Hi, I’m Fashion Historian Amber Butchart Today we’re here at Wroxeter Roman City, which is cared for by English Heritage During the third century when Britain was part of the once powerful Roman Empire, this was one of the largest cities in the country.
From tradespeople to trendsetters, Wroxeter was a thriving metropolis of power, politics and pampering. Today we’re going to be exploring the Roman beauty trends that quite literally changed the face of Britain.
We’re going to show you how you can recreate a Roman-inspired look at home, and we’re going to be taking a look at some makeup artefacts found right here at Wroxeter. So what are we waiting for? Let’s explore Roman Britain Rebecca, hello! Hi Amber, it’s nice to see you again Nice to see you too.
Now today is very exciting. Britain was a province of the Roman Empire for around 400 years from 43 AD. Today we’re here at Wroxeter Roman City which was the fourth largest city in Roman Britain, comparable in size to Pompeii in Italy.
So it was a really busy, bustling thriving place to live and work. Now what’s especially exciting for us is that there have been a lot of cosmetic artefacts found here on the site as well so we’ll be looking into those later.
Now tell me about the Roman look that we’re going to recreate today. Well we know the Roman Empire was big and it existed for a long time. So we decided to take a starting point and our starting point is a woman called Julia Domna.
She was the wife of Emperor Septimius Severus in the 3rd century AD and we’re going to be creating a Roman style look on our beautiful model Sarah – hello – and let’s get started Great Now many people in Roman Britain would have known about Julia Domna due to her status as the Empress, the Emperor’s wife.
So how are we going to bring this look to life? Well we’re going to start at a point that I always think of when I think of the Romans and that is bathing and cleanliness The Romans were famous, I guess, for their bathing process and actually it’s really interesting because if you’ve been to a spa or you’ve been to a hammam a lot of the processes you see in spas today are really, really similar to what the Romans were using.
So you would have cold rooms, steam rooms, saunas, warm rooms and massages and maybe some beauty therapists Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Yeah, I’m glad I came So we’re going to start our first step in the Roman bathing ritual by massaging Sarah’s arm with a little bit of oil.
We’re using just a cheap olive oil At this stage I would like your arm please, yes So oil is what helps to start the cleaning process. So we’ll massage it in While I’m doing this I think it’s really interesting to think about how important appearance was to Romans Well appearance, bathing, grooming all of these things are really important for Roman and Roman British identity and all aspects of the way you present yourself could sort of signal things like gender, maybe your rank if you were in the military, amulets might be worn for protection so a variety of different things Now also something that really shows the importance of grooming is toilette sets that have been found including things like tweezers and nail cleaners as well which people might wear on their person.
So it just really shows the importance of keeping a clean body Yeah it’s really interesting that tools for beauty seem to be really important part of the Roman process and there’s one tool that I’m excited to be using On me? Yeah, on you! This is a strigil and this was used by slaves in the baths to clean the skin So once you’ve massage oil into the skin, maybe then you’d go off and do some more bathing or some exercise or some swimming, and then your slave would take the strigil and they run it down the skin and this removes the oil and the grease and the dirt.
Oil is a really effective cleanser we still use it today and most modern skincare line-ups have an oil cleanser because oil is lipophilic and that means it attracts like, it attracts itself and it tracks dirt so it’s super, super effective way of cleansing and also exfoliating the skin So in the age before YouTube and Instagram and magazines how did the Romans get their information about new trends and styles? Well luckily for us we do have quite a few images of Julia Domna One source in particular that we can draw on is coins.
Now coins were a great way for the ruling family to disseminate their image, to show how they wanted to be presented to really relay their power. Women on coins tended to be either goddesses or empresses like Julia But what’s particularly useful for us is that it also shows us what hairstyles were current as well Well, we’ll do the next step in our Roman skincare regime and I’m going to moisturise your skin using something which we know as lanolin.
Now lanolin is the grease from sheep’s wool which sounds a bit disgusting, but it’s an incredibly effective moisturiser it’s really, really emollient and you can feel it’s really quite heavy and sticky but it actually contains a lot of ingredients that in modern day skincare we really look out for.
