History Today subscription

Roman Aids to Beauty

Scents; cosmetics; essences: D.C.S. Wiltshire finds that enormous variety for the unguents were produced in fashionable Roman world.

The early Romans indulged in few fragrances other than verbena which served a double purpose; being hung over doors to ward off both evil spirits and smells, but as they conquered the Greek colonies of Southern Italy Romans began to imitate the customs of the Greeks. Those shifts in fashion are evident in religion on to which funeral rites are stoutly grafted. Whereas in early Rome the dead were buried, the Greeks resorted to the funeral pyre; the bones were put into an urn, mixed with perfumes being more or less costly according to the estate of the deceased and the benevolence of his heirs.

There were, however, innovations. In 454 a Sicilian, Ticinus Menas, introduced the habit of shaving the beard. So successful was the new vogue that a troop of barbers was sent from Sicily to Rome where they set up shops under the porticoes of Minucius near the temple of Hercules. Scipio Africanus and his patrician clique adopted the new fashion and in a short time smooth chins, redolent with ointments, became common.

To read this article in full you need to be either a print + archive subscriber, or else have purchased access to the online archive.

If you are already a subscriber, please ensure you are logged in. 

Buy Subscription | Buy Online Access | Log In

If you are logged in and still cannot read the article, please email digital@historytoday.com.

Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week