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Strigimentum – exfoliated epidermis, sweat and oil

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Greek sculpture Apoxyomenos showing an athlete cleansing his skin with a strigil
Greek sculpture Apoxyomenos showing an athlete cleansing his skin with a strigil. The object is situated in the Museum of Apoxyomenos Mali Lošinj, Croatia

Ancient Romans used the strigil tool to cleanse their skin. From the skin, they scraped not only perfumed oils that were applied to the skin but also sweat and dead skin.

The ancients referred to this scraped off a mixture of sweat, oil and epidermis as strigimentum in Latin and gloios in Greek. In practice, after running the strigil over the body, all the accumulated material was thrown onto the floor or wall. Interestingly, some medics have used the remaining strigimentum in creating their ointments.

Pliny the Elder wrote a lot about strigimentum and says that the Romans believed in its healing properties, including to treat inflammation, to relieve joint swelling, to treat uterine and menstrual problems, to reduce genital infections and to relieve haemorrhoids1.

Ancient sources also indicate that strigimentum was a commodity on which to make money. Valerius Maximus mentions a certain Hybreas of Mylas, who was known not only for his oratory skills but also for the fact that he was identical to a slave from the city of Kyme, who collected/cleaned up leftovers in gymnasiums2. One of the preserved inscription in the gymnasium in Beroi (central Bulgaria) mentions the practice itself.

Strigimentum leftover from famous athletes may have been the most valuable, and people were willing to pay a lot of money for it.

Galen, a 2nd-century physician, claims that two materials were collected in gymnasiums for medical purposes. Dirt (rupos) was scraped off the walls and a mixture of oil, sweat and epidermis from the floor (pathos).

  1. Pliny the Elder, Natural history, 28.13
  2. Valerius Maximus, Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX, 9.14

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