So it’s got a AHAs and BHAs – alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids These are incredible for your skin, so your skin will feel fantastic. But it might be a little bit smelly A couple of writers in Rome complained about the smell of their wives and girlfriends using lanolin on their skin But you might be pleased to know that this is not the smelliest or weirdest ingredient that we could have used on you today.
In some parts of the Roman Empire there was an ingredient called ‘crocodilea’ that was used. Reports vary as to whether that’s the intestines of a crocodile or the dung of a crocodile – oh no! – that you would spread on your face I don’t want to be a Roman But it would tighten and tone your skin, interested yet? No! Ok! Now one thing we should keep in mind is that as with today women in Roman Britain do not form a homogeneous group.
The Roman Empire is huge geographically and there’s a lot of movement within it as well. So we’ve got people coming here from the Mediterranean, from the Middle East like Julia Domna from Syria and from North Africa as well.
And that’s on top of the groups who are here already when the Romans arrived like the Cornovii tribe who were living around the area of Wroxeter The Roman Empire was really international wasn’t it? It really was and we see that in some of the textile fragments that remain as well For example we see Chinese silks or silks made with Chinese yarns that have been found on sites in Colchester, just incredible.
And it’s thought that cosmetics could have been imported from as far away as Egypt which was also a Roman province at the time as well. So travel and trade was really, really extensive at this point It’s incredible how far things could travel within the Empire.
But there’s something that we have that I think is really exciting that is we think exclusive to Britain. It’s a Roman cosmetics grinder. This is a replica. It’s so fascinating! So you would take your mortar and into your mortar you’d put a piece of charcoal or perhaps antimony or maybe even soot, which is what some Romans use to create an eyeliner or a kohl.
And then you would take your pestle and you’d grind it up to make a powder, you’d perhaps put a drop of oil or fat into there, and then this grinder is so specially shaped that it fits on the eye so you can use this actually as your makeup applicator Now this look in particular that we associate with Julia Domna; the dark eyes, the dark brows, we see this in depictions of women in the later Roman era as well throughout the empire, so it was clearly very popular Well I’m going to leave you getting to grips with that, and I’m going to go and find out more about the cosmetic artefacts that have been found here at Wroxeter so I will see you later Have fun! Cameron tell me about your work as a Curator with English Heritage I’m the Curator of Collections for the West Midlands.
I look after the things that are on display at the sites in the various site museums and for the large collection of material that is held in warehouses across the country Now you’ve done some work specifically looking at Roman cosmetics that have been found here at Wroxeter.
Tell me how that came about The first proper excavations took place here in the 1910s and the 1920s, and that material hadn’t really been re-examined for a long time. And when I recently came back to go through those collections, I found three items that had previously been described as ‘lunate pendants’, the kind of thing that would hang from a necklace And now we know that those are actually little cosmetic sets, grinding sets that were used for eye makeup in the Roman period Amazing and are they specific to Britain? They are specific to Britain, yes, and you start to see them in the 1st century AD and they do seem to be a response within this country to the import of cosmetics and ideas about personal beauty that coming here from the Mediterranean I’m really excited to see some of these objects, what have you brought with you today? Well here are two components of two different cosmetic grinder sets they come in little sets but you tend to find them individually because people take them apart from each other to use them What other cosmetic items do we have? We have a surprising number of cosmetic items.
We have nail cleaners, a wide variety of nail cleaners; we have tweezers, depilation was a big thing hairlessness was was very attractive and one of my personal favourites is this little perfume bottle, we have loads of perfume bottles What else do these discoveries tell us about Roman life? I think they really tell us that Roman life was urban life and that when the Romans came they brought with them this whole range of new influences and new materials and new consumer goods that simply did not exist before in this country Cameron thank you so much We’re midway through our transformation so I’m going go and see how they’re getting on Thank you Bye Oh wow! Look at that, it’s so bright I love it! We’re finally using some colour, I’m very excited We’ve got some written evidence that suggests that Roman women would use ground-up precious stones or minerals to create eyeshadows, so maybe using lapis lazuli or malachite or azulite, sometimes even saffron as well, ground-up maybe with a touch of oil to create you know an eyeshadow Now I did do some grinding.
