Thropton WI, June meeting

The view to Snitter from Physic Lane in Thropton.
The view to Snitter from Physic Lane in Thropton.

Roman regimes

The business meeting of Thropton WI was fairly brief. The vice-president welcomed members and visitors before the secretary proceeded through a summary of the minutes and items of correspondence.

Pat Angus was thanked for a particularly enjoyable trip to Barnacre Alpacas, after which she outlined the details of our summer outing to the Lake District. Win’s Walk will take place today.

Members were then introduced to the evening’s speaker, Jo Bath, with whom we journeyed back two millennia to the world of the Romans and learned about their grooming and cosmetics. It appears that, like modern women and men, Romans were most concerned about their appearance.

Jo began at the beginning, which meant cleanliness. She produced and passed round a sponge on a stick, its purpose familiar to anyone who has seen the toilet facilities at Housesteads Fort. We learned that unless you had your own sponge, a communal version was available. This was kept dipped in sour wine – vinegar.

Communal toilets were mostly situated in bathhouses, places where all social classes and genders could meet. The Romans used scented oil as a cleanser. This would be applied to the body, subjected to steam and then scraped off with an implement.

Conspicuous consumption was an important feature of status and possessing your own bath oil and slave to apply it was a high status symbol. Lacking these, bath oil could be bought and slaves rented.

Once clean, it would be time to consider body hair. Men were clean-shaven, women removed leg hair, and both men and women removed armpit hair. Simple razors were available, or the hair could be removed with pumice stones or even plucked.

Eyebrows were shaped, as in modern times, but the shape varied throughout the Roman era. Mono-brows, a one-time fashion, could be bought and glued to the skin.

It was fashionable to dye hair on the head; it could be bleached or dyed red or black and there were even blue and purple rinses. Wigs and hair pieces were available, some made from slaves in the countries conquered by Rome.

It was then time to for skincare, women preferring to be pale and wrinkle-free, whereas men opted for a suntan. Pliny suggested rose oil and lion fat for pale skin, swan or bear fat for wrinkles, and dried, powdered crocodile dung for skin blemishes – we were not told where to obtain these ingredients.

Make-up was worn; an enhanced natural look was popular. Foundation, powder, blusher, lipstick and eye make-up are familiar to us, but the ingredients were unfamiliar. Foundation was made from lead carbonate, which is mildly poisonous, whereas eye shadow, originating in Egypt, was made using malachite, which is anti-bacterial.

Jo passed round samples of the concoctions and reconstructions of some of the tools used to apply them, answered questions, and was warmly thanked for a most interesting talk.

Our next meeting is on July 6. It is a Tudor Costume Extravaganza, with wine, cake and a birthday toast to the Queen, not forgetting a super raffle. New members will be most welcome.