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ID# - 062668EBB

Division V: Domestic Arts & Sciences


Games & Toys: Childrens Toys

Roman Rag Doll


from

PROVINCIA AEGYPTI
(the Roman Province of Egypt)

c. 200 C.E.
A toy for the young daughter of a Roman
provincial plebeian family

Contents
Summary Page ......................................................................................................................................................... 3
Inspiration ................................................................................................................................................................ 5
Basic Information & Images of the Extant Roman Rag Doll .................................................................................. 5
Additional Information about the Extant Roman Rag Doll ................................................................................. 22
Analysis of the Extant Roman Rag Doll ............................................................................................................... 23
Pattern ........................................................................................................................................................... 23
Construction: Stitching ................................................................................................................................... 28
Construction: Stuffing..................................................................................................................................... 34
Linen Fabric .................................................................................................................................................... 37
Detailing ......................................................................................................................................................... 39
Style & Creativity .................................................................................................................................................... 41
Characteristics of Style for Entry Time & Place................................................................................................... 41
Manchester University Museum rag doll ....................................................................................................... 41
Petrie Museum rag doll .................................................................................................................................. 42
Ashmolean Museum rag doll .......................................................................................................................... 43
Victoria & Albert Museum rag doll ................................................................................................................. 44
Summary of Extant Rag Dolls Examined by Rosalind Janssen ......................................................................... 46
Non-Rag Dolls ................................................................................................................................................. 47
Doll Clothes .................................................................................................................................................... 48
Creative Elements & How They Are True to Period Style ................................................................................... 55
Hair: Attachment ........................................................................................................................................... 55
Hair: Style ...................................................................................................................................................... 57
Face ................................................................................................................................................................ 61
Jewelry ........................................................................................................................................................... 62
Hands ............................................................................................................................................................. 63
Torso/Genitalia............................................................................................................................................... 64
Feet/Shoes ..................................................................................................................................................... 65
Doll Clothes .................................................................................................................................................... 66
Materials ................................................................................................................................................................ 67
Chart of Materials: Period Materials vs. Materials Used in Entry ...................................................................... 67

2
Explanation of Choices ....................................................................................................................................... 67
Tools ....................................................................................................................................................................... 70
Chart of Tools: Period Tools vs. Tools Used in Constructing the Entry .............................................................. 70
Explanation of Choices ....................................................................................................................................... 70
Methods ................................................................................................................................................................. 74
Chart of Methods: Period Methods vs. Methods Used in Entry ........................................................................ 74
Explanation of Choices ....................................................................................................................................... 74
Final Analysis .......................................................................................................................................................... 76
Original Conclusions ........................................................................................................................................... 76
Conscious Compromises..................................................................................................................................... 76
Re-thinking This Project...................................................................................................................................... 77
Bibliography ........................................................................................................................................................... 78
Appendix: Oxyrhynchus ......................................................................................................................................... 80

Summary Page
The project is a recreation of a Roman rag doll located in the British Museum. The doll was found
during excavations of Oxyrhynchus, which was an important city in the Roman Province of Egypt. The
doll is dated to the 1st 5th century CE and is identified as being Roman in style and origin. It is made of
linen stuffed with rags and papyrus. The arms are made of a long roll of stuffed linen that is attached
at the back of the doll. There are remnants of red wool yarn/thread, as well as stitching holes, on the
face, head and body. A single tiny blue glass bead attached to the left side of the dolls head is listed
by the British Museum as a hair ornament, but the experts who have examined this doll agree that it
actually represents an earring. The doll is quite small, measuring approximately 18.5-19.05 cm tall
(about 7 1/2). The doll is not currently on exhibit in the British Museum, but a high quality
photograph of the back of the doll has been made available and has been widely used by a variety of
sources. The British Museum does not have a photograph of the front of the doll available, though a
few photos can be found.
The doll is exhibited without clothing, and there is no mention of it being found with any doll clothes
nearby, however some other Roman rag dolls found in Egypt were found wearing clothing and/or
accompanied by small wardrobes of doll clothes. Because this reproduction is of a new doll, rather
than a replication of the extant item as it exists today, I have chosen to provide the doll with
appropriate clothing.
Although no hair, face or other detailing remains on the British Museum rag doll, these details were
essential to this reproduction. I studied four other nearly complete Roman rag dolls excavated in
Egypt, and one partial one, to determine the stylistic elements used in this project.
The original doll is made of linen, sewn with linen thread, embellished with red wool yarn/thread, and
stuffed with rags and papyrus reeds. The reproduction doll is made of linen, sewn with linen thread,
embellished with hand-spun black wool from a black sheep and hand-spun, madder-dyed red wool,
and stuffed with rags and papyrus obtained from shredding an old Egyptian souvenir scroll that was
painted on papyrus. The reproduction doll has hair made of hand-spun wool yarn/thread in the
natural reddish-brown color of a red Icelandic sheep, which is the direct descendant of sheep living in
northern Europe in Roman times. The dolls clothing is modeled on the clothing worn in the Roman
Province of Egypt during the late 2nd century CE, and is made from linen sewn with linen thread and
embellished with hand-spun, madder dyed wool, hand-woven indigo-colored wool sewn with wool
thread and embellished with madder-dyed silk thread, and Indian cotton which was a common import
in the Roman Empire. All of the clothing is made from scraps left over from my own clothing, which
was a conscious imitation of the probably source of fabric for doll clothing in period.
The original doll was probably sewn with a bone needle, and iron shears were probably used to cut the
fabric. The reproduction doll and clothing were sewn with bone needles, and the fabric was cut with

