Greek women embraced the use of makeup to enhance their beauty. Evidence of how females made up their faces can be found in such different places as on palace frescos, paintings directly on the wall, from Knossos, the royal city on the ancient Greek island of Crete, dating back to 1500 B.C.E. and in the descriptive poems written during the Greek Classical Period from 500 to 336 B.C.E. Although the practice was limited to women of wealth and influence, probably because of the cost, makeup was an important part of fashion in ancient Greece.

In the sunny climate of ancient Greece, noblewomen, especially those living in Athens, the cultural center of Greece, tried to keep their skin pale. Women smoothed a paste of white lead mixed with water over their faces, necks, shoulders, and arms to create a wrinkle-free, white appearance. Another cosmetic preparation involved soaking white lead in vinegar, collecting the corroded portion, grinding it into a powder, and then heating it.

Women then applied brightly colored lipstick and rouge, or reddish powder, made from a variety of materials such as seaweed, flowers, or crushed mulberries. Dark eye shadow, eyeliner, and eyebrow coloring was made from soot. Greeks used their makeup boldly, drawing red circles or other designs with rouge on their cheeks and accenting their eyebrows and eyes with dark outlines and sweeping lines.

Greek women were so heavily made-up that their carefully crafted faces were in danger of washing away with sweat. The poet Eubulus, in his circa 360 B.C.E. comedy The Wreath-Sellers, vividly described the threat of Greece's climate to women in Athens: "If you go out when it is hot, two streams of black make-up flow from your eyebrows, and red stripes run from your cheeks to your neck. The hair hanging down on to the forehead is matted with white lead." Eubulus's description suggests that when Greek women wore makeup they tried to protect themselves from the heat of the sun, perhaps by staying inside.


Gröning, Karl. Body Decoration: A World Survey of Body Art. New York: Vendome Press, 1998.

Symons, David J. Costume of Ancient Greece. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

[ See also Volume 1, Ancient Rome: Makeup ; Volume 4, 1919–29: Makeup ; Volume 5, 1946–60: Makeup ]

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