Women have been using makeup for thousands of years and beauty in Ancient Rome was just as important as it is today. Just as we do, they even had books that helped women stay on top of beauty trends. Many of you might be familiar with the poet Ovid's Metamorphoses and Amores but I would bet you've not heard of his Medicamina Faciei Femineae or Women’s Facial Cosmetics, sometimes seen as The Art of Beauty. The fragment we have from this book (see the link above) is fascinating, offering up three and a half beauty tips for Roman women. The first is a lengthy and messy recipe on how to make your skin whiter. The second recipe on getting rid of pimples would, as we know now, kill you slowly over time. I imagine that many women paid such a high price to be beautiful:
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This is a very good and easy ancient recipe, included in Apicius' cookbook. We make this often as a side dish. It goes particularly well with the recipe for Parthian Chicken! You may have been making beets this way and not even known that the recipe was at least 2,000 years old!
The original recipe:
This is an ancient cracker recipe from Athenaeus, a rhetorician and grammarian who lived in Rome in the 3rd century AD. This recipe is a delightful, snacky interpretation of a cracker that was most likely served at taverns in ancient Greece and Rome. The original recipe doesn't give us much direction, but they were likely somewhat similar to the recipe below.
Glykinai: "The cakes from Crete made with sweet wine and olive oil.” - Athenaeus in The Deipnosophistae
A little while ago I showed you some photos of an incredible miniature of the ancient Roman Forum. Here's an amazing 3D rendered video of the Forum. Talk about sparking your imagination for times gone by! It's such a shame that so much of the Forum fell into disrepair and that eventually medieval and Rennaissance nobility and the Papacy pulled them down for their metals and marble.
A few months ago I stumbled upon a site that showcases some photos of an incredible miniature of the Roman Forum made by a Robert Garbisch in 1982. Apparently it "took two and half years to complete. 95% of the 350 statues in the model were made by Robert Garbisch out of clay. There are over 720 Roman citizens living in this model and carrying on with their lives. This particular day in the Forum is the last visit by the good Emperor Marcus Aurelius to Rome during the summer of 179 AD."
Here are some of the photos of this amazing miniature. Apparently it's on view at the Brandeis library in Waltham and that's a stone's throw from me so I may have to call and see if they still have it on display.
The Vestal Virgins were among the most important individuals in ancient Rome. They were priestesses of the goddess Vesta, whose hearth was always lit. Their privileges among women of the day were many. They were able to own property and did not have to bear children, they had the best box seats to any event, they had the right of way in the streets, they had personal bodyguards and they had the ability to free slaves and prisoners with a mere touch or command.
We know a lot about the Vestals but we don't know much about what their hair looked like under the elaborate headdresses they wore. Janet Stephens, a Baltimore hairdresser and amateur archaeologist became fascinated with a statue she saw of a Vestal and decided she would find out. It took her seven years of research and now she believes she's figured it out. Take a look:
When researching my book, FEAST OF SORROW, one of the fun bits was trying out various ancient recipes. The book is about Apicius, a first century Roman whose name appears as the title of the oldest known cookbook. One of the recipes in Apicius is for Parthian chicken. Parthia was part of ancient Persia, now in a region of north-eastern Iran. Much to my delight, it turns out that the Parthians really knew how to make chicken. Hands down this is one of the best chicken dishes I've ever had. It's juicy and tender with a perfectly crispy crust. The original recipe calls for a spice called silphium (also called laser) which went extinct in the first century. Emperor Nero is rumored to have had the last sprig. Asafoetida powder or resin, common to Middle Eastern cooking, is believed to be the closest approximation to the taste. If you can't find that, just substitute garlic.
A recent article on the Huffington Post dares to make a bold prediction when it comes to trends in baby names--that monikers from Ancient Rome will soon be popular. She cites the Roman names in the Hunger Games as proof of the new trend. She may be right in that regard. God knows how many Bellas and Edwards are in the world now than before Twilight became popular.
The readers of my manuscript draft were often thrown when they found that one of my characters was named "Melissa." They thought it was too modern, but I just chuckled. While it's not Roman, but Greek, it's a name that is several thousand years old. Angela, Amelia, Bryce (which was a Greek girl's name), Laura and Patricia are also ancient names.
Awhile back I posted on one of my blogs about Roman honey cakes, which were primarily used as sacrificial cakes, but versions may have also been used as a snack in the tabernas and popinas.
Sally Grainger is one of the most well-known food historians, especially when it comes to the recipe book that bears Apicius' name. She is also the co-author of The Classical Cookbook, and in that book there is a recipe for Libum, a classic ancient sacrificial cake, first mentioned in Cato's On Agriculture.