Mesopotamian Body Decorations

Many different ethnic groups lived in Mesopotamia, the region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in present-day Iraq, between 3000 B.C.E. and 300 B.C.E. Among the most prominent were the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Persians. Clothing historians have studied carved statues, the artifacts of royal tombs, and written tablets that show and describe the decorative accessories these people wore.

While slaves and the poorest people wore simple, functional clothes, the wealthiest could afford beautifully made jewelry. Men, women, and children all wore jewelry. A royal tomb from Sumeria dating from around 2500 B.C.E. included an abundance of beaded necklaces, rings, bracelets for the wrist and ankles, stickpins, and other jewelry. Made of gold and silver, the jewelry was set with decorative gemstones such as deep blue lapis lazuli, red carnelian, white alabaster, and sparkling crystals. Mesopotamian jewelry was large and elaborate. A pair of gold hoop earrings discovered in a queen's tomb, for example, are so large that they must have been worn hooked over the ears because they would have been too heavy to hang from the earlobes.

Little evidence remains about how the people of Mesopotamia groomed themselves, but the evidence that does exist indicates that Mesopotamians treated their bodies with great care. Sumerian texts include a story of a goddess bathing and perfuming herself for her bridegroom. To make perfume, Mesopotamians soaked fragrant plants in water and added oil. Some texts indicate that women wore makeup. Shells filled with pigments of red, white, yellow, blue, green, and black with carved ivory applicators have been found in tombs. Perfume was also important for cosmetic, medicinal, and other uses.


Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea. Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

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