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Hair and the Artifice of Roman Female Adornment

Author(s): Elizabeth Bartman

Source: American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 105, No. 1 (Jan., 2001), pp. 1-25
Published by: Archaeological Institute of America
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American Journal of Archaeology.

Hair and the Artifice of

Roman Female Adornment

richest source of information; because of their large

numbers and detailed execution, sculpted portraits
from the second to third centuries C.E. will be the
focus of this article, while the parallel evidence of
painting, coins, and gems will be admitted only
occasionally. This article does not intend to survey
the development of Roman female hairstyles' but
rather seeks to illuminate their social and cultural
implications in the portrait: as gender marker, manifestation of cultus (culture), and physiognomic sign
no less expressive of personal identity than the face
itself. Whether crafted by household slaves or the
wearer herself, a woman's hairstyle conveyed her
individuality. Except for some overtly divinizing elements, the female coiffures that are recorded in
sculpted portraits reproduce real styles that could
be made with human hair. That many female hairstyles toy with that reality by a physical size or elaboration that implies artificiality is a paradox; the illusion of artifice reflects, and also contributes to, the
long-standing association in antiquity of ornament
with the feminine realm.
Typically commissioned as honorific works, lifesize public portraits aimed to depict the sitter in a
positive mode, as a virtuous individual as well as an
example of the best of her sex. Hence we can use
the portrait and one of its primary features, hair, in
order to reconstruct ancient attitudes about gender.
While men's hair may have required no less daily
attention than women's, the styling as well as the social response it engendered were radically different. For example, lengthy grooming sessions that
were tolerated and even encouraged for women were
taboo for men, and throughout most of the period
under consideration women's hair was carved according to different techniques than Roman sculptors used for men's. One thing both sexes had in
common, however, was the use of false hair, whether
"extender" tresses or full wigs. Hair came to be im-

Roman female hairstyleswere highly individualized,
gendered culturalmarkers,in manycases havinga physiognomic role in a portraitlike the face itself. The paucity
of survivingorganic remains requires that we consult artistic representations in painting and sculpture to assess
the forms of these hairstyles.Despite their often fanciful conceptions, they do not represent artistic inventions, but rather elaborate coiffures made with real human hair,usually the sitter'sown. Thus wig wearing may
not have been as common as has been imagined; the
practice of supplyingmarble statueswith removablewigs
in contrasting stone is not in itself evidence for the
wearingof wigs in antiquity.Modern commentaryon the
hairstyles worn by Roman women assumes frequent
changes of hairstyle, an interpretation based on a misreading of the ancient evidence and essentialistviewsof

She knows her man, and when you rant and swear,
can draw you to her with a single hair.
Persius Satyrica5.246 (trans.John Dryden)
In ancient Rome hair was a major determinant of
a woman's physical attractiveness and was thus
deemed worthy of considerable exertions to create
a flattering appearance. Just as every face had its
own physiognomy, so did female hairstyles varyalong with looks, a woman's age, social status, and
public role influenced her choice of coiffure. This
variety has proved invaluable in identifying historical individuals, thereby enabling scholars to construct a chronology of Roman portraiture and, by
extension, Roman art.
Yet notwithstanding their pivotal role in the historiography of Roman portraiture, ancient hairstyles
remain poorly understood. Like all organic remains,
human hair rarely survives in archaeological sites;
in lieu of direct material evidence, we must turn to
artistic representations in painting and sculpture
in order to reconstruct Roman coiffures. Freestanding sculpted portrait statues and busts provide the

* I thankBettinaBergmann,
Jane Fejfer,and MirandaMarvin for their close readingsof this text in its earlierdrafts,and
Borg,CoreyBrennan,John Collis,ElizabethHartley,AntoniAmericanJournal ofArchaeology105 (2001) 1-25

ettaViacava,and GregWoolfassistedon specificpoints.

For such treatments,see Virgili1989, 37-62; Mannsperger 1998; Steininger 1912, 2135-50.


[AJA 105


Fig. 1. Head of Elabagalus, restored as a woman, Ripon,

NewbyHall 20, front. (Forschungsarchivfir Antike Plastik,
Universitat zu K6ln, neg. no. 1302/5)
ported from the far corners of the Mediterranean,
its trade representing a commodification of body
parts that symbolized Rome's dominance.
Despite the intrinsic flattery of the portrait (a kind
of doubled flattery, first in the hairstyle itself and
then in the portrait representation as a whole), modern scholars have often imputed negative connotations to female hair. Whether taking at face value
satirical and moralizing texts about women's coiffures or imposing a contemporary and anachronistic perspective onto the imagery, they have misinterpreted the evidence and thus impeded our understanding of the many meanings women's hair
held for the Romans. This article offers a corrective.

Ripon, Newby Hall 20; EA 3121 (F. Poulsen). The 1974
edition of the guidebook (p. 16) sold at the house simply states,

"Bustof a Romanlady.RomanImperialperiod."
3The crown,neck, and bust havebeen restored,as has the

nose. A lateral break splits the ancient face into two parts.
4 Frederick Poulsen
(supra n. 2) first suggested Elagabalus

as the possiblesubjectof the face, althoughhe rightlypointed

out the deviationsfrom the emperor'ssingle knownportrait
type.Since then an unfinishedportraitin Oslo, closer iconographically to the Newby head and conjectured to represent
Elagabalus, has come to light. See Sande 1991, 78, no. 64, pl.
63; Fittschen and Zanker 1985, 116 Beil. 83.
5Because they are fairly thick, Elagabalus's forehead curls

At its most basic level, a woman's hairstyle signaled her female sex. How hair functioned as a
gender marker in Roman portraiture can be seen
in the complicated history of a draped female bust
bought in Italy for Newby Hall in the 18th century
(fig. 1).2 Like most of the ancient marbles acquired
by English collectors at that time, the bust has been
heavily restored. Crisscrossed by lines of breakage
and repair, it is today a composite of old and new:
the ancient face, really a mask, is completely surrounded by marble attachments added in modern
times.3 Accomplished a carver as the restorer was,
however, he erred in bestowing a female sex upon
his subject. Alongside the soft, unstubbled chin and
the curvaceous lips pressed together in a demure
smile, the lady has sideburns. Leaving this distinctly male feature intact (as if hoping it would be mistaken for long locks falling onto the face), while
adding a woman's coiffure and chiton, the restorer
transformed a male face-possibly that of the thirdcentury emperor Elagabalus4-into a female bust.
But was the restorer's mistake unintended? His
reworking of the hairline instills doubt. If indeed
the original face represented Elagabalus, it had
short comma-shaped curls that fell in an irregular
pattern onto the forehead. In its female incarnation, however, the face sports short curls arranged
quasi-symmetrically and divided in the middle.5
Intuitively, the restorer has acknowleged one of the
primary features of female appearance in ancient
Rome: long hair divided by a center part. To be
sure, the center part was not popular among all
women at all times in Rome's history, but it is readily apparent that it is rarely worn by Roman men.6
Given that the hair of men and women has no
have hair that is neibiological difference-women
ther intrinsically thicker nor curlier than men'sthe adoption of the center-part coiffure by one sex
and not the other is a practice determined solely by
culture.7 In the same vein, women's hair tends to
be more neatly and symmetrically coiffed than
men's; stray wisps of hair at the nape of the neck
could easily have been reconfigured into the arrangement
presentlyseen on the Newbyhead.
6The exception, hairstylesof some barbarianmen, is telling. Caligula has a slightly indented hairlock in his most prev-

alent portraittype (Boschung1989, pl. 4), but no properRoman male wearsa deep center parton the crownfromwhich
long locksflattenout sidewaysin "barbershopquartet"style.
7 Seeing the center partas a vestigeof the archaicpractice
of partingthe bride'shairwitha spear(Ov.Fast.2.560;Festus,
s.v. "caelibari
hasta"),is tempting but probablyerroneous, as
even Diana, a virgin goddesses,wore her hair parted in the



