Exploring the obscure – my journey

Redaction of perfume from ‘Trois Livres de l’embellissement et ornement du corps humain’ by Jean Liébault from edition printed in Paris in 1582.

This is a fragment of the original work (scan made available by  Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire de Médecine (Paris). Adresse permanente : http://www.bium.univ-paris5.fr/histmed/medica/cote?88095).

The original recipe found on page 381 can be translated as:

Take cloves, cassia and yellow sandalwood, each 5 drachms, lavender flowers – 2 handfuls, 5 drachms of Siam benzoin, 3 ounces of Malvasia wine, the same of the aqua vitae and 4 pounds of rose water.  Mix all in a class bottle and expose to sun for a whole month or as long it is needed to bake a bread.  After infused, distilled in bain marie. Add to the distilled fragrant water half drachm of musk and expose to sun for 10 days.

This redaction I am proposing below is the version without distillation where the final product has around 40% alcohol content which means it does not need to be stored in fridge to preserve the freshness and prevent spoilage.

I start with making rose water by infusion. I mix dried ¾ cup of each dried petals of damask rose (Rosa damascena) and French rose (Rosa gallica), and infuded them overnight in 3 cups of distilled water with addition of 3 cloves (Syzygium aromaticum). Next day, I heat the petals gently in the double boiler for 45 minutes and then filter the rose water through several layers of unbleached paper coffee filters into containers cleaned with 70% grain alcohol (I am constantly out of good linen pieces for filtering hence the use of paper filters).

The rose petal infusion heating in the double boiler

I also use a modern trick of adding 10 g of food grade citric acid to preserve the color (period recipes used lemon juice to preserve color of rose petal preserves).  I store the rose water in the fridge.

The rose water ready for storing.

For a convenient batch, I take the following (as powder or crushed):

8.2 g cloves (Syzygium aromaticum)

7.2 g cassia (Cinnamomum cassia)

7.2 g Siam benzoin (Styrax tonkinensis)

7.2 g white sandalwood (here I use a darker variety from Southern India) (Santalum album)

3 g lavender flowers (Lavandula angustifolia)

2 g musk mallow seeds (Abelmoschus moschatus)

96 mL Everclear (98% grain alcohol)

95 mL rose water (previously made)

52 mL Malvasia (very fragrant Greek wine)

15 mL brandy (aqua vitae being really a twice distilled wine)

10 drops white sandalwood essential oil (Santalum album)

10 drops damask rose absolute (Rosa damascena)

6 drops French lavender absolute (it is impossible to buy flowers of this species) (Lavandula stoechas)

I mix everything in a 500 mL Florence flask (with round bottom), close it well and infuse for 11 days. My apartment is on the warm side so it is like balmy southern France! Every day, I mix the infusion thoroughly at least twice.

The aromatics ready to infuse.

On the last day, I heat the infusion gently in bain marie (double boiler) for 8 hours, using 2 tea lights as heat source. They allow the water to reach around 50o C, enough to release the musky-smelling macrocyclic lactone compounds (muscone) from musk mallow seeds, but not high enough to destroy the aromatics.

I forgot to take a picture of the infusion, but the set up for the gentle bain marie looks like this. The bowl has another smaller bowl built in to hold the round bottom flask (a special order made by a potter in Poland).

When the infusion cools down, I filter it through a densely woven linen cloth and several paper coffee filters.

Final filtering.

Then I add 7 drops of Tonquitone Musk Essence (IFF) and 30 drops of musk mallow seeds absolute (Abelmoschus moschatus).  I store the perfume in a dark glass boston bottle, away from light. It usually needs around 10 days for the musk tones to diffuse. The longer it matures, the scent will more mallow and pleasant.

The use of dried aromatics, including rose petals, is well documented in 16th century medical and book of secrets texts. Even Monsieur Liébaut mentioned it in a few of his recipes. Fresh rose petals were even salted in summer to preserve them for winter use.

Use of essential oils and absolutes is a modern but necessary step where availability of raw fresh ingredients is limited or non-existent.

Examples of period use for scented water include the following:
–a few drops on handkerchief, tucked underneath doublet or placed on the bosom,
–a few drops on a scrap of cloth placed in a pomander
–a dilution (in rosewater, orange water or melilot water) used to wash hands and refresh body, or added to last rinse during the wash of hair or body linens, etc.

From the history of aromatic plants: Jasmine in ancient Egypt

Arabian jasmin (Jasminum sambac ‘Maid of Orleans’) from Sayada, Tunisia.  Credits to Habib M’henni / Wikimedia Commons. Accessed on September 14th 2019    (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arabian_jasmin,_Tunisia_2010.jpg)

Jasmine in ancient Egypt

Jasmine plants were brought in abundant quantities to Egypt during the Roman period, as import from the eastern provinces (El-Shimy 2003). Its use seemed to be copied from the Persians. It is even implied in surviving texts that both the jasmine fragrance and its recipe were an import from the East (Dioscorides Pedanius, Osbaldeston, and Wood 2000).

There is single reference to jasmine (a single dried flower of jasmine sambac) found in cachette of royal mummies from 21st Dynasty at Deir el-Bahari. The identification was published in Nature in 1884 by Schweinfurth (Schweinfurth 1884; Vartavan and Arakelyan 2010).

The flower was found in the package of botanical material delivered to Natural History Museum of Milan. Most of the flower wreaths from this site ended in the storage at the Egyptian Museum in the Cairo suburb of Boulak, but I was unable to determine fate of this material. Mummies from this hideout were researched in the early 20th century and a reprint of 1912 report is available (Smith 2000).


Dioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos., Tess Anne. Osbaldeston, and Robert P. Wood. 2000. De Materia Medica : Being an Herbal with Many Other Medicinal Materials : Written in Greek in the First Century of the Common Era : A New Indexed Version in Modern English. Johannesburg: IBIDIS. https://www.worldcat.org/title/dioscorides-de-materia-medica-being-an-herbal-with-many-other-medicinal-materials/oclc/59267898&referer=brief_results.

El-Shimy, Mohamed. 2003. “Preparation and Use of Perfumes and Perfumed Substances in Ancient Egypt.” In Molecular and Structural Archaeology: Cosmetic and Therapeutic Chemicals, edited by Georges Tsoucaris and Janusz Lipkowski, 29–50. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

Schweinfurth, G. 1884. “Further Discoveries in the Flora of Ancient Egypt 1.” Nature 29 (744): 312–15. https://doi.org/10.1038/029312b0.

Smith, Grafton Elliot. 2000. The Royal Mummies. Duckworth.

Vartavan, Christian de, and Arminée Arakelyan. 2010. Codex of Ancient Egyptian Plant Remains = Codex Des Restes Végétaux de l’Égypte Ancienne.  SAIS; 2nd Revised & Enlarged edition (December 2010).

Midday dish of lamb for the dux (duke) of Trecio (modern Trezzo sull’Adda) from the early 7th century Langobard Italy


Historical background

In 558 and 559 CE, a new calamity stroke Italy, the Langobard (Lombards) [1]. The population was still recovering from effects of Gothic Wars (the Ostrogothic invaders were freshly defeated by the Byzantine army, wide spread famine, poor harvests and afflicted by pestilence. The new wave of Germanic people (that included besides the Lombards also Bulgars, Gepids, Slavs and Saxons) moved into Italia from Pannonia where the Avars tried to settle. The king of the Lombards, Alboin, made a settlement with the khan of the Avars about returning to Pannonia if the excursion into Italia had not been successful. There were not enough Byzantine forces to protect the underpopulated regions of Po river valley and the Langobards captured Pavia in 572 CE. They formalized the relationship with the Kingdom of the Franks in 604 CE and signed a peace treaty with the Byzantines in 605. The new kingdom was called Regnum Italicum (Kingdom of Italy). There were also two semi-independent duchies of Benevento and Spoleto. The Regnum Italicum survived until 774 CE when Charlemagne conquered it. The Duchies of Benevento and Spoleto lost independence during the Norman Conquest (1055-1077).
The Langobard total population that invaded Italy was less than 150 thousand people. Once they settled in the new lands, they tried to save the ‘warrior’ culture [2]. The women seemed to be either more eager to absorb the new culture or to inter-marry as can be deducted from the grave goods [2]. Since the number of Lombards was small and they tended to form the elite of society, they had to use the local Latin and Gothic population as source for servants, tenants and slaves [3]. And they had already contacts with the Roman culture when they were hired by the Byzantines to fight against other invaders. The Langobard king would appoint loyal retainers to serve as local commanders and judges, called the dux (duke) or gastald. They were usually given a royal grant of land that allowed them to maintain the urban lifestyle. Others helped themselves to the estates of the local landowners who were displaced, sometimes brutally or escaped to the security of the Byzantine’s Ravenna [1]. With time, the Latin nobility entered the ranks of Langobards through service to the king or by marriage. When woman married into Langobard family, she and her children became Langobards themselves and were treated as such by the law [3].

My ‘summer persona’

My summer persona is Grisiltruda Fortunata, a daughter of Langobard and a local Latin woman. She is treated as Langobard, is first a member of her Father’s royal fara (lineage) and then married off to the commander (dux) of  Trecio. Since she is educated, she looks to the best source of the knowledge, the Byzantines. In the early medieval Europe, the Byzantines and the Greek language were treated as epitome of best style, taste and elegance, quite similar as France was in 17th and 18th centuries. The household at the Trecio stronghold would be supervised by Grisiltruda Fortunata and ran with the help of slaves and servants. She would look to the Byzantines rules for good life (including the cooking) and also use the traditional local recipes that were passed on through the generations in her own family.
We do not have knowledge of the number of meals a day the elite Langobards had, but based on Latin traditions, we can assume there was a simple breakfast at rising, a midday dish that usually was a mix of leftovers from previous day and the biggest meal of the day, the supper (cena) in the evening. Cold cuts of meat would be a good example of dish for midday. It was served with pre-cut bread and selection of thick sauces, similar to modern dips [4]. The tradition of thick sauces come from antiquity when especially during the evening meal, people ate while reclining on couches and so they had only one hand free to use. By early modern times, most people ate all meals sitting in chairs or standing (if they had a fast food from street vendor), but the tradition of thick sauces survived.