small metal shears. Beeswax was used to wax the thread, and my own hand was used as a measuring
guide to keep the reproduction doll in the same scale as the original. The extant doll was assembled
using overcast stitch to join the folded edges of linen, which is how the reproduction doll was made.
The details were added using very simple embroidery stitches, primarily utilizing running stitch, back
stitch and satin stitch. Doll clothing was sewn using running stitch, back stitch; slip stitching and other
simple stitches documented as being in use in the Roman Empire.
This project was created while participating in the public SCA demo at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire.
The entire project was sewn by hand, in natural daylight on my lap while sitting under a pavilion at the
tournament field talking with people and observing the live combat and dancing demonstrations. I had
only the tools and supplies that were viewable by the public and that I could carry with me in a small
work basket. I was not able to begin work on the first day of the Faire, so the construction of the doll
and doll clothes occupied four days of the Faire.

Inspiration
Basic Information & Images of the Extant Roman Rag Doll
The inspiration for this project is an extant rag doll from the Roman period found during the
excavations of Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. The doll is currently held by the British Museum in London and,
although it is not currently on display, a photograph of the doll is available in the British Museums
Online Collection.
The British Museum: Collection Online
Rag Doll
Object type - rag doll
Museum number - 1905,1021.13
Description: Rag-doll made from linen stuffed
with rags and papyrus. The arms are made
from a long roll of linen attached at the back.
Coloured wool, now faded, was applied to
parts of the face and body. The presence of a
small blue glass bead attached to the proper
left side of the head suggests a hair ornament.
Culture/period - Roman
Date - 1st Cent - 5th Cent
Production place - Made in: Egypt (Africa,
Egypt)
Excavated/Findspot - Oxyrhynchus (Africa,
Egypt, Middle Egypt, Oxyrhynchus (city))
Materials - wool, papyrus, linen, glass
Technique - woven
Dimensions - Height: 19.05 cm.
Location - Not on display
Acquisition name - Donated by: Egypt
Exploration Fund biography
Department - (Unknown, Rag Doll) Greek &
Roman Antiquities

Figure 1: Color photo of the doll back from The British


Museum: Collection Online

Based on the description provided


by the British Museum the photo
above (the only photo they provide)
is clearly a photo of the back of the
doll. The British Museum does not
offer a photograph of the front of
the doll on their website. I
contacted the British Museum to
ask if there were any other
photographs available, or if it would
be possible to have a photograph
taken of the front of the doll? The
British Museum responded that
there are no other photographs
available. New photography costs
85 ($122.55) per image, which
does not include any reproduction
rights. Photography is completed
approximately 30 days after receipt
of payment. If you do not purchase
reproduction rights, the images will
be uploaded to the Online
Collection where you can access
them. Since that option is neither
timely nor inexpensive, I chose to
look for additional images
elsewhere.
I was successful in locating several
images of the front of the doll.
Figure 2: Black & white photo of doll front from the
Trevor Mann, M.D., includes this
black
article "How Toys Began" by Trevor Mann, M.D.
and white photograph of the front
of the
rag doll in his article How Toys Began, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 68
(n.d.): 39-42.
The best photograph of the doll front I have found is this one from page 7 of DK Eyewitness Books:
Archeology by Jane McIntosh. In addition to being available in print, this book is available online as a
Google EBook, which made it possible to obtain a relatively good electronic copy of the image (below).

Figure 3: Color photo of doll front from DK Eyewitness Books: Archeology, p. 7.

Figure 4: Photo from Google Cultural Institute - Rag Doll 1 AD - 499 AD, British Museum.
This is a life-size photo of the original rag doll. According to The British Museum, the doll measures
19.05 cm tall (7.5) but the experts who have examined the doll all state its height as 18.5 cm (7.28).
This image was scaled to approximately 7.5 tall to provide a size reference for evaluating this entry.
The ruler is included for reference.

Figure 5: Enlarged view of the isolated doll image from DK Eyewitness Books:
Archeology, P. 7.

10

Figure 6: Enlarged front head, neck and chest. From DK Eyewitness Books: Archeology, p. 7.

11

Figure 7: Enlarged front torso. From DK Eyewitness Books: Archeology, p. 7.

12

Figure 8: Enlarged front legs. From DK Eyewitness Books: Archeology, p. 7.

13

Google Cultural Institute is an initiative unveiled by Google in 2011 in to make important cultural
material available to everyone and to digitally preserve it. The Cultural Institute has partnered with a
number of institutions, including the British Museum, to create an enormous archive of high resolution
images that are accessible online via a searchable archive. Included among their images are high
resolution images of the back of the Roman Rag Doll from the British Museum. The Cultural Institutes
images are zoom-able and can be enlarged without loss of clarity, allowing me to obtain extreme
close-up views of the entirety of the back side of the doll. Unfortunately, at this time the Cultural
Institute does not have any images of the front of the doll.
On the following pages you will find a series of enlargements made available by Google Cultural
Institute. Having the ability to enlarge high resolution photos to closely examine the extant doll made
analyzing it easier, but it also brought up additional questions that remain unanswered. I wish that I
could have commissioned photography of the front of the doll.

14

Figure 9: Enlarged view of the back of the head. From Google Cultural Institute.

15

Figure 10: Enlarged view of the back of the left arm. From Google Cultural Institute.

16

Figure 11: Enlarged view of back of right arm. From Google Cultural Institute.

