ANCIENT ROMAN CLOTHES, HAIRSTYLES AND PERFUMES

ANCIENT ROMAN STYLE

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Roman toga
Upper class Romans cared a great deal about the way they looked and could be quite fashion conscious. Upper class women appear to have taken great pains in arranging the hair, and possessed a fondness for ornaments—necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and costly jewels. A 1,600-year-old fresco found at a villa in Sicily showed a pair of bikini-clad women tossing a ball. Brassieres were called maxmillarre. Romans invented the earliest known button. The earliest ones were inserted into a loop of thread or fabric. The buttonhole was not widely used until the 13th century.

Jamie Frater wrote for Listverse: “When we think of Romans, we almost always imagine men in togas. But in fact, the toga was a very formal piece of clothing – to say that the Romans always wore togas would be the same as saying that the English always wear top-hats and tails. Juvenal says this: “There are many parts of Italy, to tell the truth, in which no man puts on a toga until he is dead”. The average roman would have worn tunics. [Source: Jamie Frater, Listverse, May 5, 2008 <=>]

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “From the earliest to the latest times the clothing of the Romans was very simple, consisting ordinarily of two or three articles only, besides the covering of the feet. These articles varied in material, style, and name from age to age, it is true, but their forms were practically unchanged during the Republic and the early Empire. The mild climate of Italy and the hardening effect of physical exercise on the young made unnecessary the closely fitting garments to which we are accustomed. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“Contact with the Greeks on the south and perhaps the Etruscans on the north gave the Romans a taste for the beautiful that found expression in the graceful arrangement of their loosely flowing robes. The clothing of men and women differed much less than in modern times, but it will be convenient to describe their garments separately. Each article was assigned by Latin writers to one of two classes and called, from the way it was worn, indutus (“put on”) or amictus (“wrapped around”). To the first class we may give the name of undergarments, to the second outer garments, though these terms very inadequately represent the Latin words.” |+|

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Ancient Roman Clothes

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The characteristic dress of the men was the toga, a loose garment thrown about the person in ample folds, and covering a closer garment called the tunic (tunica). The Romans wore sandals on the feet, but generally no covering for the head. The dress of a Roman woman consisted of three parts: the close-fitting tunica; the stola, a gown reaching to the feet; and the palla, a shawl large enough to cover the whole figure. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

“The Greeks and Romans didn’t wear trousers. . Bracae “trousers,” were a Gallic article that was not used at Rome until the time of the latest emperors. Nationes bracatae in classical times was a contemptuous expression for Gauls in particular and for barbarians in general. The habit of wearing them appears to have been introduced by nomadic Asian horsemen tribes. Tunics were not suitable for riding and consequently a short leather trouser was developed that provided freedom both in the saddle and on foot. The Romans associated these garments with barbarian tribes on the borders of the empire. After the fall of the Roman Empire, trousers made of wool, linen, leather, silk and cotton were worn.

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “A dinner dress worn at table over the tunic by the ultrafashionable, and sometimes dignified by the special name of vestis cenatoria, or cenatorium alone. These Romans are dressed in tunics and cloaks. A relief from the Arch of Constantine, Rome.It was not worn out of the house except during the Saturnalia, and was usually of some bright color. Its shape is unknown. The laena and abolla were very heavy woolen cloaks; the latter was a favorite with poor people who had to make one garment do duty for two or three. It was used especially by professional philosophers, who were proverbially careless about their dress. Cloaks of several shapes were worn.” [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“Boys wore the subligaculum, and, the tunica; it is very probable that no other articles of clothing were worn by either boys or girls of the poorer classes. Besides these garments, children of well-to-do parents wore the toga praetexta, which the girl laid aside on the eve of her marriage and the boy when he reached the age of manhood. Slaves were supplied with a tunic, wooden shoes, and in stormy weather a cloak, probably the paenula. This must have been the ordinary garb of the poorer citizens of the working classes, for they would have had little use for the toga, at least in later times, and could hardly have afforded so expensive a garment.” |+|

Ancient Roman Fabrics, Materials and Colors


Roman bikini

Most cloth was made from wool and linen. Cotton and silk were also used but to a much lesser degree. The Romans used bare-breasted virgins to beat away moths and beetles that ate their wool garments. Other cultures tried cow manure and garlic. Now we use moth balls and thorough washing. By the 1st century B.C., Roman aristocrats wore silk garments. At the beginning of the Christian era, Rome was importing so much silk that the Roman Emperor Tiberius prohibited Romans from wearing it. In one year, Rome reportedly paid 22,000 pounds of gold for silk shipments.

The Greeks and Romans used leather and developed fairly sophisticated methods of tanning. Leather was used as money and shoes were a sign of status. Pliny the Elder wrote in the A.D. 1st century, "Hides were tanned with bark, and gallnuts...were used." Gallnuts are caused by insects laying eggs in the buds of oaks trees and sometimes are still used today in the tanning process.

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: For clothes woolen goods were the first to be used, and naturally so, since the early inhabitants of Latium were shepherds, and woolen garments best suited the climate. Under the Republic, wool was almost exclusively used for the garments of both men and women, as we have seen, though the subligaculum was frequently, and the woman’s tunic sometimes, made of linen. The best native wools came from Calabria and Apulia; wool from the neighborhood of Tarentum was the finest. Native wools did not suffice, however, to meet the great demand, and large quantities were imported. Linen goods were early manufactured in Italy, but were used chiefly for other purposes than clothing until the days of the Empire; only in the third century of our era did men begin to make general use of them. The finest linen came from Egypt, and was as soft and transparent as silk. Little is positively known about the use of cotton, because the word carbasus, the genuine Indian name for it, was used by the Romans for linen goods also; hence when we meet the word we cannot always be sure of the material meant. Silk, imported from China directly or indirectly, was first used for garments under Tiberius, and then only in a mixture of linen and silk (vestes sericae). These were forbidden for the use of men in his reign, but the law was powerless against the love of luxury. Garments of pure silk were first used in the third century. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“White was the prevailing color of all articles of dress throughout the Republic, in most cases the natural color of the wool, as we have seen. The lower classes, however, selected for their garments shades that required cleansing less frequently, and found them, too, in the undyed wool. From Canusium came a brown wool with a tinge of red, from Baetica in Spain a light yellow, from Mutina a gray or a gray mixed with white, from Pollentia in Liguria the dark gray (pulla), used, as has been said, in public mourning. Other shades from red to deep black were furnished by foreign wools. Almost the only artificial color used for garments under the Republic was purpura, which seems to have varied from what we call garnet, made from the native trumpet shell (bucinum or murex), to the true Tyrian purple. The former was brilliant and cheap, but likely to fade. Mixed with the dark purpura in different proportions, it furnished a variety of permanent tints. One of the most popular of these tints, violet, made the wool cost twenty dollars a pound, while the genuine Tyrian cost at least ten times as much. Probably the stripes worn by the knights and senators on the tunics and togas were much nearer our crimson than purple. Under the Empire the garments worn by women were dyed in various colors, and so, too, perhaps, the fancier articles worn by men, such as the lacerna and the synthesis. The trabea of the augur seems to have been striped with scarlet and “purple,” the paludamentum of the general to have been at different times white, scarlet, and “purple,” and the robe of the triumphator “purple.” |+|

