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Balms and Perfumes at the Court of Byzantium
By Ernesto Riva
Natural 1 (2005)
Introduction: The taste for elegance and ornamentation declined and disappeared with the fall of the Roman Empire, perhaps not as suddenly as may be though, but it is certain that the population, under the threat of continuous invasions by barbarians had many other things to think about rather than decorating and ornamenting their bodies. Nevertheless, the rich heritage of cosmetic art was able to be saved thanks above all to the Eastern Roman Empire which continued to prosper, with the contribution of Oriental peoples as well, and to exercise its cultural influence on the West which had been overrun by the continual barbarian raids and the rapid succession of precarious Roman-barbarian kingdoms.
Whilst Rome was declining in importance and in terms of population, Constantinople was growing enormously; it was the new Rome which replaced the ancient political centre of the Empire and which continued the ancient classic traditions.
This did not prevent a renewal of the culture and of all the arts due, on the one hand to essentially Christian inspiration, and on the other to new cultural interests determined by a continuous flow of ideas and traditions from the nearby Orient.
At the court of Byzantium, in the period of Justinian and Theodora, the most ostentatious elegance reigned and it was in this period that Metrodora compiled her recipe book. Metrodora, although the little we know of her was deduced from her only work that is known to us, is certainly to be counted amongst the doctors of that period or at least amongst the students of a certain empirical school inspired by the principles of Hippocrates.