Making of Lily Perfume

Relief depicting women squeezing oil from lily flowers in a press for use in perfume. Fragment from a decoration of a tomb. The Ancient Egyptians loved beautiful fragrances. They associated them with the gods and recognized their positive effect on health and well being. Perfumes were generally applied as oil-based salves, and there are numerous recipes and depictions of the preparation of perfume in temples all over Egypt.

Lily perfumes held significant importance in ancient Egypt and were commonly used by both men and women. The lily flower, particularly the white water lily (Nymphaea lotus), was highly revered and associated with beauty, purity, and rebirth in Egyptian culture. The petals of the lily were often used to create fragrant oils and perfumes.

Making of Lily Perfume
Making of Lily Perfume

The ancient Egyptians extracted the essence of the lily flower through various methods, such as maceration or distillation, to produce perfumes. These perfumes were used for personal adornment, religious rituals, and as offerings to the gods. The scent of lily perfumes was believed to have a pleasing and purifying effect on the body and soul.

The most highly prized perfumes of the ancient world came from Egypt. The most popular were Susinum (a perfume based on lily, myrrh, cinnamon), Cyprinum (based upon henna, cardamom, cinnamon, myrrh and southernwood) and Mendesian (myrrh and cassia with assorted gums and resins). 

The god of perfume, Nefertem, was also a god of healing who was said to have eased the suffering of the aging sun god Ra with a bouquet of sacred lotus. The most widely known is Kyphi, made with terebinth resin, saffron, raisins, cinnamon, wine, myrrh, honey and other ingredients. The recipes remained secret, because this scent was used to honor the gods.

Perfume has been a cherished luxury product for thousands of years and ancient Egypt was no exception. Perfumes had many uses. Initially, the rarity of perfume made it a product for the gods: aromatic powders were burnt to honor the gods and to curry favor.

While specific ancient Egyptian lily perfume formulas may not be known, the use of lily as a fragrance and its association with beauty and spirituality are well-documented in ancient Egyptian art, texts, and archaeological findings.

Late Period, 26th to 30th Dynasty, ca. 664-332 BC. Limestone. Dimensions: height: 25.8 cm, width: 37 cm, thickness: 4 cm. Now in the Louvre. E 11162

Follow Egypt Museum on Facebook to get latest posts and updates.