Ancient Roman Perfume History

Ancient Romans were massive proponents of perfume, and they used it as a form of luxury. If the Egyptians were the inventors, the Romans were the innovators as they came up with different fragrant items for pleasure of the Gods and their own.

How did the Romans use scented ointments?

Created using natural ingredients like flower petals and spices, scented ointments were originally used for therapeutic and religious purposes. 

Ancient customs dictated that the priests have to throw scented ointments on braziers to create a column of fragrant smoke that could reach the Gods. It was the Roman way of pleasing the Gods and asking for their blessing.

Scented ointments soon earned their reputation as a grooming item to cleanse the body. The Romans engaged in this cleansing both at home and in the ancient gyms. They adored being massaged with scented oils and ointments in the thermal baths, inside the Unctorium. Sometimes, the oils were directly added to the water.

The modern concept of room fresheners stems from the Romans using essential oils to create a fragrant atmosphere during official banquets. 

What were the most popular raw materials for perfume-making?

The Romans commonly used roses, lavender, quinces, pomegranates, grapes, basil and rosemary in their perfumes. Cinnamon myrrh and opobalsam (classic incense) alongside resins were considered to be highly precious ingredients.

A lot of the raw materials were also sourced from areas occupied by the Roman troops. As a result, many Roman soldiers and merchants used fragrant materials at first.

The Romans devised ways to make ointments, perfumes, scented water, and even perfumed powders. The distillation process or blow moulding technique we know now was first used by the Romans. They also began the tradition of storing perfume in glass bottles.

Perfume as a Sign of Wealth in Ancient Rome

Perfume was a symbol of luxury and wealth among the Romans. As a result, it was excessively and almost exclusively used by the upper-class elites. Sumptuous banquets, as mentioned above, heavily used perfume to create an ambience of grandeur. From consuming scented asparagus served on fragrant wooden platters to spraying guests with scented water, the Romans ensured that no stone was unturned. 

The origin of a district of perfumers called “unguentarii” was an exciting development for rich Roman nobles who could head to these shops whenever they wanted to try new essences. It was common for them to cover themselves in perfume, and novelty was always welcome. A popular historical anecdote states that Ceaser used to be fond of the notes of Telinum, an ointment made of marjoram, fenugreek, and yellow sweet clover. Roman women used perfume in their hair for an overpowering burst of fragrance.

Selling Perfumes in Ancient Rome

It is important to note that there were no perfume specialists then. Those who could afford the expensive raw materials were able to experiment and create their own fragrances. The final price of a perfume depended on a lot of factors, including the material of its container. Since the elite Romans felt a sense of pride in wearing expensive perfume, price were absurdly conflated from time to time.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.