Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ancient Fragrant Lore (part 6): Scents of the Roman Times

Like their modern day counterparts who become accustomed to the effluvium from a beloved, often recharged bottle of fragrance, the ancients were no less acclimatized to the ritual of their favorite perfume, rendering them increasingly unstirred by the fumes emanating from themselves.

Could it be that it was this function of fragrance which became the sword of Damocles over the head of L. Plancus's brother, twice consul and censor? Proscribed by the triumvirate as a political enemy to be exterminated, he was discovered in his hideout at Salerno due to the emanations of his fragrance, like a former-day Marie Antoinette stopped mid-escape by the revolutionaries. What's more, Pliny asks in a surge of luxuria condemnation, "Who wouldn't find the death of such a man a just cause?"

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, The Roses of Heliogabalus

Thus runs my article on scents and perfumes in the Roman Empire published on Fragrantica. 
The roses, the resins, the decadent rituals, the opulent bath oils...
You can read it on this link and comment here or there if you wish.


  1. Miss Heliotrope07:14

    I do love your educational articles, thank you.

    What really stands out for me is that then as now, perfume seems to be being blamed for the behaviour of those who wear it; perfume is bad bc bad (or silly, or indulgent, or - ) wear it. If we didnt wear perfume, we'd all be wonderfully normal & civilised & - no?

    Bc for many commentators, past & present, scent wearing seems to stand for frivolous behaviour, or thoughts or something, when at most it means the person might quite like that scent. Or doesnt, but is visiting the person who gave it to him, or whatever.

    I wonder though, are men being criticised more harshly than women for their scent wearing? We all know that women are foolish creatures with very little reason, bless us, but men acting like women (& those sensual & feminised asiatics - the ones who didnt win as many wars) is of course worse.

    (I do hope my sarcasm is recognisable by all)

    1. MH,

      your sarcasm is of course obvious and no worries. Well said!

      I think perfume unlike other frivolities is just so perishable and at the same time invisible; there's got to be something wrong to it. It's almost witchcraft! :-P
      Also there is the element of using perfume to accomplish a goal, unlike say food indulgence or drugs or alcohol or a beauty treat/spa. Therefore easy to blame for "corruption" and "deceit" (much like makeup in that regard).


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