ROMANA SUM

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“ROMANA SUM” (the ancient Romans didn’t have lowercase letters) translates as “I am Roman,” where the single speaker is female. An alternative translation* – one I prefer aesthetically – is “I am a woman of Rome.”

I am doing my best, within the world of the SCA, to research and recreate the material culture and life of 50BCE. My persona is Tullia Saturnina, a widowed midwife. Tullia’s sweetheart is Caius (my guy Robert). I live in Dragon’s Mist but I also participate with the Barony of Three Mountains, Stromgard, and at the Kingdom level. I’ve been honored with the Jambe de Lion.

My goal is historical accuracy. If you ever catch me in a mistake (TANTUMMODO OVUM SUM) or think I’d be interested in hearing about something, PLEASE drop me a note! I’ll be posting my papers, etc to the Papers page so you can see what I’m up to. The Resources page has links to lots of info, shopping, etc. I’m not sure yet how else I will use this page. I like the idea of having time go forward at some point… Maybe post some letters from Tullia to her family members about her life, her reactions to public events as Julius Caesar’s story reaches its climax…? Who knows. Feel free to join in the conversation if there’s something you’d like to see.

*Unless you are nitpicky about Latin grammar, because it’s not in the genitive form. But “FEMINA ROMANAE SUM” doesn’t make for a snappy blog title, so bear with me.

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The Roman Stola: Part I, Why Wool?

I recently presented my stola paper at An Tir’s Kingdom Arts and Sciences Championship as a single entry. You can see a video of my presentation here (20 min talk, 20 min Q&A). Since I know not everyone wants to read a giant tome, I’m going to break up important bits of my paper into a series of blog posts. 

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Color by Dulcia MacPherson, captions by me.

The stola had four major identifying features:

  • Worn as an overdress
  • Made of lightweight wool
  • Constructed as a simple tube, with straps, round pins, or fabric knots at the shoulders, that created a “V neck” with draping.
  • Worn double belted, to create an extra folded layer at the hips

The stola was popular for about 400 years (mid-Republic to early Empire), and was integral to the Roman matron’s sense of self. It gave its wearer special social and legal protections.

PART I: WHY WOOL?

Upon hearing that the Roman stola is wool,  most SCAdians think of thick blanket wool, and are reluctant to use such a heavy material for fear of over heating. Hold on, my friend! My current favorite stola is so light as to be mistaken for cotton by most people. Keep that in mind as you read…

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Part of a woman’s duty was to make wool clothing for her family. The linking of wool working to feminine honor goes back to the Roman monarchy.

There’s an ancient morality tale about a handful of Roman princes and cousins who were camped outside an enemy city. They started drinking and bragging about their wives to such an extent that they decided to ride back to Rome to decide whose wife was worthiest. Titus, Aruns, and Sextus found their wives feasting at a lavish dinner party. Tarquinius (died 495 BCE) was most pleased to discover his wife, Lucretia, sitting in quiet, spinning with her slaves. Later, the sexual assault of the blameless Lucretia by Prince Sextus (and her subsequent suicide) spurred the rebellion that ended the monarchy and established the Roman Republic.

Scholz 50Roman matrons were remembered as virtuous for their spinning and weaving; their industry with wool is often mentioned in epitaphs. Baskets containing spindles and wool in progress were sometimes displayed in the atrium to demonstrate the matron’s dedication to visitors. During the 1st century CE some higher status ladies chose to purchase their fabric (Not everyone was a “good wife!”), but wool working remained the symbol of matronly responsibility throughout the Empire.

Wool was considered to contain animus, spirit, because it was made from a live animal. All ritual and ceremonial garments – priest robes, wedding clothes, infulae (ritual headcoverings), etc. – were made of wool. To represent their purity, brides wore woolen oufits including their slippers. Along with the wool vittae (thin headband) and covering palla (shawl), the stola represented the matron’s pudicitia (modesty).

All sources agree that the stola and toga (the male analog of the stola, in some ways) are generally, if not always, made of wool. Although sources mention cotton and silk in women’s clothing, they speak in general terms or about other garments.  A stola made of these fabrics is not specifically mentioned. The question to me is whether stolae and togae were considered ritual clothing. They were certainly legally and socially distinctive from other garments, and to me that classification is reasonable, if not certain.

