Style and Living in Ancient Rome, by Joe Hall

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Photos by Maeve O’Dwyer

When you think of Ancient Rome, perhaps you picture its imperial exploits, or the stoic marble busts of its emperors. But for 3 hours in the Meadows Lecture Theatre on Friday morning, the extravagant hairstyles, pungent cosmetics, and everyday dress-sense of Rome were brought to life, as well as its fishy diet!

As we were guided through Empresses’ glamorous hairstyles-cum-architectural feats, like flicking through a Roman Vogue, history was taking shape before us. Before our eyes, Alana Newman and Belinda Washington, both PhD Classics students, were being made-up as women of Rome.

IMG_8053Contemporary hairstyling techniques were used to bring us as close to the original styles as possible, thankfully foregoing the messy business of egg or beeswax. The results were stunning, but to a Roman these avant-garde designs carried greater weight. To keep up with the times, some marble busts were designed to accommodate marble wigs!

And if you’ve ever wondered why Roman sculptures strike such awkward poses, look no further than their clothes. Even adorning a relatively small ‘palla’, an unfastened overlayer, it was clear from Alana’s position that the slightest wind would’ve posed a dire threat for a citizen out and about! Indeed, the inconvenience of fashion is nothing new.

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We then explored Rome’s array of cosmetics, again foregoing the authenticity of arsenic and lead in favour of fragrant rosewater, violet extract and lupin seed. But all these ingredients formed part of ‘medicamentum’, a body of knowledge also encompassing medicines, poisons, and potions. Strange to think we’re only now rediscovering such practical Roman knowledge as the anti-ageing properties of lupin seed!IMG_8202

Finally, reminding us that Rome was the centre and microcosm of a vast empire, a menu of extravagant scale was offered featuring such wonders as “Priapus holding fruits and cakes which squirt saffron juice” (heart-breakingly, not present).

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