What Can You Smell in Ancient Greece?

In Ancient Greece, the sense of smell played a significant role in daily life. The Greeks valued scents and fragrances for various purposes, including religious rituals, personal hygiene, and medicinal practices. Let’s take a closer look at the smells that would have filled the air in Ancient Greece.

Perfumes and Fragrances

The Greeks were known for their love of perfumes and fragrances. They believed that pleasant scents had the power to uplift the spirit and please the gods. Perfumes were used not only to mask unpleasant odors but also as an integral part of religious ceremonies.

Fun fact: The word “perfume” comes from the Latin term “per fumum,” which means “through smoke.” This reflects the ancient practice of burning incense to release their aromatic scents.

Essential Oils

Essential oils derived from plants played a vital role in Ancient Greek society. These oils were extracted through various methods such as steam distillation or cold pressing.

  • Olive oil: Olive oil was widely used as a base for perfumes and ointments. It was also used on its own as a moisturizer and cleanser.
  • Lavender oil: Lavender was highly prized for its soothing properties.

    It was commonly used in baths and massages to relax both the body and mind.

  • Rose oil: Rose oil was considered luxurious and associated with femininity. It was often used in perfumes, cosmetics, and even as an aphrodisiac.


Ancient Greeks believed in the therapeutic benefits of aromatherapy. They used various herbs and flowers to create scents that were believed to promote healing and overall well-being.

Did you know? Hippocrates, often referred to as the “Father of Medicine,” used aromatherapy as part of his treatments. He believed that scents could help balance the body’s humors and restore health.

Herbs and Flowers

The Greeks were surrounded by a wide variety of aromatic herbs and flowers, which they utilized for their medicinal properties.

  • Mint: Mint was commonly used for its refreshing scent. It was also believed to aid digestion and relieve headaches.
  • Thyme: Thyme was valued for its strong aroma and antiseptic properties.

    It was often burned as incense or used in baths to purify the air.

  • Jasmine: Jasmine flowers were highly regarded for their intoxicating scent. They were often worn as garlands or used in perfumes and oils.

Sacred Scents

In Ancient Greece, scents were closely associated with religious practices. Temples were filled with the fragrances of incense, which were believed to please the gods and create a divine atmosphere.

Fascinating fact: The Oracle at Delphi, one of the most famous religious sites in Ancient Greece, had a chamber called the Adyton where visitors would inhale vapors rising from a chasm in the earth. These vapors were thought to induce prophetic visions!

Ancient Greek temples burned various types of incense, including frankincense, myrrh, and storax. These scents not only masked undesirable odors but also created an ambiance of reverence and spirituality.


The sense of smell was highly valued in Ancient Greece, and fragrances played a significant role in their daily lives. From perfumes and essential oils to aromatherapy and sacred scents, the Greeks incorporated various aromatic elements into their religious rituals, personal hygiene practices, and medicinal treatments. Exploring the smells of Ancient Greece gives us a glimpse into the sensory experiences of this remarkable civilization.