Ancient Greek Clothes, Jewelry, Cosmetics and Hairstyles

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20120221-Plato_and_Aristotle_in_The_School_of_Athens by Rafael.jpg
Raphael's vision of Greek clothing
Trousers and shirts were not worn by the Greeks or Romans. Greeks wore a short diaper and a sheet for clothing. People generally didn't wear underwear in the modern sense. Through the use of pins, buttons, shoulder harness, and waist cinches the Greeks were able to produce a variety of clothing from what were otherwise pieces of draped cloth. Garments were often held in place with “ porpai” , dress pins that were sometimes razor sharp and made of gold. Designers such Fortuny, Yves saint Laurent and Madame Grez were much inspired by Greek clothes.

Greek literature features some unusual garments. In Euripides “ Medea” a bride is sent a wedding gift of a gown that tears of her flesh and a headpiece that spontaneously combusts leaving her just bits of bone and charred remains.

The earliest known clothes iron comes from 4th century B.C. Greece. It was a rolling-pin-like metal cylinder rolled over linen fabric to get rid of wrinkle d and make pleats. Ironing was a laborious and time-consuming chore usually done by slaves.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “In antiquity, clothing was usually homemade and the same piece of homespun fabric could serve as a garment, shroud, or blanket. Greek vase painting and traces of paint on ancient sculptures indicate that fabrics were brightly colored and generally decorated with elaborate designs. Clothing for both women and men consisted of two main garments—a tunic (either a peplos or chiton) and a cloak (himation).” [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art. "Ancient Greek Dress", Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003,]

Harold Koda of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The richness and variety of the costumes represented in ancient Greek art are often the result of simple manipulations of the three basic garment types: the chiton, the peplos, and the himation. Positioning a waist cinch or a shoulder harness and removing a fibula introduced to the ancient wardrobe the possibility of innumerable effects.” [Source: Harold Koda, The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea ; Greek History Course from Reed; Classics FAQ MIT; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Ancient Greek and Roman Fabrics and Dyes

woman spinning cloth
Most cloth was made from wool and linen. Much of it was rather course. Very few remnants of Greek cloth remain. Most of what we know comes from written records, sculptures, bas-reliefs and vase paintings. Penelope's loom was a major feature of the “ Odyssey”. Homer refers to "fair purple blankets" and "thick mantels.”

The Greeks and Romans used leather and developed fairly sophisticated methods of tanning. Roman soldiers wore breastplates of felt and armies traveled with sheep and looms to clothed their soldiers. Instead of mothballs Romans used bare breasted virgins to fight off wool eating moths.

The Romans and Greeks were familiar with silk, but they had no idea how it was made. Pliny the Elder speculated the textile was made from "the hair of the sea-sheep" and Aristotle described the silkworm as a horned worm the size of a cat. Alexander the Great brought silk back with him after his conquest of Persia, and the fabric was all the rage in ancient Rome, where laws were passed to curb demand for the cloth.╟

The Greeks imported from purple cloth from Tyre, embroideries from Sidon and fine linen from Egypt. Silk from China and fine muslins from India began making their way to the wealthy with some regularity after Alexander's conquests. Blue India dye is derived from a blue powder extracted from the “ indigofera” plant. The dye was known to the Greeks and Romans and used by Egyptians to dye mummy cases.

The Greeks used brown, red and yellow dyes made from plants, bark and minerals. Many of their garments were bleached white and adorned with hand applied designs with geometric patterns.

Phoenician Purple Dye

The Phoenician City of Tyre grew rich from the sale of a purple-dyed textiles that were used to denote royalty. The dye was produced from murex, a trumpet-shaped marine snail still found among rocks in the eastern Mediterranean today. Piles of the shells and large vats indicated that dye production was carried out on an industrial scale. In Sidon, archeologist found a 300-foot-long mound of murex shells.

Vestiges of purple dye
industry in Lebanon
According to legend purple was discovered by the Phoenician god Melkarth, whose dog bit into a seashell, resulting in his mouth becoming a rich shade of purple. Other have said the dye was discovered by noting that people who ate the snail had purple lips.