Clothes Production in Ancient Rome


Roman bikini

Romans improved on Greek cloth making methods by replacing the warp-weighted loom with the more efficient two-armed loom. The Romans built textile factories and improved trade of cloth by building good roads. Wool garments required special attention to keep from shrinking or losing their shape. Public laundries were set up. They employed “fullers” who washed, whitened, redyed and pressed the garments. The fullers press consisted of two upright planks and a large screw top. Turned by a crank it flattened clothes between the planks. Urine was used as bleach.

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “In the old days the wool was spun at home by the women slaves, working under the eye of the mistress, and woven into cloth on the family loom. This custom was kept up throughout the Republic by some of the proudest families. Augustus wore such homemade garments. By the end of the Republic, however, this was no longer general, and, though much of the native wool was worked up on the farms by the slaves, directed by the vilica, cloth of any desired quality could be bought in the open market. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“It was formerly supposed that the garments came from the loom ready to wear, but this view is now known to be incorrect. We have seen that the tunic was made of two separate pieces sewed together, and that the toga had to be measured, cut, and sewed to fit the wearer, and that even the coarse paenula could not have been woven in one piece. But ready-made garments, though perhaps of the cheaper qualities only, were on sale in the towns as early as the time of Cato; under the Empire the trade reached large proportions. It is remarkable that, though there were many slaves in the familia urbana, it never became usual to have soiled garments cleansed at home. All garments showing traces of use were sent by the well-to-do to the fullers (fullones) to be washed, whitened (or redyed), and pressed. The fact that almost all were of woolen materials made skill and care the more necessary. |+|

“The Roman armies sometimes adopted the bracae when they were campaigning in the northern provinces. Tacitus tells a story of the offense given by Caecina on his return from his campaign in Gaul because he continued to wear the bracae while be was addressing the toga-clad citizens of the Italian towns through which he passed. (Hist. 2.20).” |+|

Undergarments in Ancient Rome


mamillare

According to Listverse: “The closest thing Romans had to underwear was a subligaculumIt could come either in the form of a pair of shorts, or in the form of a simple loincloth wrapped around the lower body. It could be worn both by men and women. In particular, it was part of the dress of gladiators, athletes, and of actors on the stage. The subligaculum could be worn under a tunic but men who were standing for public office would sometimes just wear the subligaculum and nothing else. Roman Women also sometimes wore a band of cloth or leather around their upper body. (strophium or mamillare) as can be seen in the picture above. [Source: Listverse, October 16, 2009 <=>]

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The Subligaculum. Next the person was worn the subligaculum, the loin cloth familiar to us in pictures of ancient athletes and gladiators, or perhaps the short drawers (trunks) worn nowadays by bathers or athletes. We are told that in the earliest times this was the only undergarment worn by the Romans, and that the family of the Cethegi adhered to this ancient practice throughout the Republic, wearing the toga immediately over it. This was done, too, by individuals who wished to pose as the champions of old-fashioned simplicity, as, for example, the Younger Cato, and by candidates for public office. In the best times, however, the subligaculum was worn under the tunic or was replaced by it. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“Besides the subligaculum and the tunica the Romans had no regular underwear. Those who were feeble through age or ill health sometimes wound strips of woolen cloth (fasciae), like the modern spiral puttees, around the legs for the sake of additional warmth. These were called feminalia or tibialia according as they covered the upper or lower part of the leg. Feeble persons might also use similar wrappings for the body (ventralia) and even for the throat (focalia), but all these were looked upon as badges of senility or decrepitude and formed no part of the regular costume of sound men.

One Roman stationed near Scotland wrote to his mother's requesting long underwear. Soldiers there wore hooded cloaks during the cold Scottish winters. . The endromis was something like the modern bath robe, used by the men after vigorous gymnastic exercise to keep from catching a cold. Slaves and laborers found togas restricting, and they preferred wearing just a tunic when they worked. Workers were often called tunicati after the simple knee-length tunic they wore. Slaves often wore only a loincloth.

Roman Tunics

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Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The tunic was also adopted in very early times and came to be the chief article of the kind covered by the word indutus. It was a plain woolen shirt, made of two pieces, back and front, which were sewed together at the sides. It usually had very short sleeves, covering hardly half of the upper arm.. It was long enough to reach from the neck to the calf, but if the wearer desired greater freedom for his limbs he could shorten it by merely pulling it through a girdle or belt worn around the waist. Tunics with sleeves reaching to the wrists (tunicae manicatae), and tunics falling to the ankles (tunicae talares) were not unknown in the late Republic, but were considered unmanly and effeminate. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“The tunic was worn in the house without any outer garment and probably without a girdle; in fact it came to be the distinctive house-dress as opposed to the toga, the dress for formal occasions only. The tunic was also worn with nothing over it by the citizen while at work, but no citizen of any pretension to social or political importance ever appeared at social functions or in public places at Rome without the toga over it; and even then, though it was hidden by the toga, good form required the wearing of the girdle with it. Two tunics were often worn (tunica interior, or subucula, and tunica exterior), and persons who suffered from the cold, as did Augustus for example, might wear an even larger number when the cold was very severe. The tunics intended for use in the winter were probably thicker and warmer than those worn in the summer, though both kinds were of wool. |+|

