Roman ’Dos, Circa First Century

Octavia Style

Roman Matron

Forget “The Rachel” or “The Bieber,” this Roman hairstyle, with a wicked flip to the bangs, ruled in the first century, B.C., thanks to women copying the big celebrity of their day, Octavia, sister of Emperor Augustus (whom you may know if you saw HBO’s Rome; Augustus battled Mark Anthony and Cleopatra and won to become the next emperor following Caesar’s  murder).

For this style, according to the museum’s text, the back portion of the hair is wrapped into a bun at the back of the neck, and the forward portion is divided into four strands. The front two are curled into a knot over the forehead and the outer two are wrapped back over the head and tied into the bun. Stylish!

Agrippina Minore, aka “The Younger”

Moving on to early first century A.D., this is a “head shot” of Agrippina Minore (or, Agrippina “the younger”—her mother was “Major”), wife of Claudius (who was, in fact, her uncle), sister to Caligula (yes, that Caligula), and mother of the emperor Nero.

Apparently Agrippina’s ambition—for herself and for advancing her son—knew no bounds. Wrote Dio, “There is nothing she will not sacrifice to imperial ambition—neither decency, nor honor, nor chastity. No one attempted in any way to check Agrippina; indeed, she had more power than Claudius himself.” After the death of Claudius, perhaps by Agrippina’s own hand, Nero had enough of his stage mom and had her murdered. But hey, he got to be Emperor! To read more of her story, go here.

This style was characterized by a central part and tight curls around the face. Kinda an improvement over Octavia’s flip.

Nero’s wife liked the style, for she—Claudia Octavia, daughter of Claudius by another wife predating Agrippina—adopted it, too. Again, the hair is gathered into a bun at the nape of the neck and three rows of tight curls frame her brow. It’s the hairstyle that let archaeologists and historians identify this sculpture as a portrait of the actual Claudia O. The hat-like crown, a diadem, signals that she was empress.

The guys got in on the hair action, too. Here’s Brutus (left), with a full head of hair that doesn’t look all that different from guys’ looks today. Did it get mussed while he stabbed Caesar, I wonder?

Et tu, Brute?

Octavian, aka Augustus, brother of Octavia mentioned first in this entry, also had a pretty kempt ’do. And his full-body portrait here shows him off in all his glory: He’d defeated Anthony and Cleopatra, assumed the title of Emperor and put in place a number of reforms that helped to transform Rome. Think he had an ego?

Emperor Augustus, first century B.C.

His reforms were, according to the museum, based in ancient Roman moral and religious values.

Now, check out this guy:

A Boxer

The museum didn’t have any notes about his hair, but I guess by this point the men were sporting full beards. Or at least the athletes were. And it just made me laugh that the sign reads “non accostarsi!”—don’t touch the boxer!

Commodus, circa 180 A.D.

Here’s another Hollywood type. But he doesn’t look much like Joaquin Phoenix, does he? Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius, earned the awful rep he has in the movie “Gladiator.” A despot and a tyrant, he  probably was not killed by a studly Russell Crow–like warrior, but he did get murdered in a palace conspiracy. What a tool!

It’s so interesting how nothing ever really changes. Prior to Commodus’ rule, Rome was plagued by political changes and financial crises. Sound familiar?

And guess what? By 193 A.D., they also had elected an African “president”—well, emperor.

Septimius Severus (right) got elected emperor, and the women in his family—which would rule for 40 years—exerted a strong influence on the nation, starting with his First Lady, Julia. Under his dynasty the provinces grew in importance (states’ rights?) as opposed to Italy (strong central government?). I don’t know, maybe Severus was a Republican and wanted smaller government.

Julia Flavia

Finally, here’s a Julia, although not the one married to Severus. This Julia was the daughter of the emperor Titus and lived during the first century A.D. Again with the curls! And this time it’s taken over her whole head.

She had a crazy life, in keeping with the Roman tradition: Her parents divorced when she was a baby because her mom was connected to Nero, which annoyed her dad. Raised by her father, she first was offered in marriage to her uncle, but he refused because he was obsessed with another woman.  She later married her cousin but after he (and her father) died, her uncle reappeared, seduced her, and they carried on a torrid affair that earned them the disparagement of the writers Dio and Juvenal. Mama mia!

I hope you enjoyed this tour through Roman hairstyles and history as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together! Grazie!

3 comments on “Roman ’Dos, Circa First Century

  1. Zoe cook says:

    Hi!
    I’m doing a school project on roman hairstyles and I absolutely love this website and specifically this article. I need 6 different sources and was wondering where you got this information and if you’d be willing to share your sources! Thanks!

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