The source for recipe

Unfortunately, there are no recipes books from the Regnum Italicum. The only barbaric treatise on cooking and health by Anthimus was created in the early 6th century Gaul and was heavily influenced by the Roman traditions [5].
I have found a very detailed report from the excavations at modern Trezzo sull’Adda [6]. The research revealed types of organic matter that was taken from the site. The following animals and plants could have been used for cooking at the site:

Animals: domesticated cattle (Bos taurus), sheep (Ovis aries), domestic goat (Capra hircus), wild pig (Sus scrofa), hare (Lepus sp.), chicken (Gallus gallus), northern pike (Esox lucius), Roman snail (Helix pomatia);

Fruits: cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas), common fig (Ficus carica), English walnut (Juglans regia), wild strawberry (Frugaria vesca), cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), wild cherry (Prunus avium), common hazel (Corylus avellana), blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), raspberry (Rubus idaeus), elderberry (Sambucus sp.), grape vine (Vitis vinifera);

Grains, legumes and vegetables: barley (Horderum vulgare), oats (Avena sativa), foxtail millet (Setaria italica), rye (Secale cereale), triticale (Triticum secale), proso millet (Panicum miliaceum), white pea (Lathyrus sativus), common vetch (Vicia sativa), fava bean (Vicia faba minor), calabash (Lagenaria siceraria), parsley or carrot family (Apiaceae), poisonberry (Solanum dulcamara), lady’s thumb (Persicaria maculosa), wild buckwheat (Fallopia convolvulus), goosefoot (spinach alternative) (Chenopodium album).

I also follow the calendar regime for healthy living by Hierophilus the Sophist. I was able to locate the original Greek text and translation by Delatte and I follow the translation by Andrew Dalby [7] [8]. My inspiration for bread came from the textbook on food processing in ancient Rome [9] and the description of favorite white bread of the Byzantines from De Cibis Vetitis [10]. I also borrowed from Apicius since the Roman traditions were still strong in barbarized Italy (Bibliotheca Augustana
http://www.hs-augsburg.de/~harsch/Chronologia/Lspost04/Apicius/api_re00.html) [4].

The original recipes of Apicius were modified to follow the rules of June by Hierophilus the Sophist by changing ingredients.

Original recipes

The rules for month of June
(Greek text from book by Dalby [8])

greek text 1

greek texxt 2
[vi] June
June governs the hot blood. [On rising] swallow three small doses of cold water, slowly, and then fast until the third hour. Choose all relatively cold foods, in moderation, and avoid the more bitter and dry flavors such as pepper, cloves, cinnamon and spicy products. Among garden herbs garlic, onion, leeks, radish, rocket, cress, mustard and chopped oregano, mint. I Savory and butcher’s broom to be avoided. Among meats, rich lamb or kid: prefer the meat of male animals, and do not take any fat. They should be pastured or milk-fed lambs: no spicing is required at all except coriander, spikenard and anise. Take oregano moderately. Avoid drinking any kind of soup. Among birds, eat hens, chickens, young brakata pigeons, roasted and served hot. Take aromatic
and anise-flavored kondita and light wines with hot water, not old or deeply-coloured wines. Among fish, eat all the rich-fleshed ones including wrasse, perch, gurnard, sparaillon, daurade, grouper, gobies and all soft fleshed fish. Avoid bass, grey mullet, corkwing, red mullet, rascasse, pagre, lobster, crab and all hard-shelled and coarse-fleshed seafood. Dips should be based on honey vinegar. Fish soups should be spiced with spikenard, anise and coriander; fried fish only moderately [spiced]. Lettuce, endive, white celery, dressed with squill vinegar, to be taken moderately: copious amounts of lettuce dim the eyesight.
Among fruits eat ‘white’ cherries and cucumbers, moderately. Anything not listed should be avoided this month. Eight baths in the course of the month: no skin lotion at all this month. Ointment and soap, of the same ingredients, until the 21st of the month. No love-making.                                                                                                                                          Hierophilus the Sophist (translation by Andrew Dalby)[8].

The bread (De Cibis 2.) [10]

(Greek text)

greek tex t3 bread
(Latin text)

bread latin
White bread
Bread made from wheat is the best and most nutritious of all foods. Particularly if white, with a moderate use of yeast and salt, the dough kneaded midway between dryness and rawness, and with a little anise, fennel seed and mastic, it is very fine indeed. One with a hot constitution should include sesame in the dough. If wishing to add more moistness to the bread, knead in some almond oil.
(Translation by Andrew Dalby)[8]

The lamb
Haedus sive agnum Tarpeianum,  Apicius 8.6.9
Haedum sive agnum Tarpeianum: antequam coquatur, ornatus consuitur. piper, rutam, satureiam, cepam, thymum modicum, et liquamine collues haedum, macerabis, ‹mittes› in furno, in patella quae oleum habeat. cum percoxerit, perfundes in patella impensam, teres satureiam, cepam, rutam, dactilos, liquamen, vinum, caroenum, oleum. cum bene duxerit impensam, in disco pones, piper asparges et inferes.
(Latin text)


Kid or Lamb à la Tarpeius
Before cooking, prepare and sew up. Pepper, rue, savory, onions, and a little thyme and stock. Thoroughly moisten the kid: steep it. Then put in a pan with some olive oil. When completely cooked, pour the sauce into the pan: grind savory, onion, rue, dates, and stock, boiled wine and olive oil. Until the sauce has thicken and then turn onto ring-shaped dish. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.

The sauces (dips)
Sauce for Tidbits Jus in copadiis, Apicius 7.6.12
Ius in copadiis: ova dura incidis, piper, cuminum, petroselinum, porrum coctum, myrtae bacas, plusculum mel, acetum, liquamen, oleum.
(Latin text)                                                                                                                                  (http://www.hs-augsburg.de/~harsch/Chronologia/Lspost04/Apicius/api_re00.html)
Sauce for Sauce for cooked meat
Hard boiled eggs, pepper, cumin, parsley, leeks, myrtle berries, honey, mead, vinegar, and fish sauce and oil.

Mint sauce for wild sheep, Apicius 8.6.1
Ius in ovifero fervens: piper, ligusticum, cuminum, mentam siccam, thymum, silfi, suffundes vino, adicies damascena macerata, mel, vinum, liquamen, acetum, passum ad colorem, oleum. agitabis fasciculo origani et mentae siccae.

(Latin text)                                                                                                                            (http://www.hs- augsburg.de/~harsch/Chronologia/Lspost04/Apicius/api_re00.html)

For wild sheep: Pepper, lovage, cumin, dried mint, thyme and laser. Moisten with wine. Damsons soaked, honey, wine, stock, vinegar, some raisin wine for color, and olive oil. Stir with bouquet of oregano and dried mint.

Redacted recipes

I use modern kitchen equipment and modern range for cooking. I live in an apartment and I do not really have way of cooking in open fire. I try to grind my spices as needed in a mortar so the taste is more intense. I also try to chop all ingredients required in recipes.

pict 1
Fig.1.Some of my more traditional kitchen utensils – wooden mixing devices and the mortar.

I can say one thing- it is difficult to recreate many of the original procedures without help. Cooking used to be an effort of several people who cooperated in order to provide food, especially in larger households. So I looked at modern kitchen appliances and electric as equivalent of servant and slave labor.
I also use the Thai fish sauce that is made of anchovies which is a source of salt in many recipe. I have a recipe for the original garum, but I am not sure I want to experiment with this kind of processing in my apartment. When the consistency of the sauce is too rare, I add a little bit of fava bean flour as thickener (it was known in late antiquity), When it is too thick, I add more of the liquids mentioned in recipe, usually depending on the overall taste.

There is no period recipe for bread that gives the exact amounts of individual ingredients. I based my redaction on my family recipe and the tips from English bread and yeast cookery [11]. I use a mix of white and whole wheat flour to obtain the ‘whiteness’ of the bread which was highly valued by the Romans and Byzantine. We do not know if they age flour to let it be oxidized and bleached, but there are suggestions they added chalk to make it whiter [9].
The shape of the loaves is formed based on images that survived form antiquity (sculptures and mosaics) [9] [12]. I use the direct fermentation procedure, adding the yeast directly to the mass of flour. There is evidence that the Roman bakers were familiar both with the direct fermentation and the sponge fermentation. They also made a dried starter that can last up to a year:
‘The likely predominant yeast species of most ancient winemaking, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, var. ellipsoideus, was essentially the same as that used in brewing; the difference is that wine fermentation by its very nature must proceed once a year during the vintage, whereas cereal fermentation, because of the dry, stable nature of cereals, can proceed at will; thus beer and ale can be brewed year round, though cooler temperatures are preferred. The Romans contrived an ingenious technique for combining the two. As usual, it is Pliny who explains the process. Millet, for one, he says, is used to make leaven. Millet flour is dipped in must (i.e., unfermented grape juice; must in antiquity was spontaneously fermented, since there are ample yeast cells occurring naturally on the grape ‘bloom’ to initiate the process), then kneaded and (presumably) dried. Cakes made in this fashion, Pliny assures us, will remain viable a whole year, and doubtless he is right; properly stored, yeast cells are incredibly hardy’ [9].

pict 2

Fig. 2. A typical Roman panis quadratus. The skin is incised before baking to create the eight wedges to make division of the loaf easier. (From Peter Conolly and Hazel Dodge, The Ancient City. Oxford (1998): 165. Courtesy of Oxford University Press).

4 cups white bread flour 1 T anise (ground)
0.8 oz. active yeast cake or 1 T. fennel seed, ground
2 cups whole wheat flour 2 T almond oil
1 ½ t  salt 2 cups of tepid  water
Oil to grease the baking sheet

 Put yeast in cup, cover with tepid water, let grow for 10 minutes. Combine flour with salt and almond oil, mix well. Pour in the creamed yeast into the center of the flour, add more water and knead until the dough is elastic and comes easily from the sides of bowl. Cover with saran wrap and plate. Let grow for ~2 hours or until expands twice in volume. Break in with fist and gather up and slap it down several times. Sprinkle with more flour and knead by folding the dough several times. Repeat 2-3 times, splitting the dough in two pieces and adding the spices at the last kneading. Form round balls and place on baking sheet, slightly greased. Let rise again and then incise the lines into loaves (first cross, then in the interstices of the cross). Bake in preheated oven at 400o F for about 30 minutes or until the loaves sound when lightly tapped. Leave until cooled down, best overnight before storing away.

Lamb à la Tarpeius
2 T fish sauce
1 t ground spikenard
2 T olive oil
1 t freshly ground coriander
2 T white wine
1 t ground anise
2 T vinegar (wine)
Lamb shoulder roast (I could hardly process a whole lamb in my apartment and the price was aslo a limitation)

Combine all the ingredients save the meat. Turn the lamb over in the mixture and leave  overnight. Take the meat out of the marinade and roast the meat in the oven at 350o F, basting it often with the marinade until well done and crisp.

Sauce for cooked meat, Apicius 7.6.12
3 heaped T chopped watercress
3 T honey
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled
2 T vinegar
½ small leek with the dark green removed
2 T olive oil
1 t ground lavender
2 T fish sauce
1 t chopped fresh oregano
½ t ground ginger

Mix the watercress, spice and herb. Chop the leek and cook in a little water. Strain and place in a food processor and process into a paste. Add the cooked eggs and process again. Add the spice and herb mixture, honey, vinegar, oil and fish sauce and blend by pulsing a few times. Transfer to a bowl. Only store in the fridge if you are preparing or storing left-over sauce overnight. Preparing it the day before does improve the flavor but bring back to room temperature before serving.