Royal purple was produced as early as 1200 B.C. The dye was made of urine, sea water and ink from the bladders of the murex snails. To extract the snails, the shells were put in a vat where their putrifying bodies excreted a yellowish liquid. Depending on how much water was added the liquid produced hues ranging from rose to dark purple.

"Born to the purple" became a common expression to describe royalty. Purple cloth was treasured by the Greeks and Romans and remained extremely valuable through Byzantine times. One gram of pure purple die was worth 10 to 20 times its weight in gold. Some of the richest people in ancient Phoenician were purple dye merchants.

Purple is no longer made from sea shells in the eastern Mediterranean but it is still is done in Oaxaca, Mexico. In the winter “ Purpura” mollusks are collected from rocks and opened and the purple dye is applied to yarn right there in the spot.

Ancient Greek Clothmaking and Weaving

Most cloth was made with relatively simple warp-weighted looms. Women and slaves made cloth at home or bought it in shops, worked by freed slaves or artisans, who used specialized in one process — cleaning and carding, spinning, dyeing or weaving.

It is believed that women spent most of their time weaving. Wool was the most common fiber available and flax was also widely used. Cotton was stuffed into the saddles of Alexander the Great's cavalry in India to relieve soreness but that was largely the extent of its introduction to Greece.| [Source: "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum,||]

Spindle whirls from the 10th century BC
The methods used to make wool and cloth in ancient Greece lived on for centuries. After a sheep was sheared, the wool was placed on a spike called a distaff. A strand of wool was then pulled off; a weight known as whorl was attached to it; and the strand was twisted into a thread by spinning with it the thumb and forefinger. Since each thread was made this way, you can how time consuming it must have been to make a piece of cloth or a sail for a ship.||

To make cloth, threads were placed on a warp-weighted loom (similar to ones used by Lapp weavers until the 1950's). Warps are the downward hanging threads on a loom, and they were set up so that every other thread faced forward and the others were in the back. A weft (horizontal thread) was then taken in between the forward and backward row of warps. Before the weft was threaded through in the other direction, the position of the warps was changed with something called a heddle rod. This simple tool reversed the warps so that the row in the front was now in the rear, and visa versa. In this way the threads were woven in a cross stitch manner that held them together and created cloth. The cloth in turn was used to make cushions, upholstery for wooden furniture and wall hangings as well as garments and sails.||

Ancient Greek Women’s Clothes

Greek women initially wore a “ peplos” , a garment consisting of two bed sheet-size pieces of cloth, one in the front and one in the back, that were held together with two dagger-like pins, one over each shoulder. According to legend this garment was popular until Athens fought a war with the city-state of Aegina. During the battle every man was killed but one. When the survivor delivered the news to the wives and mothers of dead men, the women took out their anger with their dagger-pins, stabbing the man to death. Greek officials were so outraged by the behavior of women, they forced the women to wear Ionic style “ chintons” . These garments were virtually the same as the peplos except they were fastened together with buttons not lethal pins. [Source: "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum,||]

Men and women sometimes wore triangular loincloths, called perizoma, as underwear. As early as 2500 B.C. women in Minoa wore bras that completely lifted the a woman's breasts out of her garments. Greek and Roman women strapped in their breasts with bands of cloth that flattened their chest and reduced their breast size. Women often wore a strophion, the bra of the time, under their garments and around the mid-portion of their body. The strophion was a wide band of wool or linen wrapped across the breasts and tied between the shoulder blades.Women could also wear a shawl called an epiblema.

