In the East, the Byzantine Empire, heir to Rome, took over the art of perfume and developed a thriving industry, perhaps more than that of Rome itself, due to the proximity of raw ingredients and workforce of people from its eastern neighbours who had a tradition in perfume-making; Rome was a country that eminently relied on imports.
But it wouldn’t be long before a new power in perfume emerged: the Arabs. Southern Arabia, today a desert, was in ancient times a paradise where the abundance of leafy forests and the beauty of its gardens with their aromatic trees made it a mysterious and exotic place. Camel caravans from the distant Arabia, known in the classics as “the Land of Perfumes”, reached the Mediterranean coast, crossing the desert and transporting incense and essences to the markets of the West.
A new civilization emerged in Arabia in the beginning of the 7th century, a new culture based on a religious event. Muhammad preached his doctrine and founded Islam, which would soon spread from the Middle East to Spain. Muhammad, like any good Arab, loved perfume, and in the Koran, believers are promised a perfumed paradise, with great rivers, trees and gardens and beautiful black-eyed Hurs, made from the purest musk.
In perfume, the Arabs were skilled experts who knew how to assimilate and perfect the knowledge of previous cultures, taking advantage of their own discoveries and new techniques. They updated the alembic for distilling alcohol, which they used as a base for fragrances, and spread the use of rosewater, musk and civet, the most popular fragrances throughout the Middle Ages. Soon after, those returning from the Crusades and the merchants returning from the East also introduced perfumes throughout the West.