This pot is rose-scented and comes from India. The perfume melts at body heat and is easily spread. Travelling with something that doesn’t spill is also helpful!
Today, essential oils are added to wax-compounds such as paraffin or petroleum jelly. In earlier times, the flowers and spices would have been steeped in melted beeswax, olive or almond oil, lanolin and even goose grease. Vegetable gums might also have been used. These would then have been strained to remove debris, poured into a their final pots, and allowed to set.
Today, we think of perfumes as an alcohol-based liquid. Before distillation became widespread in Europe, however, it was more likely to be a wax-based solid. Solid perfumes are making a comeback but they never went out of fashion in South Asia and the Middle East.
Records credit the invention of the alembic (used for distillation) to Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber), a Muslim alchemist born in Persia, in 800 CE. His contributions to the field of chemistry still echo today.
It is in Persia that rose attar became a favoured scent. This essential oil is created by crushing rose petals in water, boiling the mix, then distilling the steam.
Crusaders brought a love of rose water home with them along with the plants themselves. Later iterations include lavender water and orange blossom water—what we might call Eau de Toilette today.
In 1190, King Philippe Auguste of France granted the guild of Glovers a monopoly on perfuming gloves (necessary due to the lingering strong scents from the tanning process).