Harold Koda of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The diversity of women's apparel in ancient Greece can be reduced to three general garment types: the chiton, the peplos, and the himation Structurally, the most elemental dress type is the chiton, which is constructed in several ways. The most commonly represented is accomplished by stitching two rectangular pieces of fabric together along either sideseam, from top to bottom, forming a cylinder with its top edge and hem unstitched. The top edges are then sewn, pinned, or buttoned together at two or more points to form shoulder seams, with reserve openings for the head and arms. [Source: Harold Koda, The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

Athena-Artemis kore wearing peplos

“The peplos is perhaps a more distinctively Greek garment than the chiton, insofar as the chiton's reductive construction has similarities to apparel types in a number of other cultures and times. However, the peplos has several characteristics that distinguish it from other clothing traditions. Made of one large rectangular piece of cloth, it was formed into a cylinder and then folded along the topline into a deep cuff, creating an apoptygma, or capelet-like overfold. Although there are rare instances of chitons represented with overfolds, a garment is not a peplos unless it has been draped with an apoptygma. The neckline and armholes of the peplos were formed by fibulae, broochlike pins that attached the back to the front of the garment at either shoulder. Of all the identifying characteristics of a peplos, the fastening of its shoulders with fibulae is its single defining detail. \^/

“While there are a number of scarf, veil, shawl, and mantle forms, each with a distinct nomenclature, it is the himation with its range of draping and wrapping possibilities that has been the most evident source of later evocations of Hellenistic dress (1972.118.95; 1996.498.2a,b). The himation was a large cloak, always orthogonal, unlike the Roman toga, which had some shaping. Like the toga, however, it appears to have had a variety of cultural meanings, depending on its proportion and how it was worn. Generally, when worn by women, it was a garment of decorous modesty, but it has been shown on hetaerae as a device for provocation. \^/

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The peplos was simply a large rectangle of heavy fabric, usually wool, folded over along the upper edge so that the overfold (apoptygma) would reach to the waist. It was placed around the body and fastened at the shoulders with a pin or brooch. Openings for armholes were left on each side, and the open side of the garment was either left that way, or pinned or sewn to form a seam. The peplos might not be secured at the waist with a belt or girdle. The chiton was made of a much lighter material, usually imported linen. It was a very long and very wide rectangle of fabric sewn up at the sides, pinned or sewn at the shoulders, and usually girded around the waist. Often the chiton was wide enough to allow for sleeves that were fastened along the upper arms with pins or buttons. Both the peplos and chiton were floor-length garments that were usually long enough to be pulled over the belt, creating a pouch known as a kolpos. Under either garment, a woman might have worn a soft band, known as a strophion, around the mid-section of the body. [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art. "Ancient Greek Dress", Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

“The cloak (himation) worn by both women and men was essentially a rectangular piece of heavy fabric, either woolen or linen. It was draped diagonally over one shoulder or symmetrically over both shoulders, like a stole. Women sometimes wore an epiblema (shawl) over the peplos or chiton. Greek women donned a flat-brimmed one with a high peaked crown. Both women and men wore sandals, slippers, soft shoes, or boots, although at home they usually went barefoot.”

Ancient Greek Men’s Clothes

20120221-Symposia Revellers_BM_VaseE508.jpg Greek, Macedonian and Roman men favored toga-like garments while ancient Chinese and Persian men often wore trousers. Greek men wore two kinds of clothing: a cloak draped in various ways around the body with "varying degrees of modesty" (the “ himation” ), and a cloak draped around one shoulder and pinned to the other (the “ chlamys” ). Belts were sometimes worn and excess material was stuffed into a pouch.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Men in ancient Greece customarily wore a chiton similar to the one worn by women, but knee-length or shorter. An exomis, a short chiton fastened on the left shoulder, was worn for exercise, horse riding, or hard labor. The cloak (himation) worn by both women and men was essentially a rectangular piece of heavy fabric, either woolen or linen. It was draped diagonally over one shoulder or symmetrically over both shoulders, like a stole. [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art. "Ancient Greek Dress", Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003,]

Young men often wore a short cloak (chlamys) for riding. The chlamys was a seamless rectangle of woolen material worn by men for military or hunting purposes. It was worn as a cloak and fastened at the right shoulder with a brooch or button. The chlamys was typical Greek military attire from the 5th to the 3rd century BC.