“The tunic of the ordinary citizen was the natural color of the white wool of which it was made, without trimmings or ornaments of any kind. Knights and senators, on the other hand, had stripes of crimson, narrow and wide, respectively, running from the shoulders to the bottom of the tunic both behind and in front. These stripes were either woven in the garment or sewed upon it. From them the tunic of the knight was called tunica angusti clavi (or angusticlavia) , and that of the senator lati clavi (or laticlavia). Some authorities think that the badge of the senatorial tunic was a single broad stripe running down the middle of the garment in front and behind, but unfortunately no picture has come down to us that absolutely decides the question. It seems probable that the knight’s tunic had two stripes, one running from each shoulder. Under this official tunic the knight or senator wore usually a plain tunica interior. When in the house he left the outer tunic unbelted in order to display the stripes as conspicuously as possible. “|+|

Toga

The toga worn by Romans was essentially a cloak worn over a sleeveless tunic. The toga was worn mainly by the upper classes. When a 16-year old was presented with his first toga virilism , it was important rite of passage. Romans carefully draped they folds of their toga over their shoulders and gave them a lot of attention sort of like Indian women in saris. [Source: “Greek and Roman Life” by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “Of the outer garments or wraps the most ancient and the most important was the toga (cf. tegere). It goes back to the very earliest time of which tradition tells, and was the characteristic garment of the Romans for more than a thousand years. It was a heavy, white, woolen robe, enveloping the whole figure, falling to the feet, cumbrous but graceful and dignified in appearance. All its associations suggested formality. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]


relief with three styles of toga


“When the Roman of old tilled his fields, he was clad only in the subligaculum; in the privacy of his home or at his work the Roman of every age wore the comfortable, blouse-like tunica; but in the Forum, in the comitia, in the courts, at the public games, and wherever social forms were observed, he appeared and had to appear in the toga. In the toga he assumed the responsibilities of citizenship; in the toga he took his wife from her father’s house to his own; in the toga he received his clients, also toga-clad; in the toga he discharged his duties as a magistrate, governed his province, celebrated his triumph; and in the toga he was wrapped when he lay for the last time in his atrium. No foreign nation had a robe of the same material, color, and arrangement; no foreigner was allowed to wear it, though he lived in Italy or even in Rome itself; even the banished citizen left the toga, with his civil rights behind him. Vergil merely gave expression to the national feeling when he wrote the proud verse (Aeneid I, 282): Romanos, rerum dominos, gentemque togatam.

“The general appearance of the toga is well known; of few ancient garments are pictures so common and in general so good. They are derived from numerous statues of men clad in it, which have come down to us from ancient times, and we have, besides, full and careful descriptions of its shape and of the manner of wearing it, left to us by writers who had worn it themselves. The cut and draping of the toga varied from generation to generation. In its earlier form it was simpler, less cumbrous, and more closely fitted to the figure than in later times. Even as early as the classical period its arrangement was so complicated that the man of fashion could not array himself in it without assistance. A few forms of the toga will be discussed here, but it is best studied in Miss Wilson’s treatise. |+|

“In its original form the toga was probably a rectangular blanket much like the plaid of the Highlanders, except for the lack of color, as that of the private citizen seems to have been always of undyed wool. Its development into its characteristically Roman form began when one edge of the garment came to be curved instead of straight. The statue in Florence known as the “Arringatore”, supposed to date from the third century B.C., shows a toga of this sort, so cut or woven that the two lower corners are rounded off. Such a toga for a man who was five feet six inches in height would be about four yards long, and one yard and three-quarters in width. The toga was thrown over the left shoulder from the front, so that the curved edge fell over the left arm, and the end hung in front so as to fall about halfway between the knee and the ankle. On the left shoulder a few inches of the straight or upper edge were gathered into folds. The long portion remaining was now drawn across the back, the folds were passed under the right arm, and again thrown over the left shoulder, the end falling down the back to a point a trifle higher than the corresponding end in front. The right shoulder and arm were free, the left covered by the folds.” |+|

How to Wear a Toga

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “Statues of the third and second centuries B.C. show a larger and longer toga, more loosely draped, drawn around over the right arm and shoulder instead of under the arm as before. By the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire the toga was of the same size as that just described, but with some difference in shape and draping. For a man who was five feet six inches in height it would have been about four yards and a half in length and two and two-thirds yards across at the widest part. The lower corners were rounded much as before. From each of the upper corners a triangular section was cut. This toga was then folded lengthwise so that the lower section was deeper than the other. The end A hung in front, between the feet, not quite to the ground. The section AFEB was folded over. The folded edge lay on the left shoulder against the neck. The rest of the folded length was then brought around under the right arm and over the left shoulder again, as in the case of the earlier toga. The upper section fell in a curve over the right hip, and then crossed the breast diagonally, forming the sinus or bosom. This was deep enough to serve as a pocket for the reception of small articles. The part running from the left shoulder to the ground in front was pulled up over the sinus to fall in a loop a trifle to the front. This seems to have been the toga as worn by Caesar and Cicero. This might also be drawn over the right shoulder, as was the earlier form of the large toga. The early toga may well have been woven in one piece, but the larger forms must have been woven or cut in two sections, which were then sewed together. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]


“It will be clearly found in practice that much of the grace of the toga must have been due to the trained vestiplicus, who kept it properly creased when it was not in use and carefully arranged each fold after his master had put it on. We are not told of any pins or tapes to hold the toga in place,4 but are told that the part falling from the left shoulder toward the ground behind kept all in position by its own weight, and that this weight was sometimes increased by lead sewed in the hem of this part. |+|

“It is evident that in this fashionable toga the limbs were completely fettered, and that all rapid, not to say violent, motion was absolutely impossible. In other words the toga of the ultrafashionable in the time of Cicero was fit only for the formal, stately, ceremonial life of the city. It is easy to see, therefore, how it had come to be the emblem of peace, being too cumbrous for use in war, and how Cicero could sneer at the young dandies of his time for wearing “sails, not togas.” We can understand also the eagerness with which the Roman welcomed a respite from civic and social duties. Juvenal sighed for the freedom of the country, where only the dead had to wear the toga. For the same reason Martial praised the unconventionality of the provinces. Pliny the Younger counted it one of the attractions of his villa that no guest need wear the toga there. Its cost, too, made it all the more burdensome for the poor, and the working classes could scarcely have afforded to wear it at all. |+|

“For certain ceremonial observances the toga, or rather the sinus, was drawn over the head from the rear. The cinctus Gabinus was another manner of arranging the toga for certain sacrifices and official rites. For this the sinus was drawn over the head and then the long end which usually hung down the back from the left shoulder was drawn under the left arm and around the waist behind to the front and tucked in there.” |+|

