Hygiene and health in Roman Britain

Personal hygiene, care of the body and a sense of well-being are important for good health and were subjects on which Greek and Roman writers frequently commented. Alongside the official structures that were in place to maintain the hygiene of a town and its inhabitants, such as the baths and a sewage system, hygiene may also be seen on the personal level. Toilet implements are very often found together with other personal items in graves. Such finds include glass jars and phials for sweet-smelling ointments and perfumes, mirrors, combs and hairpins but, especially, small toilet kits of bronze or iron, comprising an ear scoop, nail cleaner and tweezers, often held together on a ring.

Small two-piece bronze sets, thought to have been used for applying cosmetics, are specific to Britain. The earliest examples date to the Late Iron Age, but the majority were made and used when Britain was a province of Rome. The sets consist of a grooved mortar (a vessel for grinding or pounding substances to a powder or paste) and a solid rod-like pestle (used with the mortar) and were evidently used for preparing very small quantities of a powdered substance, probably cosmetics. These sets vary greatly in size and in how elaborate they are, perhaps reflecting individuality in the selection of a personal belonging.

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