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Wealthy First-Century Romans Adored Perfume

We get the word perfume from the Romans. In Latin, per fumum means through smoke. Though it had been used in religious rituals, perfume came to be used to anoint the body as Rome went from a farming town to a world capital and its economy progressed from austerity to opulence. By Miriam’s time, the first century CE, Rome imported about 2800 tons of frankincense and 550 tons of myrrh per year. In short, perfume became big business in the Roman Empire.

Nero loved the aroma of roses so much that he had silver pipes installed to spritz his dinner guest with rosewater. And once, he spent another fortune for a cascade of rose petals that actually smothered and killed one guest.

In The Deadliest Lie, Miriam offers to pay the tax for Phoebe’s manumission so that she could be free. What’s more, she proposes to set Phoebe up in a perfume business with connections to import aromatic gums from Somalia, Arabia, and India; distill them; and create her own exclusive blend to market in the agora.

Phoebe, of course declines, preferring to stay with Miriam:

“Why would I want to do that? You are my family. Your mother saved my life, your father gave me an education, and you’re a sister to me. My joy is here, being a part of this family and its traditions.”

As the Empire weakened so did its economy. Incense was still used for rituals, but an interest in perfumes declined. Don’t let that happen to you. Nourish your interest in Roman history by reading The Deadliest Lie, the first book in the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series. Just click here to see its awards and watch the video.


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