Tag Archives: Roman women

5 Ancient Beauty Tips…You Don’t Want to Try!

Posted on 23. Jul, 2014 by in Roman culture


So today we will be talking about beauty tips or abduction habits. Do you personally have a beauty regiment? Do your friends or partner think are strange, because you will only buy a certain type of shampoo? Conditioner? Cologne? Hair Gel? Do you have a strict way of applying eyeliner or eye shadow? While none of these items (that I have mentioned) are extreme- in today’s era, there are some extreme methods of achieving  “beauty.”  Modern society promotes these ways for the sake of beauty; I am referring to the “starvation, nip and tuck, injections, and so on.” However, I should put the question to you- which do you think is worse? Modern day or Ancient Times?


Well, prepare to be amazed at what the people of antiquity use to use in their own beauty regiments!




Mosaic showing Roman women in various recreational activities. Courtesy of WikiCommons & Disdero.

Mosaic showing Roman women in various recreational activities. Courtesy of WikiCommons & Disdero.

WHY: Romans enjoyed the look of fairer skin due to its association to the “non-working” high class. Furthermore, rosy cheeks were a sign of healthiness and vitality.

HOW IT WAS ACHIEVED: (SKIN) chalk powder, white marl and white lead( which was poisonous).

HOW IT WAS ACHIEVED: (CHEEKS) poppy and rose petals, red chalk, crocodile dung, mulberry juice, wine dregs, cinnabar and red lead (these two were poisonous!).

SKINCARE METHODS-:Ancient Romans had a vast number of creams and lotion to help fight and hide wrinkles, pimples, sun spots, freckles and flaking. These include: masks of lentels, barley, lupine, honey, sulphur, vinegar, goose grease, basil juice, placenta and even excrements of  the kingfisher or calves! Pimples were cured with a mixture of barley flour and butter; while, sun spots were treated with the ashes of snails (Slimy goodness?). Historically speaking, a famous method used was the process of bathing in asses’ milk which worked like a chemical peel and was used by such as historic figures as Cleopatra VII and Poppaea Sabina.



Portrait of the baker Terentius Neo with his wife found on the wall of a Pompeii house (LOOK TO THE WIFE'S EYES) Courtesy of Wikicommons & Anonimiski

Portrait of the baker Terentius Neo with his wife found on the wall of a Pompeii house (LOOK TO THE WIFE’S EYES) Courtesy of Wikicommons & Anonimiski

WHY: Romans liked large eyes with long eyelashes and eyebrows that almost met (unibrows).

HOW IT WAS ACHIEVED: (EYEBROWS) They would darken eyebrows with antimony or soot.

HOW IT WAS ACHIEVED: (EYES) On the eyes, they would apply kohl.  The kohl was applied with a glass, ivory, wood or bone sticks that had to be dipped into either water or oil before putting them on the eyes ( I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to put glass or bone near my eyes for any reason!).


Fingernails before and after application of red nail polish. Courtesy of Wikicommons & Deerstop & Zitona

Fingernails before and after application of red nail polish. Courtesy of Wikicommons & Deerstop & Zitona


WHY: Romans enjoyed having their partners looking natural, but the best they could. No one would want someone with hideous long creepy curly nails, nor someone with scared lips, and lastly not someone with black pointy teeth. It is not an unreasonable societal ideal, because it still exists today.

HOW IT WAS ACHIEVED (LIPS): Unfortunately there no such evidence has materialized to indicate that the Romans ever colored their lips, but it is not a far off speculation that if cheeks were given a rosy color that lips weren’t. Then again, I imagine most of what they were applying to their cheeks would have not tasted good on their lips.

HOW IT WAS ACHIEVED (NAILS): The mixture in which is thought to have been applied to nails is red dye (imported from an Indian insect). Also, a mixture made with sheep fat and blood was used.

