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Julia Domna's Hairstyle: Wig v. Natural

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As most Romanophiles know, Julia Domna was the Syrian wife of the emperor Septimius Severus.

Here is a portrait of the Severus family, including the ill-fated sons Caracalla and Geta.


Julia Domna's coins are quickly identified by their unique hairstyle.


There are several statues of her, some even thought to have a moveable hairpiece. This would be consistent with a hairstyle that required various types of wigs.


This is, at least, the traditional viewpoint I had always accepted as dogma. No longer.

Recently, however, I found some interesting work by Janet Stephens who has the title of "Hairdressing Archeologist." This interview gives insight into her background as a hairdresser.

She brings an interesting perspective on hairstyles in Ancient Rome. She contends that this hairstyle could have been done with the empress�s own hair and not a wig.

(Note: Here are some important definitions to know to more fully understand the video:
A chignon is a roll or knot of hair worn at the back of the head or especially at the nape of the neck.
A bodkin a long pinshaped instrument used by women to fasten up the hair.)

It is assumed that Julia Domna and other females of the aristocracy had access to at least one and possibly a team of trained slave hairstylists known as ornatrices in order to create these elaborate hairstyles.

The detachable wigs on statues of Julia Domna could have been used to keep the statues up-to-date.

It is possible, therefore, that these elaborate hairstyles were made entirely with the empress's own hair and not wigs as previously assumed.

I found this interesting quote from an article by Elizabeth Bartman "Hair and the Artifice of Roman Female Adornment":


"Thus wig wearing may not have been as common as has been imagined; the practice of supplying marble statues with removable wigs in contrasting stone is not in itself evidenced for wearing wigs in antiquity."

I now have to at least consider this different perspective.

guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

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Well, now THAT was a refreshing and interesting topic. I'm amazed. Sewing? Who would have thought? I read the article, but I'm not sure if she said that she read ancient Roman records on hair styling and I missed it. And the fact that there were no known "hair salons" is something to think about. I should think it could have been offered at the baths? or were

ornatrices too rare and thus only for the rich as Ms.Stephens mentioned.


Thank you for a great post.

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Ornatrices were specialized slaves and I guess very costly so only the rich could have afforded one. The lower classes had to go with simpler hairstyles I assume which they could make themselves like braiding etc.


The French group PAX AUGUSTA shows some reconstructions of various hairstyles in their book "La Femme Romaine - au d

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huh. I had no idea anyone stitched hair. fascinating to watch. today we would read our books or play with our smart phones during such a long event - wonder what domna did? Did she conduct business or was her hair a secret, and did she have to sit and waste all that time?

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