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The History of Perfume in Ancient Rome

The History of Perfume in Ancient Rome

The Romans took note of the Greeks’ fondness for perfumes and came to not only use, but even over-use fragrances. In Rome, caring for one’s image was very important because it reflected one’s social status. Let’s learn about the history of perfume in ancient Rome.

Perfumes in Rome

The Romans perfumed their skin, their clothing and their belongings. They perfumed rooms and even public places. They brought exotic aromas from far-away places, aromas which had been unknown up until that time like wisteria, vanilla, carnation and lilac. The Eastern influence brought with it aromas like pine, ginger, mimosa and cedar.

They were true perfume enthusiasts; it was in Rome that the first guild of perfumers was begun, the ungüentarii, respected artisans who passed on their secret formulas to their descendants, protecting their creations, their names and their business. There were more luxurious perfumes that were only within the reach of a few people, and other that were more popular.

They made three types of ointments that were packaged in ceramic or crystal:

  • Solids, in the form of powder or tablets: an aroma made of only one ingredient at a time, like almond or quince.
  • Liquid ointments: made with ground flowers, spices and gums in an oil base, normally olive oil.
  • Powdered perfumes: made of pulverized flower petals, to which were added certain spices.

The Romans’ daily lives were surrounded by delicious aromas. The baths were a public and daily custom. They were a social meeting place, where, of course, people could perfume themselves as much as they wanted. Women were the main perfume users, but men also let themselves get carried about by the pleasure of perfume. The favourite aromas were those that came from flowers: daffodil, jasmine, lily and violet; although they also used oils from substances like sandalwood.

The arrival of Christianity brought about a decline in the use of perfume, since perfume was considered a luxury and closely related to seduction. That didn’t fit well with the messages of modesty and humility that this religion taught. The use of perfumes practically disappeared.

What perfumes from our catalogue would the ancient Romans have liked?

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