17

Figure 12: Enlarged view of back of neck and arm attachment. From Google Cultural Institute.

18

Figure 13: Enlarged view of the back upper torso. From Google Cultural Institute.

19

Figure 14: Enlarged view of back of lower torso. From Google Cultural Institute.

20

Figure 15: Enlarged view of the back lower torso/upper legs. From Google Cultural Institute.

21

Figure 16: Enlarged view of back of lower legs and feet. From Google Cultural Institute.

22

Additional Information about the Extant Roman Rag Doll


This Roman rag doll has been examined several times by archeologists and scholars:
In 1975 Trevor Mann, M.D. examined a number of ancient toys for his article How Toys Began,
published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society f Medicine 68. He noted that the doll is stuffed with
both rags and papyrus and measured 18.5 cm. He also noted traces of red wool on the face, torso,
legs, and feet. 1 Dr. Mann also commented A blue bead represents the left ear and the crude
stitching, so evident, is almost certainly the workmanship of the proud possessor of the doll.2
In 1996 Rosalind Janssen examined this doll, plus four other complete Roman rag dolls and one torso
for her article Soft toys from Egypt, in Archaeological Research in Roman Egypt, JRA Supplement 19.
All of the dolls were dated to the first four centuries of the Common Era and were found in areas of
Roman occupation in Egypt. All of the dolls in her study are made of cloth stuffed with rags, rushes, or
papyrus. Four of the five dolls can be identified as representing adult females by virtue of such
features as feminine hairstyles, jewelry, breasts, and/or demarcation of the pubic region. While the
sex of the fifth doll [the British Museum rag doll] is not obvious, she speculates that the blue glass
bead attached to the left side of the face represents an earring, which would indicate that this doll
was also female.3
Dr. Janssen described the doll thusly:
it is 18.5 cm high, and is stuffed with both rags and papyrus. The head was made
separately. An interesting feature is the blue glass ring bead attached by linen thread to the
right-hand side of the face The rear view shows how the dolls arms were made as a long
sausage roll secured across the back of the shoulders. The legs below the thighs were also
made separately and attached with thread. Random red woolen traces can be seen on the
face, torso, legs and feet. Generally, the appearance is of a much loved and rather moth-eaten
plaything.4
More recently, Fanny Dolansky examined the doll while researching her article Playing with Gender:
Girls, Dolls, and Adult Ideals in the Roman World published in Classical Antiquity 31.2 in 2012. Dr.
Dolansky also noted the remains of red wool threads on the dolls face, torso, legs, and feet, and
further notes that the doll also has a visible bellybutton.

(Mann)
(Mann 41-2)
3
(Janssen 235-6)
4
(Janssen)
2

23

Analysis of the Extant Roman Rag Doll


Pattern
Based on examinations of the photographs and the descriptions from Mann, Janssen, and Dolansky, I
hypothesize that the majority of the doll was created from a single strip of linen. The torso was
created by sewing the strip together at the back. A cut was made at the bottom of the strip to create
the upper thighs of the doll, where the legs are attached. Although Dr. Janssen speculates that the
head is constructed separately, I theorized that this is not the case. The horizontal neck piece could
be the joining point between a separately constructed head and body, but I feel that this construction
would be extremely weak. My hypothesis is that the stuffing of the head is constructed separately (see
the discussion on Construction: Stuffing below) but the outer skin is a continuation of the torso fabric
that is smoothed around the head-stuffing and then gathered in at the neck. The gathering is then
covered by the neck piece, which creates a much sturdier construction and replicates the extant doll
very closely.

Figure 17: Back and front views of the doll, with seam lines marked.

24

Figure 18: Grid of the extant doll.

25

Figure 19: Grid for measuring the extant doll's arms.

26

In order to create a pattern for the doll, I needed measurements:

First, create centimeter grid that could be superimposed over the photograph (23 cm x 16 cm)
Then scale the photo to match the match the measurement from the British Museum (19 cm
tall)
Use the grid to estimate head length and width, torso length and width, and leg length and
width.
Use a separate grid to estimate arm length and width due to the angles in the photograph
See figures 15 & 16 on the following pages

Front/Back Measurements estimated from the photo of the doll found on the British Museum
website. Side measurements are estimated based on the need to create a three dimensional toy
from the flat photograph.

Total Length
Total Width
Neck
Piece
Length
Neck
Piece Width
Arm Piece
Length
Arm Piece
Width
Leg
Length

Back

Front

19 cm
7.5
4 cm
1.6
2.5 cm
0.95

Head Back 4 cm

Top of Head 2 cm

Head Back 1.6

Top of Head 0.79

4 cm
1.6
2.5 cm
0.95

1.5 cm x 2 = 3 cm
0.6 x 2 = 1.18
1.5 cm x 2 = 3 cm
0.6 x 2 = 1.18

Seam
Allowance
1 cm x 2 = 2 cm
0.39 x 2 = 1.18
1 cm x 2 = 2 cm
0.39 x 2 = 1.18
1 cm x 2 = 2 cm
0.39 x 2 = 1.18

1 cm
0.39
14 cm
5.5
1.5 cm
0.6
7.5 cm
2.95

----1.5 cm
0.6
---

----1 cm x 2 = 2 cm
0.39 x 2 = 0.79
---

1 cm x 2 = 2 cm
0.39 x 2 = 1.18
1 cm x 2 = 2 cm
0.39 x 2 = 1.18
1 cm x 2 = 2 cm
0.39 x 2 = 1.18
1 cm
0.39

Sides

Total Pattern
27 cm
10.6
13 cm
5.12
10 cm
3.94
3 cm
1.18
16 cm
6.23
7 cm
2.76
8.5 cm
3.35

Because the photograph is two-dimensional, and a doll is three-dimensional, it was necessary to add a
depth measurement to each dimension in addition to seam allowance. Given that the body of the doll
is approximately 4 cm wide, I estimated that a torso depth of 2 cm, and 1 cm for the arms and legs,
would create a proportional body shape for the finished doll.

