The Romans absorbed the Greek religion and therefore associated fragrance with the divinities, marriages and funeral rites.
Continuing and developing the Greek and Oriental uses for fragrance, the Romans contributed to maintaining the ancient commercial networks which brought raw materials from India, Arabia and Africa either via caravans or by sea.
The first Romans, much more interested in conquests rather than in hygiene rituals, tended to absorb the influence of the civilizations they colonised. The Etruscans introduced them to broom, laudanum, pine, myrtle, and incense. Hellenistic and oriental influences spread in Italy. From the Republic to the empire, the use of fragrances grew very quickly and soon became excessive.
Nero, during the funerals of Poppea, burnt a quantity of incense superior to the annual production of Arabia.
In the thermal baths everyone could wash themselves, including women and the poor. The spread in the use of sapo, a paste base softener of goat fat and ash of saponaria, soap's ancestor.
Essays on odours, often written by physicians that attributed curative virtues to them, quoted some vegetal substances such as white lily, narcissus, cardamom, rose, iris, sandalwood..., and animal substances such as musk, civet, castoreum as well as different resins.
Beginning from these first materials, the Romans prepared ointments, aromatic waters, perfumes, tablets and fragrant powders. The chemistry essay written by Zosine (end of the third century) attests that the Romans knew distillation. As in the East, they used the same very dense and highly coloured cosmetic make-up.
The diffusion of fragrance throughout the Roman empire and the technical improvements brought to their manufacture was accompanied by a weakening of their religious value and of their mystical symbol.
The arrival of glass in the XI century b.C. and its use as a container for perfumed substances, constituted the principal innovation of the Roman empire. This material, although fragile, introduced two advantages: it was easy to work and it didn’t absorb odours. It allowed the Romans to imitate the containers coming from Greece, but at the same time to produce containers of varied forms and colours.