Mint sauce for wild sheep 8.6.1
3 heaped t chopped fresh mint
1/8 cup raisins, finely chopped
3 heaped t chopped fresh oregano
4 T vinegar
1 level t celery seed
1 T olive oil
1/4 t ground thyme
2 T honey
Dash of ground pepper

Roast and grind celery seed, and combine with the herbs, raisins and spices in a bowl. Add the other liquids and whisk together. If necessary, warm the honey a little to ensure it blends fully with the other ingredients.

Serving the proper way

The dish of lamb is served as cold cuts of meat on bread, with a splash of sauce of choice. This was a fast meal, without special celebration although in wealthy household it was a time for short rest [4].
The Romans and the early Byzantines knew the idea of set of serving plates (‘the dinner service’). The metal ware in wealthy households was usually made of silver and decorated with various topics, from hunting to classical heroes and floral medallions [12]. The service was accompanied by pitchers, basins for washing hands and feet, flasks, ewers, amphorae, cups, a ‘tray’ (platter), knives, spoons and drinking cups. Besides silver, gold was used for imperial family, while tinned copper was used for servant of large households. Drinking vessels were also made from glass.
Forks were rare. Known silver forks have spoon-like handles or form part a folding set of utensils [12]. There is also a double ended fork-spoon combination dated to late antiquity, around 3rd century CE (http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/257863).
There was also the Constantinople-produced White Ware pottery which especially copied the Asian tea-cup shape drinking vessels [12].
Excavations at Langobard sites in Northern Italy yielded several pieces of pottery, glass and metal ware plates, cups and spoons [6]. For example, glass cup and silver alloy bowl with handles were recovered form site at Fiesole – Firenze.

pict 3
Fig. 3. Copper alloy basin with handles. (http://www.museidifiesole.it/opencms/opencms/it/collezione/longobardi/).

pict 4
Fig. 4. A selection of object from a site at Fiesole, including glass drinking vessel and wine serving amphora (http://www.museidifiesole.it/opencms/opencms/it/collezione/longobardi/).

Since I cannot locate any source for reasonable priced replicas, I search second hand stores for plates, bowls and trays that have some resemblance to the originals. I am trying to recreate the style of table setting as shown in Fig. 5. I will use a deep, handled bowl for the lamb cold roast, white ceramic bowls for the sauces, round tray for the whole bread loaf and hexagonal bowl for bread slices. I will add spoons, unfortunately quite modern. The meat should be sliced during the meal by a servant – I guess I will play this part. Usually there was warmed wine for drinking, sweetened with honey and/or date syrup or grape juice. There were containers with hot water available (similar to Russian samovars) for diluting wine to one’s taste (Fig.6). The Germanic people would add beer to the table set up.
There is some evidence linen presses existed in ancient Rome (mosaics in Pompeii), but I have not come through any extant pieces. For the time being, I use modern white napkins (white napkins were carried by courtiers in Byzantium) [13].

pict 5
Fig. 5. Antioch, House of the Buffet Supper: floor mosaic of silver service with meal displayed (Photo: Cyril Mango) [12].

pict 6

Fig. 6. Copper-alloy samovars excavated at a. Sardis (After J. C. Waldbaum, Metalwork from Sardis [Cambridge, MA, 1983], pl. 34, no. 522); and b. Ballana, Nubia (After W. B. Emery and L. P. Kirwan, The Royal Tombs at Ballana and Qustul [London, 1938], pl. 93D).

Lesson learnt

I believe I can justify my choice of lamb and other ingredients used to prepare the dish. And I have fun trying to balance the sauces.
Next I am going to cook a dish of vegetable, even if there were not valued highly at the dawn of early modern Italy [8].
I am also in need of table linens. I am planning to decorate them with embroidery with motifs from tablet woven Langobard trims and Coptic designs. I plan to get more information on the cooking in Regnum Italicum, mostly by contacting more researchers in Italy. They may have a better knowledge of local re-enactment groups that look into Longobard customs.



[1]      C. Wickham, Early Medieval Italy : central power and local society, 400-1000, no. AA198. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989.

[2]      N. Christie, The Lombards : the ancient Longobards. Oxford, UK Cambridge, USA: Blackwell, 1995.

[3]      The Langobards Before the Frankish Conquest: An Ethnographic Perspective. Boydell & Brewer, Incorporated, 2009.

[4]      Apicius, C. W. Grocock, and S. Grainger, Apicius: a critical edition with an introduction and an English translation of the Latin recipe text Apicius. Prospect, 2006.

[5]      Anthimus, On the observance of foods. Prospect Books, 2007.

[6]      S. Lusuardi Siena and C. Giostra, Archeologia medievale a Trezzo sull’Adda. Il sepolcreto longobardo e l’oratorio di san Martino. Le chiese di Santo Stefano e San Michele in Sallianense. Vita e Pensiero, 2012.

[7]      Anecdota atheniensia … Imp. H. Vaillant-Carmanne, 1939.

[8]      A. Dalby, Tastes of Byzantium: The Cuisine of a Legendary Empire (Google eBook). I.B.Tauris, 2010.

[9]      D. L. Thurmond, A Handbook of Food Processing in Classical Rome: For Her Bounty No Winter. Brill, 2006.

[10]    M. Maimonides and M. Wöldike, De cibis vetitis (Google eBook). Paulli, 1734.

[11]    E. David, English bread and yeast cookery. Viking Press, 1980.

[12]    Eat, Drink, and be Merry (Luke 12:19): Food and Wine in Byzantium : Papers of the 37th Annual Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, in Honour of Professor A.A.M. Bryer, PDF. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007.

[13]    J. Ball, Byzantine dress : representations of secular dress in eighth- to twelfth-century painting, 1st ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Measurement units
T- tablespoon
t- teaspoon
oz – US ounce (28.35 g)
cup – ~236.6 mL

I wished I had asked someone to take pictures before the food was gone. The mint sauce was gone right away. And the lamb bones were cleaned even of the marrow.


Tarte of beans – a Renaissance recipe

Original recipe

Source: A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye (mid-16th c. English)

Text: Frere, Catherine Frances (ed.): A proper newe booke of cokerye. With notes, introduction and glossary; together with some account of domestic life, cookery and feasts in Tudor days, and of the first owner of the book, Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Margaret Parker his wife. Cambridge: W. Heffer& Sons Ltd. 1913
Full text available online at http://www.staff.uni-giessen.de/gloning/tx/bookecok.htm

”To make short paest for tarte.

Take fyne floure and a cursey of fayre water and a dysche of swete butter and a lyttel saffron, and the yolckes of two egges and make it thynne and as tender as ye maye.

To make a tarte of beanes.

Take beanes and boyle them tender in fayre water, then take theym oute and breake them in a morter and strayne them with the yolckes of foure egges, curde made of mylke, then ceason it up with suger and halfe a dysche of butter and a lytle synamon and bake it.”

My redaction of ”to make a Tarte of Beans”

Pastry for Crust
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, soften and cut up
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
¼ cup water
A pinch of saffron
I combine flour and salt. Then I cut in butter with knife. I mix egg yolks, saffron and water (by hand) and stir quickly until dough is evenly moistened. I roll it into two layers to fit a 9” pie pan. Actually this recipe is very similar to tart pastry that is made by my Mother. So I follow her method with addition of saffron and substituting water for wine.

Filling for the tarte of beans
1 ¼ cup dry chickpeas and common beans
4 egg yolks
½ cup cheese (I mix my own dry cottage cheese and commercial curd cheese for moistness)
6 T sugar
6 T butter (soft, cut)
4 t cinnamon
½ t nutmeg
I cook the beans in 2 ½ cups of water, bring to boil and let sit covered for 70 minutes. Then I add another cup of water, boil about 50-60 minutes until soft. I am usually lazy and forget to soak the beans the day before and this method make the soaking unnecessary.
I drain beans and mush them in bowl. After cooling the paste and then adding the cheese, sugar, butter and spices, I mash it all to a rare paste. Then I put the filling into pie baking form with 2/3 of the raw dough used and even the filling. Then I roll the remaining 1/3 dough and cover well, combing the upper and lower pastry layers. Usually I bake for at least 60 minutes (the stick has to come clean) at 350o F. It can be served both hot or cold. I like it cold, with additional sugar on top. The nutmeg add a distinctive taste (taste less ‘beany’).

In case anybody asks, I make the cheese by culturing whole pasteurized milk with plain Chobani yogurt (2-3 days at room temperature, my apartment is on the warm side). Then I heat it until I see the curds forming and then drain in in cheese cloth. From 2 ½ cup milk I can make ~ 200 gram dry curd cheese.
I use the modern oven and commercially available ingredients. Since I do not eat meat, I am always in search of new meatless recipes. This recipe comes from Tudor England (pie) (1) but actually beans were popular in both in medieval and 16th century Italy where my persona lives (2). Dishes made of various kinds of bean (chickpeas, fava, white- probably a variety of common bean) are mentioned in connection with renaissance time Italy (3) and so it is easy to imagine a similar sweet dish made in Italian household, served at the end of simple meal.
Whole wheat flour, chickpeas, common beans, eggs, cheese, butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron.


1. Frere, C. F., Parker, M., Ahmed, A., and Mizuta, C. (2002) A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye: Margaret Parker’s Cookery Book, Corpus Christi College
2. Zambrini, F. (1863) Il libro della cucina del sec. XIV: testo di lingua non mai fin qui stampato, G. Romagnoli (free Google ebook)
3. Cohen, E. S., and Cohen, T. V. (2001) Daily Life in Renaissance Italy, Greenwood Press

Anointing the living and the dead – the art of perfumery in antiquity – part 2


‘Ergo regale unguentum appellatum, quoniam Parthorum regibus ita temperatur, constat myrobalano, costo, amomo, cinnamo comaco, cardamomo,nardi spica, maro, murra, casia, styrace, ladano, opobalsamo, calamo iuncoque Syriis, oenanthe, malobathro, serichato, cypro, aspalatho, panace, croco, cypiro, amaraco, loto, melle, vino. Nihilque eius rei causa in Italia victrice omnium, in Europa vero tota praeter irim Illyricam et nardum Gallicum gignitur: nam vinum et rosa et myrti folia oleumque communia fere omnium terrarum intellegantur.’