Kinds of Togas


Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The toga of the ordinary citizen was, like the tunic, of the natural color of the white wool of which it was made, and varied in texture, of course, with the quality of the wool. It was called toga pura (or virilis, libera). A dazzling brilliancy could be given to the toga by a preparation of fuller’s chalk, and one so treated was called toga splendens or candida. In such a toga all persons running for office arrayed themselves, and from it they were called candidati. The curule magistrates, censors, and dictators wore the toga praetexta, differing from the ordinary toga only in having a “purple” (garnet) border. It was worn also by boys and by the chief officers of the free towns and colonies. In the early toga this border seems to have been woven or sewed on the curved edge. It was probably on the edge of the sinus in the later forms. The toga picta was wholly of crimson covered with embroidery of gold, and was worn by the victorious general in his triumphal procession, and later by the emperors. The toga pulla was simply a dingy toga worn by persons in mourning or threatened with some calamity, usually a reverse of political fortune. Persons assuming it were called sordidati and were said mutare vestem. This vestis mutatio was a common form of public demonstration of sympathy with a fallen leader. In this case curule magistrates contented themselves with merely laying aside the toga praetexta for the toga pura; only the lower orders wore the toga pulla. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“The Lacerna. In Cicero’s time there was just coming into fashionable use a mantle called a lacerna, which seems to have been used first by soldiers and the lower classes and then adopted by their betters on account of its convenience. The better citizens wore it at first over the toga as a protection against dust and sudden showers. It was a woolen mantle, short, light, open at the side, without sleeves, but fastened with a brooch or buckle on the right shoulder. It was so easy and comfortable that it began to be worn not over the toga but instead of it, and so generally that Augustus issued an edict forbidding it to be used in public assemblages of citizens. Under the later emperors, however, it came into fashion again, and was the common outer garment at the theaters. It was made of various colors, dark, naturally, for the lower classes, white for formal occasions, but also of brighter hues. It was sometimes supplied with a hood (cucullus), which the wearer could pull over his head as a protection or a disguise. No representation in art of the lacerna that can be positively identified has come down to us. The military cloak, called at first trabea, then paludamentum and sagum, was much like the lacerna, but made of heavier material. |+|

“The Paenula. Older than the lacerna and used by all sorts and conditions of men was the paenula, a heavy coarse wrap of wool, leather, or fur, used merely for protection against rain or cold, and therefore never a substitute for the toga or made of fine materials or bright colors. It seems to have varied in length and fullness, but to have been a sleeveless wrap, made chiefly of one piece with a hole in the middle, through which the wearer thrust his head. It was, therefore, classed with the vestimenta clausa, or closed garments, and must have been much like the modern poncho. It was drawn on over the head, like a tunic or sweater, and covered the arms, leaving them much less freedom than the lacerna did. In the paenula of some length there was a slit in front running from the waist down, and this enabled the wearer to hitch the cloak up over one shoulder, leaving one arm comparatively free, but at the same time exposing it to the weather. The paenula was worn over either tunic or toga according to circumstances, and was the ordinary traveling habit of citizens of the better class. It was also commonly worn by slaves, and seems to have been furnished regularly to soldiers stationed in places where the climate was severe. Like the lacerna it was sometimes supplied with a hood.” |+|

Women Clothes in Ancient Rome

Women wore a long Ionic tunic made of linen with a girdle, or zona , around the waist. The tunic was made several centimeters too long and pulled up over the girdle, which gave it a skirt and blouse effect that remains with us today.

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “It has been remarked already that the dress of men and women differed less in ancient than in modern times, and we shall find that in the classical period at least the principal articles worn were practically the same, however much they differed in name and, probably, in the fineness of their materials. At this period the dress of the matron consisted in general of three articles: the tunica interior, the tunica exterior or stola, and the palla. Beneath the tunica interior there was nothing like the modern brassiere or corset, intended to modify the figure, but a band of soft leather (mamillare) was sometimes passed around the body under the breasts for a support, and the subligaculum was also worn by women. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]


ancient Roman women's clothes


“The Tunica Interior. The tunica interior did not differ much in material or shape from the tunic for men already described. It fitted the figure more closely perhaps than the man’s, was sometimes supplied with sleeves, and as it reached only to the knee did not require a belt to keep it from interfering with the free use of the limbs. A soft sash-like band of leather (strophium), however, was sometimes worn over it, close under the breasts, but merely to support them; in this case, we may suppose, the mamillare was discarded. For this sash , the more general terms zona and cingulum are sometimes used. This tunic was not usually worn alone, even in the house, except by young girls. |+|

“The Stola. Over the tunica interior was worn the tunica exterior, or stola, the distinctive dress of the Roman matron. It differed in several respects from the tunic worn as a house-dress by men. It was open at both sides above the waist and fastened on the shoulders by brooches It was much longer, reaching to the feet when ungirded and having in addition a wide border (instita) on its lower edge. There was also a border around the neck, which seems to have been of some color, perhaps often crimson. The stola was sleeveless if the tunica interior had sleeves, but, if the tunic itself was sleeveless, the stola had sleeves, so that the arm was always protected. These sleeves, however, whether in tunic or in stola, were open on the front of the upper arm and were only loosely clasped with brooches or buttons, often of great beauty and value. |+|

“Owing to its great length the stola was always worn with a girdle (zona) above the hips; through this girdle the stola itself was pulled until the lower edge of the instita barely cleared the floor. This gave the fullness about the waist seen in Figures 24, 116, and 148, in which the cut of the sleeves can also be seen. The zona was usually entirely hidden by the overhanging folds. The stola was the distinctive dress of the matron, as has been said, and it is probable that the instita was its special feature. |+|

“The Palla. The palla was a shawl-like wrap for use out of doors. It was a rectangular piece of woolen goods, as simple as possible in its form, but worn in the most diverse fashions in different times. In the classical period it seems to have been wrapped around the figure, much as the toga was. One-third was thrown over the left shoulder from behind and allowed to fall to the feet. The rest was carried around the back and brought forward either over or under the right arm at the pleasure of the wearer. The end was then thrown back over the left shoulder after the style of the toga, as is shown in the relief from the Ara Pacis or was allowed to hang loosely over the left arm. It was possible also to pull the palla up over the head.” |+|

Hats and Head Covering in Ancient Rome

Romans didn't wear hats very often. Sometimes they wore capes with a hood. Slaves were not allowed to cover their heads. Freed slaves often wore a Phrgygian (a cone-shaped hat) as a sign of their freedom. In the French Revolution, the idea was brought back with the bonnet rouge ("red cap"), or liberty cap.