27

Using these measurements, I created the pattern diagram shown below to establish the size and scale
of the doll for this project:

Figure 20: Cutting Diagram for Roman Rag Doll


Having done the analysis and estimating the size of all the pieces of the doll, actual construction was
completed without a ruler or way of obtaining exact measurements. My right hand, from the base of
the palm to the tip of my middle finger is approximately 7/17.5 cm. My thumb, measuring from the
point where the thumb connects to the hand below the index finger, is 2/5 cm long, and the knuckle

28

to tip measurement of my thumb is 1/2.5 cm. My index finger is 3/7.5 cm long, as are the four
fingers laid flat as a group. This provided me with the only units of measurement used in creating this
doll. For example, the long body piece was a bit longer than the length of my hand and a little wider
than twice my index finger minus the end of my thumb. This system of measurement was used for
three reasons: first, this doll was constructed in front of the public as part of the demonstrations put
on by the SCA at our local Medieval Faire, so I was limited to the tools I could carry in a small basket
and to working on my lap under a tent by the tournament field, Ideally I would not have any nonperiod tools visible, which means I did not carry any with me. Second, since these rag dolls appear to
have been homemade from scraps, I believe that their manufacture was approximated and organic
than carefully planned out. I wanted to replicate that in the construction of this doll while also
maintaining the approximate scale of the original. In the end, my doll is slightly taller than the original
by approximately 1 cm.
Construction: Stitching
Next I examined the construction methods used in the extant rag doll. Modern sewers would match
up all the seams with the wrong/back side of the fabric to the outside, sew all the seams with a running
or backstitch, then turn the doll right side out and add stuffing. This does not appear to be the way
this doll was created.
While too little of
the stitching
remains on the
torso and legs to
be able to identify
a specific method
of stitching,
enough stitching
and stitching holes
remain to show
that the stitches
Figure 21: Diagram of overcast stitching.
appear to be
overcast stitches over folded edges. The stitches on the arms clearly form large Xs, which also appear
to be overcast stitching. Overcast stitch, is documented by Heather Rose Jones in her online article
Archaeological Sewing as being used by the ancient Egyptians to join two or more pieces of fabric.5
Given the angle and placement of some of the remaining stitches and stitching holes on the torso, I
hypothesize that nearly all of the stitching on the doll was overcast stitching. Since overcast stitching
normally forms a series of parallel stitches rather than Xs, I also hypothesize that a series of diagonal
5

(Jones)

29

overcast stitches were placed first in one direction on each seam, and then back down the seam in the
opposite direction to form the series of Xs. This creates a stronger seam and a more reliable closure
over a tightly stuffed body, arm, or leg.

Figure 22: Enlarged section of the doll front photo from Mann's "How Toys Began"
showing visible stitching on the right arm.

Figure 23: Enlarged left arm back view, showing visible stitching. From Google
Cultural Institute.

30

Figure 24: Enlarged upper back and right arm, showing visible stitching. From Google Cultural
Institute.

Figure 25: Enlarged back of torso showing visible stitches. From Google Cultural Institute.

31

Figure 26: Enlarged upper back leg join showing remaining stitches and stitching holes, from Google
Cultural Institute.

32

The large X-stitches do not appear on the dolls head, neck, or the join of the arm piece to the upper
back. While some large stitches can be seen in these areas, there does not appear to be the same
consistency of placement that formed the X-stitches in other areas. I hypothesize that these areas may
have employed single slip-stitches placed as needed.

Figure 27: Enlarged back of head showing fabric folds and securing stitches, from Google Cultural
Institute.

33

Figure 28: Enlargement of the back of the neck and arm piece attachment showing some remaining
stitches, from Google Cultural Institute.

34

Construction: Stuffing
In examining extant rag doll, I observed that in the areas where the outer fabric has rotted or torn
away, the stuffing cavity and/or stuffing is not immediately exposed as you would expect with a cloth
toy of modern construction. Instead we see additional layers of linen which also conform to the shape
of the doll.

Figure 29: Note the second layer of linen inside the arm at the "elbow", and the bits of rag and
papyrus sticking out of the exposed cavity. Also note the three layers of linen at the doll's shoulder,
with the body cavity exposed underneath the innermost layer. Photo from the Google Cultural
Institute.

35

Figure 30: The underlying layer of linen is clearly exposed beneath the missing sections of outer
fabric, especially on the back of the doll's right leg/foot. Photo from the Google Cultural Institute.

I hypothesize that the stuffing mixture of linen rag and papyrus reeds was first encased in scraps of
linen and then the doll was assembled around these pieces. Its impossible to determine if the linen
cases were sewn together or not, but I would guess that they were not as that would represent an
additional, time consuming step. Experiments with simply rolling the rag and papyrus stuffing in small
pieces of excess cloth and then sewing the outer cloth together over the forms worked very well and
looks very much like the extant doll. Assembling the body of the doll this way also works well with my
hypothesis about the construction of the dolls head.

