Reconstruction Gallery

Dressing a Late Roman Lady

There are numerous depictions of womenís clothing upon which to base reconstructions. Here we see an "army wife" of the fourth century. The foundation garment is a tight fitting plain linen under tunic, although it could be short sleeved. As with the mistress Proieta on her casket and Serena on an ivory diptych, the sleeves are tight and gathered at the wrist.

Low woollen sprang socks have been dyed using onion skins to show yellow through the pieced soft footwear.

The woollen outer tunic has very wide sleeves with decoration from hem to hem across the shoulders. This can be seen on various wall paintings from Christian catacombs. Outer tunics from the Cemetery of Priscilla and the Cemetery of Traso show strips with a decorative pattern. A mosaic from Piazza Armerina Villa shows the mistress of the house and her two female attendants with very wide sleeves, often held close to the body by the belt to make working easier. It is likely that the rich had no need for a girdle to hold their sleeves out of the way. But with two tunics a belt or girdle was more likely to be worn, normally under the bust above the waist.

No respectable woman would appear in public without her hair covered in some way. In the early third century Nonius Marcellus mentions the mafortium, equating it with the earlier ricinium or head veil. He calls it a short small mantle worn around the shoulders and over the head. Here the hair is worn in a very simple way. High status ladies still had the opportunity for elaborate display, but covering the hair reduced the opportunity for elaborate hairstyles. St. Paul wrote that as woman was made of man, for man she should wear a veil on her head, a visible symbol of manís authority over her.

The necklace is made up of carnelian beads, derived from the Latin caro, carnis meaning flesh, in reference to the flesh colour sometimes exhibited.