With the fall of the Roman empire in 476 a.C. a whole baggage of knowledge, scientific and not, of uses and customs acquired by the west during centuries of exchanges with the people of the Mediterranean basin was lost and/or forgotten.
Thanks to conservation by the Church, many ancient documents survived the barbaric invasions; but it was above all thanks to the maintenance of a network of contacts and commercial exchanges with the Middle East (most of all with the Arabs) that the culture and the science in the Middle Ages continued to develop.
Catholicism was by now recognized and diffused. The use of incense spread outside of worship. Aromas, considered precious and good, were offered during great occasions in forecast of future exchanges: the Caliph of Baghdad, Haroun al-Raschid offered incense to the emperor Carlo Magno.
Thanks to the Crusades (1096-1291) exchanges between East and West intensified, thus improving commercial channels. The Crusaders brought aromas and new spices from the east and reintroduced the habit of washing with perfumed waters. From the X to the XV century, Venice was a great centre of distribution and maritime commerce for the whole of Europe. In Spain, the Arabs gave a great contribution to fragrance: from the X to the XIII century Cordova rivalled with Baghdad in luxury and erudition.
Competition developed among apothecaries, sellers of spices, herbs and aromas. The XIII century saw the start of more precise regulation with the Workers Guilds.
In the Middle Ages, men and women bathed often: as in ancient times, the baths were aromatised with herbs and fragrances. They became a norm of courtesy towards guests. The baths were made without a division between the sexes, meals were also served. Only really important people had their own private baths; there were numerous public baths which were open to everyone. The hygienic role of the baths sometimes served as a pretext for other activities. Following numerous scandals, the judges asked that the sexes be separated and the clergy demanded the definitive closing of the baths.
Basins of perfumed water were brought to guests at the table to rinse their hands: in this era people still ate with their fingers.
Up to the Renaissance, the use of the fragrances based on violet, lavender, flowers of the orange tree spread among noble or rich ladies who elegantly hid perfumed sachets under their dresses or in their laundry.
In 1347, a Genoese vessel returning from a trip along the coasts of the Black Sea, brought the plague to Europe. In just one year the whole of Europe was infected. Sprays, fumigations and aromatised wines were used to fight against the disease. Men and women inhaled precious aromatic substances contained in fragrant little balls, called musk or amber apples, and subsequently pomanders.
Laurel and rosemary were burned in the fireplace and fragrant herbs were spread to purify and perfume the houses.
At Salerno the distillation of alcohol was discovered. Replacing oil as a substrate for the fragrance, this volatile and neutral liquid radically transformed the perfumery: it marked the start of the fragrance in alcohol.
Fifty years later, towards 1370, Queen Elizabeth of Hungary inspired the first fragrance brand: Hungary Water, an extract of rosemary and lavender in an alcohol base. According to legend, the hermit who composed this fragrance and introduced it to the queen assured her that she would have remained beautiful until she died. It seems as though the enchantment worked, as Elizabeth of Hungary married the king of Poland when she was seventy years old.
In this era Grasse was already famous for its tanneries. From the XII century onwards it created tight commercial bonds with Genoa and above all with Spain, from whom it purchased leather. The inhabitants of Grasse already distilled plants and sold their products on the market, but the city had not yet become particularly famous.
Aromatic vinegar, traditionally a vinegar mixture to which various fragrant products, (usually flower and fruit essences) were added, appeared towards the end of the XVI century. Due to its intense aroma it was often used for ladies who fainted to inhale the vapours to revive them.