occasionally escape the hairdresser's control, but

in real life hairpins, nets, and snoods would have
kept female locks firmly in place. Such accessories
ensured that women's coiffures had none of the
lively movement that animated men's hair (perhaps
in deliberate evocation of Alexander's leonine
locks). Whereas a man's hair implied his active role,
a woman's connoted passivity. With the addition of
costly ornaments of gold or ivory, the female coiffure connoted wealth and luxury.
Roman sculptors also used formal style and carving techniques to gender the coiffures of men and
women. In the Imperial period under discussion
here, the physical appearance of the hair itself differed in female and male portraits.8 (Interestingly,
the eyebrows of both sexes, which also were subjected to intensive grooming, tended to be treated in
the same manner.)' In the Flavian period of the
late first century C.E., for example, most men have
hair trimmed short on the crown and lacking strong
plasticity, while their womenfolk go to the opposite
extreme, wearing dramatic curls carved with strong
chiaroscuro effects. During the next few decades,
simple straight hair cut with forehead bangs is popular with Trajanic men, while women sweep their
locks off the face into towering mounds. From the
mid-second to the early third century C.E., the practice is reversed: male hair on both face and crown is
densely textured by deep drilling, while the female
is typically rendered more simply with superficial,
noninvasive chiselwork."' These changes are no
doubt linked to the different types of arrangements
worn by men and women in real life, but neither
hairdressing nor genetics offers a satisfactory explanation for the different treatments. Rather, we
must view these formal distinctions as the perhaps
unconscious evocation of Roman notions of gender: however men looked, women had to look different, even if that difference was achieved by a
deliberate falsification of visual appearances. That
these distinctions occurred during an extended
period of high technical achievement in Roman
is, artistic ineptness canportrait production-that
not bear the blame-underscores
their participa-

tion in a process of gendering male and female

As a rule Roman women had longer hair than
men. In metropolitan Rome and the West, men
usually wore their hair short on the crown and,
when fashion or funeral ritual dictated, also on the
face. (In the Greek East a different ideal, that of
the bearded, long-haired philosopher, whose intellectual distractions led him to ignore his grooming, prevailed, but even there male hair was regularly shorter than female.) " The relatively short hair
of men, however, did not necessarily lessen the time
spent on grooming. Trimming a head of hair and
shaving, the rule in Rome since the second century B.C.E., were daily occupations, often performed
at commercial barbering establishments. Later in
the Antonine and Severan periods, full beards and
longer hair on the crown were standard among
males, but a carefully scissored contour avoided the
impression of extravagance. (Note that the last Antonine emperor, Commodus, is condemned not for
his longish curls but for his habit of sprinkling gold
dust on them, a divine pretension.)'2
Apart from routine upkeep, however, the proper
Roman male was advised to avoid excessive attention to his hair; the man who curled and annointed
his locks risked scorn for appearing effeminate.13
Such practices had long been associated with Eastern luxury and were highly suspect at Rome; thus a
supposedly womanly interest in grooming was a standard accusation in political invective.'4 Because of
these sentiments, baldness posed a delicate problem for the male, who wished to improve his appearance but also preserve his manliness-Julius
Caesar masked his receding hairline with a wreath,
while Domitian and Otho wore wigs.'5
Although the use of cosmetics to enhance a woman's face and body triggered vitriolic attacks from
male writers,'6 female hairdressing, notwithstanding its daily execution, roused scant criticism. Satirists such asJuvenal do take aim at female coiffures,
but their quips are relatively mild.17 In ancient
Rome, as in many other societies, women typically
had more "symbolic capital" invested in their hair

See the commentsof Fittschenand Zanker1983,84, 109.

Fittschen (1978, 37) makes the same point about different
"'Theoptions ranged from a cleanly plucked brow to one
so furrythat it makesa "V"over the bridge of the nose. Clearly, the brow's appearance reflected fashion, not genetics.
Shaping would have been achievedwith a razoror tweezers,
implementsattestedarchaeologically(Virgilietal. 1990, 101,
no. 163.)
of the relevantsectionsof FittschenandZank"'Comparison
er (1985 and 1983) will make these contrastsclear.
" Zanker 1995, 198-266.

"'Ov.Arsam.1.51;Gell.NA6.12, Sen. Controv.
2, preface2;
Mart.10.65.8;see Gleason 1995, 108-9.
4 Suetonius'scomments about the
JuliusCaesar(Iul. 45) and Nero (Ner.51) intend such insinuations. On the Easternconnotations of luxury in the early
Imperialperiod,see Griffin1976.On the classicalfifth-century manifestationsof the sentiment, see Hall 1989.
' Caesar:Suet. lul. 45.2;Domitian:Suet. Dom.18;
1997; Otho: Suet. Otho 11.

6 Chronicled Richlin 1995.

'7Juv.6.502; Stat. Silv. 1.2.113.


[AJA 105

Fig. 2. Stucco relief, Carthage,Musee Nationale de Carthage. (Reproduced

from Fittschen 1993, pl. 25a)
than did men, and few protested the attention paid
to it. For one thing, a woman typically dressed her
hair in the privacy of her home. For another, the
intrinsic eroticism of hair made it appealing to most
male observers and writers (the Christian moralists, discussed below, are an important exception).
Hair's erotic potential is a recurrent theme of literature from the period, whether explicit, as in the
poetry of the Latin love elegists, or implicit, as in
the advice for styling and coloring proferred by Ovid
and others.18
Hairdressing and its necessary accompaniment,
mirror gazing, were regarded as distinctly feminine activities. In fact, hairdressing scenes appear
so frequently in the context of women's tomb reliefs (see fig. 2), an obvious site for emblematic
imagery, that they may be said to represent the

essence of female life itself.'9 That changes in female hairstyle were markers of major Roman lifecycle events (e.g., the seni crines of the bride and
the loosened hair of the funeral mourner) adds a
special poignancy to the toilet scenes from the
tomb context. Because of its wide resonances, however, hairdressing is a far more charged subject
than the proferring of the jewelry box to the seated matron on Classical Greek grave stelae, its closest functional analogy.20 When combined with selfreflection in the mirror, hairdressing evoked a web
of associations: leisure, artifice, female behavior,
and, as we shall see, cultus.
Ethnographers and anthropologists have long
recognized hair's key role not only in creating gender but also in symbolizing the relationship between
individuals and the society to which they belong.

'8Loveelegies: Prop. 1.2.1, 1.15.5;Hor. Carm.1.5.4;Epod.

11.28. Advice:Ov. Arsam.3.133-55; also Gal. On thePartsof
Medicine1; Plin. HN 12.76, 28.191; Mart. 3.43, 14.27. The

emperorDomitianauthoreda book abouthair,whichhasnot

19Fora catalogueof thesescenes,see Kampen1981,149-52.



The comment, "Control of hair by cutting, grooming, braiding, enclosing in a turban, or other means
indicates an individual's participation in social
structures within a publicly defined role and that
individual's submission to social control,"21 while
observed about South Asian cultures, also applies
to ancient Rome. Roland Smith has recently discussed the various hairdressing options available
to second-century C.E. men in the Greek East for
conveying their cultural values.22 Compared to men,
ancient women's coiffures made few external references, largely because of a lack of suitable iconographic precedents that could be quoted. In the
Roman world, however, hair's erotic potential made
it a lightening rod for anxieties about female sexuality and public behavior. Hence the ancient sources preserve many references to veiling and other
strictures regarding female headwear.23 We also see
a marked difference in the hairstyling deemed acceptible for preadolescent girls, such as long hair
cascading loosely onto the back, compared to that
for sexually mature women-equally
long hair but
controlled through wrapping, tying, and braiding
(fig. 3).24 Hair on the body and pubis, one of a human being's secondary sex characteristics, is never
depicted in statues of women and may have been
removed from real bodies by depilation.
Hair on the head was considered a major determinant of a woman's physical attractiveness, but its
appearance derived as much from culture (cultus)
as from nature.25 From the circular "snail" curls worn
by Agrippina the Younger to the towering mounds
crowning Flavian- and Trajanic-era ladies, Roman
female coiffures bespeak human intervention.26
When looking at sculptural renderings today, we
frame our discussion of cultus largely in terms of
the shape and construction of Roman coiffures, but
we should recall that artificial color provided by
dye, bleach, or powder, and the sheen acquired by
gel or pomade, also advertised the hairdresser's effort. By contrast, we today favor the so-called natural
look in female hairdressing; whether styled in an
Afro or Princess Diana bob, contemporary women's
Schmaltz 1983; Reilly 1992. Jewelry-profferingscenes
appearin late Roman monumentssuch as the ceiling paintings from Trier,where they have a decorativeratherthan funeralpurpose.
21 Olivelle 1998, 39; Sieber and Herreman (2000) discuss
parallelpracticesin Africa.See also Hallpike1987, 155.

