Let’s take a walk past the Ancient Roman shops filled with customers wearing yellow and white togas. The sunlit stalls filled with mulled wine, baked cheeses and nuts. Can you taste these?
Can you smell the rose, jasmine and maybe olive oil that the people slather on? There are public baths with water splashing to the shouting from the Coliseum. You are also skirting past a shrine devoted to Romulus and a slave market displaying the latest captures of war. You can feel the anxiety and sweat in the air.
The ancient Roman city is loud, busy, and thriving with industry and ambition. The Roman Empire existed around the 8th century BC to the 5th century AD for 1000 years or so, around 753 BC to 476 AD.
Today we will take a look at Ancient Roman beauty practices. We weren’t the first to have beauty rituals and much is influenced by other cultures. The Romans borrowed from the Greeks and Egyptians.
Disclaimer: This website is for informational purposes and not for diagnosis. More details.
Ancient Roman Skin Concerns
There was a lot going on in ancient Rome skin problems were; pimples, freckles, spots, facial itching, eruptive skin diseases, leprous sores and scars. Add in malaria, infestations with fleas, lice, crabs, worms and bedbugs. Hard to look good with all this!
Many products of lotions and creams containing herbs were available to combat these conditions.
Some different beauty tips were using barley flour and butter to calm skin.
A weird roman beauty remedy of the day for wrinkles was ash from snails. It has been found that the glycolic acid from snails is extremely beneficial as it helps the skin make collagen which soothes skin.
Olive oil was smeared on to exfoliate their skin. This was then rinsed off with scented oils of cedar, myrrh, pine, lily, saffron or roses.
During the Punic wars Roman soldiers used Aloe Vera to treat their wounds.
The Ideal Ancient Roman
Romans were influenced by the Greek standards of symmetry and harmony. Beautiful bodies of both women and men were proportioned in shape, limbs and face.
Ideally beautiful women were petite, thin though robust constitution, narrow shoulders, pronounced hips, wide thighs and small breasts. As seen in their statues and paintings.
And the face would be large almond shaped eyes, straight nose, mouth and ears of medium size as well as oval cheeks and chin.
As for men the ideal was tall (about 5’7”) having muscular built including long strong legs and tanned skin (some men wore makeup for whitening the face and they were considered to be immoral).
Their face would be ideally high with broad forehead and wide eyes also having a strong nose, symmetric shape and powerful jaw.
In both men and women having white natural teeth were very special. Pumice powder or vinegar was used to clean teeth. If they didn’t have teeth, false ones could be used made of ivory, human or animal teeth.
But this was all ideally and we know how that goes. We can dream huh?
All about the Hair of Ancient Romans
Eyebrows. Influenced by the Greeks, eyebrows were to look very bushy or if you didn’t have these, eyebrows could be painted on with either antimony (chemical element aka kohl) or soot to form what we call a unibrow or monobrow (the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo). This was applied with a stick or shard of bone.
By the start of the 1st century BC this custom faded (as all fads do to come back later?) and the romans started trimming their eyebrows.
And when Cleopatra paid a visit all the Roman women were inspired by her eye makeup.
Eyelashes. It was considered very beautiful to have long eyelashes. (Haven’t we always wished for these?)Using black antimony powder the eyes were made as big as possible.
Hairstyles. Yes, all about the do, the hairstyles consisted of complicated updos, curls and many braids. These intricate hairdos of the women showed signs of wealth and social status.
Haircolor. Roman women considered for centuries that mahogany (red) hair was the most beautiful. But after Julius Caesar brought many Gaul slaves to Rome, the women became obsessed with blonde hair.
They began dying their hair with vinegar and saffron and to make it golden, sprinkled it with gold dust. Wigs were made consisting of real hair from German slaves, if the Romans were lacking enough hair.
Hair removal. Roman women didn’t like body hair. They went to great lengths to remove it as with plucking and using pumice stone on their legs, arms and underarms.
As for men a sign of virility was strong, thick hair. Black curls were considered very handsome. But by the 1st century BC blond hair became the look for men as well (many emperors have been described with blonde hair for this reason).
Being bald was frowned upon. We have read that Julius Caesar combed his hair over to cover his bald spot.