HOW IT WAS ACHIEVED (TEETH): White teeth were prized by the Romans, and so false teeth, made from bone, ivory and paste, were popular items. One way to whiten teeth was to use powder like hartshorn, which had ammonia bleaching properties. Also, they used human urine as a mouthwash and teeth whitening substance, which also had ammonia and was used in laundering. Human urine became so valuable that the emperor Nero ( and later emperors) even placed a taxes on it.



Perfume Bottles & Glass Bottles. Courtesy of the Getty Villa Museum, Brittany Garcia & the glass blowers who made them thousands of years ago.

Perfume Bottles & Glass Bottles. Courtesy of the Getty Villa Museum, Brittany Garcia & the glass blowers who made them thousands of years ago.

WHY: Who wants to be around someone who is smelly? The Ancient Romans were no fools; they considered that if an individual smelled good that they were in good health, socially savvy, and a pleasure to be around.

HOW WAS IT ACHIEVED (PERFUME): Perfumes were made from flowers, some food (lemon, olives, grapes), leaves, roots and kept either liquid, sticky or solid form. These mixtures were incorporated into types of deodorants made with rose petals or irises. In regard to breath fresheners, baking soda was used perhaps to masks the smell of urine.



Exaggerated hairstyle of the Flavian period (80s–90s CE). Courtesy of Wikicommons & Tetrakyts.

Exaggerated hairstyle of the Flavian period (80s–90s CE). Courtesy of Wikicommons & Tetrakyts.

WHY: The expectation for beauty is sometimes beyond understanding; however, beauty is often that which is considered rare and hard to attain. Thus the colored hair/wigs would be highly rare and therefore- desirable. In concerns to body hair, most men/society do not approve of their women feeling hairy like men. However, there are bound to be a few women who could care less!

HOW IT WAS ACHIEVED (COLORFUL HAIR): Roman women wore wings to hide white hair or hair that was damaged by hair dyes. In addition, the Romans used dyes to accentuate hair colors. Blonde hair was created with beeches ash and goat’s fat. Red hair was done by pulverizing the leaves of the Lawsonia Inermis ( similar to henna plant). Black hair instead was obtained by black antimony with animal fat. (SO, Lots of animal fat).

HOW IT WAS ACHIEVED (BODY HAIR): Women would remove them by plucking or shaving. In alternative, they also used a resin paste to strip them or a pumice stone to scrape them (OUCH!)


Well I hope this was an interesting read and that you learned something that you did not know about those Latin speakers of old.



Ancient Roman Women in Film

Posted on 26. Mar, 2014 by in Roman culture

In honor of March being National Women’s History Month, I thought it appropriate to pay respect to those ancient Roman women who have been portrayed (accurately or inaccurately) in film and television. For it is often through television and film that ancient people or historic events pick up popularity amongst modern society.

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Moreover, I stand to prove that most ancient women portrayed in film fit the theme “Behind Every Great Man is a Great Woman.”  In addition to this idea, their portrayals most often are exaggerated in order to shock or overwhelm audiences of the exotic and foreign nature of the past. Rarely are any of these women (that I discuss at least) portrayed accurately, but they are shown through a highly stylized light which allows the audience to see the clear distinction between ancient women and modern women. However, this distinction is only seen in “period” scenarios such as dining, dresses, politics, societal mores, etc. Each of these women is also shown in a light that reflects those deep rooted feminine mores in which any women from any period would identify with: being a mother, being a wife, part of family unity, head of a household, avenging themselves, avenging injustices upon their family or country, and being true to herself.

DISCLAIMER**Please note that some of these observations include SPOILERS; so if you have not seen the film or series discussed move to the next historic figure.



Lucilla. Courtesy of WikiCommons & Lalupa.