I ground some lapis lazuli and this is what you get. It’s a really, really beautiful color But I’m not actually using it on Sarah because I didn’t actually want to put granules of rock on her eyes because my grinding skills are not the best, so I’m using a modern equivalent which is a brightly coloured pigment powder So gorgeous! And it looks amazing I’m applying it with my finger and I also mocked up a bit of speculation as to what a Roman eyeshadow blender might look like.
This is bit of lamb’s wool with some wool lashed onto a stick – lovely! – for blending out the edges Incredible! Well the Roman world would have been a really vibrant place. We tend to think of people as just wearing white at this time and I think there are a couple of reasons behind this.
Firstly it’s because of statues which now are white, but at the time would mostly have been painted in quite bright colors but this has kind of tainted our idea of what the ancient world looked like. In fact we have writing from Ovid in ‘The Art of Love’ and he talks about woolen clothes in a number of different colours; saffron, amethyst, green, sky blue, watercolor which sounds lovely, chestnut, almond – it really would have been a rainbow, bright, vibrant place to live Let’s finish this look off with some lips and cheeks and I’m adding a small amount of colour This is modern, safe version of vermillion, mixed with goose fat and beeswax So hairstyles were a really important aspect of display in the Roman world What are you going to do to Sarah’s hair today? We’re going to be using a wig today and it’s not necessarily the case that every single woman would have used a wig to get these elaborate styles, but wigs were used in the Roman Empire Well hairstyles were clearly very important in Roman Britain because hair pins are one of the most common sight finds that we find around the country and this actually started to die out towards the end of the 4th century and it’s been suggested that that could be because it was at this period where Christianity began to become quite widespread so ideas around modesty and display change and it’s thought that women maybe started covering their heads so there are fewer of these very elaborate hairstyles.
While you work your magic I’m going to go and find out more about Wroxeter as a Roman city. See you later! Andrew, tell me about your work as an English Heritage Historian Well I’m a Properties Historian at English Heritage and I have a special interest in Roman sites which are spread across the country, and my job is to research the history of our sites and help present them to the public Now we’re standing among these Roman ruins but it would have been a really bustling, thriving, busy place to live and work.
Can you paint a picture of what it would have been like here in the 3rd century? Wroxeter was founded as an army fortress on land taken from the Cornovii tribe as part of the conquest of the North-West of Britain By the 3rd century it’s developed into a thriving city and much like any other city in the Roman Empire you would have a whole range of different people from across the Roman world some would be of very high status so the rich men that served on city council, others might be craftspeople or traders, farmers and of course slaves they did a lot of the unseen hard work Where exactly are we right now? Right now we’re standing in Wroxeter’s famous public bathhouse.
1800 years ago you would be able to smell the fires burning in the furnaces that heated the baths, you’d be able to hear the chattering of the bathers and perhaps the cries of the vendors selling their wares in the marketplace next door So bathing was really important for the Romans, talk me through how these baths would have been used Well bathing was an essential part of Roman life.
Every Roman citizen rich or poor; man, woman or child would expect to bathe as a daily part of their ritual And we’re not talking about a quick wash, we’re talking about a series of quite involved elaborate processes.
So you’d start in the coldest room, the frigidarium, and then you moved to the tepidarium, which is a warmer room, before finally going to the caldarium, which was the hottest room where you’d be able to get a hot bath Once you’d had enough of the heat, you’d go back to the beginning and take a cold plunge in order to refresh yourself I love a plunge pool, this all sounds amazing, sign me up! There’s plenty to do here.