22Smith 1998.

MyerowitzLevine 1995,109;Kraemer1992, 146-7; MacMullen 1980, 208-18.
DevonshireCollection;Boschunget al. 1997,
46-50, no. 45.

Fig. 3. Statue group of mother and daughter, Chatsworth,

front. (Forschungsarchiv ffir Antike Plastik, Universitat zu
Koln, neg. no. 1040/9)
hair professes to be close to its natural state. (This
is patently untrue, of course, for the waves and shine
of the "natural" hairdo often require the substan-

25For discussion of these

paradoxes, see Myerowitz Levine
1995. Some believe that hair never exists in a natural state but
is always a product of culture (Hiltebeitel 1998, 7).
26Inone of Roman portraiture's exceptions, images of Livia
made late in her lifetime depict her wearing a center-parted,
waved coiffure that derives not from any contemporary style
but from the classical imagery of Greek goddesses; although
crimped, the hair has a texture and arrangement that looks
remarkably lifelike and "natural";thus in the portraits that liken Livia to the divine realm she looks, at least to our eyes, her
most human.



Fig. 4. Figureof reclining woman from a sarcophaguslid, Rome, GalleriaBorghese 187, front. (IstitutoCentraleper
ii Catalogo e la Documentazione)
tial ministrations of scissors, shampoo, combs, and
spray.) To the ancients, however, "natural"was a term
of opprobrium, suggesting a lack of civilization and
social control-a state close to beasts and barbarians. So Paola Virgili and others have appropriately
linked the notion of cultus, implying refinement
and civilization, to the elaborate coiffures of imperial Roman women.27 Two Hadrianic stucco reliefs
found in Carthage28illustrate the connection: in one
(fig. 2) a woman is having her hair dressed in a beehive style by a servant, and in the other, the same
woman, her coiffure now finished, sits holding a
book. Grooming goes hand in hand with literacy in
expressing female cultus. That this stucco and another well-known relief from Neumagen showing a
similar scene29 are both from provincial areas
brought under Roman control in the early Imperial
period illustrates the connections of female cultus
to the Romanization process. Whereas provincial
women (and men) are represented with unkempt
"barbarian" hair when depicted on triumphal mon-

27Virgiliet al. 1990;Wyke1994, 143-6; D'Ambra1997.

28Fittschen1993, 203, n. 6, pl. 25; De Carthage

a Kairouan

1982, 138-9, no. 194; Delattre 1899, 38-41, nos. 1, 2, pl. 8.

29Trier,LandesmuseumNM 184; Kampen1981, 150, no.
32, fig. 50.
30 Cf. the barbarianson sarcophagiin Bianchi-Bandinelli
1971,figs. 2, 10,with the carefullycoiffed Spanishprovincials
depicted in figs. 176-181.

uments, they adopt Roman modes of hairdressing

within a generation or so after Roman conquest.30
In view of this cultural context, the public presentation of a Roman woman as deliberately uncoiffed is cause for discussion. A deceased woman
reclining atop a late second/early third-century
C.E. sarcophagus lid (fig. 4)31 lets her hair flow freely onto her shoulders. Although the lid has been
much restored and the figure's face possibly reworked, the hair itself is largely original.32 In the
center part and the faint pattern of crimping (reminiscent of the fold lines chiseled lightly onto the
woven garments of draped sculptures) there remain
vestiges of the mode in which the subject dressed
her hair while living; we may imagine a Severan
coiffure with finger waves. Virtually unparalleled
in the corpus of Roman funerary imagery, the Borghese woman seems to be mourning her own death.
Her loosened hair evokes a female mourner, either the praefica hired for funeral processions33 or
the ordinary woman who responded to the death of

31 Galleria
Borghese187;Moreno1980;Viacava(forthcoming), no. 199.
32Viacava(forthcoming) discerns "fortiintervenetinella
testa."The hairdoes have a minor repairat the back.
33On praeficae,
see Serv.AdAen.6.16;Flower1996,98. Two
well-knownvisualrepresentationsof praeficaearetheAmiternum relief (Flower1996,pl. 6) and the relieffrom the Tomb
of the Haterii (Flower1996, 93-5, pl. 5).



loved ones by letting down her hair.34 (The use of

the verb spargere [to stream] with hair in this context underscores its wild, unleashed quality.)35 By
analogy with these familiar images, the Borghese
woman appears not only as the deceased subject of
the funeral but also as one of its active participants;
she infuses an otherwise traditional funerary image with extreme pathos.


Sculpting a head of human hair, whose thousands

(on average, 100,000) of infinitesimally thin strands
react to both movement and light, posed a daunting technical challenge to the ancient sculptor. By
the time of the mid-empire, however, Roman sculptors working in both bronze and marble drew upon
centuries of experience for the technical mastery
by which they reproduced the texture, arrangement,
and even the light-reflecting sheen of real hair.36
Success in rendering the materiality of hair and its
accoutrements inevitably raises the question of authenticity: are Roman portraits faithful translations
of the actual hairstyles worn by the sitters?
An answer is problematic for two reasons. First,
the paucity of surviving hair leaves little basis for comparison. Owing to a climate that is generally not conducive to its survival, only scattered discoveries of
human hair exist in Britain, Gaul (fig. 5), Egypt, and
Judaea.37 Although no ancient coiffure has yet been
found in its entirety, examples of human hair from
Roman burials, such as long braids from Les Martres-de-Veyre in central France or a bun excavated in
York, England, do confirm that the styles portrayed
in Roman portraits were actually worn by ancient
women.38 Ranging in color from blond (Les Martresde-Veyre, fig. 5) to auburn (York) to chestnut (Les
Martres-de-Veyre,fig. 5) to near-black (Masada), these
finds document the range of colors that Roman hair
would have naturally had; paint would have enabled
the sculptor of white marble to match these hues.39
We find further confirmation in the evidence of
painted mummy portraits from Egypt. Long dismissed as provincial anomalies, these images recent-

34See in
particularthe mourningwomen who attendMeleager's corpse on sarcophagi(Koch 1975, 119-24) and those
scenes from
surroundingthe funeral bier in the conclamatio
biographicalsarcophagi(Kochand Sichtermann1982, 1123). Cf. Plut. Quaest.Rom.14.267a-b.
For a good example of this usage, see
the Consolatio
ad Liviam1.98.
Pioneersin achievingthese effectswere the GreeksculptorsPolykleitos(Quint.Inst.12.10.8)and Lysippos(Plut.Alex.
bun fromYork(Yorkshire
1989, 133-4; 1996, 38); Gaul:scalp hairwith braidsattached
from Gallo-Roman burials at Les Martres-de-Veyre (Audollent


--: : : :



Fig. 5. Human hair from tombs at Les Martres-le-Veyre,

Clermont Ferrand, Musees de la Ville. (Centre Regional de
Documentation Pedagogique, Clermont-Ferrand)

ly have been shown to depict coiffures that are identical to those worn by the women portrayed in sculpted portraits from metropolitan Rome.40

1923,275-328, esp. 284, pl. 8); Egypt:pile of hairheld in place

with pins and terminating in a bun (Walker and Bierbrier 1997,
208-9, no. 302);Judaea: braid dating to the late first century
C.E. found at Masada and now in the Israel Museum,Jerusalem (Yadin 1966, 54, col. pl. p. 56, pl. p. 196; Zias 1998).
38Cf. the Masada and Les Martres-de-Veyrebraids cited (supra n. 37) to a head in the Capitoline (Fittschen and Zanker
1983, 68, no. 89, pl. 110) and the York bun to Capitoline 280
(Fittschen and Zanker 1983, 96-7, no. 140, pl. 166).
39Rueterswird 1960, 210-27.
40 Parallelism between the painted and sculpted image lies
at the heart of Borg's (1998) chronology of mummy portraits
from Egypt. Cf. her figs. 28-29, 50-52, and 51-53.


