Anti-aging Practices: From Ancient Greece and Rome to Today

Hippocrates of Kos

Many of the anti-aging products and practices of today were originally developed by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Nowadays, television and magazines are full of ads for products and services which are intended to make people look and feel younger and more beautiful. These products and treatments include things like makeup, exercise equipment, diets, lotions, creams, hair removal, hair transplants, and more. Many of these things may seem very modern, and it would be easy to assume that anti-aging techniques in antiquity were much less developed.

But even though medicine in general has advanced tremendously since then, and of course some practices from antiquity are obsolete and may even sound insane to modern man, many modern anti-aging practices are very similar to anti-aging techniques from ancient times. And although a Roman traveling along the Appian Way in 60 B.C. presumably was not passing by billboards advertising cosmetics, and no ancient Athenians had a subscription to Vogue, there was still enough written about anti-aging methods in those days that we can be sure that ancient Greeks and Romans worried about the effects of aging about as much as people do today.

Medicine and Anti-aging in Ancient Greece

Very early on in Greek history, medicine and magic were essentially the same. A clear distinction between magic and scientific medical practices, however, can be made beginning in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., when philosophers like Pythagoras applied philosophy to the natural world, creating a more scientific approach to medicine, among other things. Health then began to be viewed as part of the natural world, governed by the laws of nature rather than by evil spirits, rituals, or magic. Diet, exercise, the environment, and even positive thinking were then seen as being important for health and long life.

For ancient Greeks and Romans, health and physical appearance were very closely related, and many who studied and wrote about medicine also wrote about cosmetic remedies. Probably the most important contributor to the field of medicine in ancient Greece, Hippocrates, who lived during the 5th and 4th centuries B.C., also recommended many cosmetic remedies for things such as wrinkles and hair loss.

Medicine and Anti-aging in Ancient Rome

Roman medical knowledge caught up with that of the Greeks in the 3rd century B.C., when many Greek doctors began practicing in Rome. Some practices of the time, such as drinking the blood of gladiators who had just been killed in order to give a person more strength and vitality, would today be considered far more than just ineffective. Others, however, were very similar to modern practices.

Cosmetic surgery, perfumes, makeup, lipstick, and wigs were all used by ancient Romans. In the first century A.D., Archigenes of Apamea, a practicing doctor, also wrote about coloring hair, among other cosmetic fixes. The Egyptian queen Cleopatra wrote a book entitled Cosmeticon, in which she described makeup techniques and other methods of making oneself look good. Next to Hippocrates, Galenus of Pergamon was probably the second most important medical practitioner of antiquity. He wrote over 500 works, and wrote down a prescription for “cold cream,” a mixture of beeswax, olive oil, and water, which is still a popular skin product sold in stores today, with only minor variations. There were even cosmetic surguries performed in ancient Rome. A doctor named Heliodorus, for example, in the second century A.D., removed varicose veins, straightened noses, and performed operations to make lips smaller.

Anti-aging Techniques One Example of Greek and Roman Contributions to the World

The quest for beauty and youth had already begun in antiquity, and many of the anti-aging methods of today originated in ancient Greece and Rome. These similarities are just one example of how the modern world, especially western civilization, owes its foundations to the ancient Greeks and Romans.


  1. Trüeb, Ralph M. Anti-Aging: Von der Antike zur Moderne. Darmstadt, Germany: Steinkopff Verlag, 2006.