Bathing was quite a social process so you’d come here maybe to meet friends or to do business deal and there’s also a lot of ways to spend your money and occupy your time. So in the basilica there would have been a space for people to provide services perhaps there might be someone to do your hair or to do your makeup and just next door was a small market where it might well have been possible for you to buy the latest trends in makeup or jewellery or textiles for your clothes So our look today is inspired by the Empress Julia Domna, wife of Septimus Severus, how did they come to be in Britain? In 208 AD Septimius Severus the Roman Emperor comes to Britain in order to mount a military campaign to the north of Hadrian’s Wall.
With him is the Empress Julia Domna and their sons and so for a short period of time the Roman Empire is ruled from Britain Thanks so much Andrew They should be finished with the makeup now so I’m going to go and check out how they’re going.
Thank you Rebecca this is incredible! How have you created this hair, it’s so elaborate? Thanks! It was so much fun to do. We’ve taken the two front sections of the wig, plaited them and then two of the back sections we’ve drawn out into long, thick plaits.
Then I sewed those together and then placed them onto the top of the head and then sewed that onto the top of the wig. And it means that you get this hairstyle that is completely invincible, it’s held up with no hair pins it’s just held up with sewing and it means that these elaborate hairstyles can then stay up for maybe a week or so at a time Wow! So it’s like going to get your hair set at the hairdresser’s, that kind of thing? It’s kind of exactly that because you can’t really sew your own hair so this kind of hairstyle means that you have to go to a hairdresser to get it done It just looks absolutely incredible! Thank you! I think the outfit looks amazing as well, but I have to say it’s not what I was expecting from a Roman outfit Well we have modelled what Sarah is wearing here on a bas relief of Julia Domna from the Arch of Septimius Severus in modern day Libya.
Now she’s wearing a short-sleeved tunic which would have been the height of fashion and this cloak, known as the palla as well Now what I really love about it is the colour, I think that’s what we’re not necessarily expecting.
This is linen we’ve got here and wool. Wool takes colour really, really well. Now it’s likely from the elaborate folds in the bas relief that she probably would have been wearing silk as an empress but here we’ve gone for a bit more egalitarian linen and wool, which were really important fabrics in Roman Britain.
But it is the colour that’s fantastic Now this purple I love. Purple was a really important colour in the Roman world you could create a really vibrant, bright purple using the secretions of a sea snail, which was very, very expensive but to create it here in Roman Britain You could have used a plant like madder for red and woad for blue for example It wouldn’t have been quite as bright but would have given us a kind of purple.
Yellow you could create with saffron, with weld or even with onion skins you can use as a natural dye as well And moving further down. The shoes, I love the shoes that Sarah is wearing! These are really similar to some Roman shoes that were found near Hadrian’s Wall Now trends in shoes could change relatively quickly, it could be much quicker than clothing itself.
And the Romans actually introduced the technology of proper leather tanning to Britain as well so waterproof shoes begin to exist for the first time That is amazing! So what would the Romans ever done for us? Dry feet! Exactly, exactly and it also means that we have a load of Roman shoes to use as sources as well Incredible! And we’ve got a lovely bit of jewellery on here Tell me about the jewellery that Sarah is wearing Here we’ve used a pearl necklace.
Pearls were the most luxurious, most expensive jewels in the Roman Empire. We do have an image of Julia Domna where it looks like she’s wearing a pearl necklace so that’s what we’ve gone for here. Jewellery could be worn by all levels of society though because you’ve got such a range of materials that you could use.
For example if you were very wealthy you may wear emerald but if you were less wealthy you might wear green glass beads instead Tell me, how do you like your Roman look? The garments are quite heavy but I think the overall look, I really like it.
It’s very regal You look amazing! You look fantastic, it really suits you! Thank you for being such a brilliant model Thank you! This tutorial was brought to life by artefacts found here at Wroxeter Roman City These objects, cared for by English Heritage, show just how conscious the Romans were of their appearance and give us remarkable insight into their daily life.
But the conservation of incredible sites like this is not possible without your support. To find out how you can support the Charity click the link on the screen now. Until next time, I’m Amber Butchart and thanks for joining us for another English Heritage History Inspired Makeup Tutorial