The second difficulty in assessing the realism of

the sculpted coiffure stems from the larger question of the physical accuracy of the Roman portrait
itself. On the one hand, the physiognomic variety
found in Roman portraits suggests that the ancient
sculptor was a kind of premodern photographer,
capturing a "snapshot" of an individual's appearance. Yet any serious viewer of Roman portraiture
recognizes how both artistry and political ideology
undercut the physiognomic accuracy by which a sitter is rendered. Throughout her decades-long portrait career, for example, the empress Livia remained youthful; even images created when she
was an octogenarian did not betray her encroaching age. In the portraiture of a later successor, Faustina the Elder, the lack of correlation between the
empress's coin portraits and those sculpted in-theround leads to the conclusion that her images owed
as much to the particular design principles of the
portrait medium as to her appearance in real life.41
So, too, the nine changes of hairstyle shown in Faustina the Younger's official portraiture may be at least
partially fictive, responses to dynastic politics rather than changes made in the actual coiffure she

Notwithstanding their ideological tint, the female

hairstyles recorded in sculpted (and painted) portraits are firmly based in hairdressing reality. According to the contemporary hairstylists and wig
makers whom I have consulted, most of the Roman
coiffures documented
in imperial portraiture
could have been made by a skilled hairdresser using the sitter's own hair. From braids to buns, pin
curls to marceled "finger sets,"43 the standard elements of sculpted coiffures could have been actually made in antiquity, and indeed they can be reproduced today44 by practiced stylists. In Roman
times, such skilled hands were abundant, and women of the leisured classes would have had both the
staff and the time for lengthy hairdressing sessions.45 Even if we cannot say positively that the hairstyle of every portrait represents the actual coiffure
worn by the sitter herself, we may at least conclude
4'Fittschen 1996, 44.
Indeed, her seventh to eighth portraittypes differ only
in minor details. See Fittschen1982, 55-62.
43Thistermfindsan ancientanalogyin pressopollice,
a phrase
used byPropertius(3.10.14)when exhortinghis loverto press
her thumb onto her hairlocksin order to styleit.
Bergmannand I have produced a video, "Does
She or Doesn't She?"(1999) in which a contemporaryhairstylistreconstructsFaustinathe Elder'scoiffure.
see Kamregardinghairdressers,
pen 1981, 118-20. Wealthywomen employed multiple hairdressers-the empressLiviais attestedto have had five. Even

[AJA 105

that the designs lie well within the realm of grooming possibility.46 At a fundamental level, of course,
hairdressing was a process similar to sculpture. Most
female hairstyles of the late first through third centuries C.E. were conceived as structures whose wellarticulated shapes and textures made a visual foil
to the face. The wide gap that we envision between
sculpture, to the modern mind considered a form
of high art, and hairdressing, which is often regarded as an elevated form of grooming, was not necessarily shared by the Romans.
The astute observer can discern the workings,
and thus the fundamental realism, of many sculpted coiffures. I will focus on popular female coiffures from the middle and high empire, for these
have long triggered accusations of invention. After
several generations ofJulio-Claudian styles, in which
the relative simplicity of Livia's nodus and off-swept
hair gave way to ever-fussier but still relatively tame
arrangements,47 female hairdressing at Rome underwent a major stylistic change. Characterized by
multiple components and towering height, the new
styles of the late first and early second centuries
C.E. were elaborate constructions whose very complexity challenged the physical possibilities of the
sitter's own locks. Their extremism occasioned satirical barbs such as Juvenal's famous likening of a
hairdo to a multistoried building.4" The vocabulary
used today to describe the popular styles-beehive,
turban, pillbox, helmet,44 hairbouquet (Lockenbukett)-derives from nonhairdressing contexts and
thus aptly conveys their artful construction. Although the mockery of Juvenal has vanished, a moralizing tone often slips into current discussion:
adjectives like "flamboyant" and "frivolous" and
nouns like "confection" and "concoction" hint that
the women who wore these styles were slaves to their
appearances and led shallow lives. Yet many of these
portraits were made at a time of social conservatism, when the Flavian dynasty and then Trajan
embraced a down-to-earth public image that consciously rejected the decadent lifestyles of the last
Julio-Claudians. In addition, they were worn by imthe most complicatedcoiffurewouldnot havetakena teamof
slavesmore than an hour or so to execute.
does seem to takeprecedence overrealism,how46Artistry
ever, in the aspectof hairline.On this question see below, p.
47Livia'sclean, classicallook distancedher from the excessivelyprimped stylesassociatedwith the HellenisticEast.On
Livia,see Bartman1999;on the Agrippinas,see Wood 1988.
compagibusaltumaedificat caput"(Juv.6.502). See also Stat.Silv.1.2.113;Mart.9.37.
49This term is also attestedinJuv. 6.120 and Tert. De cultu
feminarum 2.7.



Fig. 6. Fonsecabust, Rome, Museo Capitolino434, right profile. (DeutschesArchaologisches

perial wives, sisters, and daughters, whom we may
presume to have been promoted as exempla of contemporary female appearance and behavior. Thus
we should see the elaborate coiffures and the plain,
sometimes grim faces below as features working in
tandem to project a positive message of modesty
and control.
The most striking visual feature of these coiffures
is the high-arching forehead crown (I use the Ger-

man toupet) that was composed of drilled pin curls

during the Flavian era and of complex combinations of braids and curls at later times. In a meticulously carved head such as the Capitoline's famed
Fonseca bust (fig. 6),50 the sculptor details a part
that divides the hair on the crown into two sections:
in front the hair is combed forward into the prodigious coils of the toupet, and in back it is combed
into braids that coil into a generous bun. Suspend-

50MuseoCapitolino434; Fittschenand Zanker1983, 53-4, no. 69, pls. 86-87.



Fig. 7. Bustof Matidia,London, The BritishMuselum1805.73.96, left profile. (E. Bartman)

ed over the face, the toupet might be a separate
hairpiece made of curls glued or sewn to a backing;
the discovery of a braid sewn to two pieces of leather in a woman's tomb in Gaul is tantalizing evidence
of precisely this technique.5' Another way to make
the toupet was to pull the sitter's hair through the
holes of a loosely woven fabric that had been stiff-

51Audollent 1923,284. Fora modern analogy,see the 19thcenturyfrisettepad (StevensCox 1984, fig. 126).
styliststodayuse cheesecloth or wire mesh to help
shape hair on the head.
5'BritishMuseum GR 1805.7-3.96;Smith 1904, 158, no.
1898.A bust in Venice (MuseoArcheologico208;Traversari
1968, 51-2, no. 33, pl. 33a, b) showsa series of twistedlocks
that connect the beehive toupet to the scalp.
54MuseoGregorianoProfano9481;Ryberg1955,pl. 67, fig.
Galleria dei Candelabri 2708; Amelung 1903-1908,

3.2:285-6, no. 20, pl. 129; Helbig4,541.