Name: Lucilla or Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla

Film: Gladiator (2000)

Attributes in the Film: Strong, Loving, Tactical, Empathetic, Motherly, Victim to her Brother

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Film Quote:  “If only you had been born a man…What a Caesar you would have made….I think you would have been strong.I wonder if you would have been just?” -Marcus Aurelius

Hollywood’s Version: Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) is the sister of Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), daughter of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), and implied ex-lover of General Maximus(Russell Crowe). She is portrayed as the concerned mother of her son, Lucius, because she fears that her brother will murder him since he is next in line to be emperor. Her relationship with her brother is a strange one that straddles of the lines of incestuous and fraternal love- however, this is not her doing, but her brothers. She is also shown to be working with the Senate of Rome to overthrow her brother and restore the Republic.

Attributes in History: Strong, Ambitious, Tactical

History’s Version: As the daughter of Marcus Aurelius, she was married off to his co-ruler: Lucius Verus. They had three children including a son named Lucius, but only their daughter Lucilla Plauta survived. Since her husband was co-ruler of Rome, she had high aspirations to become an empress of Rome. But these dreams were cut short, when her husband Lucius died. And, she was promptly married off again. This time it was to a less influential man and she began to see her dreams of being empress fade. Even more so were her dreams dissipated, when her father died and her brother Commodus became emperor.  With Commodus’ unstable rule, Lucilla decided to take part of a plot to assassinate her brother and replace him with her husband and herself as emperor and empress. She had many allies in this conspiracy including formal consuls, the imperial guard, and even her daughter, Lucilla Plauta. The former consul, Quintianus, sent his nephew to kill Commodus, but alas it was a failure. Upon revealing his dagger, the nephew yelled,”Here is what the Senate sends to you!” His exclamation gave the emperors guards enough to time to deflect the attack. Lucilla was banished to Capri and a year later Commodus sent a centurion to execute them.

Her Hollywood Formula: Her historic and theatric versions differ enormously. The only similarity is her attempt to overthrow her brother. In the film, she succeeds for the good of the Roman people; in history, she fails at her attempt to make herself empress. Therefore, Hollywood has taken Lucilla and shaped her into a widow that only cares for her son. She is never seen in the film as ambitious, treacherous, or cruel. If she plots (as she did in history), she does so for the general good and everyone she loves. She is the epitome of a caring mother, a loyal citizen, an empathetic soul, and the right arm of justice. Hollywood’s choice to put her in such a predominant role reveals their conscientious choice to portray a female character in manner other than a victim (Maximus’ wife or female gladiators). Finally, it is only through Lucilla efforts that Maximus is freed from being a gladiator, released to his family, and Rome is restored. Thus, fitting the theme: “Behind Every Great Man is a Great Woman.”


Atia Balba Caesonia. Courtesy of Wikicommons, Guillaume Rouille, &Hannah.

Name: Atia of the Julii or Atia Balba Caesonia or Atia Balba Secunda

Film: HBO’s Rome (2005)

Attributes in the Series Ambitious, Plotting, Sensitive, Loving, Family Oriented, Selfish, Lustful, Blunt, Ruthless

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Series Quote: “By the five Furies, if I was not a gentle woman, I would have you flayed, and hung from a bracket at the door!” – Atia of the Julii

Hollywood’s Version: Atia (Polly Walker) is the series’ epitome of the Roman upper-class woman. She is wealthy, enjoys her rights, has slaves, eats how she pleases, and takes part in religious and social practices with ease. Like most upper-class women, she is concerned for her appearance, her family’s reputation, her dinner parties and most of all her children’s future: Octavia (Kerry Condon) and Octavian( Max Pirkis). She is the symbol and perhaps the original meddlesome mother. She is not married and therefore acts alone in her decisions and choices. Her mannerisms and diction are quite blunt when addressing her children and their maturation, sexual practices, and political choices. In this aspect, she may be both humorous and boorish to the audience. She often tells her children what they should do, how they should do it, and uses them as political pawns until they are too old for her to maneuver. She is also the Roman lover of Marc Antony (James Purefoy), who appears to be her only weakness.

