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 …

5 thoughts on “Recreating the Vestal Hairstyle

    1. which statuary is that? i was under the impression only the ones being buried alive were shorn

  1. PDF = ROMA BENI ARCHEOLOGIA: “I segrati delle vestali – Cosi una ricercatrice americana ricostruisce le chiome delle sacerdotesse a partire delle statue antiche [Dott.ssa Janet Stephens e Journal of Roman Archaeology (USA)],” IL MESSAGGERO (10/01/2013), p. 19. [parte 1 & 2].

  2. I don’t agree with bjvl’s comment that “…the statuary that shows the Vestals actually had shorn hair.”

    But it seems possible that they might have had short hair and worn a wig-like head covering?

    [In the Public Domain]

    Rodolfo Lanciani ‘Ancient Rome’ “…It began by cutting her hair, which was appended, as a votive offering…”

    ‘The House of the Vestals’ (Christian Hlsen – 1906)

    “Under the front border of this cloth may be seen the characteristic arrangement of the hair, the six braids (seni crines): namely a sort of cap of hair (probably not their own) arranged in six braids, each wound with black and red woolen thread.”

    Also in the full article she goes on to mention that waist-length hair is needed plus problems that an adult to elderly woman might have with that?

    It is a very elaborate and very time consuming hair style.
    I recall I once read that a Vestal received a reprimand for some petty personal vanity?

    1. i’m away from serious research materials, but as i recall, when a girl became a vestal her hair was cut short and hung on some special tree … after that, however, i dont think the ‘shorn’ thing applies

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