Roman headwear

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “Men of the upper classes in Rome had ordinarily no covering for the head. When they went out in bad weather, they protected themselves, of course, with the lacerna or the paenula; these, as we have seen, were sometimes provided with hoods (cuculli). If the men were caught without wraps in a sudden shower, they made shift as best they could by pulling the toga up over the head. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“Persons of lower standing, especially workmen who were out of doors all day, wore a conical felt cap which was called the pilleus. It is probable that the pilleus was a survival of what had been in prehistoric times an essential part of the Roman dress, for it was preserved among the insignia of the oldest priesthoods, the Pontifices, Flamines, and Salii, and figured in the ceremony of manumission. Out of the city, that is, while he was traveling or was in the country, a man of the upper classes, too, protected his head, especially against the sun, with a broad-brimmed felt hat of foreign origin, the causia or petasus. Such hats are shown in Figures 140 and 141. They were worn in the city also by the old and feeble, and in later times by all classes in the theaters. In the house, of course, the head was left uncovered.” |+|

Footwear in Ancient Rome

For footwear Greeks and Romans wore sandals and boots made from leather and wood. Romans had hobnail boots, bath clogs, leather shoes but they hadn't master shoe laces. Sandals were the primary form of footwear in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Wealthy Greeks wore sandals decorated with jewels and gold. Roman developed sandals with thicker soles, leather sides and laced insteps.

Roman footwear defined wealth, status and social position. Senators wore brown shoes with hobnail soles and leather straps that were wound up to mid calf and tied in double knots. Upper class women wore shoes of yellow and green on special occasions and white and red for everyday wear. Lower class women wore leather, naturally-colored shoes.Wooden soles were sometimes strapped to the feet of prisoners, making escape difficult. Lacking pliability, wood restricts the foot's movement.

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Roman soldiers wore hobnail-sole sandals and put on boots for long marches. As the Roman empire advanced northward they began lining their boots with fur. Roman soldiers in the 4th century B.C. wore hose-like covering to protect their legs from cold and from briars in the forest. Stockings were invented around the 5th century in Rome. The transformation of these garments to modern socks and hosiery took many centuries.

Shoemakers were members of guilds and some had a better reputation than others. Six Roman shoes found by amateur Dutch underwater archaeologists in a trash dump in the Meus river south of Amsterdam were described as “ancient Guccis” because of the quality of their craftsmanship. The six complete shoes were worn by men, women and children. Among the more interesting discoveries was that the shoes had long laces that were wrapped around the top of the foot and were run beneath the shoes and then secured back on top, meaning that the Romans walked on their shoe straps.

Kinds of Footwear in Ancient Rome

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “the Soleae. It may be set down as a rule that freemen did not appear in public at Rome with bare feet, except under the compulsion of the direst poverty. Two styles of footwear were in use, slippers or sandals (soleae) and shoes (calcei). The slipper consisted essentially of a sole of leather or matting attached to the foot in various ways. Custom limited its use to the house, and it went characteristically with the tunic when that was not covered by an outer garment. Oddly enough, it seems to us, the slippers were not worn at meals. Host and guests wore them into the dining-room, but, as soon as they had taken their places on the couches, slaves removed the slippers from their feet and cared for them until the meal was over. Hence the phrase soleas poscere came to mean “to prepare to take leave.” When a guest went out to dinner in a lectica, he wore the soleae, but if he walked, he wore the regular outdoor shoes (calcei) and had his slippers carried by a slave. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]


“The Calcei. Out of doors, when a man walked, the calceus was always worn, although it was much heavier and less comfortable than the solea. Good form forbade the toga to be worn without the calcei. The calcei were worn also with all the other garments included under the word amictus. The calceus was essentially our shoe, of leather, made on a last, covering the upper part of the foot as well as protecting the sale, and fastened with laces or straps. The higher classes had shoes peculiar to their rank. The shoe for senators (calceus senatorius) is best known to us; but we know only its shape, not its color. It had a thick sole, was open on the inside at the ankle, and was fastened by wide straps which ran from the juncture of the sole and the upper, were wrapped around the leg and tied above the instep. The mulleus, or calceus patricius, was worn originally by patricians only, but later by all curule magistrates. It was shaped like the senator’s shoe, was red in color like the fish from which it was named, and had an ivory or silver ornament of crescent shape (lunula) fastened on the outside of the ankle. We know nothing of the shoe worn by the knights. Ordinary citizens wore shoes that opened in front and were fastened by a strap of leather running from one side of the shoe near the top. They did not come up so high on the leg as those of the senators and were probably of uncolored leather. The poorer classes naturally wore shoes (perones) of coarser material, often of untanned leather, and laborers and soldiers had half-boots (caligae) of the stoutest possible make, or wore wooden shoes. No stockings were worn by the Romans, but persons with tender feet might wrap them with fasciae to keep the shoes and boots from chafing them. A well-fitting shoe was of great importance for appearance as well as for comfort, and the satirists speak of the embarrassment of the poor client who had to appear in patched or broken shoes. Vanity seems to have led to the wearing of tight shoes. |+|

“Women’s Shoes and Slippers. What has been said of the footgear of men applies also to that of women. Slippers (soleae) were worn in the house, differing from those of men only in being embellished as much as possible, sometimes even with pearls. Shoes (calcei) were insisted upon for outdoor use, and differed from those of men, as they differ from them now, chiefly in being made of finer and softer leather. They were often white, or gilded, or of bright colors; those intended for winter wear sometimes had cork soles. |+|

Jewelry, Rings and Accessories in Ancient Rome

Heavy gold jewelry was fashionable among Roman aristocrats in the A.D. first century. Around the same time women wore gold earring with pearls and necklaces made from small gold beads, diadems of gold laurels and parures with emeralds set in gold. Rings were made with small bits of stone, glass or amethyst with tin pictures scratched on their surfaces.