5"Foranotherexample,see a veiled head in the Palazzodei

[AJA 105

ened with beeswax or resin to form a curved armature.52Whether using the sitter's own hair or not, a
toupet of the height we see in many portraits had to
be somehow secured on the head; a head of Trajan's niece Matidia in London (fig. 7) shows how
this could be accomplished, as it preserves a tiny
braid combed in such a way as to anchor the tiered
toupet in front.53 In an unusual case of cross-hairdressing, a male camillus on a Flavian relief of a sacrifice wears a beehive toupet;54 because camilli typically had hair long enough either to compose or
attach this feature, its appearance in this context
does not answer the question of real or fictive any
more conclusively than do the female portraits.
The head of a full-length draped statue in the
Vatican (fig. 8) 5 dissembles about the status of the
sitter's toupet by depicting hair combed up from
the forehead before being worked into the tightly
massed pin curls of the toupet.56 It is difficult to
know whether this peek-a-boo exposure is meant
to suggest that the high-arching crescent of the toupet is an addition or that it is formed from the sitter's own, by necessity ample, locks; certainly the
long silky strands of hair on the crown behind the
toupet convey the impression of a richly endowed
head. In many portraits the hairline at the forehead
is more emphatically demarcated by a braidlike ribbon or band that forms the basis for the typically
diverse elements stacked above.57 Although its regular striations recall hair, the band does not appear
to have been composed of real hair growing from
the scalp. It looks, rather, as though it were an addition glued in place (recall the false eyebrows applied to the Satyricon'sGiton),58 as a practical means
of absorbing dyes and gums that were applied to
the hair, thus preventing unsightly streaks from
running down the face.
While Flavian coiffures could easily have been
crafted from the sitter's own hair, those of later decades often seem to have required separate attachments.59 The stiff, thin forms, unhairlike textures,
and awkward perching on the head (especially vis-

Conservatori(2762; Fittschenand Zanker1983, 56, no. 74,

pl. 92), wherea layerof long curlylocks (naturalor artificial?)
is set severalcentimetersback from the sitter'snaturalhairline.
57Typicalexamplesoccurin the Flavianportraitsdiscussed
by Hausmann1959,and the variouswomen of Trajan'scircle
(see Fittschenand Zanker1983, 7-10, nos. 6-8, pls. 7-10).
58Sat. 110.
59Cf. the
empress Plotina'sfanlike crown (Fittschenand
Zanker1983,8-9, no. 7, pl.9) to Matidiaand Marciana'sstyles
(Fittschenand Zanker1983,9-10, no. 8, pl.10 [a posthumous
Matidia];Fittschen1996, 45, figs. 3-6).




Fig. 8. Statue of a woman, Vatican City,Musei Vaticani, Galleria dei Candelabri 2708, front.
ible in the profile view, as in fig. 7 and pl. 1)60 suggest that the vertical components of these later
stacked coiffures are hairpieces.61 As before, what
are (possibly) fictive additions are deliberately juxtaposed with the sitter's own hair. A bust in Copenhagen (fig. 9),62 for example, wears a coiffure de-

fined at the hairline by two glued bands; in the

middle, however, emerges a jumble of pincurls
whose texture and looseness makes a sharp contrast-are we to imagine a melange of natural and
artificial? Visually dynamic, these compositions
leave the viewer impressed with the artful ingenu-

MetropolitanMuseumof Art,RogersFund 20.200;Richter 1948, no. 66.
61In some heads the coiffure's
flattened:so the ringlets of a head in London (The British

Museum2006;Walker1995,pl. II ) andDresden (Albertinum

ZV3716;Knoll et al. 1993, 55, no. 30).
62NyCarlsbergGlyptothek1539;Poulsen 1974, 91-3, no.
72, pls.116-117.



Fig. 10. Head of a woman, Rome, PalazzoCorsini642, back.

(Istituto Centraleper il Catalogo e la Documentazione)

Fig. 9. Bust of a woman, Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg

Glyptothek 1539, front. (Ny CarlsbergGlyptothek)
ity of both sculptor and hairdresser. In the deliberate artificiality of this and other contemporary styles,
female hairdressing recalls the preparation of food
for the imperial banquet table. As the ancient sources tell us, Roman chefs found appreciative diners
when they prepared food that completely masked
its origins.63

63I thankMirandaMarvinfor this observation.See Apicius

4.2.12 ("admensam nemo agnoscent quid manducet")and
Petron.Sat.15.33(eggs madeofpastrydough), 15.36 (hareto
whichwingsare attachedto simulatePegasus).Fordiscussion
of the broaderissuedraisedby food, see Gowers1993.
65The curling iron (calamistrum) is attested in text (e.g.,
Plaut.Curc.4.4.21),butits appearanceiscontested.Somescholarsidentifyit as the wandlikerod seen in the stele of P. Ferrar-

Long hair extending well below the shoulders

was requisite for the elaborate coiffures recorded
in second- and third-century C.E. female portraits.
At least two secondary images, the Carthage relief
already mentioned (fig. 2) and the well-known image of the seated woman from the Villa of the Mysteries frieze at Pompeii, show women with long locks
reaching as low as the waist. When sectioned, their
tresses could be formed into braids whose combined length was several meters, easily enough to
surround the head in even the most lavish concentric arrangements. By applying henna, a temporary
dye well known to the ancients, hair could be thickened and made more malleable.64 Ungents, waxes,
and curling irons all helped the transform a woman's natural endowment into the desired arrangement.65

ius HermesfromPisa(Florence,Galleriadegli Uffizi;Virgiliet

al. 1990, 87, no. 30), where it appearswith other objectsof
female adornment such as a comb and mirror. (There are
modernanalogiesin the 19th-centurycurlingstick,illustrated
in StevensCox 1984, fig. 232.) Others,on the basisof other
modern analogies,identifymetal tongs from Pompeii as the
for archaeologicalfinds, see Mannsperger1998,
16-24; postantiquetongs in StevensCox 1984, figs. 87, 120.




Fig. 11. Statue ofJulia Domna, Paris,Musee du Louvre Ma 1090, front. (Mus6e du Louvre)
Of course, only healthy hair could be worked into
these fashions, because hair typically loses strength
and abundance as it ages. (The point was not lost
on Ovid, who advised supplemental hairpieces for
older women or for those whose hair had thinned
because of overzealous grooming.) In trying to assess Roman female hairdressing, then, we face a
paradox: while most hairstyles depicted in marble

portraits theoretically could have been fashioned

from the sitter's own hair, we cannot be certain that
they actually were. Roman portraitists generally refrained from revealing the mechanics of their sitters' hairdos; two exceptions are therefore worthy
of mention. The bust of a Trajanic lady in the Palazzo Corsini in Rome (fig. 10) is unique in its sculpted representation of a hairpin,66 even though Ro-

661Inv.642; De Luca 1976, 65, no. 28, pls. 55-56. For pins in painted portraits,see Walkerand Bierbrier1997, 58, no. 33.



[AJA 105

man female graves have yielded this accessory in

impressive quantities, and they were essential for
many hairstyles. The second exception, a secondcentury bronze of a woman in Princeton (pl. 2),
depicts hair encased in a hairnet. In an extreme
manifestation of the quest for mimetic realism, the
bronze was cast with a real net.67
In view of the portraitist's reticence in this area,
it is not surprising that the wearing of artificial hair,
by which I mean human hair not belonging to the
wearer, is rarely depicted. This may reflect the
skilled deception of the ancient wig, but it also stems
from the artistic process itself. In making a portrait
the skilled artist imposes a unity of surface, material, and color that the sitter's hairstyle may not have
possessed in real life; if all art is an illusion, then
the sculpted renditions of coiffures constructed
with artificial hair represent a doubled illusion.
Ample literary sources document women's (as
well as men's) use of wigs and hairpieces, and the
extensive vocabulary they employ suggests a wide
range of options. Capillamentum, corymbium,galerum,
and xpiXpoua are favorite, but by no means the only,
terms attested.68 Most wigs in antiquity were made
of human hair and fashioned with a level of beauty
and craftsmanship largely unobtainable today. (In
modern times synthetic hair has replaced natural
human hair in all but the most expensive wigs.)
Although no Roman wigs have survived, evidence
from pharaonic Egypt attests to the high quality of
ancient hairpieces.69 The blond hair of Germans
and jet black of Indians was preferred for artificial
attachments,70 but it is unclear whether their desirability stemmed from their color or texture. While
black Indian hair, documented in a late source, was
no doubt obtained through trade, the blond hair of
Germans was one of the spoils of war, at least in the
early Imperial period. Both Ovid and Martial refer