‘What then is called the ‘royal’ unguent, because it is a blend prepared for the kings of Parthia, is made of behen-nut juice, costus, amomum, Syrian‘cinnamon, cardamom, spikenard, cat-thyme, myrrh, cinnamon-bark, styrax-tree gum, ladanum, balm, Syrian flag and Syrian rush, wild grape, cinnamon leaf, serichatum, cyprus, camel’s thorn, all-heal, saffron, gladiolus, marjoram, lotus, honey and wine. And none of the components of this scent is grown in Italy, the conqueror of the world, and indeed none in the whole of Europe excepting the iris in Illyria and nard in Gaul—for as to wine and roses and myrtle leaves and olive oil, they may be taken as belonging to pretty well all countries in common.’

PLINY THE ELDER, Natural History LCL 370: 108-109 (Pliny and Rackham 1938)


Chapter 2 – Perfume of the King of Parthia, prepared according to Pliny the Elder recipe from “Natural History.’


Perfumes were part of the extravagant life of the wealthy people of antiquity. The Parthian perfume was supposed to be used by the kings and to be the most complex and expensive perfume of the classic antiquity. I have my doubts about the origins of the recipe. Real Parthian recipe should include white sandalwood (Santalum album) and camphor in its list of ingredients  (Grami 2013; Mohagheghzadeh, Zargaran, and Daneshamuz 2011). I suspect that a talented perfume seller/maker advertised an expensive perfume to the wealthiest elites and used the ‘King of Parthia’ name as a trademark to justify the price. The Romans were sworn enemies with the Parthians and officially abhorred the luxurious lifestyle of the Parthian aristocracy, but secretly ‘adopted’ many of its elements, including love for exotic perfumes and silks (Voudouri and Tesseromatis 2015; Schlude 2009)(Pollard 2009).

The perfume for the Parthian king consists of several ingredients, known for their olfactory and therapeutic properties. In my redaction of this recipe the following substances were used: moringa oil (Moringa oleifera), Retsina Kourtoki white wine, saffron (Crocus sativus), costus root (Saussurea lappa), balsam (Commiphora opoponax), benzoin resin (Styrax benzoides), labdanum resin (Cistus villosus var. creticus ), cyperus  (Cyperus rotundus), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), black cardamom (Amomum subulatum), cassia (Cinnamomum cassia), cinnamon chips (Cinnamomum verum), myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), storax bark (Liquidambar orientalis), spikenard root (Nardostachys jatamansi), orris rhizome (Iris germanica), calamus root (Acorus calamus), rhodiola root (Rhodiola rosea), wild mint (Mentha longifolia), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis),  lemongrass (Andropogon schoenathus), lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla), marjoram (Origanum majorana), nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), Hagar resin (Commiphora erythrea), cypress absolute essential oil (Cupressus sempervirens) and blue lotus absolute essential oil (Nymphaea caerulea). The first impression (when I was bottling the freshly expelled green oil) was of heavy oriental spicy notes (Fig.1).


parthian perfume

Fig.1. The Parthian perfume stored in a glass bottle.

As the perfume ages (and it may takes months according to Dioscorides and Theophrastus writings), the overall scent will change and mature. I am looking forward to observing this process as it may offer directions for improving the recipe version.


The extant perfume recipe


The perfume of the King of Parthia is mentioned in ‘Natural History’ by Pliny the Elder as the most expensive and flamboyant perfume in existence. The detailed recipe unfortunately does not contain any amounts of individual ingredients (Pliny and Rackham 1938). I used several sources to try to reconcile the different translations and interpretations of Pliny the Elder’s Latin text. I used three different editions of ‘Natural History’  (Pliny and Rackham 1938; Pliny 2016; Pliny the Elder, Bostock, and Riley 1855), Galen’s  pharmacopeia (Everett 2012) and two translations of Dioscorides’  ‘De Materia Medica’ (Riddle 2013; Dioscorides Pedanius, Osbaldeston, and Wood 2000). I also consulted many modern books on medicinal and aromatic plants from the Mediterranean Sea region and Middle East  (Duke and Duke 2008; Baumann 1993; Yaniv 2016). My interpretation is just one possible version of this recipe. The recipe ingredients are summarized in Table 1:

Latin name Translation (Loeb edition) Translation (Delphi edition) Possible identity of ingredient Ingredient used in this project
myrobalano behen-nut juice myrobalanus Moringa (ben oil)                  Moringa oleifera Moringa (ben oil)           Moringa oleifera
costo costus costus Costus root Saussurea lappa Costus root      Saussurea lappa
amomo amomum amomum black cardamom Amomum subulatum black cardamom seeds Amomum subulatum
cinnamo comaco Syrian cinnamon cinnamon, comacum cinnamon chips Cinnamomum verum                     Cinnamom Zeylanicum   or nutmeg seeds            Myristica fragrans cinnamon chips Cinnamomum verum and nutmeg seeds          Myristica fragrans
cardamomo Cardamom





cardamum cardamom Elettaria cardamomum cardamom  Elettaria cardamomum
nardi spica spikenard spikenard spikenard roots Nardostachys jatamansi spikenard roots Nardostachys jatamansi
maro cat-thyme marum Cat-thyme   Teucrium maru not available at this time

mint leaf powder (Mentha longifolia) was used instead

murra myrrh myrrh myrrh gum resin Commiphora myrrha myrrh gum resin Commiphora myrrha
casia cinnamon-bark cassia Cassia powder Cinnamomum cassia Cassia powder Cinnamomum cassia







styrax tree gum storax storax bark (sweet gum)                   Liquidambar orientalis                or benzoin resin Styrax benzoides


storax bark      Liquidambar orientalis and  benzoin resin Styrax benzoides
ladano ladanum ladanum gum labdanum resin                                               Cistus villosus var. creticus gum labdanum resin  Cistus villosus var. creticus
opobalsamo balm opobalsamum Balsam (sweet myrrh)  Commiphora opoponax Balsam (sweet myrrh) gum resin       Commiphora opoponax
calamo iuncoque Syriis Syrian flag and Syrian rush Syrian calamus and Syrian sweet rush Lemon (camel) grass Andropogon schoenathus   Schoenus mariscus

calamus root Acorus calamus

Lemon (camel) grass Andropogon schoenathus  and   lemon verbena     Aloysia triphylla  and lemon balm            Melissa officinalis    and calamus root Acorus calamus              
oenanthe wild grape oenanthe Oenanthe pimpinellifolia


Not available at this time
malobathro cinnamon-leaf malobathrum Indian bay leaf  Laurus cassia or Laurus malabratus or Cinnomom tamela

or betel leaf   Piper betle

Not available at this time (the ordered spice was not delivered so far)
serichato serichatum serichatum Chinese cinnamon Cinnamomum aromaticum Cassia powder Cinnamomum cassia
cypro cyprus cyprus cypress        Cupressus sempervirens cypress  essential oil Cupressus sempervirens
aspalatho camel’s thorn aspralathus rose wood Convolvulus scoparius

rhodium wood Convolvulus floridus

Rhodiola root Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola root      Rhodiola rosea and

orris rhizome            Iris germanica

panace all-heal panax Opopanax       Panax Copticum  or Somalia Hagar resin Commiphora erythrea Somalia Hagar resin Commiphora erythrea
croco saffron saffron saffron             Crocus sativus saffron                      Crocus sativus
cypiro gladiolus cypirus gladiolus     Gladiolus communis or nut grass (cyperos) rhizome Cyperus rotundus nut grass (cyperos) rhizome                      Cyperus rotundus
amaraco marjoram sweet marjoram marjoram Origanum majorana



marjoram          Origanum majorana
loto lotus lotus blue lotus Nymphaea caerulea Blue lotus essential oil Nymphaea caerulea
melle honey honey raw honey clover raw honey
vino wine wine resinated wine Retsina Kourtoki  white wine

Table 1. The original list of ingredients for the Parthian perfume and proposed use of plants in the redacted recipe.


Some plants are not available in US or will not survive the harsh winters of the Kingdom where I reside. I have managed to find a person interested in growing these perennial plants in a much balmier climate of the south. I am planning to import seeds for cat-thyme (Teucrium maru), Oenanthe pimpinellifolia, rose wood (Convolvulus scoparius) and rhodium wood (Convolvulus floridus). We will have to wait for the first harvest though, especially for the rose wood rhizome, as the roots are aromatic enough after at least 2-3 years of grow.

The cypress leaves and lotus flowers were substituted by absolute essential oils as the plant parts are not available in this country. The ancient resinated wine was substituted with modern Greek wine, Retsina Kourtoki, which contains less than 0.5% pine resin. The wines of antiquity contained between 5-10% of the resin (Bowring and Mill 1825; “Wines of the Ancients” 1836; Thurmond 2006). I have found a small vineyard in France that specializes in making the Roman wines of antiquity with high resin content and I am planning on buying them for future experimentation when I will be traveling this summer (http://www.tourelles.com/prestashop/index.php?id_category=6&controller=category&id_lang=1).

I have introduced the Eurasian mint leaves (Mentha longifolia) in place of cat-thyme to break a little bit the heavy spice notes in the Parthian perfume. Another departure from the original recipe was the addition of orris root (Iris germanica). It is a very good fixative in perfumes,  much more efficient than rhodiola  (Donato 1989).

The identity of  ‘calamo iuncoque Syriis’ is hard to determine so I used four different ingredients that may have been originally in the recipe, lemongrass, lemon verbena, lemon balm and calamus root. Their presence will counterbalance the heavy resin presence.

Since the best honey from Attica is not available nowadays, I used heated raw clover honey to cover surfaces of the glass bottle. Modern raw honey is the closest equivalent to ancient honey and the clover variety is very neutral in scent (Dioscorides Pedanius, Osbaldeston, and Wood 2000; Thurmond 2006).


Making  perfume


The experimental work was the most enjoyable part of this project. The perfumes are made in several steps which are spread over time. The recipes below mirror this extended processing time.


The ‘King of Parthia’s perfume.’

Day 1

  1. 4 g saffron soaked in 20 ml moringa oil at room temperature (RT),
  2. 1 g whole cardamom seeds soaked in 25 mL water overnight at RT,
  3. 1 g crushed black cardamom seeds soaked in 10 mL water overnight at RT,
  4. 5 g calamus root, 2 g myrrh and 5 g rhodiola root soaked in 50 mL Retsina Kourtoki wine overnight at RT.

Day 2

  1. 5 g costus root and 3.3 g balsam resin soaked in 25 mL Retsina Kourtoki wine for 2 hours at RT,
  2. water from cardamom soak was filtered through linen cloth,
  3. cardamom scented water and wine with soaked aromatics were combined in a Florentine glass flask and heated for 2 hours in a bain-marie (Fig.2),
  4. 3 g cyperus rhizome, 1 g storax bark, 3 g spikenard root, 2.5 g cinnamon chips, 3 g orris roots chips, 3 g benzoin resin  and 50 mL moringa oil  were added to the flask, mixed and the heating in the bain-marie continued for another hour.


florence flask

Fig.2. The bain-marie (double boiler) fits different shape of glass vessels. Shown the Florentine flask with Parthian perfume.

