Hair in Roman times, as it is today, was a woman’s crowning glory. With it, a lady could promote her social status, her identity and even her sexual availability.
Along with jewellery, hair was a woman’s way of expressing herself; from simple straight locks to elaborately shaped wigs and hair pieces, Roman vogue was heavily varied.
One of the most common techniques women, or their slaves, would have used to fashion the complicated styles was that of plaiting, or braiding. The plaits were often wrapped around or across the head to create textured and complex looks. (Have a look at our attempt….).
'So important is the business of beautification; so numerous are the tiers and storeys piled one upon another on her head! In front you would take her for an Andromanche; she is so tall behind; you would not think it was the same person.'
- Satire 6, 501-504, trans. P. Green
Some conservative opinions suggest that the use of such wigs and adornments were worn as disguises to hide a woman’s identity. Others believe that the shaped hair styles represented the beholders social standing, such as with styles moulded to show regal headdresses, or the woman’s faith through hair resembling turbans, crests or crowns.
Bel and I (who are currently volunteers here at the Baths, from Durham University) had a go, much to our amusement, at creating some of the designs on each other. We concluded that the Romans definitely had the upper hand in hairdressing.
Qui dignes es translates to “Because you’re worthy!”