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Ancient World Seminar: Valerie Hope (The Open University), "Torn, Cut and Offered: Roman mourners and some of their hair"

When:Tu 21-09-2021 16:15 - 18:00


In 38 CE the sister of the emperor, Gaius Caligula died. Gaius was devastated and one way in which he demonstrated this was through his hair. Gaius was said to have oscillated between letting his hair grow long and shaving it close, his hair thus represented his indecisive and inept character as both mourner and emperor. In the Roman world hair presentation and styling was important for both men and women, and this continued to apply during mourning. Following the death of a close relative, mourners were expected to treat their hair in certain ways, ways that often reversed and challenged the normative expectations for clean, neat and arranged hair. This paper explores what mourners were expected (or were thought) to do to their hair, with a particular focus on cutting the hair and offering locks of hair to the dead. It explores the potent symbolism of hair and the ways in which it contributed to the embodied experience of public mourning, and was used to construct moralising evaluations of individual mourners.

About the speaker

Valerie Hope is a senior lecturer in Classical Studies at the Open University, UK. Her main research area is Roman social history, with a focus on funeral and mourning rituals. Recent publications include several chapters investigating Roman mourning, including its sensory dimensions, and gendered presentation. Books include: Memory and Mourning: Studies on Roman Death; Roman Death: The Dying and the Dead in Ancient Rome; and Death in Ancient Rome. A Sourcebook.

CRASIS Thesis Prize

The third CRASIS Bachelor’s Thesis Prize will be awarded before the lecture.