Armbands seem to have been in fashion around the time Pompeii was destroyed. Gold ones shaped like snakes with a head at each of their body were excavated there. At Pompeii earrings have been found set with pearls, gold balls and uncut emeralds clustered like grapes, “I see they do not stop at attracting a single large pearl to each ear," the Roman philosopher Seneca observed during the A.D. 1st century. “Female folly had not crushed men enough unless two or three patrimonies hung from their ears."


snake ring

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The ring was the only article of jewelry worn by a Roman citizen after he reached the age of manhood, and good taste limited him to a single ring. It was originally of iron, and, though it was often set with a precious stone and made still more valuable by the artistic cutting of the stone, it was always worn more for use than for ornament. The ring was in fact in almost all cases a seal ring, having some device upon it which the wearer imprinted in melted wax when he wished to acknowledge some document as his own, or to secure cabinets and coffers against prying curiosity. The iron ring was worn generally until late in the Empire, even after the gold ring had ceased to be the special privilege of the knights and had become merely the badge of freedom. Even the engagement ring was usually of iron; the jewel gave it its material value, although, we are told, this particular ring was often the first article of gold that a young girl possessed. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“Of course there were not wanting men as ready to violate the canons of taste in the matter of rings as in the choice of their garments or the style of wearing the hair and beard. We need not be surprised, then, to read of one having sixteen rings, or of another having six for each finger. One of Martial’s acquaintances had a ring so large that the poet advised him to wear it on his leg. It is a more surprising fact that the ring was often worn on the joint of the finger, perhaps for convenience in using the seal. |+|

“The Roman woman was passionately fond of jewelry, and incalculable sums were spent upon it for the adornment of her person. Rings, brooches, pins, jeweled buttons, and coronets have been mentioned; and, besides these, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings or pendants were worn from the earliest times by all who could afford them. Not only were they made of costly materials, their value was also enhanced by the artistic workmanship that was lavished upon them. Almost all the precious stones that are known to us were familiar to the Romans and were to be found in the jewel-casket of the wealthy lady. The pearl, however, seems to have been in all times the favorite. No adequate description of these articles can be given here; no illustrations can do them justice. It will have to suffice that Suetonius says that Caesar paid six million sesterces (nearly $300,000) for a single pearl, which he gave to Servilia, the mother of Marcus Brutus, and that Lollia Paulina, the wife of the Emperor Caligula, possessed a single set of pearls and emeralds which is said by Pliny the Elder to have been valued at forty million sesterces (nearly $2,000,000). |+|

The parasol (umbraculum, umbella) was commonly used by women at Rome at least as early as the close of the Republic, and was all the more necessary because they wore no hats or bonnets. The parasols were usually carried for them by attendants. From vase paintings we learn that they were much like our own in shape, and could be closed when not in use. The use of umbrellas by men was considered effeminate. The fan (flabellum) was used from the earliest times and was made in various ways, sometimes of wings of birds, sometimes of thin sheets of wood attached to a handle, sometimes of peacock’s feathers artistically arranged, and sometimes of linen stretched over a frame. These fans were not used by the woman herself; they were always handled by an attendant, who was charged with the task of keeping her cool and untroubled by flies. Handkerchiefs (sudaria), the finest made of linen, were used by both sexes, but only for wiping the perspiration from the face or hands. For keeping the palms cool and dry, ladies seem also to have used glass balls or balls of amber, the latter, perhaps, for the fragrance also.” |+|

Ancient Roman Hairstyles and Beards

Roman women curled their hair in a corkscrew fashion. Men primarily wore their hair short and went beardless. Archaeologists can date Roman sculptures by hair and clothing styles. During the Augustan Age women parted their hair in the middle with a central roll. The Flauvians and Antiones had more elaborate coiffures that resembled a honeycombs of curls. ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]


Roman beard

Unlike the Greeks, who preferred light hair, the Romans liked dark hair. Many older Romans dyed their hair to hide gray with dyes made from burned walnut shells and leeks. To prevent graying some Romans wore a paste at night made from herbs and earthworms. The Roman remedy for baldness was bear grease and crushed myrtle berries. Pigeon dung was used to lighten hair. Greeks and Romans used a variety of hairpins.

Some Romans wore blonde wigs made from the hair of German captives. Ovid once wrote that there was so much German hair around that no one ever to worry about baldness. Blonde wigs were the trademark of Roman prostitutes. Prostitutes in Rome wore bright yellow wigs to advertise their services Caligula and the demented empress Messalina used to go slumming in the sex districts of Rome in blond wigs. Hannibal donned a toupee before going into battle and Marcus Aurelius was said to have owned several hundred wigs. Some Roman statues were even fitted with hair pieces.

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The Romans in early times wore long hair and full beards, as did uncivilized peoples. Varro tells us that professional barbers first came to Rome in the year 300 B.C., but we know that the razor and shears were used by the Romans long before history begins. Pliny the Elder says that the Younger Scipio (died 129 B.C.) was the first Roman to shave every day, and the story may be true. People of wealth and position had the hair and beard kept in order by their own slaves; these slaves, if they were skillful barbers, brought high prices in the market. People of the middle class went to public barber shops, and gradually made them places of general resort for the idle and the gossiping. But in all periods the hair and beard were allowed was a sign of sorrow, and were the regular accompaniments of the mourning garb already mentioned. The very poor went usually unshaven and unshorn; this was the cheap and easy fashion. |+|

“Styles of wearing hair and beard varied with the years of the persons concerned and with the period. The hair of children, boys and girls alike, was allowed to grow long and hang around the neck and shoulders. When the boy assumed the toga of manhood, the long locks were cut off, sometimes with a good deal of formality, and under the Empire they were often made an offering to some deity. In the classical period young men seem to have worn close-clipped beards; at least Cicero jeers at those who followed Catiline for wearing full beards, and on the other hand declares that their companions who could show no signs of beard on their faces were worse than effeminate. Mature men wore the hair cut short and the face shaved clean. Most of the portraits that have come down to us show beardless men until well into the second century of our era, but after the time of Hadrian the full beard became fashionable.” |+|

Women’s Hair in Ancient Rome

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Etruscan hairstyle
Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The Roman woman regularly wore no hat, but covered her head when necessary with the palla or with a veil. Much attention was given to the arrangement of the hair, the fashions being as numerous and as inconstant as they are today. For young girls the favorite arrangement, perhaps, was to comb the hair back and gather it into a knot (nodus) on the back of the neck. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“For keeping the hair in place pins were used, of ivory, silver, and gold, often mounted with jewels.” Some wealthy Roman women favored long hairpins encrusted with jewels. Cleopatra used a hollowed version of such a pin to conceal the poison she allegedly used to kill herself. “Nets (reticulae) and ribbons (vittae, taeniae, fasciolae) were also worn, but combs were not made a part of the headdress. The Roman woman of fashion did not scruple, if she chose, to color her hair (the golden-red color of the Greek hair was especially admired) or to use false hair, which had become an article of commercial importance early in the Empire. Mention should also be made of the garlands (coronae) of flowers, or of flowers and foliage, and of the coronets of pearls and other precious stones that were used to supplement the natural or artificial beauty of the hair. |+|