to "captured" hair (captivos crines), making an explicit link between the commodification of hair and
Roman power.71
Notwithstanding its implications of Roman conquest, a blond braid interwoven into the dark tresses of a Mediterranean crown presumably announced
the fictive nature of the coiffure rather emphatically.72This unabashed flaunting of artificial locks contrasts with the generally negative image of wig wearing conveyed by many of the literary sources. According to these texts, the wig-wearer (of both sexes) wore artificial locks to hide baldness and for
disguise. But in some instances the context of the
verbal testimony warns against too literal a reading,
for Juvenal or Martial were satirists who enjoyed
skewering the Roman beau monde, and Tertullian
and Clement of Alexandria were Christian moralists opposed to all female adornment. Still, even
neutral references such as Ovid's crines empti (purchased tresses) and Petronius's description of a
lady's wig and false eyebrows in the Satyricon,73with
their knowing hints of the role that artificial hair
played in the grooming of elite Romans, underscore the popular connection between borrowed
locks and deception.
Despite the negativism of the literary tradition,
the wig is acknowledged in a number of female
portraits dating to the early third century, suggesting that by that time it had acquired cachet. The
wig's most influential patron was Julia Domna, wife
of the emperor Septimius Severus (fig. 11).74
Throughout a public career spanning nearly 20
years, Julia Domna wore a coiffure that encased her
head with a thick mass of hair worked into undulating finger waves.75While not so explicitly rendered
as that of a private woman in the Museo Nazionale
Romano in Rome (fig. 12),76 her hair can be recognized as a wig by its heavy, globular character, the

67The head is now in the ArtMuseum,PrincetonUniversity (80-10;Jenkinsand Williams1987).

6 Reinach 1896
providesa full compilation.For other ancient sources on hairdressing,see Steininger 1912;Virgiliet
al. 1990, 55-8. Although dated, Evans1906 has many useful
69A wig made of linen tinted a chestnut color was among
the 18th-centuryfinds from the tomb of a Christianwoman
on the Via Ostiensis (Boldetti 1720, 297); its present whereaboutsareunknown.Awell-preserved
wigof NewKingdomdate
from Thebes givesa sense of the enormous laborinvolvedin
makinga top-qualityhairpiece.Bothitshangingbraidsand the
mesh that fits, caplike,over the craniumare made of human
hair, and each of the some 300 braidsbundles together hundreds of individualhairs (Stevens Cox 1977). Wigs are also
extensivelydocumented at Deir el-Bahri(Laskowska-Kusztal

7"Blonde hair: Ov. Am. 1.14.45-6; Mart.5.68;Juv. 6.120

(confirmedbythe find of a male skullwithhairfrom Osterby;
Jedding-Gesterlingand Brustscher1988,fig. 85); Indianhair:
Dig. 39, 4.16.7 (there is no mention of the import of Indian
hair earlierin the PeriplusMarisErythraei.)
71Ov., Am. 1.14.45-6; Mart. 14.26. See Bartman 1999, 39.

72Cf. the Renaissancewoman who coversher brown hair

witha curlyblondwig (balzo)in a paintingof ca. 1530byLorenzo
Lotto (London, The NationalGallery).
73Ov. ArsAm.3.165; Sat. 110.
74Museedu LouvreMa 1090; de Kersauson1996, 370-1,
no. 170.
75Schluter1977;Buchholz 1963;Nodelman 1964.See also
Fittschen 1978.
76Rome,MuseoNazionaleRomano564;Giuliano1979- , 1.9
pt. 2, 342-4, no. R 260. K. Fittschen (Fittschenand Zanker
1983, 106, n. 26) does not think that the wig belongs to the




Fig. 12. Head of a woman wearing a wig, Rome, Museo Nazionale Romano 564,
front. (Deutsches Archaologisches Institut, Rome)
unnatural hairline, and stray hairs peeking out in
front of the ears or along the hairline. Some of her
portraits also have an emphatic line that demarcates the hair from the face, but because the feature is not universal, it should perhaps be interpreted as an artistic device for framing the face with
shadow rather than as a literal depiction of the contours of a wig.77 In several ofJulia Domna's portraits,
finally, her wig is carved separately, but as we will

see, this technical detail is not in itself proof of her

wig wearing in real life.
Because she was born the daughter of a highranking Syrian priest, Julia Domna's taste for wigs is
sometimes attributed to her non-Roman origins.
Early in this century, Paul Gauckler argued that the
sculptural piecing found in the heads of several
statues excavated in the Sanctuary of the Syrian Gods
in Rome was connected to religious rites practiced

head, but a comparablerelationshipbetween the sitter'snaturalhairlineand wig occursin the bust of a deceasedwoman
depictedon an earlythird-centuryfuneraryreliefin Frankfurt
(Liebighaus1502;Ecksteinand Beck 1973, no. 74 pl. 74).
77 This line is found in portraitsof both men and women
fromavarietyof periods.Fortypicalexamples,see the head of

a Hadrianicman identifiedasJasonin the Ny CarlsbergGlyptothek (Poulsen 1974, 87, no. 65, pls. 104-105); the head of
a woman from Ostia (Giuliano1957, 61, no. 70, pl. 43); and
the head of a woman in Cincinnati(CincinnatiArtMuseum
1946.5;Vermeule 1981, 344, no. 296, col. pl. 27).




P1. 1. Head of Marciana, New York, Metropolitan Museum

of Art, Rogers Fund 20.200, oblique right. (Schecter Lee,
Metropolitan Museum of Art)

PI. 2. Bronze head of a woman, Princeton, The Art Museum, Princeton

University 80-10, oblique right. (Bruce M. White, The Art Museum, Princeton

[AJA 105



in Syria.78Yet while towering (and, in the case of a

mosaic panel from Edessa,79 even outlandish) headdresses are common among Eastern women, there
is little clearcut evidence for artificial hairpieces.
Among the hundreds of surviving grave reliefs from
the prolific workshops of Palmyra, for example,
none depicts a woman who is undeniably wearing a
wig.80Indeed, Palmyrene women typically wore their
hair waved in a simple center-part style that could
easily have been achieved with their own locks;81
jeweled diadems and turbans provided luxurious
coverage and modesty in accordance with local social mores.82
Rather than wear a wig to convey her foreign status and exoticism,Julia Domna seems to have adopted it to project a familiar Roman guise. Specifically,
she donned artificial hair to look like her predecessor, Faustina the Younger, whose last portrait
types feature a simple, finger-waved style in which
the hair forms a globular cover for the cranium.83
Although Faustina's daughter Crispina was Julia
Domna's immediate predecessor,84 Faustina clearly outshone her daughter and successor in reputation and number of public portraits. The earlier
empress, moreover, was consciously evoked by the
Severans on at least one other occasion; Dio records
that one of the omens accompanying Septimius's
rise to power was a dream he had on the eve of his
marriage to Julia.85 In the dream Faustina prepares
the nuptial chamber for Septimius and Julia, and
thus sanctions the choice ofJulia as empress; evoked
continually in the emulative imagery of her Severan successor, Faustina remained an ongoing sanctioner.
Why Julia needed a wig to reproduce Faustina's
coiffure is unclear; perhaps her own hair was too
thin to be coiffed in this mode, or the wig was
deemed necessary to underscore the connection.
Her use of a wig to project a specific cultural identity is paralleled in a painted mummy portrait from
Egypt that depicts the same woman on its two sides:
on one she appears wearing a simple center-parted style popular in the East, and on the other, a

78Gauckler1910, 378-408, esp. 393-404; Gauckler'sthesis

wasrefutedby Crawford(1917, 105) and is now discredited.
79The mosaic
depicts the familyof Moqimu (Kraus1967,
295, no. 406).
80 This is not to say that the women are not wearingwigs,
only that they are not depicted. For recent surveysof the
material,see Parlasca1981;Tanabe 1986.
81AsM. Colledge (1976,143) writes,"Forfemales the classical Grecian mode is almost universal:the hair is brushed
back in wavesfrom a central parting to a (hidden) knot at
the back."
82Nor does
Egyptappearto be a pressingsource, despite
Septimius'sdevotionto the Egyptiangod Serapis.