Men by the 3rd century BC began to shave each day or at least trim their beards and hair very short. Then there were the young rich people who tended to let their hair grow long and tie it back.
The Famous Roman Bathhouses
The Romans are well known for their bathhouses. They did after all perfect the art of water transport. The Romans are also credited with plumbing for toilets and sewers.
By the 1st century AD sophisticated bathhouses and spas where springing up wherever hot springs were found in the expanding empire. These were temples dedicated to beauty and relaxation. The bathhouses were well decorated with beautiful mosaics, paintings and huge ceilings that brought in natural light.
Roman baths were primarily aimed at good hygiene, relaxation and socializing. However, skincare was a major role in their function and use.
Their bathhouses were separated into rooms aimed to benefit the body. They alternated water temperatures having knowledge of the benefits; caldarium – hot, tepidarium – tepid, frigidarium – down right cold! The first hydrotherapy!
These rooms were warm to open and cleanse pores, and cold water was to soothe inflammation. After bathing olive oil was used to cleanse the skin and this was scraped off with the striglis. This was a metal tool that curved. Dirt and sweat were removed from the body before steam therapy, body scrubs and massage.
You may know the benefits of olive oil today leaving the skin smooth and helping to fight environmental skin damage because it has a high content of antioxidants.
Perfumes were widely used and very popular. These were produced from a variety of flowers and herbs including saffron, almonds, rose petals, lilies, myrtle and jasmine. Perfumes were very pungent and used to override the smell of lead and other nasty products used as makeup of the day.
Cosmetics Worn by Ancient Romans
Makeup was thought of as some kind of magic or manipulation in ancient Roman times. Keep in mind most information of the time was written by men.
In the city of Rome by the 1st century it was important to have pallor skin. The Romans preferred fair, white complexions delicate as lilies. This was to show you were not working class.
To achieve this look white lead, white marl and chalk powder were used. Lead powder is extremely toxic (we know this today).
Skin color in the rest of the cities of the Empire did not matter so much. They did prefer smooth skin, minus wrinkles, scars or blemishes (these are still a concern around the world today).
A mask (that was invented by Popea, Emperor Nero’s wife) was applied at night to keep the skin smooth and beautiful. This was removed the next day.
Applying cosmetics had to be done carefully. If there was too much, a woman would be considered a prostitute. It was better to enhance their natural beauty by only cleansing and protecting. Usually products made from milk and honey was used.
Women had hand mirrors of polished metal or mercury. Wealthy women had expensive mirrors and makeup palettes to match of wood, bone or golden boxes.
Cheeks. The biggest use of cosmetics was in coloring the cheeks, as long as it was not overdone. This was considered a healthy look. Wine grounds, mulberry juice, rose and poppy petals or red chalk was applied on cheeks as rouge.
Nail color of pink and red tint was made from animal fat and blood.
Roman men used cosmetics also for treating wrinkles, freckles, blemishes and scales on the skin. For men using too much makeup was considered effeminate.
Poor guys had to deal with the same situation if they removed too much body hair, on the other hand not removing some made them appear unrefined. So they probably at least removed hair on their chest, stomach and maybe buttocks.
When the Roman Empire fell cosmetics disappeared and it was very uncommon to wear makeup there at that time. By about 1200 AD wearing makeup slowly returned back into the culture.
The Roman women were probably fascinated with beauty and cosmetics because it was discovered that an Ancient Roman woman was buried with her makeup palette and perfume bottles.
The Romans are credited with plumbing, toilets and sewer systems. We will always think of their bathhouses leading to hydrotherapy and our modern day spas.
Have you experienced hydrotherapy?
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Header Photo Roman in chariot pulled by white horses by dozemode from Pixabay
https://www.theexploresspodcast.com/episodes/2019/11/15/wheninrome accessed 03/07/2021
https://www.romadesignerjewelry.com/blogs/education/a-history-of-ancient-roman-jewelry accessed 03/07/2021
https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-rome/ancient-rome accessed 03/07/2021
https://www.ancient-origins.net/history/ancient-plant-immortality-treats-over-50-medical-conditions-007505 accessed 03/07/2021
https://brewminate.com/medical-anesthesia-and-surgery-in-ancient-rome/ accessed 03/07/2021
https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and-practice/bible-herbs-spices/ accessed 03/07/2021