36

You can see a second layer of shaped, tensioned linen through the holes in the outer fabric of the
head. You can also see the smooth appearance of the face, and the multiple fold lines and stitches on
the back of the head. I hypothesize that the dolls head was created by wrapping the upper portion of
the linen torso fabric over a rounded ball of linen filled with stuffing. The folds of linen were then
stitched down to make them flat to the head. The excess fabric would then be gathered up in some
way to secure it snugly to the bottom of the head and face. The neck band would then cover the
transition from torso to head.
Finally the arms are constructed of a single long strip of linen sewn closed and stuffed to form arms.
Since the arm-strip is sewn to the torso across the back of the doll, and the photos do not appear to
show stuffing at the shoulder where the arms meet the body, I assume that the arm piece is stuffed
only at either end and the middle is stitched flat to the body of the doll.

Figure 31: Note that in this enlarged view of the back of the doll's head you can clearly see another
layer of shaped linen through the holes in the outer covering. Photo from the Google Cultural
Institute.

37

Linen Fabric
Several authors refer to the doll as being constructed of coarse linen. Using the centimeter grid I
created to obtain measurements of the extant doll, I was able to identify a 1 cm x 1 cm square of
apparently undamaged linen that was also easily identifiable the location of the original excavators
catalog number on the dolls right lower back. I enhanced this area using maximum magnification and
counted the visible threads. I was able to count 10 warp (?) threads and 21 weft (?) threads per
centimeter, which multiples out to 25 x 53 threads per inch.

Figure 32: Magnification of sample area

38

Figure 33: Diagram showing location of sample area

39
Detailing

According to the description provided by the British Museum, Coloured wool, now faded, was applied
to parts of the face and body. This description is reinforced by Dolansky, Janssen and Mann, each of
whom also noted the remains of red wool yarn/thread and stitching holes on the face, torso, hands,
and feet of the doll. This suggests that the details on this doll were all stitched. Unfortunately, none of
the detailing remains on the front of the doll, but the stitching holes noted by those who have studied
the doll may provide clues about the detailing that was present when the doll was created.

Figure 34: Enlarged face. From DK Eyewitness Books: Archeology, p. 7.

40

Figure 35: Enlarged face with possible stitching holes marked with red arrows. From DK Eyewitness
Books: Archeology, p. 7.
The red arrows on the photograph above indicate places with
round holes that I am interpreting as stitching holes. The
placement would suggest eyebrows, eyes, and a nose. The large
hole at the bottom of the face falls where a mouth would have
been. This placement also correlates with the placement of the
intact glass bead earring. Assuming the very simplest of
embroidery, its possible to connect the spaces Im interpreting as
possible stitching holes to achieve a simple cartoon of a human
face.

Figure 36: My imagined doll's face.

41

Style & Creativity


Characteristics of Style for Entry Time & Place
I now need to turn to the other extant rag dolls to understand the
characteristics of style for Roman rag dolls found in Egypt dating from
the first four centuries of the Common Era. As noted previously,
Janssen examined five complete and one partial doll from this time and
place. All of the dolls in her study are made of cloth stuffed with rags
and/or papyrus. Four of the five can be identified as adult female
figures by the detailing on the dolls which includes feminine hairstyles,
jewelry, breasts, and the demarcation of the pubic regions.6
Janssen notes that other rag dolls also exist, however she was unable
to examine them personally. Of note is a Coptic doll housed in the
Berlin Charlottenburg museum which has real brown hair and wears a
poncho-like garment with large gold earrings. 7
Manchester University Museum rag doll
The earliest example was found in Hawara during excavations in 1888
and dates from the first century CE. This doll is now located in the
Manchester University Museum. The doll is made of linen stuffed with
rags and papyrus and, according to Janssen, is of rougher
workmanship than the other dolls. At 25.5 cm tall, she is also about
10 cm larger than the others. She is clearly an adult female, with
molded breasts highlighted by red painted nipples. Like the doll in the
British Museum, her arms are created by attaching a separate roll of
cloth at shoulder height across the back of the torso. It does not
appear that her legs were delineated, but the bottom of the figure has
been split open so its impossible to guess what it originally looked like.
The dolls nose is molded, but her other facial features are painted on
in black, along with a painted necklace of alternating red and black dots
on her chest. Her hair is made up of strands of thread. 8

Figure 37: Manchester Univ. Museum


rag doll (image from Dolansky. "Playing
with Gender: Girls, Dolls, and Adult
Ideals in the Roman World")
6

(Janssen)
(Janssen 238)
8
(Dolansky 266)
7

42

Petrie Museum rag doll


A doll excavated at Hawara dates from the
fourth century and is now housed at the Petrie
Museum in London. This doll was wearing a
tunic when it was found, but the tunic is now
lost. It was also found with a bundle of linen
and wool fragments thought to have been a
wardrobe for the doll. The wool fragments are
two pieces of red wool, one of which has yellow
tassels, plus one piece each of light green, dark
green, purple and blue wool. The linen fabric is
decorated with red wool stitching. Some of the
fragments still have rolled hems and whip
stitched selvedges. The archeologists noted
that the stitching appears to be very crude and
it is thought that the doll clothes were made by
the dolls child owner. 9
The doll itself is made of linen stuffed with
papyrus, measures 13 cm long, and is sewn on
with a central back seam. The dolls arms were
jointed to the shoulder with a wooden peg
mechanism, though the right arm is detached
now. Her legs have been cut off at the thigh.
Like the doll mentioned above, she has molded
breasts with red thread nipples. Her pubic area
and belly button have also been marked with
red thread, as have her lips. Her large, round
eyes and eyebrows are painted in black.
Instead of thread, this doll sports a large
quantity of brown human hair dressed in an
elaborate hairstyle typically seen in
contemporary art. The hairstyle is secured with
resin from Aleppo pine, which was commonly
used as a hair fixative in the Roman period. 10

(Johnstone)
(Janssen 231-2)

10

Figure 38: Doll from the Petrie Museum. Photo


from Johnstone, "Textiles in the Petrie", p. 24.