Ancient Greek Hats and Footwear

The first known hats with brims were worn by ancient Greeks in the fifth century B.C. The broad rimmed “ pelasus” of ancient Greece is considered by some scholars to be the world's first hat. It was worn while traveling for protection from the weather. They had chin straps that allowed them to hang down on the back when not needed. Greek men occasionally wore a broad-brimmed hat (petasos).

Sandals were the primary form of footwear in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Wealthy Greeks wore sandals decorated with jewels and gold. Roman developed sandals with thicker soles, leather sides and laced insteps. Footwear was mainly the rich. The poor mostly went barefoot. Both women and men wore sandals, slippers, soft shoes, or boots, although at home they usually went barefoot.

Ancient shoes where generally made from woven palm leaves, vegetable fibre, leather or papyrus and were kept in place on the foot with linen or leather bands. The oldest known shoes are moccasin-like rawhide footwear with laces worn in Babylonia around 1600 B.C. Greek women wore similar shoes around 600 B.C. As early as 600 B.C. Greek women wore socklike slippers called “ sykhos”, the source of the word sock.

In the 5th century B.C. actors wore platform shoes not unlike those worn by modern glam rockers. Early Greek actors and comedians wore a light pull-on shoes or sykhos. Developed versions of these were made of leather and wood and had a division between the first and second toes.

Ancient Greek Clothing Designs and Decorations

footwear vase
Harold Koda of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Most early postclassical depictions of ancient Greek themes represent the gods, demi-gods, and mortals in loosely draped, monochromatic robes. If present at all, the only ornamentation is a narrow banded border of braid or embroidery. However, pottery, painted sculpture, and the written word have given us extensive evidence of the use of decorative embellishments in ancient Greek dress. A cursory survey of red- and black-figure vase paintings alone reveals that antique dress was composed of a rich variety of graphically patterned textiles.” Also, “there has been a longstanding assumption that ancient Grecian styles were achromatic. This misconception, thought to derive from the faded and abraded surfaces of originally polychromed Greek statuary and architecture, continues to this day in fashion. [Source: Harold Koda, The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

“Among the most common designs seen in ancient art is the Greek-key pattern, a rectilinear meander. Other abstracted forms of wave patterns, geometric repeats, and palmette friezes are also seen on classical garments, as are more intricate borders depicting themes ranging from animals, birds, and fish to complex battle scenes. Nevertheless, such patterns have rarely been used by later artists or by contemporary designers. Of all these motifs, the Greek key and wave meander appear most frequently in designs intended to evoke the antique. In some instances, the key pattern is broken into a discontinuous segmented band, but even this disrupted linear repeat is sufficient to sustain the classical connection. \^/

“Although well represented in art, the use of mythological attributes to designate an Olympian deity is less common in fashion. However, the ancient Greek practice of recognizing achievement and bestowing honor through the presentation of a coronet of flowers and leaves has been adumbrated in Neoclassical embroideries and in the more recent work of a number of designers. The materials comprising the coronets originally associated with the presiding deities—laurels for Apollo, olive leaves for Athena, roses for Aphrodite, ivy for Dionysos —were perhaps too esoteric for the purposes of fashion and have generally been obscured. But other mythic attributes have continued with their original meanings intact.” \^/

Ancient Greek Jewelry

By the 5th century B.C., Greek craftsmen had raised jewelry-making to a fine art. Greek jewelry and ornaments included gold jewelry, diadems, beads, and intricately carved sealing stones. The Egyptians and Assyrians used enamel bricks to decorate their buildings. The Greeks and Romans were masters of using enamels to make jewelry.

golden diadem from "Priam's Treasure"

Some of the oldest known rings were used as signets by rulers, public officials and traders to authorize documents with a stamp. Signatures were not used until late in history.Most ancient rings were made of steatite (soapstone) or medals such as bronze, silver or gold. Few were adorned with precious stones. Those that were contained amethyst, coral or lapis lazuli. The Greeks believed that coral protected sailors for storms and amethyst had the power to keep people from getting drunk.

