Incense, aromatics, and perfumed oil became available to all Egyptians as the priests gradually relinquished their exclusive rights. Citizens were commanded to perfume themselves at least once a week. The Egyptians, fastidious in their personal habits, took elaborate baths, which were the forerunners of the luxurious bathing establishments of the Greeks and Romans. They soaked their skin in oils because it gave them pleasure, and helped protect their bodies from the drying effects of the torrid sun.
Cleopatra, well versed in the power of scent, was lavish in her use of perfume. On her sail up the river Cydnns to meet Mark Antony, her arrival was announced by clouds of fragrance before her barge came into view. Aromatics, jars of unguents, and sweet smelling oils perfumed the sails of her craft. Kyphi, the sacred perfume of Egypt, was most popular with Cleopatra. Nefertiti, an Egyptian beauty from an earlier dynasty, surrounded herself with containers filled with myrrh, small stopper bottles filled with sweet oils, and handsomely ornamented jars of unguents.
Egyptians carried perfume with them from birth until death. Perfume even followed them after death. Egyptians believed that the soul ascended into heaven, relatives saw to it that perfume accompanied the spirit. Urns encrusted with gold, jars of delicate pottery, and chalcedonies filled with aromatics were placed in the tombs. So potent were some of the oils used, that 3,300 years after Tutankhamen's death, a trace of fragrance in the tightly sealed pots of unguents could be detected when the tomb was opened.
The Egyptians believed that the soul assumed many different shapes after death before it returned to earth in human form. Therefore, they believed the body should be kept in good condition and the empty shell preserved. Consequently, embalming was very important to the Egyptians. Powdered myrrh, cassia and other perfumes were used in the embalming process.
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