The Romans were extremely conscious of how they looked in public. However, the clothing styles and fashions of Roman women were relatively simple and unchanging and as women had no special dress that distinguished their status, wealthy women wore expensive materials, make-up, expensive jewellery and highly elaborate hairstyles and wigs.
Roman women originally dressed their hair with great simplicity. One of the simplest styles of wearing the hair was allowing it to fall down in tresses behind, and only confining it by a band encircling the head. Another favourite but simple hairstyle was platting the hair, and then fastening it behind with a large pin. Young girls wore their long hair in simple buns tied at the base of the neck or wore their hair in a top knot. Simple hairstyles for married women changed during the reign of the Emperor Augustus when a variety of different and elaborate hairstyles came into fashion.
During the rule of the Flavian emperors (69-138 BC) hairstyles were raised to a great height by rows of false curls. This fashion was described by the writer Juvenal as the hairstyles made women appear tall from the front but quite the opposite from the back. The hair of Roman women become elaborately curled. Hairstyles were elaborately arranged in layers. Hairstyles involved hair being twisted, waved and curled. Ringlets were created to create hairstyles which fell to the sides and the backs of the head. Wigs and hair pieces were used to create an illusion of abundant locks.
Blonde hair was greatly admired by the Romans. Roman women used a form of hair dye to produce the prized blond hair. Grey hair was also dyed using a form of walnut dye. Wigs were common in Ancient Rome which were combed into elaborate hairstyles. Some country slaves had their heads shaven and their hair was used to produce wigs for wealthy Roman women. It was therefore a severe punishment for a town-slave to be sent into the country.
Hair pins were widely used to create women’s hairstyles. Early examples tend to be of simple form with perhaps a bulbous end to hold the hair, but with the advent of elaborate Flavian styles, they become larger and often have decorated ends that would have enhanced the effect. Pinecones were obviously a very popular symbol for hairpins as these turn up regularly in the archaeological record and are popular roman hairpins for sale to collectors. Bone or bronze were the most common materials used to make hairpins, but antler, iron, silver, gold and jet are also found.
Various other accessories were used to create elaborate and striking hairstyles. Perfume was applied to provide pleasant smelling hair. Curling tongs and a variety of different combs and hairbrushes were used. Hairnets were worn made of finely woven gold wires and also wire supports. Ribbons, garlands of flowers, precious jewels, gold and pearls were all used to enhance and create intricate hairstyles.
As the Roman Hairstyles for women became more elaborate and an important sign of status it became necessary for slaves to create the latest fashionable hairstyles. These slaves were highly skilled and valued. The Roman slave hairdressers were called ornatrices.
Condition: As shown. Tip missing.
Provenance: Ex. private collection, UK; purchased at UK auction. This was one of many Roman items found by the local vicar and antiquarian, the REV J G Walker in Godmanchester, England in 1903 and thence by descent. Old label records the date and findspot "1903, Godmanchester, Cam Road".