Two delicately carved hair pins reputedly from the Roman settlement of Godmanchester in the UK.
I love Roman hairpins. They are wonderful Roman artefacts. Not only are they a great dating tool for archaeologists, but they also allow us to explore bigger questions about women in Roman society, especially their fashion tastes. Roman hairpins were made from a variety of materials including bone, copper-alloy, glass, iron and jet. Most hairpins are of simple design, but some can be quite elaborate and unique, depicting human busts, animals and also phalluses.
Roman women dressed their hair simply. One particular style was allowing it to fall down behind in tresses, confining it only by a band encircling the head. Another simple hairstyle was platting the hair, and then fastening it behind with a pin.
With the coming of the Roman Empire under Augustus, a variety of different and elaborate hairstyles came into fashion. As the first century AD progressed, wealthy women wore increasingly elaborate hairstyles, make-up and expensive jewellery. During the rule of the Flavian emperors (69-138 BC) hairstyles were raised to a great height by rows of false curls. This fashion made women appear tall from the front but the opposite from the back. Roman women's hair become elaborately curled and arranged in layers. Ringlets were created for hairstyles which fell to the sides and the backs of the head. Wigs and hair pieces became commonplace and were used to create an illusion of abundant locks.
The size and length or Roman hairpins found in burials provides us with a clues to the hairstyles prevalent at the time of the deceased. For example, hairpins found in later 4th century burials tend to be shorter than those from earlier periods. This suggests that hair was now worn shorter and with less elaborate styles.
Condition: The pin ends broken probably in antiquity.
Dimensions: Lengths; approx. 6 cms.
Provenance: Ex. private collection, UK.