Conference: “PERFUME PRODUCTION IN THE ANCIENT WORLD”, 7-8/11/2023, Prague


7–8 NOVEMBER 2023


Organized by Sean Coughlin (FLU), Heike Wilde (FLU) and Laurence Totelin (Cardiff).


The topic of this conference is the production of scented materials (“perfumes”) in the ancient world from multiple perspectives: historical, archaeological, natural scientific, artisanal, cultural, religious.

The conference’s aim is to challenge traditional, monolithic ideas of ancient perfumery cultures (“Egyptian”, “Mesopotamian”, “Roman”) and explore (a) how ingredients and the methods of using scented materials travelled across cultures, land and time, and (b) how perfumery and the production of scented materials varied within the same culture over place and time.


The conference will include papers on scent traditions from much of antiquity, including Aegean, African, Assyrian, Athenian, Ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Christian, Ancient Greek, Islamicate, Mesopotamian, Minoan, Persian, Pompeiian, Ptolemaic Egyptian, Roman and South Arabian.


Specific research questions include:

  • Do familiar linguistic, ethnic, and religious categories used to delineate traditions of ancient perfume production and use—“Assyrian,” “Egyptian,” “Greek,” “Arabic,” “Buddhist,” “Christian,” “Chinese,” etc.— accurately distinguish such traditions and cultures? To what extent can we speak of, for example, “Roman” perfumery, or are there rather many “Roman” traditions across different times, regions, and intentions?

  • Are there correlations between the manufacture of scented materials and other goods? How were those correlations categorized and understood, e.g., luxury goods, medical, magical, divine, etc.?

  • Were natural scents compared with, even opposed to, artificial or synthetic ones?

  • Can we demarcate traditions of ancient perfumery by means of trade networks, equipment, manufacturing techniques? Did know-how and theories of perfume production travel along trade networks?

  • Did the introduction of new botanical, animal and mineral goods, like musk, camphor, ambergris, etc., coincide with different production techniques?

  • What do approaches like practical exegesis (or ‘experimental archaeology’) and digital humanities contribute to these questions in a way that might complement traditional ones found in archaeology, archaeometry, philology, classics, history and philosophy?

Multidisciplinary Approach

We are excited to explore work on scented materials and manufacturing in traditions beyond Europe and the Mediterranean shores.

We also believe this project benefits immensely by engaging practitioners who work in contemporary perfumery, olfactory art, scent and the senses. For this reason, the conference includes scholars, perfumers, artists, and practitioners alike.


The output of this conference is a volume provisionally titled, Perfume Production in the Ancient World. Our meeting is the first stage of this process.


The conference is in-person and will involve practical exegesis and demonstrations.

Day 1: Tuesday 7 November 2023

09:00. Introduction.

Part 1. People of Perfumes

09:15. Giuseppe Squillace (Calabria): Perfumers in the ancient world. Techne and professional secrets.

10:15. Laurence Totelin (Cardiff): ‘Plunge the jar in a well of cold water for 40 days’: Greek and Roman medical authors on perfume manufacture.

11:15. Break.

11:45. Roberto P. Dario (perfumer): From “Myrepsos” to modern “Noses”: knowledge, techniques and perfumery evolution.

12:45. Lunch at Vila Lanna.

Part 2. Tools and Techniques

13:45. Maria Rosaria Belgiorno (ISPC-CNR): “Eau de B.C.”, perfumed, alcoholic, intoxicating spring of human pleasure. (Mesopotamian and Aegean origins of Mediterranean distillation).

14:45. Bastien Rueff (École française d’Athènes): Was the firebox an incense burner? Preliminary Research on Minoan Perfumery.

15:15. Break.

15:30. Laura Prieto (FLU / IOCB Prague): The Influence of Modern Chemistry on the Development of Fine Fragrance.

16:00. Eduardo Escobar and Giacomo Montanari (Bologna): The “First” Perfume Recipe: Why Water Matters in Ancient Assyrian Perfumery.

17:00. Break.

17:15. Andrea Salayová (Masaryk): Castoreum and its uses through times: from perfumes to medicine.

17:45. Anya King (Southern Indiana): Innovation and Heritage in Early Islamicate Perfumery.

18:45. Rest.

19:30. Conference Dinner at Vila Lanna.

Day 2: Wednesday 8 November 2023

Part 3. Novel Methods for the Study of Perfumery’s History

09:00. Jay Silverstein (Nottingham Trent) and Robert Littman (Hawaii Manoa): Making the Mendesian: The Hellenistic Perfume Industry at Tell Timai.

10:00. Alice Capobianco (Genova): Ethnoarchaeology as a tool for understanding the production cycle of scented ointments in the Roman period.

10:30. Marie Theres Wittmann (Oxford): The Price of Smell: An Economic Approach to the Economy of Perfume in Pompeii.

11:00. Break + Interactive. Coughlin (FLU): Digital Approaches to Studying Perfume Recipes.

11:30. Béatrice Caseau (Sorbonne): Christian perfumes: incense and liturgical Myron, sources to understand how perfumes were created.

12:00. Klara Ravat (olfactory artist): Working creatively with raw materials: naturals vs. synthetics.

13:00. Lunch at Vila Lanna.

Part 4. Cultures of Scent

14:00. Miguel Matos (creator / author / perfumer): Against All Odds: On Becoming a Self-Taught Perfumer While Developing Personal Composing Methods and Techniques.

15:00. Barbara Huber (Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology): Arabian “Perfumes”.

16:00. Break.

16:20. (via ZOOM) Mohammadreza Jalali (independent scholar): The Persian Scents of Antiquity: A Cultural History of Ancient Iranian Perfumes.

16:50. (via ZOOM) Katarzyna Gromek (independent scholar): Introducing xiāng: the reconstruction of the olfactory landscape of early China in practice.

17:20. Break.

17:30. Heike Wilde (FLÚ): Sources for Perfumery and Scent in Ancient Egypt.

18:00. Demi Lizzann Williams (Worcester Polytechnic Institute): African Ritual Aromatics and Cosmetics. Exploring Cultural Significance and Global Impact.

18:30. Closing discussion.

More information:

Citer ce billet
Sterenn Le Maguer (2023, 27 octobre). Conference: “PERFUME PRODUCTION IN THE ANCIENT WORLD”, 7-8/11/2023, Prague. L'encens et la myrrhe. Consulté le 23 mai 2024, à l’adresse

Sterenn Le Maguer

Archéologue spécialiste de la péninsule Arabique et du commerce dans l'océan Indien, vacataire à l'Institut catholique de Paris, chercheure associée au CEFREPA.

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