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Research on the Use of Cosmetics by Women in Ancient Greece

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Throughout history, human beings have attempted to adorn themselves in various ways.  Even the most primitive people utilized techniques such as scarring, piercing, and tattooing to create a unique appearance.  In fact, some of these practices have gained renewed popularity today.  Advances in the area of adornment involved the creation of cosmetics.  Use of Cosmetics by Women in Ancient GreeceA less permanent process, cosmetics enabled the wearer to remove the substance in order to apply fresh or different products.  Rubbing powders of various colors on one’s face is a process that is most likely as old as human kind.  Eventually, cosmetics became more sophisticated as civilization became more sophisticated.  In fact, some of the techniques that are utilized today were first practiced by the Ancient Greeks.  The use of cosmetics by the noblewomen of Greece during the fourth century B.C. will be explored in this paper.

The fourth century is known as the later half of the classical period of Greek culture.  This was a time when the Greeks achieved excellence in the quality of their arts.  They were noted for their “architecture, sculpture, and literature”.  One of their most notable achievements included painting narrative themes on vases.  These vases have been useful in studying dress and the use of cosmetics, as women were often the subject matter painted on them.  Unfortunately, these vases were typically painted using only the colors of red, white, and black.  Thus, it is uncertain how much color was used to adorn the face.  But the Greeks were known for colorful buildings and ornamentation.  The Greek classical literature also suggests ample color in their lives.  Therefore, it is probable that color was utilized on the faces of noblewomen.

Many other civilizations modeled much of their culture from the classic Greeks.  Rome was one such culture.  Much of the Roman fashion and appearance come from the techniques utilized by the Greeks until the third century B.C.

The actual make-up that the noble Greek women used was of a wide variety. 

  • Minium or alkanet root was formed into sticks.  These were their version of lipsticks. These sticks were also used to apply color to the cheeks. 
  • Lampblack or finely ground antimony created eyebrows.  This same substance as well as kohl was applied to eyelids. 
  • Eyelashes were darkened just as many women do so today.  However, the substance that darkened noble women’s eyelashes was made of egg whites and gum ammoniac.

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