The hairstyle of Julia Domna

Via Ticia Verveer on Twitter I came across this unusual item, today held in the Metropolitan Museum in New Year.  It is a gem, a beryl, an intaglio – i.e. an incised – portrait of Julia Domna, the wife of the emperor Septimius Severus.  According to the museum, it is 2.4 cms in height – just under an inch tall, and dates to 201-210 A.D.  Click on the image below for full size.

Beryl Intaglio with Portrait of the Empress Julia Domna. Met Museum.
Beryl Intaglio with Portrait of the Empress Julia Domna. Met Museum.

What interested me was that the hair looked almost real.  We have many portraits of the women of that family, with the elaborate hairstyles then in fashion, but they always look utterly artificial and unlike anything a woman would wear.

But the portrait above is not like that.  I can easily visualise a woman whose hair is braided like that.  It is not too different from what women do even today, although more elaborate.

Which makes this item, despite being a precious art work, invaluable as a way to bring the past to life.

My thanks to the museum for making such a wonderful portrait available online.

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