This is really the story of 'ellu', an ancient Mesopotamian word meaning a type of glittering, strikingly luminescent, or beautiful cleanliness—a powerful, non-ascetic, pre-Christian image of beauty that was entirely guilt-free. The cosmetic routine now called 'pampering'—baths, aromas, facials, manicures, pedicures, hairstyl-ing, and costuming, conducted in sensuous surroundings with or without groups of friends—emerged at both ends of Eurasia during the Bronze Age from c.4000 bce, along with most of the necessary tools and raw materials. Cosmetics is the underbelly of personal hygiene, usually ignored, often much reviled, but even now forming an essential part of personal health care and self-identity. The sensuous beauty of ellu turns out to be an integral part of the long history of royal court culture, which ran more or less unbroken from this period through five millennia to the present day. Thanks to the Neolithic revolution in technology and trade, Eurasia's fertile subtropical river valleys, coasts, islands, and hinterlands had produced some tribal societies that had grown very rich indeed.
Was this article helpful?