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The History of Roses

The History of Roses

Summary: Why are roses such a significant part of our culture, traditions and practices? Find out.

The importance of the rose dates back so far in human history that today we unearth petrified rose wreaths from tombs in Egypt. While roses are thought to have flourished for more than 35 million years, they have always held a special place for mankind.

Wealthy women from the Greeks to the Romans, and even Cleopatra, used the rose for its smell and its beauty. It was often used in poultices and salves to help stave off aging, and was a popular adornment in bed chambers due to its scent. Victorious armies were showered with rose petals, and the petals were often sprinkled into beverages and on tables for decoration.

In medieval times the rose was thought to have healing powers and was converted into oils and powders to help treat ailments. Roses appear in the earliest works of art in 1600 BC, in frescoes. There are several species of roses, with the apothecary rose being used for illnesses, and the modern tea rose (circa 1860’s) gave way to dozens of hybrid species. Josephine, wife of Napoleon, had the desire to create a garden that contained every species of rose in existence in the 19th century – a desire which eventually brought renewed interest in the garden rose by the 20th century.

Roses also appear in mythology. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love is said to have spawned the rose from her tears and the blood of her lover Adonis. The Romans, who personified Aphrodite as Venus, also adopted the rose as a symbol of beauty and love. The rose also became a symbol for secrecy based on the mythology of Cupid. One of the most fascinating facts about the rose, is that the oldest known rose bush, which is estimated to be about 1000 years old, is still growing in Germany to this day, on the side of the Hildesheim Cathedral.

Hildesheim Cathedral Rose Bush, Germany

There are many reasons why the rose has endured for so long, from its lush appearance, to its fragrance, colors and the heartiness of certain species, the flower has existed throughout the ages. Its use as a matrimonial symbol seems so plain and obvious when you consider its history. Through hardships, wars, famines and the rise and fall of empires, roses have endured. What better metaphor for the idea of marriage? The rose is literally a symbol of endurance – and beauty.

Although the rose has served many purposes over the years, from funerary tradition to a show of wealth, it’s remained a classic choice and show of good taste. Whether you use it on your wedding day, or have fresh bouquets in your home, or grow it in your garden with vigor, the rose has become a mainstay for modern society. There are many flower species that are growing in popularity, and when it comes to weddings, some would argue that the rose has lost the popularity contest with modern brides – however, no flower can hold a candle to the history, significance and relevance of the rose, which will forever be ingrained in modern culture.