Janet Stephens, a Baltimore hairdresser and amateur archaeologist, has recreated the hairstyle of the Roman Vestal Virgins on a modern head — but it wasn't easy. After becoming inspired by an ancient portrait bust she saw at a local museum, Stephens tried to recreate the hairstyle at home, failing miserably. She spent the next seven years conducting research in an effort to properly reconstruct the lost technique. And now, the results of her work have been published in the journal Roman Archaeology.
The Vestals were priestesses who guarded the fire of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. These women, who were chosen before puberty and sworn to celibacy, were among the most celebrated women in Rome and were held in very high esteem.
As reported in LiveScience, to create the Vestal Virgin hairdo, Stephens had to reference two busts showing the hairstyle. This wasn't much to go by, as all other depictions showed the women wearing various headdresses. Stephanie Pappas explains the technique:
First, Stephens found, the Vestal's hair would be separated into sections, each of which would be braided into six separate braids, including a pair of cornrow braids that ran flat across the head above the ears. The hair around the hairline would then be wrapped around a cord, which would then be tied at the nape of the neck. Leftover loose hair from around the face would then be weaved into a final, seventh braid.
Next, the first six braids would be brought around the back of the head and tied in pairs in half square knots. The ends of the braids would then be wrapped up to the front of the head and secured to the cornrow braids above the ears. Then, the seventh braid would have been tucked up and coiled at the back of the head underneath the knotted braids.
It typically takes 35 to 40 minutes for Stephens to go through the process, but she claims that a team of two skilled slaves were likely able to complete the task in less than 10 minutes. And fascinatingly, it was through her efforts that she discovered that the women needed to had to have waist-length hair in order for the hairstyle to work.
Images: Janet Stephens.