The foul and the fragrant: what did the past smell like? - Deepstash

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The foul and the fragrant: what did the past smell like?

The foul and the fragrant: what did the past smell like?


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Key Takeaways

  • In the not-so-distant past, most American and European cities reeked of death, decay, and waste.  
  • However, these are just some of the many smells, both foul and fragrant, that helped determine the course of history.
  • From Roman funerals to Aztec chewing gum, the historic role...

The Nose Knows It All

  • Most 19th century cities smelled like a combination of raw sewage, horse manure, piles of uncollected garbage baking in the sun, and, last but not least, the "odorous slaughtering and processing of animals"
  • Things weren't much better in Paris which, despite its reputation as the city...

Foul Smell And Germs: The Miasma Theory

The Scientific Revolution introduced the now disproven but once widely accepted notion that illnesses spread through foul odours like those emanating from cesspools, garbage dumps, and animal carcasses.

Doctors advised their patients to avoid these odours — known as “miasmas

Bad Smells Everywhere

Miasma theory affected nearly every part of civilization, from politics to the economy. Perfumes made from animal musk — common in Europe since the early Middle Ages — disappeared in favour of floral scents. Instead of sniffing their own latrines, people now covered their apartments with various ...

Smell Beyond Stench

  • William Tullett, a history professor at Anglia Ruskin University, thinks modern media may have exaggerated the stench of past centuries.
  • Our obsession with stench may be rooted in some contorted form of xenophobia.
  • Recent global research suggests that the current literature o...

Perfuming The Dead

  • Romans treated their dead with perfumes, ointments, and incense while they lay in state.
  • These fragrances combated the “pollution” inside the corpse.
  • Perfuming the dead was so important to ancient Romans that it often took precedence over other social customs.

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