Collete amd Seán Hemingway wrote: “When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire in 331 B.C., his domain extended from Greece to Asia Minor, Egypt, the Near East, and India. This unprecedented contact with distant cultures not only spread Greek styles across the known world, but also exposed Greek art and artists to new and exotic influences. Significant innovations in Greek jewelry can be traced even earlier to the time of Philip II of Macedonia (r. 359–336 B.C.), father of Alexander the Great. An increasingly affluent society demanded luxurious objects, especially gold jewelry. With technical virtuosity, Greek artists executed sumptuously ornate designs, such as the beechnut pendant, the acanthus leaf, and the Herakles knot (1999.209). [Source:Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 2007, \^/]

“After Alexander conquered the Persian empire and seized its fantastically rich treasures in Babylon, vast quantities of gold passed into circulation. The market for fashionable gold jewelry exploded. Even after the reign of Alexander, his successors for centuries supported flourishing industries of artists and craftsmen, the most important of whom were associated with the Hellenistic royal courts. \^/

“A wide variety of jewelry types were produced in the Hellenistic period-earrings, necklaces, pendants, pins, bracelets, armbands, thigh bands, finger rings, wreaths, diadems, and other elaborate hair ornaments (1987.220). Bracelets were often worn in pairs according to Persian fashion (56.11.5-.6). And jewelry was frequently produced in matched sets (1994.230.4-.6). Many pieces were inlaid with pearls and dazzling gems or semiprecious stones-emeralds, garnets, carnelians, banded agates, sardonyx, chalcedony, and rock crystal. Artists also incorporated colorful enamel inlays that dramatically contrasted with their intricate gold settings (2001.230). Elaborate subsidiary ornamentation drew plant and animal motifs, or the relation between adornment and the goddess, Aphrodite, and her son, Eros. Airborne winged figures, such as Eros, Nike, and the eagle of Zeus carrying Ganymede up to Mount Olympus, were popular designs for earrings (37.11.8-.17). \^/

“In Hellenistic times, jewelry often passed from generation to generation as family heirlooms. And occasionally, it was dedicated at sanctuaries as an offering to the gods. There are records of headdresses, necklaces, bracelets, rings, brooches, and pins in temple and treasury inventories, as, for example, at Delos. Hoards of Hellenistic jewelry that were buried for safekeeping in antiquity have also come to light. Some of the best-preserved examples, however, come from tombs where jewelry was usually placed on the body of the deceased. Some of these pieces were made specifically for interment; most, however, were worn during life. In the early Hellenistic period, wealthy Macedonians buried their dead with elaborate gold jewelry. However, by late Hellenistic times, rich burial goods were less common. This modification most likely signals a decrease in disposable wealth and, perhaps, a change in burial customs.” \^/

Beauty and Cosmetics in Ancient Greece

20120221-Kore_Phrasikleia_-_Rekonstruktion.jpg Aristotle once said "beauty is a far greater recommendation than any letter of introduction." Unlike the Egyptians and Romans, who used lots of make-up and perfume and wore flashy hairstyle, the Greeks preferred the natural look. The unadorned male body in particular was glorified in sport and sculpture. Make up was associated courtesans.

The customs of make up, coiffed hair and perfume were kept alive by courtesans. They even freshened their breath with aromatic liquids that they rolled around in the mouth and on their tongue. The use of cosmetics was looked down upon on ordinary women. The 4th century historian Xenophon wrote: "When I found her painted, I pointed out that she was being dishonest in attempting to deceive me about her looks as I should be were I to deceive her about my property."

The pale complexion a woman received from staying indoors all the time was seen as a sign of virtue and beauty. Some women whiten their faces, bosoms and necks with a white powder made from lead. Greeks and Roman used an arsenic compound to remove hair and cinnabar, a poisonous red sulfide of mercury, for lipstick and rouge. One of the most popular forms of make-up was cheek rogue. Worn by both men and women, it was made from plant substance such as seaweed or mulberry mixed with highly toxic cinnabar.

