Recreating the Vestal Hairstyle

… and here’s yet another item from the AIA (and Stephanie Pappas) and FWIW I believe that during the activities last week, Janet Stephens’ poster on this was making the rounds on Twitter — perhaps a hint to folks to ‘put this stuff out there’. In any event, once again, the incipit:

For the first time, the hairstyle of the Roman Vestal Virgins has been recreated on a modern head.

The Vestals were priestesses who guarded the fire of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, among other sacred tasks. Chosen before puberty and sworn to celibacy, they were free from many of the social rules that limited women in the Roman era. Their braided hairstyle, the sini crenes, symbolized chastity and was known in ancient texts as the oldest hairstyle in Rome.

“These were the six most important women in Rome with the possible exception of the emperor’s wife,” said Janet Stephens, the Baltimore hairdresser and amateur archaeologist who unraveled the secrets of the Vestals’ trademark braids. [See Video of the Braiding Process]

Mystery hairstyle

Stephens reported her findings Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle. She first became interested in ancient hairdressing after what she calls an “accidental encounter” with an ancient portrait bust in Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum.

“I said, ‘Oh, that is so cool, I gotta try this at home,'” Stephens told LiveScience. “And it failed miserably.”

The failure spawned seven years of research and a publication in the journal Roman Archaeology on the techniques of Roman Imperial Period hairdressing. The Vestal Virgin style, however, presented particular challenges because the Vestals’ layered headdresses covered much of their hair. In sculptures and other artwork, the details of the Vestals’ braids are often obscured.

“It’s been incredibly elusive trying to figure out how it was made until now, because there were only two artifacts that show the hairstyle in enough detail to tell anything about how the hairstyle was constructed,” Stephens said. [...]

Over the past little while, we seem to have accumulated quite a bit on ancient hairstyles:

… there’s probably a couple more that I’ve missed …

Carin Green on Tutulina, Sessia, and Messia

A vestal virgin, detail of an engraving by Sir...
Image via Wikipedia

I think this will be the last one from the Toledo series that I post today … one could kill a lot of time with these:

The Circus Maximus is generally considered a place of spectacle where emperors indulged an impotent public with displays of power and largess to ensure public complacency. Romans gave up their freedom for “bread and circuses” Juvenal famously says. It makes good copy (or Juvenal would not have said it), but it overlooks the importance of the goddesses whose place on the spina, the central spine of the Circus, put them at the heart of the drama, both in the races and in the theater, that took place there. Three goddesses, the protectress Tutulina and her companions Sessia and Messia, goddesses of Rome’s vitality and wealth, and the goddess Victory, all had shrines on the spina, which, not coincidentally, marked the sacred boundary of Rome. Rituals and ritual drama of crisis, sacrifice, and triumph, performed by the Vestal Virgins, among others, throughout the year at these shrines taught the audience about the power these goddesses had to defend Rome. The significance of the Circus as the place in which protection and safety were reified by divine power in feminine form was so much part of Roman culture that even after non-Christian rites were officially suppressed in Rome (ca. AD 380), Romans turned to it in times of crisis. Both St. Augustine and Pope Leo bitterly lament the fact that when the Goths sacked Rome in 410, and for decades after, the Romans sought the reassurance of the Circus at the times of the old rituals, rather than attending to the martyrs’ churches. Interestingly, the earliest martyrs’ churches in Rome seem to have been built in imitation of the layout of the Circus.

Carin M. C. Green is Professor and Chair of Classics at the University of Iowa. She received a B.A. in Latin from San Jose State College, an M.A. in Latin from the University of Texas, and a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of Virginia. She teaches courses in Latin composition, Augustan poetry, Roman religion, Lucan, and Greek prose. Her book, Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2007. She is currently—when not occupied with departmental administration—working on a monograph about the Roman deity Consus and the Vestal Virgins.

via Dr. Carin Green | ”Women, the Circus and the Defense of Rome” | March 20, 2010 | Toledo Museum of Art.