According to the works of Roman moralists, satirists, and rhetoricians the use of cosmetic and beauty products by women should be viewed as deceptive, wasteful, morally reprehensible, and indicative of a weakness in character.  However, as this study discusses, when we consider alternate literature such as Ovid’s Medicamina Faciei Femineae and Ars Amatoria in conjunction with extant material evidence we are presented with an entirely different image. Instead, by the Imperial Period, the production and use of cosmetic and beauty products was widespread throughout Roman society. As evident from the archaeological record, trade and usage of beauty products was not restricted to large cosmopolitan communities, but rather extended into smaller settlements at the far reaches of the Empire. The use of cosmetic products formed a part of the wider corpus of adornment practices and was particularly essential for women in reiterating ideals of feminine beauty and in distinguishing social rank, identity, and wealth. This presentation will discuss the range of beauty products popular amongst Roman women and examine the significance of cosmetic use as an extension of established hygiene practices and the socio-cultural constructs of cultus (cultivation, refinement) and ornatus (ornamentation, adornment).

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The Friends of Antiquity, an alumni organisation of the University, runs its own series of public lectures, which take place on Sunday afternoons. The Friends’ program for can be found at https://alumni.uq.edu.au/friends-of-antiquity

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