Hairstyles in Ancient Greece

Greek men had beards and long hair. Shaving didn't become widespread until the Roman era. The razor, in fact, was considered a woman's toiletry article. Women wore their hair long, unless they were a slave or in mourning, then they sported a bob. The long hair of non-mourning women was gathered, curled, tied and bound in bonnets and bows according to fashion. Roman women often spent hours with there hairdressers, creating elaborate coiffures and this indulgent behavior was often satirized in plays. [Source: "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum,||]

Long hair and fair skin were greatly esteemed by the Greeks. Short hair was associated with barbarianism. Greek actors sometimes wore wigs. Greeks and Romans used a variety of hairpins. Roman men reportedly shaved daily. The Latin word for beard, “ barba” , is the source of the word barber.

Upper class Greek culture is the first known culture to prize light or blond hair. It was equated with desirability and innocence. Many Greek heros such as Achilles, Meenelaus and Paris had light hair. Some Greeks lightened their hair with soaps and alkaline bleaches available from Phoenicia. Some courtesans died their hair with a concoction made from apple-scented yellow flowers, pollen and potassium salts.

Men it seemed were more found of lightening their hair than women. They used yellow pollen, yellow flour and even gold powder. The 4th century dramatist Menander wrote: "After washing their hair with a special ointment made in Athens, they sit bareheaded in the sun by the hour, waiting for their hair to turn a beautiful golden blond. And it does."

Phi Ratio and the Ancient Greek Idea of Beauty

20120221-Istanbul_-_Museo_archeologico.jpg Esquire magazine said beauty “all comes down to an ancient Greek philosophy called the Phi ratio, which Julian De Silva, M.D., of the Centre for Advanced Facial Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery used along with computer facial mapping to determine which famous women have the ideal face ratio and symmetry. While standards of beauty vary by culture, the ratio method is an interesting approach to aesthetics and may give us some clues as to why some people stand out more than others.” [Source: Esquire]

According to Dr Anushka Reddy’s Medi-Sculpt Aesthetics and Anti-Aging Solutions website: “Some 2,500 years ago, in Ancient Greece, it was discovered that when a line is divided into two parts in a ratio of 1: 1.618, it creates an appealing proportion. This ratio is known as the golden ratio, the divine proportion or phi (named after Phidias, a Greek sculptor and mathematician who used this ratio when designing sculptures).[Source: Dr Anushka Reddy, Medi-Sculpt Aesthetics and Anti-Aging Solutions website.

“We may be unaware of it but we subconsciously judge beauty by facial symmetry and proportion. Cross-cultural research has shown that no matter the ethnicity, our perception of beauty is based on the ratio proportions of 1.618. As the face comes closer to this ratio, it is perceived as more beautiful. As an example, the ideal ratio of the top of the head to the chin versus the width of the head should be 1.618.

How do we use the golden ratio to measure the ideal facial proportions? 1) the distance from the top of the nose to the centre of the lips should be 1.618 times the distance from the centre of the lips to the chin. 2) the hairline to the upper eyelid should be 1.618 times the length of the top of the upper eyebrow to the lower eyelid. 3) the ideal ratio of upper to lower lip volume is 1:1.6 (the lower lip should have slightly more volume than the upper lip)

“At Medi-Sculpt we achieve this by using FDA approved dermal fillers and botulinum toxin such as Botox to enhance and rejuvenate facial proportions: 1) If your face is long and narrow, Dr Reddy uses fillers to enhance the width of the cheekbones or if the lower face is too short, she can enhance the jawline and even extend and add symmetry to the chin using fillers. 2) If the temple area is sunken, Dr Reddy used dermal fillers to restore the volume and add proportion to the eye area. 3) If a too-high forehead is an issue, she can inject botulinum toxin such as Botox to raise the eyebrows. 4) A non-surgical lip augmentation can reduce your lower facial height.

