Clothes

Romans of all classes wore tunics made of two pieces of woollen cloth (front and back) sewn together. Women’s and girls’ robes were similar to male tunics but full length. All cloth was woven by hand, and it would have taken about one month to spin and weave enough wool for a tunic. Even though they had slaves to do everything for them, the Romans regarded weaving cloth as a sign of good character for all girls.

Rich women wore the longest robes, which used more wool, and the richest people wore clothes of the brightest colours, which used more dye. Women wore vivid red-and-white makeup, with powder made from (poisonous) lead, blusher made from red ochre or roses, and their eyes outlined with black ashes or kohl.

Woman being dressed by slaves, 3rd century, from north Gaul. One of the slaves holds a mirror and the other a jug for washing. Photo Carole Raddato via Wikimedia Commons

Rich men and women also wore some sort of cloak, toga or mantle (a cloth draped around the body) over the tunic when outside their home or for formal occasions, like Valentia does for her birthday party. Ammonius wears a long mantle like a Greek philosopher, as teachers probably did. When he gives instructions for good public speaking, the Roman writer Quintilian says that a speaker should let his mantle slip off to show his passion!

Perry is wrong to think that his mum made him a “slave costume”. Slaves didn’t wear different clothes from free people – in fact, they often wore fine clothes to advertise their master’s wealth.

A 4th century mosaic of the mistress of a villa, her son and servant going to the villa baths. The box of clothes was used in the illustration of Arlelate in the novel. Photo Jerzy Strzelecki via Wikimedia Commons

Valentia wears charm bracelets that tinkle because children wore small bells and other charms such as a wolf’s tooth or a crescent moon as magic amulets, which Romans believed would scare away ghosts and evil spirits. Some charms were worn from early childhood, others might be a birthday gift like Valentia receives. Valentia also wears a wreath for her birthday because both men and women wore wreaths of flowers or leaves (including parsley!) for many ceremonies or celebrations. 

We have imagined that the carpenters from northern Gaul may have worn traditional Gaulish clothes – a very full tunic and long scarf. 

Togas were very hot, heavy and difficult to wear. They had no seams, buttons or pins, and needed at least two people to put on. The long ‘tail’ had to be held in place on the left arm, and children must have been taught how to wear them. For most of the Roman period they were worn for formal wear, like a suit today. At the time of the novel, togas were rarely worn. Instead, Roman men wore long-sleeved tunics decorated with circles and stripes, sometimes with leggings (or leg wrappings in the countryside), and women wore a striped robe with wide sleeves.

A 4th century mosaic of a man wearing late antique clothing, and armed for a hunt. Photo Robur.q  via Wikimedia Commons

People bathed naked in public at Roman baths, although they may have worn some sort of tunics, towels or special bath clothes to exercise or socialise. Men and women probably bathed naked together at some public baths, although for the scene in the novel we have chosen to suppose that Constantine’s Bathhouse may have had separate rooms or bathing times for women and girls, as some baths did.

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