16. Dress and adornment

16. Dress and adornment in frontier communities

Session Chairs: Ursula Rothe, Anique Hamelink, Dorothee Olthof & Philip Smither
Afilliation: Open University, United Kingdom
Afilliation co-organiser: University of Amsterdam the Netherlands
Afilliation second co-organiser: PRAE (Prehistoric Re-enactment, Archaeology and Education), the Netherlands
Affiliation third co-organiser: University of Kent/English Heritage, United Kingdom

Session Abstract: This session explores the way people living in Roman frontier communities dressed, adorned and cared for their bodies. The theme encompasses various technologies of the body, consisting of objects, practices and products used in the care and presentation of the body. The session aims to discuss how social identities may have been created, maintained or adapted using these means, in the context of the unique nature of frontier societies, where military and civilian, local and newcomer communities coexisted. How did developments in this cultural sphere reflect the changing social and cultural make-up and orientation of frontier societies?

This session aims to address interaction between pre-existing dress, bodily care and adornment practices in the frontier regions and those introduced under Roman rule, as well as such interaction between military and civilian elements. What kinds of practices characterised the different communities, and how, and by whom, were new practices adopted and pre-existing practices transformed, replaced or retained? One of the themes of the session will be to explore the concept of ‘anchoring innovation’: the idea that the success of new ideas and inventions that affect social life depends on their potential to be somehow embedded (‘anchored’) in pre-existing norms and practices of that society (https://www.ru.nl/oikos/anchoring-innovation/).

The session welcomes contributions on a wide range of topics such as:

  • dress and dress accessories
  • hair removal and hairdressing
  • bodily modifications such as tattooing or piercing
  • toilet instruments
  • cosmetics
  • jewellery
  • footwear

We welcome papers that go above and beyond mere typologies of objects to explore what bodily practices meant to the make-up and dynamic of frontier communities. The theme encompasses socio-cultural as well as technical innovations and the interplay between them.

Time Presenter (s) Presentation
09.00 Introduction
09.10 Elizabeth Greene In Someone Else’s Shoes: Constructing identities on the Roman frontiers through footwear
09.30 Anique Hamelink Dining ‘Roman style’: wearing the synthesis on funerary monuments in the Rhineland and Britain
09.50 Hans Huisman & Dorothee Olthof Hairy problems – an experimental approach to the possible archaeology of spuma Batava
10.10 Discussion
10.50 Dan Aparaschivei Clothing accessories as indicators of daily life in the Province of Scythia. The case of Ibida walled town in the 4th-5th centuries AD
11.10 Krzysztof Narloch A sign of good relations. Why did Roman soldiers wear the ridge helmets?
11.30 Kelvin Wilson Survival of Native Dress: A Visual Compendium
11.50 Adjournment

In Someone Else’s Shoes: Constructing identities on the Roman frontiers through footwear
Elizabeth Wolfram Thill, IUPUI, Elizabeth Greene, Western University

In the modern world, the social resonance of footwear is widely acknowledged, from the stylized stilettos of Jimmy Choo, to the moral outcry over Lil Nas X’s recent “Devil” sneakers. In the ancient world, footwear likewise played a role in signaling and constructing social identity within the complex milieu that was life on the Roman frontier. The types of shoes claimed by an individual could draw distinctions between–or connections across–distinct social groups, including legionary citizen soldiers, auxiliary soldiers, provincial civilians, and enslaved populations. This went beyond practical concerns such as heavy boots for marching soldiers or bare feet for those too poor to afford shoes. The assemblage of over four-thousand shoes at Vindolanda shows that Roman military officers wore shoes where the elaborate design and potential for social distinction outweighed logistical concerns of protecting the foot. These values were carried through to children’s footwear in the praetorium, potentially even from a very young age. Yet in the same assemblage, shoes associated with rank-and-file soldiers do not demonstrate a similar concern for using the shoes of children to mark social status. On the Tropaeum Traiani, an imperial monument traditionally attributed to frontier military sculptors, shoes are used to draw distinctions among various social groups, from the elaborate caligae of the Roman soldiers to the bare feet of the captive women. But in reiter reliefs and other funerary monuments carved presumably by the same class of artists, the soldiers themselves are shown heroically bare foot. Local provincial sculpture, such as that of Moesia, shows little concern for footwear, leaving feet uncarved or omitted from portraiture entirely. The social power of shoes, both real and depicted, thus varied substantially by context, shifting according to social status, artistic setting, and cultural identity, and adding to the complexity of frontier life.

Dining ‘Roman style’: wearing the synthesis on funerary monuments in the Rhineland and Britain
Anique Hamelink, University of Amsterdam

The importance of the toga to the Romans as a symbol of their identity and culture is hard to overestimate. Its adoption (or absence) in life and art in provincial contexts is therefore an important part of the story of provincial and Roman socio-cultural interaction (Rothe 2019). Yet the prominence of the toga leads us to overlook other types of dress that are equally valuable in this regard. One such underappreciated type of dress is the synthesis, a special Roman dinner costume consisting of a matching tunic and rectangular cloak. Scholarship has either mostly misidentified the synthesis as a toga (e.g. Noelke, Kibilka, and Kemper 2005), overlooked it (Freigang 1997), or only discussed it as a part of Roman dress culture in Italy (Olson 2017). However, the synthesis was not constricted to Italian or Mediterranean context: it appears on the Vindolanda tables and tombstones of men ánd women along the frontiers of the Rhineland and Britain as part of the iconography of the funerary banquet. Its adoption and interpretation in provincial contexts is the focus of this paper. I argue that the success of the synthesis as a new dress form in the provinces was due to its embeddedness within Roman dining culture which made it readily acceptable and suitable for the creation and expression of identities in frontier societies. I analyse the role of auxiliary soldiers as early adopters of the synthesis and the interaction between military and civilian elements in the evolution of banquet iconography and dinner dress. Doing so, this paper aims to spark a discussion on the adoption of, and familiarity with, aspects of Roman culture across the range of inhabitants of frontier societies.

