The Greeks, through their colonies in the Mediterranean, spread the Near East taste for perfume to the coasts of France and Spain, Rome’s first barbers and perfumers moved from a Greek colony in southern Italy to settle in Rome during the time of the Republic.

The first Romans were a poor, austere and frugal people, dedicated to taking care of their gardens and flocks, while defending themselves from the attacks and aggressions of their many neighbours. Later, the assimilation of the Etruscans, its military victories and its relationship with the Greeks to the south resulted in shifting habits and customs, and by the end of the Republic and first centuries of the Roman Empire, during which they conquered half the world, Rome became a rich and prosperous city that witnessed the “boom” of the cosmetics and perfume industry. The use of these products extended to the furthest corners of the Roman Empire, much as their popularity extended throughout all social strata. The use of perfumes and ointments became both excessive and exaggerated.

In Rome it was more than just people who were perfumed: fragrances were added to the rooms of great palaces, theatres, clothes, wine, the banners of the legions when they went to war or when they returned victorious from their conquests, and even some emperors put perfume on their favourite horses. Innumerable perfumes were also used in religious ceremonies as offerings to the gods, at funerals and at family celebrations, particularly at weddings.

It is said that emperor Nero would have flower petals fall from the ceiling onto his guests during banquets and release doves with scented wings, so that they could spread their scents around the room. It is known that his wife, Poppaea, bathed in donkey’s milk and when she travelled, she carried among her entourage a pack of fifty of these animals. The perfumers of Rome had their shops in a district called “Vicus unguentarium”, where they sold their products; perfumes and ointments were prepared in small workshops in back. Just like today, several were highly popular because of the success of their fragrances and their names were recognised by all consumers.

With the fall of the Roman Empire and the expansion of Christianity, which preached austerity and moderation, the use of perfumes greatly decreased in the West, reduced to the courts of some kings or to the palaces and castles of some nobles.