THE ESSENTIAL OILS IN ANCIENT GREECE
The production of the essential oils, based on
Olive oil, was particularly flourishing in ancient Greece of the Bronze Age (c. 3200 - 600 BC).
This information originates from texts in Linear B, as well as from inscriptions found on various tablets and vases at Knossos, Mycenae and Pylos.
These have epithets that indicate the use of several plants in the preparation of essential oils, such as: "Rodoen" (greek: Ροδόεν / "Rosen" / "from Rose oil" - Rose Otto, Attar of Rose / Hulthemia × Rosa), "Sfakoen" (greek: Ροδόεν / "from Sagebrush" - Sage, Salvia / Salvia officinalis) and "Cyperoen" (greek: Κυπαιρόεν / "from Cyperus" / Cyperus Longus, Cyperus Niger, Cyperus Esculentus).
- The Bronze Age is a historical period characterized by the use of bronze, and in some areas proto-writing, and other early features of Urban Civilization.
An Ancient Civilization is defined to be in the Bronze Age either by producing bronze by smelting its own copper and alloying with other metals, or by trading for bronze from production areas elsewhere.
Bronze itself is harder and more durable than other metals available at the time, allowing Bronze Age Civilizations to gain a technological advantage.
The Aegean Bronze Age began around 3200 BC, when the Helladic Civilization and the Cycladic Civilization (c. 3200 - c. 1050 BC) first established a far-ranging trade network.
The Minoan Civilization was also a Bronze Age Aegean Civilization on the island of Crete and other Aegean Islands, flourishing from c. 2700 to c. 1450 BC until a late period of decline, finally ending around 1100 BC.
It represents the first advanced Civilization in Europe, leaving behind massive building complexes, tools, stunning artwork, writing systems, and a massive network of trade.
The Mycenaean Civilization was the last phase of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece, spanning the period from approximately 1600-1100 BC.
- Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, the earliest attested form of Greek.
It pre-dated the Greek alphabet (ca. 13th but perhaps as early as 17th century BC) and seems to have died out with the fall of Mycenaean Civilization.
The oldest Mycenaean writing dates to about 1450 BC.
It is descended from the older Linear A, an undeciphered earlier script used for writing the Minoan language.
Most clay tablets inscribed in Linear B were found in Knossos, Cydonia (modern Chania), Pylos, Thebes and Mycenae.
Some inscriptions found at Knossos, Mycenae and Pylos, contain catalogues of raw materials that were used for the flavoring of Olive oil.
Among them, where mentioned: the Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), the Cumin (Cuminum cyminum), the Minthi (Mentha spicata), the Sage (Salvia officinalis), the wine and the honey.
Moreover, it becomes clear that there were named persons, who had undertaken the preparation of the essential oils at the Palaces, while the names of two distinguished perfumers of the time, Thyestes and Eumedis, are mentioned in the inscriptions of Pylos.
Οn the texts of Theophrastus "On Odors", there are plenty information about the production of essential oils during the Historical Times.
They describe both the materials and the methods of manufacture.
- Theophrastus (greek: Θεόφραστος /c. 371 - c. 287 BC) was a Greek native philosopher of Eresos in Lesbos and the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic School.
Interesting is the information that they used different parts of plants for the manufactures of the essential oils, such as: the flowers (Rose / Rosa, Jasmine / Jasminum), the sprouts (Cloves / Syzygium aromaticum), the leaves (Lavender / Lavandula, Mint / Mentha), the roots (Iris - Orris / Iris × germanica, Cyperus / Cyperus Longus) and the seeds (Fennel /Foeniculum vulgare, Aniseed / Pimpinella anisum).
According to Theophrastus, the method to obtain their essences was the hot or cold extraction.
Moreover, his frequent mention of Olive oil
indicates that it was the most basic substance in the preparation of essential
- "The composition and preparation of the myrrh intend to preserve the odors in some way, that`s why they add them (the essences) to the oil, because this is preserved for many years."
(Theophrastus, On Odors V-14)
- "For each myrrh, they add the matching essences, for example: for Cypro (greek: Κύπρο), they add Cardamom (Cardamomum) and Furze (Calicotome villosa), after they soak them first, in fragrant wine.
The preparation of Cypro is similar to the preparation of Rosen ("from Rose") myrrh.
All myrrh are manufactured (from plants), some from flowers, leaves or sprouts, other from roots or wood and other from fruits or resin.
All are squeezed by heating, while some others give their main odors, coldly."
(Theophrastus, On Odors V-22, V-25, VI-27)
- "Some of the flowers must be used fresh, like: the Rose (Hulthemia × Rosa), and some others when they are dry, like: the Crocus (Crocus sativus) and the Yellow Melilot (Melilotus officinalis).
The myrrh from flowers usually reach their highest peak after two months and they deteriorate after a year."
(Theophrastus, On Odors VII-34, IX-37)
- "The compound and blending of flavorings is not defined."
(Theophrastus, On Odors IX-39)
In the Classical period, essential oils may have been made by simply steeping the flavoring (of plant or other origin) in a vegetable fruit oil (e.g. olive oil, sesame oil, almond oil), without heating (boiling), or by using one of the complicated recipes detailed in the texts of Dioscurides (De Materia Medica).
- Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 10 - 90 AD) was a Greek Physician, Pharmacologist, Botanist, and author of De Materia Medica (greek: Περὶ ὕλης ἰατρικῆς / On Medical Material) that was a 5-volume Greek Encyclopedia about herbal medicine and related medicinal substances (a Pharmacopeia).
It was widely read for more than 1,500 years.
He was employed as a Physician in the Roman army.
The recipes are divided into two categories: those that used only one flavoring (idisma / greek: ήδυσμα) that gave the essential oil its final predominant scent (which had a light scent from fresh flowers, leaves or fruits) and those that used various imported flavorings (idismata / greek: ηδύσματα) with a heavy, strong scent (such as myrrh, cinnamon, balsam).
The essential oils of the first category were created with the treatment of an oil-base through heat extraction, using a variety of plant materials that were called stymmata (greek: στύμματα) and had a weak scent.
This process resulted in the heat extraction oil.
The final essential oil was created by simply steeping the main aromatic flavoring to the heat extraction oil.
The aromatic oils of the second category were produced by directly steeping the flavorings (idismata) and stymmata into a hot oil-base.
This process entailed the boiling of the mixture.