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Cleopatra’s Favorite Perfume Recreated

painting of Cleopatra, the Greek queen of Egypt
Cleopatra, the Greek queen of Ancient Egypt, as depicted by Heinrich Faust in 1876. Credit: Public Domain

Scientists have recently recreated Cleopatra’s favorite perfume from a recipe written in Ancient Greek nearly two millennia ago.

The Greek queen of ancient Egypt’s legacy as an exotic, seductive, and powerful ruler of Egypt has persisted throughout the centuries.

While she is now popularly known for her love affairs, suicide, and beauty, Plutarch actually revealed that she was not very physically attractive, but her charm and intelligence were irresistible.

Cleopatra VII Philopater ruled over Ancient Egypt from 51 to 30 BC and was the last ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt. After her death, the Roman Empire took control of the country.

The Ptolemaic Dynasty was formed by Ptolemy I Soter, a Greek general in Alexander the Great’s army, in 305 BC. Although located in Egypt, the dynasty that Ptolemy established remained incredibly Greek.

She is now a popular figure in media, literature, and art, and her enchanting qualities, romantic relationships, and (debated) beauty are of particular interest to people.

Recreating Cleopatra’s perfume

As the queen of Egypt, one of the most powerful and wealthy kingdoms during her time, it is no surprise that Cleopatra used some of the most luxurious cosmetics and perfumes available at the time. She even amazingly authored her own book on cosmetics.

In 2012, Robert Littman and Jay Silverstein, both archaeologists at the University of Hawaii, uncovered ancient amphorae which still contained perfume residue at the ancient site of Mendes in Egypt.

With the help of Egyptologist Dora Goldsmith and Classicist Sean Coughlin, the researchers were able to recreate the perfume using recipes found at the site that were written in Ancient Greek and Latin.

The perfume, which was called Mendesian perfume after the city in which it was produced, was extremely popular amongst the wealthy in Egypt and across the ancient world.

The scent is said to be much more concentrated and longer lasting than today’s perfumes, and researchers used ingredients such as date oil, myrrh, cinnamon, and pine resin during the testing process, all of which were included in the recipes and found during analyses of the perfume residue found on the amphorae.

This resulted in a sweet, spicy, and alluring fragrance that likely smells much like the scent worn by Cleopatra herself.

The Greek queen of Egypt did not just use perfume, however; she likely used a variety of ancient cosmetics each day.

As evidenced by myriad representations of other women in Egyptian art, she undoubtedly used kohl, a combination of oils and powdered metals—usually lead, antimony, manganese, or copper—as an eyeliner, along with an array of other cosmetics, including eyeshadow and blush.

Apart from becoming a historical sex symbol, Cleopatra was also known for her love of parties. She even created her own secret drinking club.

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