The Romans were much more generous in their use of oils and perfumes than either the Egyptians or the Greeks. The Romans were known for taking from other peoples not only goods and possessions but also knowledge. The Romans never wrote a single medical text but rather borrowed everything from the Greeks. If the Greeks used aromatic essential oils for healing the body-so did the Romans. If the Greeks used oils in their temples-then so did the Romans. If the Greeks had scented public baths, then the Romans improved this concept by having heated baths, scented with lavender flowers brought in daily by the slaves. In other words, they copied what the intellectual Greeks had accomplished and then took it to the extreme. History shows that the Romans fumigated their temples and political buildings with essential oils and their soldiers are reported to have used aromatic oils on themselves before going into battle to bolster their courage.
The Romans used three kinds of perfumes-solid unguents, scented oils and powdered perfumes to fragrance their hair, their bodies and their clothes and beds. The solid unguents included rhodium, which was rose scented and narcissum, from narcissus flowers. Their most popular scented oils included susinum, which was made from honey, calamus, cinnamon, myrrh, and saffron, and nardinum composed of calamus, cistus, cardamon, melissa, spikenard, and myrrh. These blends were very expensive and only the wealthy could afford them. They were what we would refer to today as “signature perfumes.”
The height of excess is exhibited by the report that the Roman Emperor Nero commanded that an entire year’s production of frankincense be burned at the funeral of his wife, Sabina Poppae. An entire fleet of ships was used solely to transport frankincense from Arabia to Rome. She obviously meant a great deal to Nero since the cost of such extravagance would be staggering in today’s economies. To learn more about the Roman society and how they used essential oils I invite you to attend an aromatherapy program that teaches about the Romans and also about other ancient peoples like the Egyptians, Greeks, and Arabians.