43

Ashmolean Museum rag doll


Another cloth doll found at Hawara, dating from
the mid-fourth century, is now in the Ashmolean
Museum. This doll is 15.5 cm tall. Her head and
body are made from purple linen that may have
been a piece of discarded clothing. Her
construction is much cruder than the other dolls.
She has no facial features, though she does have
a hairstyle made of auburn human hair. Multiple
bands of undyed, orange, blue, and red linen and
wool have been placed around her head to form
a headband. The doll has no legs instead she
wears a skirt hanging from the waist to hide her
lack of legs. The skirt is held in place by wrapped
yarn. More wrapped yarn holds the roll of linen
forming her arms against her body while
accentuating her large, molded breasts.11
The large breasts of this doll are an interesting
feature. The ideal body for a Roman woman was
small breasted with large hips. Most Roman
dolls, both rag dolls and their carved wood and
ivory relatives, reflect this ideal. 12

11
12

Figure 39: Doll from the Ashmolean Museum


(photo from Ashmolean Museums Textiles in
the Ashmolean Museum, p. 4)
(Dolansky)
(Dolansky)

44

Victoria & Albert Museum rag doll


The Roman rag doll housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum was excavated in Oxyrhynchus in 1897
and dates from the third to fourth century. The doll, which is missing its right arm and both feet, is
made of undyed, plain weave linen with an area of plain weave red wool around the upper torso,
possibly representing a breast band. The doll is stuffed with rags and papyrus. The head is in one
piece with the body, and the eyes are cut circles, with a molded nose. The doll has long, crude,
irregular stitches for hair.13 The arms were made separately, and the left arm is attached by a large
knot on the shoulder. The small breasts are molded. The doll is unique for its extreme anatomical
detail of the pubic region, including demarcation of the vulva, labia and hole for the vaginal opening,
rather than a generalized depiction of the genital region as seen on other dolls. 14

Figure 40: Doll from the Victoria & Albert Museum (photo from the V&A online
collection). This doll is pictured with a childs sprang sock and a sprang doll hat.
13
14

(Janssen 237)
(Dolansky)

45

Figure 41: Another photo of the doll from the Victoria & Albert Museum, this time with the torso of
a partial doll. (Photo from Janssen's "Soft Toys from Ancient Egypt" p. 236.
The smaller doll torso stands 7.9 cm high and is made of linen stuffed with papyrus. The head was still
attached when the doll was discovered, but has since disappeared. The legs were missing on
discovery. The arms are a long sausage roll as soon on some of the other dolls, but in this case the
roll is actually inserted through the upper part of the torso. Each arm ends in five fingers made of
plied linen thread.

46

Summary of Extant Rag Dolls Examined by Rosalind Janssen


Doll
Location
Dated
Height
Material
Stuffing
Eyebrows

Details:

Ashmolean
Museum

Hawara

Hawara

1st 5th cent.

1st cent.

4th cent.

c. 350-360

18.5 cm
Linen

25.5 cm
Linen

13 cm*
Linen

15.5 cm
Purple linen

Rags & papyrus

Rags & papyrus

Papyrus

Unknown

Gone/Stitched?

Painted black

Eyes

Gone/Stitched?

Nose
Mouth

Gone/Stitched?
Gone/Stitched?

Jewelry

Hair:

Petrie
Museum

Behnasa

Manchester
University
Museum
Hawara

British
Museum

Breasts

Painted black
Molded
Painted red

Blue glass bead


earring

Painted
necklace (black
& red)

None

Small molded

Nipples

Gone/Stitched?

Navel

Gone/Stitched?

None

Groin

Gone/Stitched?

None

Pubic
Area
Feet

Gone/Stitched?

Other

hands & feet

Color
Material
Attached
Style

Found With:

Gone/Stitched?

Gone/Stitched?
Unknown
Stitched?
Unknown

Painted red

Unknown
None

Unknown
Thread
Stitched
Unknown

Victoria &
Albert
whole
Behnasa
3rd-4th
cent.
22 cm
Linen
Rags &
papyrus

3rd-4th cent.

None

None

Missing

None

Cut circles

Missing

None

Molded

Missing

None

Unclear

Missing

None

None

None

None

Small
molded
Red wool
Stitches
Red wool
Stitches
Red wool
Stitches
Red wool
Stitches
Gone

Large
molded

Small
molded

Unclear

None

Hidden

Unclear

None

Hidden

Unclear

None

None

Missing

Cut off at
thighs

Layered
hair band

Brown
Human hair
Unknown
Ornate

Auburn
Human hair
Unknown
Loose
Wearing a
tied on skirt
of purple,
patterned
linen and a
hair band
of many
colors

Painted
black
Painted
black
Molded
Red wool
Stitches

Wearing a
tunic (now
lost) & a
wardrobe of
6 additional
articles of
clothing.

