Revised Short Research Paper on Perfumes in Medieval Middle East

Perfume in Medieval Middle East

Perfume serves as an excellent example of a technology that did not maintain any great necessary for daily business, since it did not contribute to a growth in agriculture or anything that would have had a utilitarian purpose. However, it held great cultural significance in the societies it existed in, whether it be in a religious manner or a cosmetic one. Perfume retained heavy importance in the Arab world, especially during the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the sixth century CE to the ninth century CE, especially in an economic and religious context.

Historians believe perfume had its beginnings in Ancient Babylon, by a female perfume-maker by the name of Tapputi of Mesopotamia (Levey, Babylonian Chemistry). However, historians claim that the Mesopotamians did not have knowledge of the chemistry behind perfumery, and the Arabs were the ones who began to really understand the chemistry. Avicenna of Persia implemented distillation techniques before any others to extract perfumes from the oils of roses and other such materials (Rimmel 121). Even before Avicenna’s discovery of distillation, perfume had a profound effect on the predominantly Muslim societies of the Arab world, as perfume came to be associated with cleanliness due to its good smell.

The aforementioned attitude went so far as to the Prophet Muhammad declaring that perfume be worn by every male, alongside taking a bath and cleaning his teeth (To Perfume before Going for the Friday (Prayer)). Perfume carried great religious significance and as such came to be associated with righteousness. This association most likely had a great deal to do with the fact that the Prophet Muhammad enjoyed good smells and used perfumes quite frequently. As a result of this, rose-water became an important part of Middle Eastern society (Rimmel 122).

The Islamic Golden Age was an important period in Middle Eastern perfumery and was driven largely by a motive that influenced mostly other technological developments in the area since Islam became popular: the belief that the pursuit of knowledge would bring one closer to God among an increased focus on translation and academics (Chaney). One prominent academic during this time, Ishaq al-Kindi, an Arab polymath who developed evaporation and filtration techniques relating to perfumery, conducted most of his work near the beginning of the Islamic Golden Age (Levey, Early Muslim Chemistry). The perfume technology developed further as a result of the work of al-Kindi along with other factors such as the association of perfumes with. These factors gave the technological developments in the area of perfumes greater value.

The economic value as a luxury item was another major reason for perfume’s importance besides the cultural association with cleanliness. Just among Muslim religious scholars, about seven to nine per cent worked in the perfume trade between the years of 800 CE and 1100 CE (Cohen).

Although on its surface level, perfume seemed to be a luxury item during the aforementioned time period, it had great significance pertaining to the religious, cultural, and economic aspects of medieval Islamic society.


David Zabecki’s “Hallowed Ground: Agincourt, France”

The author, David Zabecki, details an English victory at Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War when King Henry V defeated the French troops despite fewer men. According to how Zabecki described the French troops to be in a “party mood,” and how the French intended to hold the English noblemen for rather high ransoms, it is obvious that the French believed that they were going to win. Although they did claim victory at the end of the war, they suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Agincourt.

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Jean Gimpel’s Chapter 3: Agricultural Revolution in “The Medieval Machine”

In this chapter, the historian, Jean Gimpel, discusses the developments relating to agriculture that were developed during the Medieval period. Gimpel seems to consider animals and their use on farms to be incredibly vital to the Agricultural Revolution. Especially the use of horses as opposed to the oxen that were traditionally used. Gimpel provides a table in order to support this showing that an average draft horse generated 432 ft-lb/s of power as opposed to the conventionally used ox at that time which generated on average 288 ft-lb/s of power. Despite this increase in power generated by the horse, there were setbacks to its use as demonstrated by Gimpel. Firstly, the technology to properly harness the horse did not come around until the medieval period and agronomists like Walter of Henley encourages the use of oxen as opposed to horses mostly due to the cost of the horse and of its maintenance. However, in terms of value, it is noted that sheep was the most valuable since it provided meat, wool, and dairy.

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Jean Gimpel’s Chapter 4: Environment and Pollution in “The Medieval Machine”

In this chapter the historian, Jean Gimpel, discusses the effects of the industrial revolution of the Middle Ages on the environment in Western Europe. Gimpel makes it quite clear that there were very great adverse impacts as a result of this increase in industry mostly on the forests because of heavy deforestation, whether it be for the use of timber in various constructions or for charcoal for iron forges.

Gimpel focuses on the topic of fuel and seems to emphasize that as a major source of pollution during the Middle Ages. One example he gives is how those who worked in the iron industry had to build their forges in the forest due to how much charcoal they would need. Gimpel provides an estimation that one furnace could erase the nearby trees in a one kilometer radius in just forty days. Continue reading “Jean Gimpel’s Chapter 4: Environment and Pollution in “The Medieval Machine””