Smells of the ancient world

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,811
Anyone visiting less fortunate countries nowadays will undoubtedly have been struck by all kinds of agressive and unpleasant smells , especially in hotter climates

Were the large cities of the ancient world equally unpleasant ? Were foul smells an everpresent feature ?

As late as 1185, the below was reported about Paris... This led the then king to order paving the streets, to get rid of at least some of the smells


Approximate translation: Paris smells bad: all activities are by the Seine... The river is a dumping ground where all kinds of trash ends up, excrements, animal carcasses. Streets are muddy and littered with trash; one can find leftovers from tanners, butchers, dry cleaners. All this trash ends up in the Seine... City dwellers drink a dirty, foul, ill tasting water...


Paris sent mauvais : toutes les activités se situent au bord de la Seine. Le fleuve se transforme en un véritable dépotoir où l’on jette toutes sortes de déchets, excréments et carcasses d’animaux. Les rues sont boueuses et jonchées de détritus ; on y trouve des résidus de tanneries, de teintureries, de boucheries … Tous ces immondices finissent leur course dans la Seine. Les gens de la ville boivent une eau souillée nauséabonde et infecte !
 
Feb 2019
845
Pennsylvania, US
It seems like past eras stank - some more than others.

Just mixing with other people could be overwhelmingly ... unpleasant? Au naturale? Repugnant? I'm not sure what's the best word here. Victorian women were using ammonia to wash their hair (monthly), onion juice to make it shine... bathing during this same time had strange associations with illness or sexual arousal, so sitz baths were the thing to do. Victorian women had "dress shields" to absorb sweat and body odor and preserve their clothing from staining... but those babies must have stank at the end of a hot day. :vomit:

Supposedly King Louis XIV, the "Sun King" of France, only had 3 baths in his lifetime and was described by peers as "stinking like a wild animal".

People visiting Versailles in the time of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette described it as a "stinking cesspit".

Good (smelly) times had by all...
 
Feb 2019
845
Pennsylvania, US
In addition to the unpleasantness of the smells, you have to remember that people believed that the foul scents they breathed in could kill them. Miasma theory stuck around until the late 1800's, when the concept of germs was widely accepted - up until then, it was thought that breathing in bad smells associated with rotting organic matter ("bad air" or "night air") could result in a number of different diseases (cholera, plague, etc). That classic plague doctor's mask with the long "beak" was commonly filled with lavender or some other strongly scented element to keep the doctor from inhaling the miasma/smells of the sick.

So, not only did things stink... but the stink was going to kill you.
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,233
T'Republic of Yorkshire
In addition to the unpleasantness of the smells, you have to remember that people believed that the foul scents they breathed in could kill them. Miasma theory stuck around until the late 1800's, when the concept of germs was widely accepted - up until then, it was thought that breathing in bad smells associated with rotting organic matter ("bad air" or "night air") could result in a number of different diseases (cholera, plague, etc). That classic plague doctor's mask with the long "beak" was commonly filled with lavender or some other strongly scented element to keep the doctor from inhaling the miasma/smells of the sick.

So, not only did things stink... but the stink was going to kill you.
Was that a belief in the ancient world, or just confined to around the 17th century? Certainly, this was believed n England around the tme of the plague pf London, but I don't know if it was a belief in classical Antiquity, for example.
 
Oct 2018
1,513
Sydney
Was that a belief in the ancient world, or just confined to around the 17th century? Certainly, this was believed n England around the tme of the plague pf London, but I don't know if it was a belief in classical Antiquity, for example.
It was indeed a thing in ancient times. Pliny the Elder provides examples of smells that can kill, but I can't think of any specific examples right now.
 
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