Dress and identity in the Rhine-Moselle region: the ‘Third Way’

Ursula Rothe

Celtic woman dressed in Celtic and Roman clothing

Recent work on the nature of cultural change as a result of Roman rule in the Roman provinces has shown that in a wide variety of contexts and geographical regions, elements of native provincial cultures thrived in coexistence with Roman rule. This paper aims to supplement this picture with a more complicated scenario: women in the area of northern Gaul originally inhabited by the Treveri developed a new native dress ensemble as a result of integration into the Roman Empire. As such, this represents a `Third Way´ in the native-Roman dichotomy.

Both 1st-cent. AD grave portraits and grave goods from the same period show that Treveran women originally wore an outfit often named `Menimane´s ensemble´ after a woman on a gravestone from Mainz that dates to the Claudian period. Some time in the late 1st cent., however, this was replaced by a new ensemble, the so-called `Gallic ensemble´ (after Wild 1985), which was native in style, but was new on the scene. It involved much less jewellery and could easily be combined with Roman elements such as a more Mediterranean style of draping the cloak. The distribution of this new outfit was much wider than the apparently regional/tribal `Menimane´s ensemble´, appearing in figurative depictions throughout Gaul and the Rhineland. The possible reasons for this change in dress style will be explored in this paper, by looking at the wider cultural picture in northern Gaul under Roman rule and by taking advantage of anthropological research on more recent examples of similar dress behaviour patterns in the European colonies.