WHEN IS MORE MORE? When you’re dressing the hair of an upper-class Roman beauty

September 29, 2015

 

An upper-class Roman woman's hairstyle was an indication of her wealth and status. Only she could afford the time and servants necessary to have her hair dressed in an elaborate design. She also needed a head of long, unlayered hair so her tresses could be fashioned into a combination of twists, braids, and panels, which were then sewn into place with a blunt needle and woolen thread. Finally, a fringe of curls would be added using a calamistrum, a bronze curling iron consisting of a hollow cylinder and a rod. The hair was wrapped around the rod and then inserted into the heated cylinder.

 

Though a Jewess, Miriam as a Roman citizen in Roman Egypt dressed her hair as a Roman woman would, especially when she was preparing for a gala evening at the Upper Palace in Casearea. In THE DEADLIEST HATE, she tells us how Phoebe styled her hair for that event:

 

“She plaited my hair and arranged the braids in a crown that she fixed in place with gold pins and dressed with a gold-threaded net. But when she brought out the calamistrum, I balked. We were already stifling in that airless room, thick with shadows even in the early afternoon, and choking on the stench from the stable yard next door. She relented but only after a ragged breath and a theatrical sigh.” 

 

Women also dyed their hair. But with all that braiding, twisting, curling, and dying, hair thinning was common. Fortunately, several treatments were available: (a) a sow's gall bladder mixed with bulls’ urine, (b) the ashes of an ass's genitals, or (c) the ashes of a deer's antlers mixed with wine.

 

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