“The woman’s hairdresser was a female slave. This ornatrix was an adept in all the tricks of the toilet already mentioned, and, besides, used all sorts of unguents, oils, and tonics to make the hair soft and lustrous and to cause it to grow abundantly. Common toilet articles including hairpins, hand mirrors made of highly polished metal, combs, and boxes for unguent or powder.” |+|

Hair Removal in Ancient Rome

Depilation refers to removal of hair. Leonard C. Smithers and Sir Richard Burton wrote in the notes of “Sportive Epigrams on Priapus”: “Martial derides catamites for depilating their privy parts and buttocks. The following version of Martial's epigram against a beau (bellus homo) is given by Dr James Cranstoun in the illustrative notes to his translation of Catullus:
“Cotilus, you are a beau; yes, Cotilus, many declare it.
Such is the story I hear: tell me, then, what is a beau?
Why, sir, a beau is a man who arranges his tresses in order:
Smelling for ever of balm, smelling of cinnamon spice:
Singing the songs of the Nile or a-humming the ditties of Cadiz:

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Caracalla
Never at rest with his arms, moving them this way or that:
Lounging on sofas from morning to night with a bevy of ladies:
Aye in the ears of some girl whispering some silly tale:
Reading a letter from Rhode or Chloe, or writing to Phyllis:
Shunning the sleeve of his friend lest he should ruffle his dress:
Everyone's sweetheart he'll tell you, he swaggers the lion at parties:
Bets on the favourite horse, tells you his sire and his dam.
Cotilus, what are you telling me?--this thing! is this thing a beau?
Cotilus, then I must say he's a contemptible thing.” [Source: “Sportive Epigrams on Priapus” translation by Leonard C. Smithers and Sir Richard Burton, 1890, sacred-texts.com]

“Juvenal devotes his finest Satire (the second) to a forcible denunciation of the infamous practices of these sodomites. In it he says: “One man with a needle slanted, lengthens his eyebrows, touched with moistened soot, and, lifting up his eyelids, paints his quivering eyes. Another drinks from a Priapus-shaped glass, and confines his flowing locks in a golden net, clothing himself in cerulean checks or greenish-yellow vestments, whilst his valet swears by the Juno of his master. A third holds a mirror, the accoutrement of pathic Otho, 'the spoil of Auruncan Actor', in which he viewed himself, armed for battle, when he commanded the standards to be raised.”

“Tertullian speaks of ustricles (from urere--to bum), female delipators who made use of boiling dropax to bum the hairs on the legs and other parts of the body of these voluptuaries. Other references to these effeminate practices--particularly that of depilating the body-pile with dropax or psilothrum (melted rosin in oil) or with tweezers--are made by Persius, Ausonius, Juvenal, Martial, Suetonius, Quintilian, Julius Capitolinus, Pliny, Aeitus, &c., &c.”

Cosmetics in Ancient Rome

Like the Egyptians but unlike the Greeks, Romans were very fond of cosmetics and perfumes. The poet Lucian once wrote: "If you could see women when they wake up in the morning, you would think them less desirable than an ape. That is why they keep themselves closeted and will not show themselves to a man. Old hags and a chorus of sitting maids, no more glamorous than their mistress, surround her, plastering her wretched face with a variety of remedies...Countless concoctions are used...salves for improving her unpleasant complexion...jars full of mischief, tooth powders and stuff for darkening the eyelids." Women's toiletry articles included spatula for applying cosmetics, combs, scent bottles with perfume and a cosmetic box. One of the most common ways of lightening the skin was applying powdered lead. [Source: “Greek and Roman Life” by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum ||]


Roman pyxis, cosmetics jar

Roman soldiers used Indian perfumes, cosmetics, nail lacquers, and lightened their hair with a mixture of yellow flour, pollen and gold powder. Roman military leaders used to have their hair curled and lacquered, and lips and nails painted before battles. Pliny recommended using ass's milk to remove wrinkles and a mixture of mouse droppings, wine , saffron, pepper and vinegar as a remedy for thinning hair.

Romans used foundation creams, astringents, creams, eye shadows, eye liners, lipstick, toothpaste, whiteners, hair tints and dyes. It is believed that Roman women had access to almost every kind of make-up used by modern women. One Roman wrote her friend: "While you remain at home, Galla, your hair is at the hairdressers; you take your teeth out at night and sleep tucked away in a hundred cosmetic boxes---even your face does not sleep with you. Then you wink at men under an eyebrow you took out of a drawer that same morning."

Mark Oliver wrote for Listverse: “The gladiators who lost became medicine for epileptics while the winners became aphrodisiacs. In Roman times, soap was hard to come by, so athletes cleaned themselves by covering their bodies in oil and scraping the dead skin cells off with a tool called a strigil. “Usually, the dead skin cells were just discarded—but not if you were a gladiator. Their sweat and skin scrapings were put into a bottle and sold to women as an aphrodisiac. Often, this was worked into a facial cream. Women would rub the cream all over their faces, hoping the dead skin cells of a gladiator would make them irresistible to men.”[Source: Mark Oliver, Listverse, August 23, 2016]

Roman-Era Facial Cream

A fair complexion was fashionable and women used various kinds of cosmetics to make their skin white. Some women whitened their faces, bosoms and necks with a white powder made from lead. Greeks and Romans used arsenic as a depilatory to remove hair.

An ancient Roman cosmetics cream was found in a tin canister in a A.D. 2nd century site near London. Thought to be some kind of foundation, the cream consisted of about 40 percent animal fat (most likely from sheep or cattle) and 40 percent starch and tin oxide. The fat made the cream creamy and the tin oxide made it white. Richard Evershed, a chemist at the University of Bristol, who studied it, told Reuters, “It is quite a complicated little mixture. Perhaps they didn't understand the chemistry but they obviously knew what they were doing...As far as I can tell , the tin oxide was quite inert so it wouldn't cause any dermatological problems."

