopatra, with one claiming she doused the sails of her ship in so much scent to woo Marc Antony that he could smell her all the way from shore when she visited him at Tarsus.

The current study feeds into the enduring intrigue surrounding Cleopatra that has inspired art, literature, and theatre.

A National Geographic Society Queens of Egypt exhibit, running through to 15 September in Washington DC, offers visitors a chance to get a whiff of the recreated ancient scents and imagine what Cleopatra herself possibly smelled like.

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