Day 3

  1. 4 g Hagar resin, 1 g marjoram, 1.2 g grated nutmeg, 2 g cassia powder, 1 g labdanum resin, 2 g lemon grass and 10 drops cypress essential oil (EO) were added to the Florentine flask,
  2. 10 mL Retsina Kourtoki and 15 mL moringa oil were added and the aromatics mix was heated in bain-marie for an hour.

Day 4

  1. moringa oil with soaking saffron was filtered through linen cloth and the oil was added to the flask with aromatics mix,
  2. 3 g powdered mint, 1.5 g lemon balm and 1.5 g lemon verbena were added to the aromatics mix,
  3. 25 mL moringa oil was added to the flask and the flask was heated for an hour in bain-marie.

Day 5

  1. 40 drops of cypress EO and 24 drops of blue lotus EO were added to the aromatics in the flask, mixed and left overnight at RT.

Day 6

  1. the glass bottle for the perfume storage was filled with small amount of raw honey, heated to liquid form, and the bottle was turned around until the internal surfaces were covered with honey (Fig.3),
  2. the aromatics mix was transferred to a large piece of double folded linen and the aromatic oil was squeezed into the bottle by twisting the linen cloth containing the plant matter.


honey bottle

Fig.3. Different steps in making the perfumes. Covering the internal surfaces of a storage bottle with honey for the Parthian perfume.


The final yield of the perfume is approximately 60 mL. I do not have enough strength in my hands to fully expel the aromatized oil from the plant matter and I am considering looking for some kind of press to help with this final process of the perfume making. The perfume at the time of bottling have mostly the oriental notes of the resins and the blue lotus aroma as it was the last ingredient added. Usually the last added element defines the perfume character but the flowery aromas are the least stable (Dioscorides Pedanius, Osbaldeston, and Wood 2000; Brun, Fernandez, and Voinot 2015). This experiment will have a follow up part to observe the changes in scent over time.

I have collected some replicas of period glassware and pottery that would be used for making and storing perfume in antiquity. The glassware is generally described as Roman type but similar items were discovered much earlier across Middle East (Dayagi-Mendeles and Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem) 1993; Nassau 1980) (Larson 2016; Grossmann 2001). The extant glass bottles are missing the stoppers whereas the modern replicas include the glass ones (Fig.4).


glassFig.4. Different types of perfume bottle used in antiquity in the Mediterranean Sea region and across Middle East. A, glass, 1st century CE, B, perfume juglet of the Cypro-Phoenician type, 9th-8th centuries BCE (Dayagi-Mendeles and Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem) 1993) and C, Replica glass perfume bottles with stoppers and glass juglets.


Discussion and summary


The main objective of this project was to recreate the period perfumes of antiquity and I believe that this goal has been achieved and the lessons learnt will help others who are interested in working with scents.

Following the period recipes was the biggest challenge. We do not know exact amounts required for making these particular perfumes and therefore the final scent cannot be really predicted. Determination of the ingredients based on the original text is another problem. Many plants and aromatics can have several modern equivalents and we do not really know which one is the correct one. Trying to reconcile all the major texts of antiquity on plants is a real work.

As much as I followed the extant sources, I have introduced some changes into the recipes. The Parthian perfume was enriched with wild mint and orris rhizome which are not in the original list of ingredients. Mint was added to break the overly spicy aroma, as the cat thyme would originally do. Orris rhizome is the additional fixative in lieu of rose wood and to add more flowery aroma in place of Oenanthe pimpinellifolia.  The mysterious ‘calamo iuncoque Syriis’  was represented by four different substances (calamus root, lemongrass, lemon balm and lemon verbena) as there are conflicting opinions on what aroma is supposed to be introduced by this particular ingredient (Manniche 1999). The Indian bay leaf was originally ordered from India and did not arrive in time (lost package). Unfortunately none of the US sellers had this ingredient in stock when I tried to place the order.

This project will definitively open new avenues to explore. I need to find more efficient way to expel the aromatized oils from the plant matter to lower the stress on my hands. As I am not good in constructing stuff, I will probably look for collaboration on this project. The portable stove for outdoor events will be also useful for period cosmetic project. There are several recipes mentioned by Dioscorides which I would like to recreate next summer when I have the ability to gather fresh flower petals. And the Far East incense project will start this fall.

I wish I had much more time to dedicate to these two perfume projects. The time constraints (less than 7 weeks) are especially hard on the process of sourcing the necessary ingredients from different continents. Fortunately I have already started collecting relevant literature by the time I decided to go ahead with the project.

My advice for anyone interested in period perfumery art is to have at least 6 months for any major project. This should allow for gathering necessary documentation, sourcing ingredients and experimentation part.




Baumann, Hellmut. 1993. The Greek Plant World in Myth, Art, and Literature. Portland  Or.: Timber Press. http://www.worldcat.org/title/greek-plant-world-in-myth-art-and-literature/oclc/477420536&referer=brief_results.

Bowring, Jonn, and John Stuart Mill. 1825. “ART. VII.-The History of Ancient and Modern Wines. – ProQuest.”  Westminster Review 4 (7): 92–142. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/docview/8302441?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo.

Brun, Jean-Pierre, Xavier Fernandez, and Gabrielle Voinot. 2015. Parfums Antiques: De L’archéologue Au Chimiste : [Exposition, Musée International de La Parfumerie, Grasse, 11 Décembre 2015 – 30 Mars 2016]. Milano; Grasse: Musée international de la parfumerie. https://www.worldcat.org/title/parfums-antiques-de-larcheologue-au-chimiste-exposition-musee-international-de-la-parfumerie-grasse-11-decembre-2015-30-mars-2016/oclc/944271196&referer=brief_results.

Dayagi-Mendeles, Mikhal., and Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem). 1993. Perfumes and Cosmetics in the Ancient World. Jerusalem: Israel Museum. https://www.worldcat.org/title/perfumes-and-cosmetics-in-the-ancient-world/oclc/461487527&referer=brief_results.

Dioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos., Tess Anne. Osbaldeston, and Robert P. Wood. 2000. De Materia Medica : Being an Herbal with Many Other Medicinal Materials : Written in Greek in the First Century of the Common Era : A New Indexed Version in Modern English. Johannesburg: IBIDIS. https://www.worldcat.org/title/dioscorides-de-materia-medica-being-an-herbal-with-many-other-medicinal-materials/oclc/59267898&referer=brief_results.

Donato, Giuseppe. 1989. The Fragrant Past. Pennsylvania University Press; https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0963816934/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1.

Duke, James A., and Peggy-Ann K. Duke. 2008. Duke’s Handbook of Medicinal Plants of the Bible. Boca Raton  FL: CRC Press. https://www.worldcat.org/title/dukes-handbook-of-medicinal-herbs-of-the-bible/oclc/226087992&referer=brief_results.

Everett, Nicholas. 2012. The Alphabet of Galen : Pharmacy from Antiquity to the Middle Ages : A Critical Edition of the Latin Text with English Translation and Commentary. University of Toronto Press.

Grami, Bbahram. 2013. “Perfumery Plant Materials As Reflected In Early Persian Poetry.”  Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 23 (1): 39–52. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/docview/1327720117?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo.

Grossmann, Richard A. 2001. Ancient Glass : A Guide to the Yale Collection. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery. https://www.worldcat.org/title/ancient-glass-a-guide-to-the-yale-collection/oclc/52606236&referer=brief_results.

Houston, Mary G. 2002. Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian & Persian Costume. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications.

Larson, Katherine Anne. 2016. “From Luxury Product to Mass Commodity: Glass Production and Consumption in the Hellenistic World.” University of Michigan. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/docview/1817426326.

Manniche, Lise. 1999. Sacred Luxuries : Fragrance, Aromatherapy, and Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt. 1. publ. Ithaca  NY: Cornell University Press. https://www.worldcat.org/title/sacred-luxuries-fragrance-aromatherapy-and-cosmetics-in-ancient-egypt/oclc/231843469&referer=brief_results.

Mohagheghzadeh, Abdolali, Arman Zargaran, and Saeed Daneshamuz. 2011. “Cosmetic Sciences from Ancient Persia.” Pharmaceutical Historian 41 (2). The Society: 18–23. http://www.worldcat.org/title/cosmetic-sciences-from-ancient-persia/oclc/748843349&referer=brief_results.

Nassau, Wilhelm E. 1980. “Glass in the Roman Empire: History, Technology and Typology.” Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada). https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/docview/1002704107/.

Pliny, the Elder. 2016. Complete Works of Pliny the Elder, Natural History in 37 Books (Delphi0. Delphi Anc. https://www.worldcat.org/title/complete-works-of-pliny-the-elder/oclc/953199785&referer=brief_results.

Pliny, the Elder., and Harris Rackham. 1938. Natural History. Historia Naturalis : In Ten Volumes. 4, Libri XII – XVI (Loeb). The Loeb C. Cambridge Mass. [u.a.]: Harvard University Press. https://www.worldcat.org/title/historia-naturalis-in-ten-volumes-4-libri-xii-xvi/oclc/916660297&referer=brief_results.

Pliny the Elder, John Bostock, and H. T. Riley. 1855. The Natural History of Pliny, Volume III – Translated, with Copious Notes and Illustrations. London. https://books.google.pl/books?id=A0EMAAAAIAAJ&pg=PR1&dq=serichatum&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=2#v=onepage&q=serichatum&f=false.

Pollard, Elizabeth Ann. 2009. “Pliny’s Natural History and the Flavian Templum Pacis: Botanical Imperialism in First-Century C.E. Rome.” Journal of World History 20 (3): 309–38. http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=55a8c7fc-f2ae-42a1-aa32-54127629111f%40sessionmgr103.

Riddle, John M. 2013. Dioscorides on Pharmacy and Medicine (History of Science). Ebook (Kin. University of Texas Press. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CUP0G7K/ref=kinw_myk_ro_title.

Schlude, Jason Michael. 2009. “Rome, Parthia, and Empire: The First Century of Roman-Parthian Relations.” University of California, Berkeley. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/pqdtglobal/docview/304836314/fulltextPDF/1718EEF332EC4216PQ/1?accountid=465.

Thurmond, David L. 2006. A Handbook of Food Processing in Classical Rome: For Her Bounty No Winter. Brill. http://books.google.com/books?id=lXYUAQAAMAAJ&pgis=1.

Voudouri, Dimitra, and Christine Tesseromatis. 2015. “Perfumery from Myth to Antiquity.” International Journal of Medicine and Pharmacy 3 (2): 41–55. http://www.worldcat.org/title/perfumery-from-myth-to-antiquity/oclc/5994440920&referer=brief_results.

