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MUSEUM OF OLIVE OIL CULTURE  -2     Italiano.gif (234 byte)


Jean-Pierre and Fiorella Cottier collection

BEAUTY TREATMENT      -    Vedi anche: I profumi nell'antichità


Both literary sources and archaeological finds report us customs concerning the treatment of one’s personal appearance. The use of cosmetics expresses the need to communicate one’s individuality through targeted messages intended for a precise purpose. The use of cosmetics and fragrant substances is at first linked to magic-religious functions and afterwards it becomes a decorative phenomenon of the person. The study of archaeological finds, from artistic production to material culture, allows us to reconstruct the cosmetic habits of ancient times. 

Most of the fragrant essences came from the East and were traded ever since the 8th- 7th century B.C. The several containers of ointments of Greek or oriental production, also in the Magna Graecia and Etruscan or Italic areas, show a thriving trade and a widespread use of such products at least in the affluent classes.

Olive oil formed the fat base for the various fragrant components; the “omphacium” in particular, obtained from big green olives, was the most popular item (Plinius, Naturalis Historia, XIII, 2, 3).

In the Roman world the use of cosmetics was all pervading and several literary sources tell us about it. For example Ovid is the author of a manual on make-up, whereas other authors (Martial, Seneca, Horatio etc) describe aspects of  everyday life linked to body care.

Several archaeological finds bear witness to the use of make-up and perfumes: baked clay, unguentary vases, glass, hard stones, oil containers, mortars for the preparation of cosmetic pastes, spatulas to take small quantities of balm from a container or to mix products.

Cosmetics was not limited to women. For example athletes also used perfumed oils. Typical of the male world and linked to personal care was the “strigil”, an instrument for cleansing after doing exercises in the gymnasium. It was common in the Greek and Etruscan world already in the 5th-4th century B.C..


(translated by David Sebastiani).

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