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by Archaeology Newsroom

Beautification in Byzantium

In antiquity the human body was adored and praised through the arts. Christianity, however, diversified itself from the ancient world as regards cosmotheory and life. The perishable earthly body was considered as presenting an obstacle to the salvation of the immaterial, eternal soul, that should be the purpose of this ephemeral life. Therefore, any engagement with the beautification of face and body was regarded as sinful. Since the ethics of Byzantine society were strongly influenced by the Church, we can learn a lot about the morals of the time through texts that criticize them. The works of the Church Fathers teem with censures, rules, threats, advice and aphorisms. They teach that our God-given face neither must be made up with cosmetics and turned into a mask, nor must it become an instrument of sexual provocation. In spite, however, of the polemic, the Byzantine world, successor to the ancient Greek spirit, follows the existing tradition in which the human body is a reality, which claims the right to be expressed even through the improvements that beautification brings. Apart from its main function,the public bath was for the Byzantines a place of relaxation, enjoyment and social “gathering”. The bourgeois women of Byzantium used beauty masks for their face care and three main natural pigments for their make-up. Black for the eyes and eye-brows, white for the skin and red for the lips, cheeks and chin. Perfumes were a necessity, while hairdos were influenced by varying fashions. Nevertheless, since women wore their hair long, the Church Fathers’ advice was to keep it covered.