Perfume and Ointments





Why did the Egyptians use perfume?

Egyptians hated smelling bad. They washed to keep clean, but also used all sorts of perfumes, ointments, and oils to smell nice. 

A good smell was 'the fragrance of the gods', and bad smells were associated with impurity and sin. Incense was used in the temples a great deal, but also for the body. 

The picture above shows a priest offering incense to a god.


a frankincense tree


The two main types of incense used in Egypt were frankincense and myrrh, which according to the Bible were the gifts, along with gold, which the three kings gave to the baby Jesus. Incense did not grow naturally in Egypt, but was imported from the Middle East and from Punt, a land to the south.

Incense pellets were burned in temples, but made into ointments for use on the body.


Ointments were made with a base of vegetable oil or animal fat (such as goose fat). All sorts of scents were added, including incense, turpentine, bitter almonds, cardamoms, cinnamon, galbanum, castor oil, sweet rush, and wine.

Kept in jars often made of alabaster, some of these ointments have been found in tombs still with their original odour, after thousands of years!


incense trees being transported from Punt

Hatshepsut's expedition

The pharaoh Hatshepsut sent a famous expedition to the land of Punt in about 1490BC. Punt is believed to be modern day Somalia, at the south end of the Red Sea. They were sent to get all sorts of things but especially incense trees, which the pharaoh had planted in her temple grounds.

cosmetics case with alabaster jars for ointments

Incense Cones

Tomb paintings often show guests at the funeral banquet wearing cones on their heads. Some believe these were cones of fat scented with incense, which soaked the wig as it melted during the night. But none of these cones have ever been found, and some people think they are a hieroglyph which showed the guest was wearing perfume - not a real object.