Weight

The wool fabric used was very light, even diaphanous. Based on the drape in period imagery, it was similar to the tropical-weight wool used modernly, but with a more open weave to reduce stiffness. It bears pointing out that the heavily wrapped statues often have clearly visible nipples[1], even through what should be 2 or 3 layers of linen and wool. This may be a bit of creative license on the part of the sculptor, but I suspect it indicates the airiness of their fabric.

 

We know the Egyptians wore sheer linen gauze, weaving their fabric thin enough to reveal the anatomy underneath, and it was probably similar in Rome. Pompeiian frescoes clearly show transparent clothing. This is borne out by the much smaller loom weights in the Mediterranean. Italian Roman weights (250g) are lighter than Romano-British and Anglo-Saxon weights (600-2885g): You’d need lighter weights for thinner threads, and tying too many threads to a single weight affects the quality of the weave .

This ultra-airy fabric has been one of my challenges in recreation. Please see Appendix B in my paper for a discussion of period sheep and how their wool differs from modern fiber. Someday I hope to weave my own, using wool that’s as close as possible. For now, I keep an eye out for tropical weaves in non-corporate colors. 🙂 And I expect I’ll spend some money on fabric when I make it to Italy…

[1] Thanks to Laurel Grasmick-Black for noting that nipples may have been emphasized as a paean to motherhood, a part of the matrona’s virtuous duty.

STAY TUNED FOR PART II: COLORS AND EMBELLISHMENTS

 

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Making Roman Jewelry

 

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It’s so addicting… literally the day I came home from the competition where I presented my paper, I started making this necklace, based on a 1st-3rd century Fayum mummy portrait from Roman-controlled Egypt. The color isn’t showing up well but I used dark green aventurine beads, and they look *just like* the ones in the painting.

Here are a few more I re-created:

Shells closeupIMG_20170224_100006183 cropped.jpeg I HAD to remake this hemisphere & shell necklace from Pompeii, even if I had to wire together bit of earring findings to do it! Mine’s on the right. Of all my little projects, this one is the least convincing, but I love it anyway. I hope to learn real metalsmithing techniques and create a better one some day.

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This earring style – HUGELY popular in Pompeii in 79CE – is called “crotalia” (rattle) because of the sound they make when you wear them. They have two or three swinging beads each. Mine are on the right. I discussed the security earwire in this post.

bfab06cb734c8cce57ee56248c4367f6 IMG_20170218_180014435   Left: ancient. Right: Mine

 

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Left: Roman/Parthian necklace 1st century BCE to 1st century CE. Carnelian. Right: My versions in garnet (28 ga wire) and Vesuvianite / idocrase (24 ga wire).

If you like these, check out my paper for lots more re-creations, details, and a basic guide to making your own! I’ll be teaching this as a class at some upcoming events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Competition Season!

Tis the season… 2/25 was Stromgard’s Baronial Arts & Sciences Championship. The next weekend, 3/4, was Dragon’s Mist. The Kingdom ASBC (bardic is included too) is this coming weekend, 3/11-12. I, like an obsessed goofball, decided to do them all.

Stromgard in some ways was the biggest challenge. Two prepared entries, plus a 3 hour period to make stuff with the contents of a box provided… and no clue what was going to be in the box beforehand. We also had to start a fire using period methods (flint and steel) and use the fire somehow. We got lucky with the weather – although it was chilly, it wasn’t raining, snowing or super windy!

16806873_1430487883691241_706360856141768881_n.jpgMy two pre-written entries were on Roman jewelry and the Roman stola (papers will be posted within a week – I like to incorporate what I learn from the judging process). With the first one, I was focussing on “assembly” type pieces, that I could make in my living room without a studio or fancy equipment, but would still duplicate the aesthetic of Rome from 100 BCE-300 CE. On the left is a largesse box –  basically a kit to help others get into basic jewelry making and create period ornaments. One was donated to Dragon’s Mist. Four more will be delivered to Queen Stjarna this weekend.

I had fun putting together my “Roman jewelry shop.” I wanted to use period materials, rather than velvet busts from JoAnn Fabrics. This was wood, linen, and brass nails.