Fig. 13. Bust of a woman, London, British Museum 2009,

oblique left. (BritishMuseum)
fuller coiffure with a fringe of curls around the forehead.86 As Susan Walker has pointed out, hair and
dress function in the portrait as significant cultural
markers, instantly recognizable but also easily mutable.87 We may conclude from these examples that
wig wearing was as much a matter of cultural choice
as necessity, the female equivalent, we might say, of
the male's growing a beard.
Within a generation after Julia, however, Roman
female portrait sitters rejected the empress's blatant artifice for a seemingly more natural coiffure
with long silky hair strands lying close to the skull.
Portraits of the empress Plautilla, Caracalla's wife,
exemplify this hairstyle.88 But was it any less artificial? Many women wear coiffures that combine Plautilla's close-lying locks with masses of curls clustered on the neck or along the hairline (fig. 13

83Fittschenand Zanker1983,22-3, nos. 21-22, pls. 29-31;

Fittschen 1982, 63-5.
84Crispinawears a related hairstyle;see Fittschen 1982,
5 Dio Cass.75.3.
87Walker(1997) contraststhe tworepresentationalmodes
as EgyptianversusRoman,althoughthe second coiffurewith
pendant curlsis not typicallyfound in metropolitanRome.
88Nodelman 1982;Fittschenand Zanker1983, 30, no. 32,
pl. 40. See also a bustin Ephesus(SelcukMuseum1566;Inan
and Rosenbaum1966, 134-5, no. 163, pls. 95, 101.1).



Fig. 14. Head of a woman, Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg

Glyptothek825, front. (Ny CarlsbergGlyptothek)
provides a fine example).89 Contrasting texturally
with the smoother hair of the crown, the curls
would seem to be the sitter's own hair, pulled out
from under the flipped-up wig that covers the
crown. Although unwiglike in both texture and
89BritishMuseum2009 (Smith 1904, 190-1, no. 2009, pl.
18;Walker1995, fig. 73). See also a head in the PalazzoBarberini,Rome (EA2932).
90Ny CarlsbergGlyptothek825; Poulsen 1974, 146-8, no.
145,pls.234-235 (JuliaPaula?).Forcomparableexamples,see
Wood 1986,52 (arguesforwigwearing);WiggersandWegner
1971, 115-29, 153-76, 200-22.
91See also such
contemporaryheads as Capitoline380 and
Conservatori1188 (Fittschenand Zanker1983, 108, no.161,
pls. 187-188, 113-114, no. 171, pis. 200-201, respectively).
92Ina superb-qualityhead in the Lateran(Giuliano1957,


arrangement, the coiffure of the British Museum

woman nonetheless seems to incorporate a wig. It
demonstrates that a wig could be extremely thin
and finely textured-it is mistaken to imagine that
all ancient Roman wigs had the bulk of Julia Domna's or the dull, leaden appearance of wigs made
today from synthetic materials. With thick curly
tresses long enough to reach her shoulder and a
hairline showing no recession, the sitter for the
British Museum bust clearly had no physical need
for artificial hair. Thus we conclude that she wore
a wig by choice.
At first glance, another popular style in which
the face is framed by short pincurls also seems to
make use of a wig. In a representative example in
Copenhagen (fig. 14),90 the sitter wears a low-hanging coiffure composed of parallel finger waves and
tightly wound pincurls running along the entire
hairline. The waves and curls have different textures, but this is not de facto evidence for wig wearing, as the curls could simply be cut short and frizzed
into ringlets.91 In this and numerous related portraits, naturalistic features such as the growth of the
hair from the forehead and the tucking of hair behind the ears strengthen the case for the use of the
sitter's own hair.92 Paradoxically, a private portrait
known in several versions has thick, deeply drilled
finger waves on the crown that look wiglike but behave so realistically, tucking up under the bun at
the back, that they seem to belong to the sitter.93
That most of the portrait subjects wearing these
styles are youthful and presumably in possession of
healthy locks lends further credence to the view
that their hair has not been artificially enhanced.
A number of Severan private portraits make their
wig wearing literal, by combining white marble heads
with coiffures carved separately, often in a contrasting dark stone that enhances their mimetic effect. Is
this a case of art imitating life, in which the sculptor
enhances the realism in his depiction of a wig-wearing woman by carving her coiffure literally as a wig?
The theory is attractive, especially as many of the
portraits executed in this manner reproduce the
coiffures and wigs worn byJulia Domna. Of the some
30 examples known,94 more than half fall into this
78, no. 96, pl. 57) hairsare combed both up and down from
the hairlineover the forehead.
93Thetwo versionsare in the LiverpoolMuseum (Ince 7;
FejferandSouthworth1991,41-4,no. 9, pls.18-19) andMuseo
Capitolino(401;Fittschenand Zanker1983,109-10, no. 163,
pls. 190-191).
antiquityof some of the hairpiecescarvedin onyx
and other colored stonesis disputed.See the commentsof S.
Sanderegardinga portraitofJuliaDomnain Oslo (Sande1991,
81-3, no. 67, pl. 66); and Fittschen1989.



category; in addition, many of the "orphan" coiffures, hairpieces that have been separated from the
rest of the portrait, have the empress's finger-waved
hairstyle.)95 Yet we have no evidence that the Romans conceived of the separate hairpiece in this
way. Two different stones were a dramatic, and costly, way of attaining chromatic contrasts between hair
and face (paint was another). Essentially, the techniques used for a "bewigged" portrait are no different from those employed in acrolithic stone statues, where the intent clearly was to suggest the sitter's own hair.96
From the earliest discussions of separately carved
hairpieces, however, historians have advanced another explanation: that it was designed to be easily
removed and replaced when the sitter desired to
change her coiffure.97 K. Fittschen has already refuted this "prospective" theory by noting that many
portraits with separately carved hairpieces were funerary commissions and thus represent sitters who
could hardly have had expectations of future portraits.98 In addition, fitting an existing head with a
new hairpiece was not the simple job it is sometimes implied to have been, for hair length, relationship of hair to ears, and shape and size of the
bun differed from one coiffure to another and precluded a simple substitution of one wig for another. Thus the potential for change that modern observers see in detachable headpieces is not likely
to have motivated either the female portrait sitter
or her sculptor.
Even without solid empirical evidence, the explanation of the wig as a medium for updating has
long found scholarly adherents because of its resonance with contemporary, essentializing assumptions about female behavior: that women are obsessed with their appearance and change their
image to keep up with fashion. When men, in contrast, change their hairstyles, it is said to show allegiance to the emperor or express cultural values.99
In ancient Rome, however, unlike today, changes
in dress and hairstyle were not dictated each season by a powerful fashion industry. And one of the
primary means by which the rapid change of hairdressing styles is allegedly demonstrated, charts in

95Poulsen 1916; Crawford 1917; Schauenburg 1967;

Fittschen and Zanker 1983, 105-6; Kleiner and Matheson
1996, nos. 120, 130 (P. Davies).
96Cf. also the
techniques of pieced bronzes. See Lattanzi
1987, 148; Menzel 1986, 73, nos. 170-171, pls. 84-85.
97Reinach1896, 1453;Burns 1993;Kleinerand Matheson
1996, 164.
98Fittschen and Zanker 1983, 105.
99E.g.,it is implied thatmen who adopt the
emperor'shairstyledo so to advancetheircareers.See alsoR.Smith 1998, 15.


which numerous coiffures are neatly collated,'0? is

misleading, for these charts show the variety of consecutive hairstyles worn by different women, not the
multiple changes in appearance of a single individual.
Indeed, some (quite famous) Roman women virtually never changed their hairstyle: Livia's portraits depict her in the simple nodus style of the
late Republic for the first three decades of empire, and Faustina the Younger's image shows only
minor changes in the coiffure during the last 20
years of her career.'10 The recent dating of the
Fonseca head to the late Trajanic or early Hadrianic period'12 also demonstrates the longevity of
some popular styles-that a woman possessing the
beauty and, presumably, wealth of the Fonseca sitter would be represented wearing a hairstyle some
30 years old strikes a major blow against the view
that stylish women transformed their hairdos every few years. While female fashions indeed shifted over time, many women clung to old styles, using them in their portraits as generational markers or as expressions of cultural identity. Indeed,
hairstyles were all the more important for identification because so many women's faces were idealized. By imagining that an old-fashioned hairstyle
required updating, in fact, the modern historian
perhaps endows hair with a greater importance
than it actually may have had in the ancient image.
Certainly it assumes that other features of the portrait, such as the face itself, the clothing worn by
the subject, or the bust shape did not themselves
change over time and run the risk of appearing

