23 June 2021

Coiffure Legendaire: A Walk Through The History of Roman Hairdressing

These days the Museum of Human Evolution in Atapuerca (Burgos) has witnessed a brilliant lecture by the most renowned historian of world of hairdressing, Raffel Pages. Let’s walk with him through the dawn of Roman hairdressing…

Raffel Pages, founder/director of the Museum of History of Hairdressing in Barcelona, explained that the first known professional barbers, who were organised into guilds, date from 303 BC. Thus appeared the first hairdressers trained in Greek Sicily and introduced into Rome by Ticinius Mena. These barber-hairdressers were called ‘tonsor’ and became a part of the daily life of the Romans, plying their trade in taberna shops or on the streets, outdoors, or even making house calls. Their main activity was to shave beards, but they also cut and dyed hair, and cared for hands and feet.

A characteristic tool of this period was the ‘pixidio’, which was used to deposit small locks from the first cut of a young Roman’s beard. This was a ritual that took place as part of a religious ceremony called ‘Depositio Barbae‘ when the boy turned 21. In Rome, unlike Greece, not only was blond hair preferred, but some senior Roman social and political figures chose dark hair and even black. Pliny the Younger, the famous 1st century naturalist, wrote about the importance of dark hair dyes.

But the real impact for Roman women took place when they saw the beautiful blonde hair worn by female captives brought from Gaul by Julius Caesar. Messalina, the wife of Emperor Claudius, and the Empress Faustina possessed over 700 models of wigs, especially blonds for their nights of debauchery and sexual lust. As illustrated by the documents and the art of the era, hairstyles varied over the course of the Roman Empire.

Raffel Pages explains that in order to dye their hair blond, Roman women mainly used saffron and also a famous recipe based on goat fat and beech ash… though it was not very healthy for hair. The stereotype that men prefer blondes – the origins of which are often attributed to the fifties of the 20th century– instead can be traced to many centuries before. Hair, as a symbol of privileged beauty and a provocative erotic element, is described repeatedly in the Latin texts of Ovid or Catullus. The importance of blonde hair was such that different terms were used in Rome to designate different shades of blond: flavus, aureus, croceus, fulvus, rufus, rutilus

More information: www.museumraffelpages.com

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