Roman Clothing and Identities: A European Collaboration

Archaeological, pictorial and written sources of the Roman period demonstrate that clothing was a major vehicle for the expression of social, cultural and ethnic identities. The study of clothing and dress behaviour holds enormous potential for understanding social processes in the societies of Roman Italy and its provinces. The Roman empire, with both cultural diversity and political uniformity as its characteristics, and with its relations with different peoples beyond its frontiers, presents an excellent platform for such studies.

An EU-funded, international research project Clothing and Identities. New Perspectives on Textiles in the Roman Empire was established in 2007 as the umbrella for specialists and scholars from seven European countries who deal with all aspects of textile research in the Roman world. Partners include the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim; the Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen; the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, Brussels; the University of Sheffield (under the direction of Prof. Maureen Carroll); the University of Crete, Rhethymnon; the University of Valencia; and the Museum of Natural History, Vienna. Associated scholars from many other countries are also involved. Although the project officially ended in September 2012, individual projects of the partner institutions and international collaboration on a variety of topics continue to flourish, demonstrating the value of taking a multidisciplinary approach to Roman dress and identity on a European scale.

The project explored and demonstrated how clothing is a key to identity studies of the Roman period. It offered a thorough reappraisal of ancient textiles and dress behaviour, and its incorporation of various research themes has achieved greater knowledge and new conclusions. New standards have been attained for the study of textiles and dress. The results are accessible to a broad audience in more than 200 publications, and a new exhibition, Die Macht der Toga. Mode im römischen Weltreich, at the Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Germany, is now presenting exciting new insights into Roman clothing from April to September 2013.

The University of Sheffield has played an important role in this interdisciplinary collaboration and has succeeded in strengthening the networks and exchange of knowledge and ideas of European and British scholars working in various scientific traditions. In addition to meetings and workshops in Valencia, Copenhagen, Rethymnon, Brussels, Hallstatt and Berlin, the University of Sheffield hosted a general meeting of all European partners as well as three international conferences and workshops in 2009, 2010 and 2011 on the topics:

  • Self and Society in Roman dress behaviour;
  • Dressing the Dead. Clothing, textiles and bodily adornment from funerary contexts in the Graeco-Roman world; and
  • The Fabric of Family Life in Classical Antiquity.

For the main EU-website, see DressID

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Participants 3rd General Meeting in Crete 2008

Participants 2009 workshop at Sheffield

Participants 2011 workshop at Sheffield