Rossella Lorenzi wrote in Discovery News: “The world's oldest cosmetic face cream, complete with the finger marks of its last user 2,000 years ago was been found by archaeologists excavating a Roman temple on the banks of London's River Thames. Measuring 6 cm by 5 cm, the tightly sealed, cylindrical tin can contained a pungent-smelling white cream. "It seems to be very much like an ointment, and it's got finger marks in the lid ... whoever used it last has applied it to something with their fingers and used the lid as a dish to take the ointment out," Museum of London curator Liz Barham said as she opened the box. [Source: Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News, July 30, 2003 <*>]


cosmetics with an Aphrodite statue

“The superbly made canister, now on display at the museum, was made almost entirely of tin, a precious metal at that time. Perhaps a beauty treatment for a fashionable Roman lady or even a face paint used in temple ritual, the cream is currently undergoing scientific analysis. We don't yet know whether the cream was medicinal, cosmetic or entirely ritualistic. We're lucky in London to have a marshy site where the contents of this completely sealed box must have been preserved very quickly - the metal is hardly corroded at all," said Nansi Rosenberg, a senior archaeological consultant on the project. "This is an extraordinary discovery," Federico Nappo, an expert on ancient Roman cosmetics of Pompeii. "It is likely that the cream contains animal fats. We know that the Romans used donkey's milk as a treatment for the skin. However, it should not be very difficult to find out the cream's composition." <*>

Hygiene, Cleanliness and Urine Mouth Wash in Ancient Rome

In Roman times, people generally didn't use soap, they cleaned themselves with olive oil and a scraping tool. A wet sponge placed on a stick was used instead of toilet paper. Cosmetics ranged from home-made concoctions to sophisticated mixtures, Cosmetics and perfumes were usually oil based. The distillation of alcohol had not been invented. Cosmetics were kept in elaborate make-up cases or glass or alabaster bottles.

The Emperor Vespasian (A.D. 9-79) was famous for his toilet tax. In “Life of Vespasian” Suetonius wrote: “When Titus found fault with him for contriving a tax upon public toilets, he held a piece of money from the first payment to his son's nose, asking whether its odor was offensive to him. When Titus said "No," he replied, "Yet it comes from urine." On the report of a deputation that a colossal statue of great cost had been voted him at public expense, he demanded to have it set up at once, and holding out his open hand, said that the base was ready. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian” (“Life of Vespasian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.281-321]

In Ancient Rome people washed their mouths out with urine. Mark Oliver wrote for Listverse: “In ancient Rome, pee was such big business that the government had special taxes in place just for urine sales. There were people who made their living just from collecting urine. Some would gather it at public urinals. Others went door-to-door with a big vat and asked people to fill it up. The ways they used it are the last ones you’d expect. For example, they’d clean their clothes in pee. Workers would fill a tub full of clothing and pee, and then one poor soul would be sent in to stomp all over the clothing to wash it out. Which is nothing compared to how they cleaned their teeth. In some areas, people used urine as a mouthwash, which they claimed kept their teeth shining white. In fact, there’s a Roman poem that survives today in which a poet mocks his clean-toothed enemy by saying, “The fact that your teeth are so polished just shows you’re the more full of piss.”“ [Source: Mark Oliver, Listverse, August 23, 2016]

Ancient Roman Tattoos

Persians, Greeks, Romans, Scythians, Dacians, Gauls, Picts, Celts and Britons all had tattoos. An inscription from Ephesus details how all slaves imported from Asia were tattooed with the words "tax paid." Acronyms, words and sentences were tattooed or even gouged on the foreheads, necks, arms, and legs of slaves and convicts. "Stop me, I am a runaway slave" was commonly written across the foreheads of Roman slaves.

Caligula "defaced many people of the better sort" with tattoos that condemned them to slavery. Gladiators were tattooed as public property and soldiers were sometimes tattooed to keep them from deserting. Christians sometimes received forehead tattoos and were condemned to work in mines.

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Roses of Heliogabalus

Constantine finally outlawed the practice of facial tattoos of convicts, gladiators and soldiers because the human face reflected, he said "the image of divine beauty. It should not be defiled."

Roman doctors developed methods for removing tattoos that were painful and risky. The Roman doctor Aettius wrote, "Clean the tattoo with niter, smear with resin of terebinth and bandage for five days." On the sixth day "prick the tattoo with a sharp pin, sponge away the blood, and cover with salt. After strenuous running to work up a sweat, apply caustic poultice, the tattoo should disappear in 20 days." The caustic preparations wiped out the tattoo by ulcerating the skin.

Ancient Roman Perfumes and Fondness for Roses

Perfume shops were a common sight in ancient Rome. Entire streets in Rome were lined with them. Perfumes were sold as powders made from crushed flower petals and spices, liquids made from oils squeezed from flowers, resins and spices, and extracts from a single source such almond, rose or quince.

Like the Greeks, Romans applied different scents to different parts of their bodies. Roman soldiers perfumed themselves with cedar, pine ginger, mimosa, tangerine, orange and lemon. Aristocratic women were massaged after a bath by salves with a different fragrance for each part of their body. People even perfumed the soles of their feet.

Greeks and Romans not only put perfume on themselves they also dowsed their furniture, hair and clothes with it. Romans even scented their household pets, horses and donkeys with perfume and fragrance. The practice of wearing perfumes ended with the coming of the Christian era. Christians regarded wearing perfume as self-indulgent.

The Romans were obsessed with roses. Rose water bathes were available in public baths and roses were tossed in the air during ceremonies and funerals. Theater-goers sat under awning scented with rose perfume; people ate rose pudding, concocted love potions with rose oil, and stuffed their pillows with rose petals. Rose petals were a common feature of orgies and a holiday, Rosalia, was name in honor of the flower.

20120227-toilet tools _Napoli_-_Museo_-_Oggetti_da_toletta.jpg
Roman toiletry items

Nero bathed in rose oil wine. He once spent 4 million sesterces (the equivalent of $200,000 in today's money) on rose oils, rose water, and rose petals for himself and his guests for a single evening. At parties he installed silver pipes under each plate to release the scent of roses in the direction of guests and installed a ceiling that opened up and showered guests with flower petals and perfume. According to some sources, more perfumes was splashed around than were produced in Arabia in a year at his funeral in A.D. 65. Even the processionary mules were scented.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons and “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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