Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Hairstyles in Ancient Greece and Rome

Classical Greek hairstyle. Image Source: Bible Study.

The WSJ is reporting that a Baltimore hairdresser, Janet Stephens, who has figured out how the Greeks and Romans created their elaborate hairstyles (Thanks to -C.). Up until she contributed to this area of research, historians in the field (who have no practical hairdressing experience) assumed that Greek and Roman hairstyles were wigs. Stephens has established that classical hairstyles were actually sewn into the hair.

A Millennial hairstyle copying the look of a classical Greek hairstyle. Image Source: Ancient Hair.

Modern recreations of ancient Roman and Egyptian hair: "Models wear historic hairstyles, including the 'Vestal Virgin' style, left, and one favored by Cleopatra, right." Image Source: J. Stephens via WSJ.

Modern recreation: "Ancient Greek Kore hair project Art History program at Fairfield University." Image Source: Fairfield University via Ancient Hair.

There is a growing Millennial interest in copying historical hairdos, from the past century to the very beginning of written history. Several blogs are devoted to these recreated styles - see here and here for examples. Historical hairstyle recreation was also the subject of a special Art History project at Fairfield University (above).

Fayum mummy portrait: "Depiction of a woman with a ringlet hairstyle, an orange chiton with black bands and rod-shaped earrings." Image Source: Wiki.

"Roman bust of Antinous, c. 130 AD." Image Source: Wiki via Ancient Hair.

"Portrait of a woman of the Flavian age 90-100 A.D. Marble, h. 28 cm Paris, Musée du Louvre. Image Source: daring to do.

"Portrait of a woman, cd. Head Start of the second century A. D. Fonseca Marble, h. 63 cm Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo Nuovo di Zeno Colantoni Photo." Image Source: daring to do. For more, see here.

From the WSJ report:
By day, Janet Stephens is a hairdresser at a Baltimore salon, trimming bobs and wispy bangs. By night she dwells in a different world. At home in her basement, with a mannequin head, she meticulously re-creates the hairstyles of ancient Rome and Greece.

Ms. Stephens is a hairdo archaeologist.

Her amateur scholarship is sticking a pin in the long-held assumptions among historians about the complicated, gravity-defying styles of ancient times. Basically, she has set out to prove that the ancients probably weren't wearing wigs after all.

"This is my hairdresserly grudge match with historical representations of hairstyles," says Ms. Stephens, who works at Studio 921 Salon and Day Spa, which offers circa 21st-century haircuts.

Her coiffure queries began, she says, when she was killing time in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore back in 2001. A bust of the Roman empress Julia Domna caught her eye. "I thought, holy cow, that is so cool," she says, referring to the empress's braided bun, chiseled in stone. She wondered how it had been built. "It was amazing, like a loaf of bread sitting on her head," says Ms. Stephens.

She tried to re-create the 'do on a mannequin. "I couldn't get it to hold together," she says. Turning to the history books for clues, she learned that scholars widely believed the elaborately teased, towering and braided styles of the day were wigs.

She didn't buy that. Through trial and error she found that she could achieve the hairstyle by sewing the braids and bits together, using a needle. She dug deeper into art and fashion history books, looking for references to stitching.

In 2005, she had a breakthrough. Studying translations of Roman literature, Ms. Stephens says, she realized the Latin term "acus" was probably being misunderstood in the context of hairdressing. Acus has several meanings including a "single-prong hairpin" or "needle and thread," she says. Translators generally went with "hairpin."

The single-prong pins couldn't have held the intricate styles in place. But a needle and thread could. It backed up her hair hypothesis.

In 2007, she sent her findings to the Journal of Roman Archaeology. "It's amazing how much chutzpah you have when you have no idea what you're doing," she says. "I don't write scholarly material. I'm a hairdresser."

John Humphrey, the journal's editor, was intrigued. "I could tell even from the first version that it was a very serious piece of experimental archaeology which no scholar who was not a hairdresser—in other words, no scholar—would have been able to write," he says.

He showed it to an expert, who found the needle-and-thread theory "entirely original," says Mr. Humphrey, whose own scholarly work has examined arenas for Roman chariot racing.

Ms. Stephens' article was edited and published in 2008, under the headline "Ancient Roman Hairdressing: On (Hair)Pins and Needles." The only other article by a nonarchaeologist that Mr. Humphrey can recall publishing in the journal's 25-year history was written by a soldier who had discovered an unknown Roman fort in Iraq.
Roman empress Julia Domna. Image Source: Wiki.

Empress Julia Domna on the left, in a portrait of the imperial family: "Tondo from Djemila (Algeria), probably AD 199 (G. M. A. Hanfmann, Roman Art, 1964, pl. XLVIII), showing the Severan dynasty: Septimius Severus with Julia Domna, Caracalla and Geta, whose face is smeared out, probably because of the damnatio memoriae put against him by Caracalla. Tempera on wood, Staatliche Museum zu Berlin (inv. 31.329). Diam. 30 cm." Image Source: Wiki.

Video Source: WSJ via Youtube.



  1. That;s pretty neat! Leave it to a non-scholar to get to the heart (or hair) of the matter...

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  3. Very motivated and inspired. Brilliant...I #hope Alumni designer @Kevumyn Pounds on Facebook sees this!