This is not to say that the coiffures of female portraits were never reworked; in fact, there is scattered
evidence for the recutting of hair. A head in Boston
(fig. 15),1?4for example, wears a tiered toupet coiffure composed of flat bands whose arcing hairstrands terminate in a spiral curl at the center. At
various places, especially along the hairline, the
bands are pierced by irregularly spaced drill holes,
vestiges of the head's prior "beehive" coiffure. C.
Vermeule has identified the head as that of Trajan's niece Matidia, although the face does not

the coiffuresarerenderedasline drawings,e.g.,

Furneevan Zwet1956, fig. p. 2; Wegner 1938, figs. 3-4; Wessel 1946-1947, figs. 1-6.
Cf. her portrait types 7, 8, and 9 (in Fittschen's 1982
102Fittschen and Zanker 1983, 53-4.
103It should be noted, however, that at least one famous
portraitsubject,JuliaDomna,combineda youngfacewith"later"hair.
104Museumof Fine Arts 1988.327;Herrmann 1991.



[AJA 105

Fig. 15. Head of a woman, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts 1988.327, front. (Courtesy
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
closely resemble her other portraits (nor is there
evidence that Matidia ever wore the beehive hairstyle)."'5 Whoever she is, this sitter of late Flavian
date may have modernized her coiffure to keep
current with changing fashions. But that is not the
only scenario we might envision. It is also possible
that the head was a stock Flavian workshop piece
whose beehive coiffure had been carved but whose

face was left roughed out. (The procedure is attested for portraits on sarcophagi.) Not finding a buyer
when the hairstyle was in vogue, the head would
have required recutting when it was eventually pur-

begin untilTrajan'sreignand continuedinto Hadrian's,when
her daughterSabinamarriedthe emperor.See Wegner1956,
bustin the MetropolitanMuseumin NewYork
(RogersFund 14.130.7;Richter 1948, no. 63) seems also to

have been recut. Its toupet, now missing,wasattachedto the

crownby dowels;although there maybe a technicalexplanation for the attachment (e.g., the discoveryof a flaw in the
marble), it is possible that this section of the coiffure was
changed. For separatelyattachedbeehive toupets, see Calza
1964, 109-10, nos. 191-192, pl. 106.


Remodeling to update the coiffure is also said to

have occurred in two late Antonine portraits known
colloquially as the Ludwig Curtius and Frank Brown




Fig. 16. Head of Julia Mamaea, Paris, Musee du Louvre Ma 3552, left profile.
(Musee du Louvre)
heads.'07 In both, the sitter's straight hair clings
closely to the head, projecting beyond the cranium
so minimally that one can easily imagine it to be the
result of drastic recutting that reduced a once greater mass. In the Brown head, deep grooves located
behind the ears that angle against the present movement of the hair also point toward recutting; there
is no clue as to when and why it occurred. Another
technical feature of the Curtius and Brown heads,

however, casts doubt on the standard interpretation of the coiffures as updated. As in a number of
Severan-date portraits, the Brown and Curtius heads
have sections of hair near the ears carved as separate marble attachments.'08 The Louvre's Julia
Mamaea (fig. 16)109 makes an instructive comparison. Today large, roughly triangular cavities gape
behind both ears. With their surfaces picked and
upper edges smoothed, the cavities clearly have

107Curtiushead: ex Bertele collection, Rome; now Lewis

DubroffCollection,NewYork (on loan, MetropolitanMuseum ofArt,NewYorkL1994.87;Curtius1957;InanandAlfoldiRosenbaum1979,341-3, no. 342,pl. 250);FrankBrownhead:
now a privatecollection,NewYork;R. Brilliant(1975) identifies the sitteras ManliaScantilla.
stuccowasusedinsteadof marble.Seea head
in the Ny CarlsbergGlyptothek(790;Poulsen 1974, 116, no.

109,pl. 183);twoheadsin the MuseoCapitolino,182 and 661

(respectively,Fittschenand Zanker1983, 94-5, no. 137, pl.
163; 95, no. 138, pl. 164), and a bust in the Museo Profano
Lateranense586 (Giuliano 1957, 65-6, no. 76, pl. 46). The
Curtiushead alsohasitsuppercrownand hairbun carvedseparately.
09Musee du Louvre3552;de Kersauson1996, 424-5, no.



been worked to accommodate two separate (but

matching) attachments of hair."? It is hard to make
a case for updating, as Mamaea's current hairstyle
follows close on the heavy wig worn by Julia Domna; to recut a Severan style characterized by broad
and low-hanging hair into what is now found on
the Louvre head would have required interventions so substantial that we would expect to see
some trace.1"
Did piecing represent a repair? To be sure, the
zone behind the ear of typical third-century female
portraits was especially prone to breakage because
the hair here flipped up and was carved away from
the neck. Fittschen has attributed at least one instance of piecing to the repair of broken Venuslike shoulder locks."' That we see the same piecing technique in portraits of short-haired men,
where there is no hair to break,"3 casts doubt on
this all-encompassing explanation. At present all
that can be concluded is that piecing was an expedient way to apply projecting features such as hair
or ears, either when the sculpture was first carved
or later recut. Recutting could occur for various
motives, including a complete transformation of the
sitter's identity.'4
Even the briefest survey of Roman portraiture
demonstrates the wide range, or more precisely,
the broad interpretation of the prevailing style of
woman's coiffures in a particular period. The stacked
coiffures popular in the early second century C.E.,
for example, share a similar overall shape but vary
markedly in the components such as braids, coils,
or waves used to build that shape."5 Individualized
in such a way, the coiffure may be likened to the
face itself rather than to the stereotypical body
type."' It follows that it also must have played an
important role in a woman's personal identity: although there are exceptions, women seem to have
avoided looking just like their neighbors.
""Another portrait of Julia Mamaea in the Capitoline
(Fittschenand Zanker1983, 33, no. 35, pl. 44) gives an idea
ofwhatthe hairoriginallylookedlike;note thatthe head shows
breakagein preciselythe same place as the Louvrestatue.
''lThe subject'sears,previouslycoveredbyhair,wouldneed
to be carved,as would the flip of hair thatwasworkedup into
"11Fittschenand Zanker 1983, 95, no.138, pls. 164-165.
" The portraitsarethe colossalheadsofAlexanderSeverus
and Gordionfound together in Ostia (now MuseoNazionale
Romano 329 and 326; Giuliano 1979-, 1.9 pt. 2, 360-2, no.
R273; 1979 1.1, 310-2, no. 186, respectively).See also Calza
1977, 65-8, nos. 82, 84, pls. 60, 62. Piecing occurshere not in
the coiffure,but in the earsprojectingfrom the head.
Thereareampleparallelsfora portrait'scompletechange
of identity.For this period, see Goette 1986;for late first-and
earlysecond-centuryreworkings,see Bergmannand Zanker

[AJA 105

By showing how the hairstyles depicted in Roman portraits can actually be made with human hair,
I have argued that sculpture reproduces real life.
There remains a powerful exception to this practice, however, in the long tresses hanging onto the
shoulders, the "shoulder locks" that are found in
female portraits from many periods (e.g., fig. 11).
An attribute of Venus, shoulder locks are worn by
Roman women to evoke the goddess and the qualities connected with her: beauty, sexuality, and fertility."7 As divine signifiers they are no different in
their associative role from nudity or the gesture of
the hand covering the pubis, yet in their juxtaposition with patently historical features such as the
face and its coiffure, they collapse the boundaries
between real and fictive. Their presence makes
clear that Romans were accustomed to seeing
"through" multiple levels of visual reality."8 They
are powerful reminders that, notwithstanding their
physiognomic realism, Roman portraits were ideological statements about social status, gender, and
cultural values.

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