Attributes in History: Good Mother, Attentive, Loyal, Cautious, Sensible,

History’s VersionAtia was married to Gaius Octavius with whom she had Octavia and Octavian. However, her husband died and she remarried Lucius Marcius Philippus. Both were supporters of Julius Caesar. Atia and Philippus equally took the time and patience to raise her children and educated them properly. When her son, Octavian(later Augustus) was announced Caesar’s heir; Atia was so fearful for her son’s safety that she and Philippus urged him to renounce his rights as Caesar’s heir. She died during her son’s first consulship, in 43 BC.

Her Hollywood Formula: While the series and history have some common ground such as: her raising her children and being a devoted mother. Her affair with Antony provided HBO with one of its means of for explicit content which I imagine increases ratings. She is shown as the mother behind the great man that was Augustus Caesar; however within the series, she is shown to be cruel, selfish, manipulative, and in her final episode weak and vulnerable. Hollywood creates a memorable character who is both humorous and spiteful, but at the end the audience plainly see a woman who simply tried her best for her family and never to appear weak.


Cleopatra. Courtesy of WikiCommons, Louis le Grand , & Arbeiterreserve.

Name: Cleopatra or Cleopatra VII Philopator (While not Roman herself, during Roman times)

Film: Cleopatra (1963)

Attributes in the FilmSensual, Loving, Strong, Ambitious, Attractive, Demanding, Natural Leader

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Film Quote:  “I will not be told where I can go and where I cannot go!”-Cleopatra

Hollywood’s Version: She (Elizabeth Taylor) is the Queen of the Nile who seduces not one man, but two influential Roman men. Wife to both Julius Caesar (Rex Harris) and Marc Antony(Richard Burton), Cleopatra ruled Egypt and aspired to rule Rome. Her life’s story is extensive, but can be read: here. However, the film deals with Cleopatra’s dealings and relationships with Caesar and Antony.

Attributes in History: Sensual, Strong, Ambitious, Tactical

History’s VersionThe events that follow in the 1963 version of Cleopatra do not stray far from the accounts of ancient historians. The film itself makes some anachronisms with the presence of the Arch of Constantine, interior design issues and others (here). Furthermore, it is never really disclosed that Cleopatra was a beautiful woman, but more so she was a woman of extravagance and luxury. Her beauty is a long debated attribute.

Her Hollywood Formula: In comparison to the other women, Cleopatra lived the most outrageous and exotic life; Cleopatra’s life has love, affairs, seduction, allure, power, war, assassination and suicide. Her life and story do not need Hollywood to invent something new. Hollywood, at times, take the opportunity to portray her weak at moments like Caesar’s death, Antony’s death, etc. However, it doesn’t get anymore Hollywood than her life; and for this reason Cleopatra has had over 14 television series and films that feature her. Her portrayals began in 1899 and the newest movie in development may feature Angelina Jolie (check out more upcoming ancient films: here). Furthermore, it would appear that Cleopatra was actually a great woman behind two men: Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.

Ovid’s Heroides: The Original Fan Fiction

Posted on 05. Mar, 2014 by in Latin Language, Roman culture

Within antiquity there are several mythological love stories that touch our hearts, souls, and mind. When attempting to provide an example of “true love,” people generally name couples like Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Helen and Paris, and so on. These couples which are often tragic and short lived romances.

As enthusiasts for Latin, we most often share an appreciation for the world of the Romans and their mythology. Within Roman (and indirectly Greek) mythology, there are couples that perhaps we wished would have had more time or that things would have turned out differently if fate had permitted. Here are a few of my favorites:

Dido and Aeneas

The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland

The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland

Phaedra and Hippolytus

Phaedra (1880) by Alexandre Cabanel

Phaedra (1880) by Alexandre Cabanel

Jason and Medea

Jason and Medea by John William Waterhouse (1907)

Jason and Medea by John William Waterhouse (1907)

Sappho and Phaon (one of the only historic references)

Sappho and Phaon. 1809 Jacques-Louis David

Sappho and Phaon. 1809
Jacques-Louis David

While most of us know the sadness behindthese couple, we often wish we could rewrite the mythology and find a more suitable ending. Perhaps Dido does not kill herself after Aeneas leaves? Perhaps Medea could have played hard to get so Jason would appreciate her more? Or Phaon could never leave Sappho? Better yet, Helen and Paris should have run away and lived in exile? Or how about Penelope moving on immediately since Odysseus obvious had several affairs (Circe and Calypso)?

