Hygiene and care of the skin

Athletes took good care of their bodies. In the dressing room of the gymnasion they undressed and anointed their skin with oil, preferably pure olive oil. This oil spread an odour that was considered very masculine. The use of this practise was already disputed in Antiquity. Was it to supple the muscles, to protect against sun or cold or was it purely esthetical? Also today bodybuilders anoint themselves to make their muscles come out well. Against the slipperiness of the anointed skn, they then sprinkled dust on top of it.

After training the athletes were sticky because of the oil, the dust and sweat. They scraped off this dirt with a bronze or iron scraper (xystron in Greek, strigilis in Latin). The scraping of the skin had, moreover, the effect of a massage. After they had removed most dirt, the athletes washed themselves at a simple washing basin in the dressing rooms of the gymnasion, in showers in a well-house or in luxurious bathhouses with cold and warm baths. To clean themselves they used sponges and pumice and from the Roman period onwards also soap.

After the bath they anointed themselves again, against dehydratation of the skin. For this they sometimes used perfumed oil.

© KU Leuven, 2012