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These ladies have tunicae on as well as stolae, and one has a palla, too! I dyed the fabric two nights before the competition- I was really glad they came out so well! I’ve since added institia to two of them. As I said, the paper will be posted after Kingdom.

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“OOh! Beads!”

 

After the oral presentations, we got our boxes and then hit the “buffet”- we could trade items from our boxes one-to-one. I swapped my feather, orange, and paper for pliers, beads, and wire. My garlic turned into a chisel. The wood block got traded for a thinner plank. We were allowed to bring a minion, tables, a knife, a kitchen tool, and another period tool – that’s it! No books, no other equipment. I brought a cast iron dutch oven and a needle for my tools, which were very useful! For my partner, I chose Idonia Sherwood, which was a brilliant decision.  Fortunately I got my fire started without too much trouble, and we got to work.

 

 

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Using beeswax, charcoal, red pigment and a  wood plank to make a wax tablet. This is the carving stage. I only got a little blood on it. 🙂 Pay no attention to the stripey undershirt. It was COLD, even in my Romano-Brit garb.

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Idonia watching the fire and sewing an embroidered cap.

Below: Everything we made! The wax tablet, a matching earring and bracelet set, the cap, some *utterly* delicious eggs with onions and herbs, red and black Roman makeup (charcoal or red pigment in melted / blended tallow), and carved wood applicator (made from firewood). We were going to do a leather purse, too, but ran out of time. It occurred to me later I should have made a stylus for the wax tablet, too. Oh well… next year! 🙂

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My absolute favorite moment of the day was when Her Grace Hlutwige tried on my makeup (lipcolor, rouge, and eyeshadow) and looked stunning in it! See Murna trying on the cap, too. I think Carith and Selene had just tasted the eggs.

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Here’s a closer look at the sodalite jewelry set I made during the competition, along with some pics of Roman examples so you can see I didn’t invent the styles. The earwires going back up is a security feature that’s much more comfortable than it looks.

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My competitors were extraordinarily talented. The feast was a riot. I had a blast the whole day. My only disappointment was how my ADD led me all over the place in my oral presentations. Last weekend at DM, I stuck fast to the table of contents of my paper and did a much better job. I also had some holes in my stola paper pointed out, and have been working on correcting that. Kingdom, here I come!

 

 

 

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Update on papers!

I’ve just uploaded my updated version of “Intro to Roman Clothing.” For those of you interested in the stola, stay tuned… *grin*

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Reproduction Pottery

I scored some gorgeous pottery over 12th Night. The redware is by Jeanne C. Wood. The surface is terra sigilata, a very fine, polished slip. It covers the clay underneath and is semi-waterproof. The indented cups and the Pompeiian oil lamp are by Reannag Teine.

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Sadly, immediately after taking these pictures – before I had a chance to use it – I broke the adorable little pitcher. 😦 That reminded me I never posted pictures of the awesome pitcher Mercy Neumark made for me last summer! The original, left, and mine, on right, with a Reannag Teine cup.

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 ROMAN FLAGON, I century A.D.
Yellow-orange fabric with red-orange slip covering interior and exterior, terminated at lower body. Elongated body with nearly horizontal shoulder,  parabolic neck; horizontal rim; wide low foot, bottom with incised concentrical circles. Spiral wheel-ridging at the neck. Wheel-marks on lower body. Kidney-shape sectioned handle has one groove along one outside edge . Lime deposits, 
root marks.  H. 6″(15.3 cm). From http://ancientartifax.com/classic.htm

 

 

 

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September Crown Costume Tourney

This competition was for a complete outfit, including undergarments. I got high scores on my documentation, oral presentation, and accuracy, but lost a lot of points in complexity because Roman just isn’t that hard. It’s a bunch of rectangles, with no fancy sewing or fitting (one of the reasons I love it, to be honest). My competitors brought some truly impressive complex late-period outfits, and I was fine with losing to them… but then I found out I won Best Documentation! I got some bonus points for dressing my slave Drusa, too, and explaining the difference between the two outfits and how they showed status. Note: Undies were brand new, never worn for the judges’ comfort. *grin*
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Halloween meets The Romans

My *other* Halloween costume: Cloacina, Roman goddess of the sewer! Her scepter, of course, is a sponge on a golden stick. Info here: https://romanasum.com/2016/09/04/biffy-history/Toilet History

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