None
None

Stitches &
hole
Missing
Red wool
Breast
Band
Unclear
Thread
Stitched
Unknown

Victoria &
Albert partial
Behnasa

7.9 cm
Linen
Papyrus

Missing
Missing
Hands have
linen thread
fingers
Missing
Missing
Missing
Missing

47

Non-Rag Dolls
With only a handful of extant Roman rag dolls to examine, its worth taking a quick look at the extant
ivory dolls to see if there are similarities between the cloth and ivory dolls that should influence the
creation of this reproduction doll. Lauren Caldwell notes in Roman Girlhood and the Fashioning of
Femininity that all of the ivory dolls buried with girls and young women ages five to twenty discovered
in graves in the western Empire portray physically mature adult women with complex hairstyles,
developed breasts, and rounded hips.15 Dolls found in other parts of the Empire, and made from
simpler materials, also show a preference for portraying the female body as mature rather than
childishly androgynous.16 These findings establish that the sexual maturity depicted in the rag dolls is
not an aberration. Its a normal feature of Roman dolls and should be portrayed in this reproduction,
even though these details can only be guessed at on the extant doll.

Figure 43: Roman ivory doll from the mid2nd century CE. From Ancient History
Encyclopedia online.
15
16

(Caldwell 101)
(Caldwell 101)

Figure 44: Roman


ivory doll from the
3rd century CE. From
www.vroma.org.

Figure 42: Roman ivory doll


from the Capitoline Museum,
Rome.

48

Doll Clothes
The doll located in the British Museum is not displayed with clothing, nor is there any mention of the
doll being clothed when it was discovered. While the Ashmolean Museum doll wears a permanent
skirt to hide her lack of legs, and the Petrie Museum doll was wearing a tunic (now lost) when
discovered and was accompanied by a wardrobe of six additional garments, the clothing on this replica
is a creative element. I chose to clothe the doll because she looked incomplete (and rather naughty)
without clothing.
Doll clothes from the Roman period are as rare as rag dolls. The largest find of doll clothing that I am
aware of accompanied the doll now located in the Petrie Museum, which is dated to the 4th century CE.
The doll was originally found wearing a tunic, which was lost sometime after 1927. The doll was
accompanied by a clump of textiles which were untangled to reveal the fragmentary remains of six
doll-sized tunics. Rosalind Janssen observed that the doll clothes were presumably made by the child
owner of the doll, as the stitches are all large and fairly crude. Since sewing and needlework was one
of the mandatory components of a
Patrician or Plebian class girl, it is
likely that making doll clothes may
have represented many young girls
earliest sewing projects. (Many of us
today also learned to sew by sewing
for our dolls!) Janssen specifically
noted rolled hems secured with
whipping stitches and fringed
selvedge edges on the remains of the
garments. Five of the doll tunics were
made of dyed wool, and one was
made of beige linen decorated with
red wool embroidery. The five wool
tunics are light green, dark green, red,
red decorated with yellow tassels, and
one of mixed purple and light blue
threads. 17
Figure 45: Coptic doll tunic from the Metropolitan Museum
of Art.

17

(Janssen 232)

49

An extant Coptic dolls


tunic from 6th 8th century
Egypt is housed in the
Metropolitan Museum of
Art. The tunic, which is
from the post-Roman
period, is in remarkably
good condition and is in
late Roman/Byzantine
style. The body of the
tunic is of plain weave
linen, embellished with a
decorated neckline and
clavi of tapestry woven
wool. The tunic is 16.8 cm
(6 ) tall and 17.5 cm (6
) wide, so it is made for
a doll a little larger than
the British Museum doll.
Close examination of the
photograph provided by
the Metropolitan Museum
Online shows that the
stitching here is also rather
clumsy, which makes sense
if we assume that the
clothing for the dolls was
typically made by the girls
who owned them as they
were learning to sew.
These extant doll tunics
are all dated from at least
100 300 years or more
after the dating of my
replica doll. Roman
fashions were not static, so
it cannot be assumed that
Figure 46: Enlarged view of the Coptic doll tunic from the
Metropolitan Museum of Art.

50

the doll clothing in earlier periods would be exactly the same as the extant garments. It is believed
that Roman dolls were dressed like the adult women their child owners were familiar with. Therefore
the clothing for this doll needs to be based on the clothing worn in the very late 2nd century (or very
early 3rd century) by Roman citizens in the Roman province of Egypt.
Fabrics
The two most commonly used fabrics in the Roman Empire were wool and linen, but silk, goat-hair
cloth, and cotton were also known. The primary production centers for linen during the Roman period
were Syria, Palestine, and to a lesser extent, Egypt. Wool became a common fabric in Egypt around
the time of the Roman conquest in 30 BCE.18 Wool was considered to be softer than linen and it takes
dye very well, making it the obvious choice for colored garments. Cotton was primarily imported from
India, though some cotton was cultivated in the Eastern Mediterranean as well and relatively common
by the Empire period. Like wool, cotton is also easily dyed and the use of cotton helped satisfy the
Roman taste for brightly colored clothing.19 According to Pliny, as quoted in Sebestas Tunica Ralla,
Tunica Spissa: The Colors and Textiles of Roman Costume (p. 72), the moderately wealthy could
obtain a wide variety of textiles at Roman shops throughout the Empire, including embroidered fabrics,
textiles woven in checked patterns from Babylon, fine muslin made of mallow fiber and damask fabrics
from India, painted muslins and fabric
patterned by resist dying from Egypt, and
checkered cloth from Gaul.
Colors
Producing rich, deep colors still required
large quantities of dye-stuff (about a
pound of dye-stuff per pound of wool),
and some shades were achieved by dying
the wool several times, so bright colors
were a symbol of wealth.20 By the time of
the Roman Empire, dye-stuffs were being Figure 47: Samples of hand-dyed wool using natural
imported from every corner of the Empire dye-stuffs to achieve Roman colors. From Alexandra
(and beyond), to every corner of the
Crooms Roman Clothing and Fashion, p. 222.
Empire. Ever increasing demands from the
public for a wider variety of better colors led to much experimentation, including the development of
counterfeit dyes to imitate the expensive scarlets and purples. Egyptian dyers, in particular, were
famous for experimenting with both dye-stuffs and processes. New colors developed during the 2nd
century included galbinus (a pale greenish-yellow), cerasinus (a bright, cherry red), prasinus (strong
18