Ancient Greek View of a Beautiful Body

20120221-Aglaonike 1.jpg
Greek women
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Over two thousand years the Greeks experimented with representing the human body in works that range from abstract simplicity to full-blown realism. In athletics the male body was displayed as if it were a living sculpture, and victors were commemorated by actual statues. In art, not only were mortal men and women represented, but also the gods and other beings of myth and the supernatural world. They were either conceived in the image of humankind or in monstrous combinations of human and animal form. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, October 15, 2010, \=/ ]

“If we look for an overarching definition of the Greek body, it has to be its humanism. Interest in the human self motivates much of that which we now regard as innovative in ancient Greek culture. In drama, philosophy, written history, scientific medicine and the natural sciences at large, Greeks were the first to direct the human mind on its modern quest for self-knowledge. The development of the human body in art as object of beauty and bearer of meaning was driven by the ancient Greek lust for life and constant enquiry.

Ancient Greek Tattoos

Unlike today's tattoos which are primarily decorative, tattoos in antiquity primarily had punitive, magical and medical purposes and were used to identify slaves and undesirables. The custom was so widespread there were professional tattooers who specialized in slaves, criminals and prisoners. Persians, Greeks, Romans, Scythians, Dacians, Gauls, Picts, Celts and Britons all practiced tattooing . Tattooing were probably introduced to Greece from Persia around the 6th century B.C. But the custom goes back much further than that. Otzi, the 5,500-year-old ice man found in Italian Alps, had tattooed parallel lines on his right foot and ankle, bars along his lower spine, lines at his left calf, and crosses inside his right knee. [Source: Adrienne Mayor, Archaeology, March/April 1999]

Tattoos in ancient times were generally made by pricking the skin with needles and rubbing ink or soot into the wounds. Punitive tattoos were often gouged into the skin with three needled bound together for a thick line. Infection and heavy bleeding were common. Sometimes victims died.

According to Herodotus, the Thracian found fair skin unattractive men and women with tattoos were greatly admired. Thracians who were marked with prisoner of war tattoos had them embellished into decorative tattoos. Among the Mossynoikoi, who lived on the Black Sea in the fifth century B.C., the historian Xenophon observed, "the chubby children of the best families were entirely tattooed back and front with flowers in many colors."

Tattooing captives in wartime was common. After Athens defeated the Aegean island of Samos in the fifth century B.C., the Athens leaders ordered the foreheads of prisoners of war to be tattooed with an owl, the emblem of Athens. When Samos late defeated Athens, the foreheads of the Athenian prisoners of war were tattooed with an image of a Samos warship. A similar fate befell 7,000 Athenians, who were tattooed with images of horses, the symbol of Syracuse, after they were defeated at Syracuse.

In 3rd century B.C. Greece there was a law that allowed masters to tattoo "bad" slaves but forbade the tabooing of "good" ones. A Hellenistic curse read: "I will tattoo you with pictures of terrible punishments suffered by the most notorious sinners in Hades! I will tattoo you with the white-tusked boar."

The Greeks also reportedly used tattoos of animals and geometric shapes to highlight musculature and motion. Figures on vases and kraters often feature tattoos of parallel lines, sunbursts, chevrons, circles, vines, ladders, spirals, zigzags, spirals and stylized animals.

Perfumes in Ancient Greece and Rome

20120221-perfume bottle Stoa_of_Attalus_Museum s.jpg
perfume bottle
Greek men scented different parts of their body with different perfumes. Writers in 400 B.C. suggested almond oil for the hands and feet, mint for the arms, thyme for the knees, rose, cinnamon or palm oil for the jaws and chest, and marjoram for the hair and eyebrows. Some politicians found use of these of fragrances to be so obsessive they suggested passing laws banning them.

Greeks used perfumed oils based on Egyptian recipes as deodorants. Alexander the Great was fond of perfumes and incense. He had his tunics soaked in the scent of saffron.

The ancient Greeks made perfumes and medicines from roses and added lavender oil to public baths. They also used tangerine, orange and lemon as scents and kept perfumes in translucent alabaster flasks. The Romans poured rose water in their baths and released aromas into the air during banquets and orgies with perfumed white doves that dispensed scent as they flew about. Rich Roman aristocrats slept on pillows stuffed with saffron when they suffered a hangover.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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