“Wines of the Ancients.” 1836. The Athenaeum 465. British Periodicals pg: 691–93. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/docview/8792008/fulltextPDF/F6D46650742E42FEPQ/1?accountid=465.

Yaniv, Zohara. 2016. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of the Middle-East. [Place of publication not identified]: Springer. https://www.worldcat.org/title/medicinal-and-aromatic-plants-of-the-middle-east/oclc/953598342?referer=di&ht=edition.




Anointing the living and the dead – the art of perfumery in antiquity


The historical background


Perfumes played a very important role in the ancient civilizations. They were the symbol of highest status in the society. They were used for seduction, feasting, official ceremonies, religious rites, funerals and medical work (Castel et al. 2009).

The perfumes of antiquity were made in form of oil (plant-derived or animal grease) infused with fragrant materials like resins, spices, flowers and seeds (Theophrastus and Hort 1916). There were 3 major techniques for extracting the aroma from any plant material (Dayagi-Mendeles and Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem) 1993). Pressing involved crushing the aromatic material, very often in a press and then recovering the aromatic liquid by twisting them from a cloth bundle. This was one of the oldest methods and the most inefficient in expelling the aromatic ingredients. Cold steeping or enfleurage was applied mostly to the delicate flowers. The petals were spread on layer of animal fat and then placed between two boards in order to recover the aromatized fat after a few days of exposure. The hot steeping was the most popular method throughout antiquity (and I made a good use of it, too). The oil was pre-treated by addition of astringent substances like cardamom or calamus root mixed with wine or water. Afterwards the oil was heated to around 65o C in a double boiler to avoid direct exposure to heat.  After several steps of heating and mixing, more aromatics were added, with final goal of no ingredient dominating over the others (Dioscorides Pedanius, Osbaldeston, and Wood 2000). Sometimes dyes like madder or alkanet from borage plant were added during this process. Once the desired aroma was achieved, the infused oil was strained, filtered and transferred to containers, preferably made of stone or glass.

The use of perfumes greatly enhanced the trade in antiquity. Most resin gums and spices were obtained from the Far East and Arabia (Voudouri and Tesseromatis 2015). The various oils were either produced locally (omphacium or unripe olive oil, castor oil, bitter almond oil) or imported from Egypt (moringa and balanos oils) (Mortensen 2014).

In Etruscan Italy, the religious and funerary rites were always accompanied by large quantities of perfumes and ointments (Fig.1).

fig 1
Fig.1. Reliefs from archaic Etruria. A, Volterra urn relief representing a sacrifice to the gods with incense and B, Chiusi relief representing a funerary rite. The perfume/ointment bottle is prominently displayed (Bodiou et al. 2008).


We know that they import large quantities of expensive perfumes from Greece and islands (like chypre perfume from Cyprus). Proof can be found in abundance of containers for perfume storage with Greek provenience, excavated from various sites in Etruscan territories (Fig. 2) (Bodiou et al. 2008).

Fig.2. Types of perfume bottles found in Etruscan excavations. A, amphora, B and C, amphorisque (a small amphora, very often requiring a support to stay upright), D, aryballos or spherical bottle, E, aryballos worn like a purse (a piece of cord or chain was attached to the spherical bottle), F, unguentaria and G, extant pottery aryballoi. (Bodiou et al. 2008).


As far as the Parthian customs are concerned, we know that both perfumes and incense were used by the kings and aristocracy (Mohagheghzadeh, Zargaran, and Daneshamuz 2011). Infused oils (of the cheaper kind) were also used to pay the salaries of workers, together with food and clothing (Farmanfarmaian 2000).  Frankincense was used both for the living and in the funerary rites, similar to Roman customs (Castel et al. 2009). White sandalwood, camphor, balsam, aloewood, myrrh, rose, iris root, violet leaf, sweet marjoram, saffron and elecampane (Inula helenium) are mentioned in period sources (Grami 2013). Some of these substance are also mentioned in the recipe recorded by Pliny the Elder.

Some glassware and stoneware bottles survived to our times, but mostly from the pre-Parthian dynasty of Achaemenids (550-330 BCE) (Mohagheghzadeh, Zargaran, and Daneshamuz 2011).They have both the shape of spherical aryballoi and the spindle shape unguentaria (Fig.3).


fig 3.jpg
Fig.3. Perfume containers from ancient Persia. A, marble scent bottles, Achaemenid period, Persepolis, B, glass scent bottles, Sassanian period, Susa Museum and C, alabaster containers, Achaemenid period, Susa Museum,(Mohagheghzadeh, Zargaran, and Daneshamuz 2011).


Chapter 1 – The Etruscan ointment


We have the rare opportunity to research the life and death of Thana Presnti Plecunia Umranalisa, the Etruscan woman whose cremated remains were accompanied in the afterlife by her toiletry box. Among the items was an alabaster spindle shape unguentarium containing the ointment/perfume.

The Etruscan ointment is a considerably dense liquid, consisting of 5 ingredients,  moringa oil  (Moringa oleifera), Retsina Kourtoki white wine, mastic resin (Pistacia lentiscus var. Chia), pine resin (Pinus sp.) and Burgundy spruce resin (Pini burgundica). It may have been originally used in both perfumery and medicine as the resins besides having a sweet smell, are also known for their antiseptic, wound healing and embalming properties.


The extant perfume/ointment


There are several perfumes /ointments that survived from the Roman antiquity as deposits in pottery and glass containers (Bodiou et al. 2008; Mortensen 2014)(Brun, Fernandez, and Voinot 2015). The containers were mostly discovered within a funerary setting so the use of the particular ointments may have been connected to funerary customs and not necessarily used by the living people. The analysis of many of these deposits revealed that they contained vegetable oils, resins and gums and beeswax  (Mortensen 2014; Bodiou et al. 2008). Beeswax was used for liquid-proofing of pottery containers what would explain its presence in the ointments themselves (Bodiou et al. 2008). The ointment (Fig. 4C) from the Chiusi  (Italy) tomb of the Etruscan woman Thana Presnti Plecunia Umranalisa falls within these funerary finds (Colombini et al. 2009).


fig 4.jpgFig.4. The cosmetic finds excavated from Thana Presnti Plecunia Umranalisa tomb in Chiusi necropolis (Tuscany, Italy) (Colombini et al. 2009). A, the maple wood cosmetic case which contained the unguentarium, B, the alabaster unguentarium and C, the yellowish and harden contents inside the unguentarium.


Dated to 150-125 BCE, it was determined by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to contain a vegetable oil and two plant resins, a mastic and a Pinaceae. The oil was defined as very stable moringa (ben nuts) oil, which did not grow in Italy, but was originally introduced from Asia to Egypt where it was produced in large quantities for perfume and medicine use (Grami 2013). The mastic resin was probably imported from Chios, Greece. The species was not defined and the resin described as obtained from Anacardiaceae trees. Several species can be taken in consideration (Pistacia lentiscus, Pistacia atlantica, Pistacia terebinthus) as they were widely used by ancient Sumerians, Egyptians and Greeks (Langenheim 2003). The second resin of the pine family was not further characterized, besides containing diterpenoid and triterpenoid compounds. This allows for incorporation in edited recipe of one or more resin of the Pinaceae family like pine and spruce (Kirk-Othmer. 2012; Langenheim 2003). The recipe is summarized in Table 1:

The common name Plant Latin name Provenience (for ingredients used in this project) Function
Moringa oil Moringa oleifera Egypt carrier
Mastic resin Pistacia lentiscus var. Chia Greece scent/filler
Pine resin Pinus sp. Portugal scent/filler
Spruce resin Pini burgundica France scent/filler

Table 1. The ingredients for the ointment from Chiusi, Italy.


Mastic resin has a sweet scent and from my previous experiments, seems to be the main scent in the ointment. Part of resin was treated with wine to extract the scent. Once the base was created by mixing the soaked resins and moringa oil, more resin was added during the limited heat exposure to balance the overall scent. Addition of the spruce resin added more of the terpenoid flavor, so associated with coniferous trees.


Materials, tools and methods


The aromatics, spices, herbs and oils were sourced from various sellers on eBay and Etsy. I also bought some items from Community Pharmacy in my city to help a local business.

The main source for rare resins and essential oils is http://www.scents-of-earth.com/index.html.

Retsina Kourtoki wine was purchased at a local co-op store.

The replicas of period pottery and glassware were acquired from local charity shops and eBay and Etsy sellers.

The bain-marie (or double boiler) used for gentle heating of the aromatic mixtures is actually a butter heater, working on tea lights as source of heat (Fig.5).


fig 5

Fig. 5. The bain-marie (double boiler) fits different shape of glass vessels. Shown the shallow bowl with the Etruscan ointment.


The glass bowls with tight covers used for infusing oil and wine are part of my collection of kitchen glassware.

For crushing herbs and aromatics I used both the granite and bamboo mortars.

At some point I want to experiment with a portable ceramic stove but this kind of work would have to be done outdoors and not in my tiny apartment. The equipment used by the people of antiquity to make perfumes was relatively simple (Fig.6) and the basic tools like flasks, funnels and mortars has not changed a lot since then  (Brun 2000) (Brun, Fernandez, and Voinot 2015; Dayagi-Mendeles and Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem) 1993).


fig 6.jpgFig.6. Group of excavated pottery vessels which may have been a property of perfume shop. En Gedi, late 7th-early 6th century BCE (Dayagi-Mendeles and Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem) 1993).


Dioscorides ‘De Materia Medica’ was the source for methods used to extract aroma from the plant matter (Dioscorides Pedanius, Osbaldeston, and Wood 2000; Brun, Fernandez, and Voinot 2015; Theophrastus. and Hort 1916). Saffron is infused in oil and both cardamom and black cardamom in water, in order to extract the aroma. Some resins and roots require extraction with alcohol, in this case the 14.5% resin-infused white wine. The whole process is carried at room temperature (RT) unless indicated otherwise. During the gentle heating in double-boiler process, the flask remain open to allow for aroma testing. When one substance seems to dominate, other ingredients are added to balance the notes. It is especially important for complex perfumes, with multiple ingredients added.


Making the Etruscan ointment


The experimental work was the most enjoyable part of this project. The perfumes are made in several steps which are spread over time. The recipes below mirror this extended processing time.


 Ointment from Chiusi (Tuscany, Italy):

Day 1

  1. 7 g mastic resin, 3.5 g spruce resin and 3.5 g pine resin soaked in 50 mL Retsina Kourtoki wine overnight at room temperature.

Day 2

  1. add 25 mL moringa oil added to the aromatics soaking in wine and the mixture was heated in bain-marie for 2 hours,
  2. after heating was finished, 3 g spruce and 3 g pine resin was added to the aromatics mix and let steep overnight.

Day 3

  1. the resin mix was heated in bain-marie for 2 hours.

