Perfume in ancient Greek and Roman society


Opium poppies in Afghanistan todayLike many aspects of its society, perfume in ancient Greece was influenced from Egypt.

Already in Mycenaean times, Egyptian perfume in Egyptian glass bottles was exported to Greece.

In Greece, crocuses and roses (including from Rhodos island) were important for making perfume.

Also, thyme and juniper.

After the Romans conquered Greece, there were many Greek influences on Roman culture.

However, there was resistance in Roman society to Greek perfume, seen as luxurious extravagance.

In the second century BCE, it was banned.

Also Augustus, the first emperor, did not like it.

Authors like Martialis and Pliny the Elder railed against it.

However, the resistance did not win.

In the third century, the emperor himself, Heliogabalus, was a big fan of perfume (as Nero, in the first century, had already been).

In Italy itself, production of perfume had got going by now.

Roses and violets were used for it in Latium around Rome.

However, most important was Capua and the Campania region around it, producing roses and olives for perfume.

Emperor Diocletian, 284-305, made a list of maximum prices for many goods, from which we can also get ideas about perfume prices.

All prices were for one Roman pound, about 327g; and in denarii:

cypress 20
iris 31
opium, made from poppies, from Egypt: 1000
saffron crocus from Arabia: 2000

Opium was also mixed into wine in antiquity.

Some authors think that Alexander the Great died from the consequences of this.

After Diocletian, the influence of the Christian church rose sharply.

It opposed perfume, and took measures against it.

However, it still used the religious aspects of smell we have talked about before; eg, frankincense.

What Perfume Did a Well-Heeled Etruscan Use? Here.

4 thoughts on “Perfume in ancient Greek and Roman society

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