I have previously written on Roman perfume bottles and the importance of glass in the Roman Empire. Perfume was also central to ancient Greek life. It was so popular that the politician Solon temporarily banned the use of it to prevent an economic crisis. It was at the center of hospitality, wealth, status, daily life and even philosophy. It was seen as erotic, mystical and spiritual. It was linked to beauty which was inextricably linked with divinity. The origins of perfume and perfumery are interwoven with Greek mythology. In Homeric tradition, the Olympian gods taught perfumery to people. The color and scent of the rose is attributed to events surrounding Venus and Cupid. Lekuthos were used for liquid perfume and were slim elegant glass bottles. Aryballes were used for oils and unguents. Alabastron perfume bottles were highly prized, mainly among women and it was common for the craftsmen to brand the bottles to mark their craftsmanship, making them even more collectable. Even so, terracotta vessels, metal or alabaster were the most common materials for scented oil. The exquisite perfume vessel shown above is a exaleiptron (an older name was plemochoa) used for storing large amounts of perfume, possibly for washing and anointing the feet of visitors. The exaleiptron has religious significance in that it was used during the Eleusinian Mysteries when, on the last day they filled two plemochoai and set them up one to the east, one to the west, and then overturned them, saying mystic words as they did so. They were also used as grave goods.
Coins are ubiquitous in modern society, check your pocket and you will undoubtedly find a few right now. Have you ever wondered when the first coins were made? An exhibition at the British Museum tries to answer that exact question. The 1/6 stater, pictured above, is more than 2,700 years old, making it one of the very earliest coins. It was made from electrum, a natural occurring alloy of gold and silver which I discussed in a previous post on Egyptian gold. It was discovered in Ephesos, an ancient Hellenic city in the area of Lydia, known from the bible and a prosperous trading center on the coast of modern day Turkey. The Lydians were the first to have fixed retail shops, probably contributing to the development of the coins. The coin above looks like a tiny nugget with a design on one side only. This ancient stater was hand struck. A die with a design, in this case a lion's head, for the front of the coin was placed on an anvil. A blank piece of metal was placed on top of the die, and a punch hammered onto the reverse. The result was a coin with an image on one side and a punch mark on the other. Even though it looks crude, the weight was strictly monitored.