Day 4

  1. 4 g mastic resin, 10 g pine resin, 4 g spruce resin and 10 mL moringa oil were added to the mix and heated for 2 hours in bain-marie.

Day 5

  1. the aromatics mixture was filtered through one layer of dense linen cloth and stored in glass bottle (Fig.7).


fig 7.jpg

Fig.7. Different steps in making the perfumes. Filtering the Etruscan ointment through linen cloth.


The total yield of the ointment is approximately 80 mL. This mixture is quite dense and semi-liquid and needs to be well mixed before trying it. The final scent seems to come from the mastic resin, but according to Theophrastus, we need to wait much longer for the full scent to develop (Theophrastus. and Hort 1916).

The Etruscan ointment was discovered in a spindle-shaped pottery container and I was lucky to find a matching replica (Fig.8B). This kind of bottle is not particularly well designed to stand so a special support may have been used in antiquity  (Dayagi-Mendeles and Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem) 1993).


fig 8.jpgFig.8. Roman pottery unguentaria. A, Approximate chronology of ceramic unguentaria present in Milwaukee Public Museum collection (Mortensen 2014) and B, the replica that forms the part of the display. Because it is unglazed inside, it would have been covered with beeswax before actual use.


Final thoughts

As much as I followed the extant sources, I have introduced some changes into the recipes. The Etruscan ointment was made using two different resins of the pine family, from spruce and pine. My first version prepared with just pine resin was much more flat and the scent did not develop a lot over time. I expect that adding the spruce resin from Portugal will deepen the final scent.




Bodiou, Lydie., Dominique. Frère, Véronique. Mehl, and Impr. Barnéoud). 2008. Parfums et Odeurs Dans l’Antiquité. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes. https://www.worldcat.org/title/parfums-et-odeurs-dans-lantiquite/oclc/898732599&referer=brief_results.

Brun, Jean-Pierre. 2000. “The Production of Perfumes in Antiquity: The Case of Delos and Paestum.” American Journal of Archaelogy 104 (2): 277–308. http://www.worldcat.org/title/production-of-perfumes-in-antiquity-the-case-of-delos-and-paestum/oclc/900598894&referer=brief_results.

Brun, Jean-Pierre, Xavier Fernandez, and Gabrielle Voinot. 2015. Parfums Antiques: De L’archéologue Au Chimiste : [Exposition, Musée International de La Parfumerie, Grasse, 11 Décembre 2015 – 30 Mars 2016]. Milano; Grasse: Musée international de la parfumerie. https://www.worldcat.org/title/parfums-antiques-de-larcheologue-au-chimiste-exposition-musee-international-de-la-parfumerie-grasse-11-decembre-2015-30-mars-2016/oclc/944271196&referer=brief_results.

Castel, Cecilia, Xavier Fernandez, Jean-Jacques Filippi, and Jean-Pierre Brun. 2009. “Perfumes in Mediterranean Antiquity.” Flavour and Fragrance Journal 24 (6). John Wiley & Sons: 326–34. http://www.worldcat.org/title/perfumes-in-mediterranean-antiquity/oclc/497117827&referer=brief_results.

Colombini, M.P., G. Giachi, M. Iozzo, and E. Ribechini. 2009. “An Etruscan Ointment from Chiusi (Tuscany, Italy): Its Chemical Characterization.” Journal of Archaeological Science 36 (7): 1488–95. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2009.02.011.

Dayagi-Mendeles, Mikhal., and Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem). 1993. Perfumes and Cosmetics in the Ancient World. Jerusalem: Israel Museum. https://www.worldcat.org/title/perfumes-and-cosmetics-in-the-ancient-world/oclc/461487527&referer=brief_results.

Dioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos., Tess Anne. Osbaldeston, and Robert P. Wood. 2000. De Materia Medica : Being an Herbal with Many Other Medicinal Materials : Written in Greek in the First Century of the Common Era : A New Indexed Version in Modern English. Johannesburg: IBIDIS. https://www.worldcat.org/title/dioscorides-de-materia-medica-being-an-herbal-with-many-other-medicinal-materials/oclc/59267898&referer=brief_results.

Farmanfarmaian, Fatema Soudavar. 2000. “Haft Qalam Arayish: Cosmetics in the Iranian World.” Iranian Studies 33 (3–4). Taylor & Francis Group: 285–326. doi:10.1080/00210860008701984.

Grami, Bbahram. 2013. “Perfumery Plant Materials As Reflected In Early Persian Poetry.”  Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 23 (1): 39–52. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/docview/1327720117?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo.

Kirk-Othmer. 2012. Kirk-Othmer Chemical Technology of Cosmetics. Wiley. https://www.worldcat.org/title/kirk-othmer-chemical-technology-of-cosmetics/oclc/940707810&referer=brief_results.

Langenheim, Jean H. 2003. Plant Resins : Chemistry, Evolution, Ecology, and Ethnobotany. Portland  Or.: Timber Press. https://www.worldcat.org/title/plant-resins-chemistry-evolution-ecology-and-ethnobotany/oclc/429484328&referer=brief_results.

Mohagheghzadeh, Abdolali, Arman Zargaran, and Saeed Daneshamuz. 2011. “Cosmetic Sciences from Ancient Persia.” Pharmaceutical Historian 41 (2). The Society: 18–23. http://www.worldcat.org/title/cosmetic-sciences-from-ancient-persia/oclc/748843349&referer=brief_results.

Mortensen, Jenna. 2014. “The Implications of Content Analysis for the Interpretation of Unguentaria in Museum Collections.” Theses and Dissertations. http://dc.uwm.edu/etd/506.

Theophrastus., 372-287, and Arthur Hort. 1916. Enquiry into Plants, and Minor Works on Odours and Weather Signs. Volume II. The Loeb C. [Place of publication not identified]: Harvard University Press. https://www.worldcat.org/title/enquiry-into-plants-and-minor-works-on-odours-and-weather-signs-vol-ii/oclc/852018037&referer=brief_results.

Voudouri, Dimitra, and Christine Tesseromatis. 2015. “Perfumery from Myth to Antiquity.” International Journal of Medicine and Pharmacy 3 (2): 41–55. http://www.worldcat.org/title/perfumery-from-myth-to-antiquity/oclc/5994440920&referer=brief_results.





Class on making period cosmetics, taught in Elkhorn, WI

I offered the class on making period cosmetics for the first time. I had to to bring nearly a complete still room to the site but I think it was worth. Great thanks to Gail Middleton who let me fill her car with my stuff!

We covered a range of different periods and regions from antiquity to late 16th century. I did not want to overwhelm anyone with just Bei Wei cosmetics. I also had a display of Chinese cosmetics from Bei Wei and containers/tools from other periods. And 2 perfumes of antiquity to test.

A practical survey of period cosmetics
Dúgū Jìnán
Katarzyna (Kasia) Gromek
Email: murcielago53@hotmail.com

For millennia makeup was an important part of the look and status for both men and women. In the modern re-enactment the importance of makeup seems to be mostly lost. Even if makeup is applied, it is made with modern cosmetics. Period cosmetics do not have to be toxic or smelly and the aim of this class is to show the ways of making and applying them. We will travel around the world and through the time. Many of the recipes are suitable for various cultures, with some small adjustments. The period makeup will help to be more in ‘persona.’ Because of time constrains, some of the bases were prepared ahead of time and the detailed recipes are included.
For more on general history of period cosmetics please check Sally Pointer’s book, ‘The artifice of beauty’ (Pointer 2005).

Safety concern:
1. We are going to use safe alternative to some period ingredients. The modern substitutes are considered safe for cosmetic application, but please be careful and do not eat or drink while working with these substances.
2. There is always risk of allergic reaction. I did my best to try to poll for potential allergens but I cannot take responsibility for any adverse reactions.
3. I have zinc oxide as substitute for titanium dioxide. It is a period ingredient though it was used mostly for ‘plasters’ or ointments for skin problems.

Concerning the measurement units:
Throughout this class, I will use the following units of measurement:
flat tbs – tablespoon with contents flatten with edge of a knife
flat tsp – teaspoon with contents flatten with edge of a knife
Flat ¼ tsp – ¼ teaspoon with contents flatten with edge of a knife (used for measuring pigments and dyes)
full tsb – rounded tablespoon
full tsp – rounded teaspoon
g- gram
mL – milliliter
Both the tablespoon and teaspoon were from a standard measuring spoon set.

Herbs and aromatics were purchased from online stores: https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/, http://www.herbco.com/, http://plumdragonherbs.com/ and http://www.activeherb.com/.
Some pigments and dyes were acquired from http://www.naturalearthpaint.com/ and various eBay and Etsy sellers. Plant oils and animal fat were bought in local Madison stores.


1. Roman period white base/ointment based on extant sample excavated in London (Evershed et al. 2004)

Base A (according to the original data, the fat was probably unscented but I like aromatics and extended shelf life):
– aromatics steeped in 50 mL semi-dry white wine at room temperature for 72 hours: 2 full tsp frankincense resin (crushed), 2 full tsp cinnamon chips, 2 full tsp cassia twigs, 2 tsp hyssop, 1 tbs crushed vetiver root, 1 tsp ground cardamom, 1 tsp ground nutmeg, 1 flat tsp calamus root, a pinch of galbanum resin)
– 125 g beef suet
Filter the aromatics through a piece of cloth and save the wine. Add the aromatized wine to the melted beef suet and heat in a double boiler until all water evaporates (no longer boils). Store in an air-tight container, preferably in a cool, dark place.

White ointment:
1.5 g tin oxide (IV)
4.25 g fat base
4.25 g wheat starch
Mix until smooth consistency is achieved.

Base B (better for oily skin)
20 g lanolin
25 ml olive oil
25 ml white semi-dry wine
2 g salt
1 g myrrh resin
1 g frankincense resin
1.5 g pine resin
Heat in a double boiler until all water evaporates (no longer boils). Filter through a piece of cloth and add 5 drop spikenard EO, 2 drops labdanum EO and 5 drops cedar wood EO and mix. Store in an air-tight container, preferably in a cool, dark place.

White ointment made with Base B:
1.5 g tin oxide (IV)
4.25 g wheat starch
Add warmed base using spoon and mix until smooth consistency is achieved.
2. The eyebrow paint (Asia, late antiquity-early medieval period)
Since galena paint is only part of a display, we are going to make another version using powdered graphite (a period solution) laced with golden mica for some sparkle (Rapp 2009). It looks very similar to the toxic version.

2. The beeswax and sesame oil base for thick paste ointment (Jia 1974)

-aromatics steeped in 120 mL yellow rice wine (huangjiu) at room temperature for 72 hours: 2 full tsp frankincense resin (crushed), 2 full tsp myrrh resin (crushed)
– 135 mL sesame oil
– 45 g beeswax
Filter the aromatics through a thick cloth and save the aromatized wine. Add the wine to the sesame oil and simmer in a double boiler until the water is gone. Then add the beeswax and let 27
it melt. Remove from the source of heat and mix until a uniform dense paste forms. Store in an air-tight container, preferably in a cool, dark place.