Ovid, Statue (1887) by Ettore Ferrari  commemorating Ovid's exile in Tomis

Ovid, Statue (1887) by Ettore Ferrari
commemorating Ovid’s exile in Tomis. Courtesy of WIkiCommons & Ettore Ferrari.

Ovid, in my opinion, is first author to truly take the time to write his version of a “fan fiction.” A fan fiction is when a “fan” of a show, book, or series takes the time to write an alternative ending or even a sequel to the already established lore. (For other authors who wrote fan fiction; check out this article.) Ovid composes the works known as the Heroides in order to breathe new life into these Heroines and give the much needed character work to these mythical women who have been frozen in time. [ This character work is lacking for the modern woman, but for its cotemporary audience it would have been for these heroines to have the last word with their lovers.]


The Heroides are essentially letters addressed from the heroine to her lover, who has often mistreated, neglected, or even abandoned her. Ovid chooses the genre of the epistles for these women to express themselves. While this choice has been questioned by various scholars (one such argument is presented: here), it is difficult to see how else Ovid could have approached this work in order to give his heroines a voice, but not over-step bounds and write an entire fictitious mythology.   The following is a summation of the Heroides by Penguin Classics:

In the twenty-one poems of the Heroides, Ovid gave voice to the heroines and heroes of epic and myth. These deeply moving literary epistles reveal the happiness and torment of love, as the writers tell of their pain at separation, forgiveness of infidelity or anger at betrayal. The faithful Penelope wonders at the suspiciously long absence of Ulysses, while Dido bitterly reproaches Aeneas for too eagerly leaving her bed to follow his destiny, and Sappho – the only historical figure portrayed here – describes her passion for the cruelly rejecting Phaon. In the poetic letters between Paris and Helen the lovers seem oblivious to the tragedy prophesied for them, while in another exchange the youthful Leander asserts his foolhardy eagerness to risk his life to be with his beloved Hero.

While, Ovid is a male author assuming the female voice of mythological characters and attempting to transgress the boundaries of gender language, diction, and characteristics (all through meter). He is still capable of invoking such emotion that anyone who has experience heartbreak knows:

Death of Dido, by Guercino, AD 1631.

Death of Dido, by Guercino, AD 1631.

alter habendus amor tibi restat et altera Dido                  Another love awaits for you and Another Dido
 quamque iterum fallas, altera danda fides.    and who once more you shall deceive, having given another promise

(Excerpt from Dido’s Letter to Aeneas. Letter VII)

In my mind, well put Dido! Bitterness envelopes her entire speech; once a liar-always liar. Right? Well, what’s the saying?

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

While, not all of Ovid’s heroines come off so…bitter; each one accurately reflects her place, position, and circumstance. He does over dramatize her feelings or reactions, but they appear natural and eloquently put in order to touch the reader. For information on the work, its meter and where to read it- refer below!


The Heroides consist of 15 poems that have mythological females address their heroic lovers.  These epistolary poems are written in Latin elegiac couplets (demonstrated here and in depth here), which is a type of meter used in poetry. You may see a small sample of the Heroides here, which provides part of the letter, the heroine writing, and to whom she is addressing the letter too. Or you may see the entirety of his work here. Ovid also composed the Double Heroides which include another 6 poems; which start here. These, unlike the Heroides, include three separate exchanges between the heroic and mythical lovers.