Hairy problems – an experimental approach to the possible archaeology of spuma Batava
Hans Huisman, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands and University of Groningen, Dorothee Olthof, PRAE

Roman sources refer to a specific type of hair care product called sapo, spuma Batava, spuma Teutonicos or spuma Mattiaca. This product, which was used as soap but may also have functioned as a hairdye had its origins along the Northwestern Limes. According to Pliny the elder, it was invented by the Gauls, who used it for reddening the hair, but it was also attributed to Germanic tribes. It was made from wood ashes (preferably from beech) and goat’s fat, and there were two kinds, a hard and a soft. Among the Germans it was more used by the men than by women. 1st century Roman poets like Martial and Ovid allude to the use of these Germanic or Gaulic hair products by Roman women, sometimes with detrimental results. Apparently this Northern invention made its way into the boudoirs of ancient Rome, influencing the Roman care of the body and perception of beauty. Scholars have differed in their interpretation of this mysterious substance, and variously described it as a kind of pommade or possibly a soap and doubted its power to dye hair. As archaeologists, we wonder if there could be any traces left of it in the archaeological record. In order to get more insight into the nature, manufacture, use and possible archaeological traces of spuma Batava we conducted an archaeological experiment with the ingredients described in the ancient sources. The results will be presented in this paper.  Pliny Naturalis Historia 28; 191(28-47) Juvenal Satires 13 (dls.C.I. 165) Martial Epigrammata 8-33 (19-21) Martial Epigrammata 14-26 Ovid Amores 1.14 (1-2; 43-51)

Clothing accessories as indicators of daily life in the Province of Scythia. The case of Ibida walled town in the 4th-5th centuries AD
Dan Aparaschivei, Institute of Archaeology Iași, Romanian Academy

The Ibida fortified complex, in the province of Scythia, built in the 4th century on the site of a former early Roman settlement, has benefited in the last two decades from extensive systematic archaeological research. Among the artifacts identified both in the nearby cemetery (in which about 200 simple graves and family tombs were excavated) and from the excavations carried out in the sectors of the fortress, numerous “small finds” pieces resulted. Many of these are clothing accessories and ornaments characteristic of women’s and men’s costumes. These are brooches, belt fittings, bracelets, beads, earrings, etc. The find in closed features, such as tombs, of such objects dated in the 4th -5th centuries can provide for a series of very exciting conclusions regarding the social status of the deceased, funeral rites, and the attitude towards death of his/her contemporaries, and sometimes even to ethnic origin. We know very well that judging ethnicity on the basis of this type of artifacts is quite hazardous, given the social dynamics and the production and marketing conditions of this type of goods. However, we have certain pieces that the literature regards as the definite markers of Germanic populations; as an example are the “Levitze-Prscha” subtype fibulae or the triangular head plate and rhombic foot fibulae, part of the series of “Levitze-Tokari” type, dated in the 5th century. In our communication we will focus on a series of artifacts characteristic of the target timeframe, which are the pretext for discussing aspects of the everyday life in this city with a decisive role in defending the northeastern limes of the Late Empire. Of course, within the time constraints, we shall provide a statistical presentation of the types of garments identified in one of the largest cities in the province of Scythia (27.5 ha).

A sign of good relations. Why did Roman soldiers wear the ridge helmets?
Krzysztof Narloch, Antiquity of Southeastern Europe Research Centre University of Warsaw

Late Roman ridge helmets constitute a relatively small and quite homogeneous group of items and as such have been the object of research for over a century. The question of their provenance is quite clear and does not arouse wider discussion. The situation is different in case of interpretations concerning the users of two main types of these helmets, i.e. cavalry and infantry. These helmets, apart from their military function, also had a symbolic value. Their design, decoration and the materials used reflect the social, political and religious changes that took place in the empire in the second half of the 3rd and 4th centuries. The nature of their decoration indicates that the message was addressed to the civilian part of the community. On the other hand, its varied adornments and even the artistic design of some pieces were also intended to emphasize the status of their owners and and were to impress their army colleagues.

Survival of Native Dress: A Visual Compendium
Kelvin Wilson

Though the northern border lands of the Roman empire were in constant cultural flux, the rural folk of the Ubii, Cugerni and Treveri nonetheless remained opposing an old fiend: northern weather. Roman era iconography shows that these people wore clothes which covered against rain, packed them against the cold, and when the summer put them outside to work, that they stripped down. Hoods, scarfs, leggings. Scholars tend to think of these coverings as survivals of pre-Roman traditions. And it is likely also more than mere serendipity that we see so many of them repeated in the medieval and even modern eras. They make sense where they were worn— and that which is practical, survives. With a unique series of visual reconstructions, purposely made for this event, this talk will take the viewer back to the far past of rural clothing in northwestern Europe, then forward to pockets of possible survival on its outer edges: to the mountains of Portugal where the Celtic cucullus hood could long still be found, and to the agricultural communities of early modern Britain where dress elements as old as the Iron Age still had common practical use.