‘False galena’
2 x ¼ flat tsp beeswax/sesame oil base
1 x ¼ flat tsp powdered graphite
half x ¼ flat tsp crushed golden mica
2 x ¼ flat tsp wheat starch
1 x ¼ flat tsp bone ash
After careful mixing, the thick paste is probably the closest approximation of period cosmetic. The lamp back (soot) and bone black versions are really black so they have to be whiten with modern lead white substitute to make them more greyish.

Recipe for ‘lapis lazuli’ or ‘malachite’ eye paint
3 x ¼ flat tsp beeswax/sesame oil base
1 x ¼ flat tsp blue earth or green earth
1 x ¼ flat tsp millet flower or 2 x ¼ flat tsp wheat starch
1 x ¼ flat tsp bone ash
Mix well. If needed adjust consistency until thick paste forms. These colored pastes can be also used as eyeshadow paint. If red ochre is used as pigment, it can be made into lip paint.

3. Caterina Sforza whitening ointment (late 15th century Italy)

‘To cure redness of the face:
Take white lead [ceruse], rose water and violet oil and mix together and anoint the face.\

A guarire la Roseza del Volto
Piglia Cerusa aqua rosa oleo de viole et mestica inseme et ugne la faccia.’
(Accessed June 7th 2017 https://sites.eca.ed.ac.uk/renaissancecosmetics/cosmetics-recipes/skin/)

Traditional titanium dioxide base recipe
3 g titanium dioxide
2 g wheat starch
Add rosewater using pipette until smooth thick liquid forms. Scent with 1 drop absolute violet leaf EO.

Alternative titanium dioxide base recipe
2 g mix (made by mixing 15 g titanium dioxide, 7.5 g titanium dioxide micronized and 7.5 g mica micronized)
1 g wheat starch
10 drops almond oil
Add rosewater using pipette until smooth thick liquid forms. Scent with 1 drop absolute violet leaf EO.

4. Alkanet lip paint (Roman, Greek, Byzantine) (Kelly Olson 2009)

Alkanet dye extraction (soluble in oil and ethanol)
3 g alkanet powder
25 ml safflower oil
Mix both ingredients well and keep in a tightly closed container at room temperature for at least 24 hours. Filter through cloth or paper filter and store in a cool, dark place.

The lip paint
3 ml warmed and melted beeswax
Add the alkanet dye in oil to the melted beeswax until the desired color is achieved. Micronized mica or wheat starch can be added to make the paste smoother.

5. Trotula rouge (11-12th century Salerno. Italy) (Green 2002)

‘Take shaving of brazilwood and let it be placed in an eggshell containing a little rose water, and let it be placed in the same place a little alum, and with this let her anoint some cotton and press it on her face and it should make her red.’

Dye extraction
2 x ¼ full tsp brazilwood (sappan wood)
8 mL rose water
Add alum by pinch until the rose water is saturated with the color. Filter the dyed rose water.
To use, immerse cotton or linen fabric scrap and spread the color over the cheeks.
Alternatively the dyes can be used to make a powder rouge by adding starch or gypsum and getting it dyed.


Evershed, R.P. et al., 2004. Archaeology: Formulation of a Roman cosmetic. Nature, 432(7013), pp.35–36. Available at: http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/432035a [Accessed June 10, 2017].

Green, M.H., 2002. The Trotula : an English translation of the medieval compendium of women’s medicine, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Jia, Sixie, and Shenghan Shi. 1974. A Preliminary Survey of the Book Ch’i Min Yao Shu: An Agricultural Encyclopaedia of the 6th Century = Qimin Yaoshu Gailun. 2nd ed. Peking: Science Press.
Kelly Olson, 2009. Cosmetics in Roman Antiquity: Substance, Remedy, Poison. Classical World, 102(3), pp.291–310.
Pointer, S., 2005. The artifice of beauty: a history and practical guide to perfumes and cosmetics, Stroud: Sutton.
Rapp, G.R., 2009. Archaeomineralogy 2nd ed., Berlin: Springer.

‘Yellow aura across the forehead was uncommonly auspicious’ or The court makeup from the state of Běi Wèi 北魏 (Northern Wei) in Northern China, 5-6th century CE

For a recent Northshield A&S competition I decided to make period color cosmetics and do the makeover in front of judges. I have re-discovered the passion for working with herbs and other ingredients that I enjoyed so much during my high school times.
Based on the preserved artwork, extant cosmetic samples, manuals, and poetry, I plan to recreate the period cosmetics used for the court face makeup in Northern Wei in the 5-6th century CE. The archaeology of Northern Wei is considerably new and we do not have the full knowledge of the culture of the Xianbei people. As there are many gaps, I also use sources that predate the Wei state (Warring States and Han Dynasty, 5th century BCE to 2nd century CE) or are slightly post-date but mention the descent from earlier times (Sui Dynasty and early Tang Dynasty (6th to 7th century CE). Recipes used for making the cosmetics were followed as closely as possible. In case of toxic substances, I made the original ones as a part of display only and to have a reference for matching safer replacements. My recipes are included in the main part of this work while the description of plant ingredients and the recipes for ointment bases are included in the appendix section.
The cosmetics made within the scope of this entry include:
-the Hu powder or the white makeup base (hufen),
-the yellow forehead paint (e’huang),
-the eyebrow paint (daimei),
-the rouge (yanzhi),
-the lip oil (chunzhi),
-the decoration for the forehead (huadian) and cheeks (mianye).
The simplified diagram of the complete makeup is shown below:

face diagram
The cosmetics are presented in a historically accurate style, including the toilet box, containers, applicators and accessories. The application process, performed on my face, will be also part of this presentation.
This entry is a part of an ongoing major project, dedicated to the complete beauty regimen of women of Northern Wei. The lessons learnt from making color makeup will definitively help in the part dedicated to skin care.



Bias cut edging dated to the Liao Dynasty

This is an example of the bias cut edging used to finish the  side wings of a headdress dated to 1000-1163 (Liao Dynasty founded by the Khitans). The edging is made of blue silk gauze cut on bias and  attached around the curved sides of the wings. So far this is the first example for the use of bias tape of sort within SCA timeline.


All images were published in the catalog of Liao Dynasty items in the collection of the Abegg-Stiftung in  Riggisberg, Switzerland.

Schorta, R., Viràg, C. von., & Abegg-Stiftung. (2007). Dragons of silk, flowers of gold : a group of Liao-dynasty textiles at the Abegg-Stiftung. Riggisberg [Switzerland]: Abegg-Stiftung.

Finding my persona

13613382_1787678988118238_2242611149200719701_o.jpg web.jpg

I went to my first archery practice  hosted by local  SCA group (Society for Creative Anachronism) in October 2012. It was difficult time for me  and I needed a new kind of  entertainment to keep me going in daily life. Archery seemed like a great choice. I was lucky that the archers of Jararvellir are so welcoming to a new person. Yes, I have heard stories about new people who are constantly ignored, pushed away and finally quit and never return. Archery was the starting point. I know I will never excel at it, but I can still enjoy it.

I came to SCA  having a specific persona in mind. Alessandra Salviati Crespelle, a woman living in the early 16th century Florence. Pretty sottana (dress) was what I wanted. I loved to dress up when I was a kid and this love has stayed with me. I have never before sewn anything for a human, I only dressed my dolls. Looks like I need challenges in my life and within  two years, I have became an owner of  beautiful dresses, custom tailored to my figure and entirely hand sewn (thanks to my Mother’s dedicated work on the long seams). My sewing machine seems to be used mostly as serger for finishing ends of new fabric before washing. My love for the voluminous dresses was abruptly ended when I went to my first outdoor event, Warriors and Warlords, held in Boscobel, Wisconsin, in 2013. The whole area was drenched for few days with heavy rain and by the time I  arrived at the archery camp,  my skirts were wet and in mud till my knees. It was not getting better with high humidity and heat and my felt-lined bodice nearly suffocated me before the noon. And forget about archery in this kind of dress, it is perfect for a court and not for outdoor activities.

I have learnt from my mistakes and decided to create an alternate persona for summer so I can enjoy events and not suffer all the time. I was not aware that the 600 CE cut off date for  start time was no longer in use  (I was considering ancient Greek or Roman persona) and so I settled on the early Kingdom of Italy (or the Kingdom of the Langobards). When I was in college, I read a book on the forgotten nations of Europe and somehow the  Langobards came to my mind. Perfect topic for research as nothing is known about the female costume of the early 7th century CE. I could be a barbarian and at the same time copy all the Byzantine  high fashion. And so my alternate persona came to life – Grisiltruda Fortunata, a daughter of a Langobard warrior and Roman woman. I enjoy researching the early Langobard  life in Italy and I think that my research on the costume has really resulted in a spectacular outfits.

I would not be myself  though if I do not take more routes to explore. I love Chinese costume movies  so I made a Tang Dynasty  hufu (‘foreign clothes’)  outfit for the archery activities. Yes, it is perfect for outdoors. It is perfect for archery. What I did not know in 2013 was that Tang China was not to be my exotic place to have another persona. Studying the Langobards  history before the invasion of Italy, I learned about the Avars who pushed Langobards from Pannonia (modern day Hungary). Who were the Avars? Well, some historians identify them with the Rourans who were forced away from the northern  Asian steppes by the warriors of Northern Wei. Now I know that it is not so certain but Northern Wei came to my attention. An empire that lasted less than 200 years but was the setting point for the glory of Tang Dynasty. Yes, all the best of Tang China, from pipa music, the fashion and make up, from  the considerable freedom of women to the taste for exotica of all kind  were inherited from the Northern Wei culture. The Xianbei  nomads, as they were called by the Han Chinese, created an empire that combined the civilized way of living and the nomads’ love for freedom.

In 2016 I made the final decision to change my primary  persona to the Northern Wei one.  Dúgū Jǐnán (獨孤 濟南) seems to fit me perfectly. It may have been a premonition that when I went to test out horsebows for sale in 2013, the only bow that I liked was an asymmetric  Hunnish one. Similar bows were used by the Xianbei. So I can say that my bow purchase was a perfect choice for a persona that I came up with years later. And I am really lucky that the graduate students in Asian studies run out of popular topics and have started solid research on the steppe nomads. Plenty of material to look at and enjoy. And I can make side trips to Korea’s kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla in search of extra information on Xianbei (yes, the enemies were always well informed).

I have finally found my place.  I can enjoy digging into the daily life and customs of not very well known nations and have a lot of satisfaction along the way. I need a place to gather my research  and eventually have a way to share it  so I have decided to start a blog. A blog dedicated to all things Xianbei and Langobards.