(Beaudry)
(Cleland, Davies and Lloyd)
20
(Cleland, Davies and Lloyd)
19

51

blue-green/teal), russeus (a relatively bright orangey-red), and venetus (a dark blue).21 Color equaled
status, so while the very rich might flaunt their scarlet and purple, wealthy merchants advertised their
status with deep versions of less expensive colors.
Blue
The color blue was not considered an independent color in ancient Rome, but rather a shade of green.
Blue textiles appear somewhat frequently in contemporary art, literary references, and in textile
remains. Roman color names list shades of blue from aer (very pale blue) to caesicius (sky blue),
cumatilis (sea blue), undae (medium blue), indicum (indigo blue) and venetus (deep blue). Both
inexpensive woad and expensive imported indigo were used by Roman dyers. The more expensive
indigo blues were rich, true-blue colors, while woad blues were lighter and more aqua in tone.22
Red & Yellow
Red also existed in a variety of shades, from albens rosa (pale grayish
pink) to luteus (coral red), crocotulus (reddish orange), hysginus (scarlet
red), and carinus (dark reddish brown). The different shades came from
different dye-stuffs. Crimson, for example, was an expensive dye made
from the fermented bodies of female beetles found on the small,
evergreen Kermes Oak in southern Europe. Inexpensive madder roots,
on the other hand, produced orange-reds, pinks, oranges, and redbrowns. Expensive deep saffron yellows contrasted with inexpensive,
paler yellows made with weld to provide a variety of yellows as well.23
Breast-band/Fascea
It is not known to what extent the average Roman woman wore
underwear. The breast-band, or fascea, seems to have been worn fairly
commonly, but there is less evidence for the briefs seen in depictions of
athletes, acrobats and prostitutes being worn by the average woman
under her clothing.24 The earlier word for the breast-bindings was
strophium, but by the 1st century CE they simply used fascea, which
means cloth strip or bandage and could refer to any kind of wrapped
cloth, such as lower leg wraps or the cloth used to swaddle a baby. Its
possible the reason the fascea was commonly worn by women and girls
was because the Roman concept of the perfect female body was one
with small breasts and rounded hips. Binding the breasts of pre21

(Sebesta, Tunica Ralla, Tunica Spissa: The Colors and Textiles of Roman Costume)
(Sebesta, Tunica Ralla, Tunica Spissa: The Colors and Textiles of Roman Costume)
23
(Sebesta, Tunica Ralla, Tunica Spissa: The Colors and Textiles of Roman Costume)
24
(Croom 121-2)
22

Figure 48: Statuette of


Venus unwrapping her
fascea. From Crooms
Roman Clothing and
Fashion, p. 123.

52

pubescent girls and young women may have been an attempt to prevent the breasts from growing
overly large. Adult women are also noted as binding their breasts to create cleavage, or for large
breasted women, restrain and/or reduce their apparent size (the equivalent of an ancient minimizer
bra!). Fascea were made of linen or wool, and could be colored. For example, a passage describing
the birth of Clodius Albinus in Scriptores Historiae Augustae (quoted in Alexandra Crooms Roman
Clothing and Fashion, p. 122-5.) notes that he was swaddled in his mothers purple fascea. I believe
that the red wool band sewn around the chest of the Victoria & Albert Museum doll represents a
fascea.
Tunics/Tunicae

According to Alexandra Croom in Roman Clothing and


Fashion, information about the clothing worn in Roman
Egypt comes primarily from mummy portraits and extant
garments. Of course, it should be noted that these
sources provide us only with information about the dress
of those wealthy enough to be mummified after their
death. There are no known depictions of the gap-sleeved
tunic from Roman Egypt. Wherever the shoulders of
women can be seen, the tunics have closed or sewn
sleeves. There are also no known depictions of the stola,
the traditional sleeveless overdress worn only by
matrons, being worn in Egypt. In the 1st and 2nd
centuries, womens tunics were generally decorated with
two stripes, one at each shoulder, called clavi that
presumably continue to the hem. Although decorated
necklines seem to appear infrequently in mummy
portraits, embroidery at the neck has been noted on
some of the extant under-tunics from this period.
Womens tunics of this period were also usually colored,
with the use of a white under-tunic becoming more
common in the late 2nd century. Since there are no fulllength portraits from this period, it is not known how
long the tunic was or if they were worn belted or
unbelted. 25
Figure 49: So called "Hypatia" - death
portrait of a Fayum woman c. 160-170
CE. From the British Museum online
collection.
25

(Croom 179-180)

53

In the Mediterranean region, the gap-sleeved


tunic was still being worn in the late 2nd century
CE, but it was rapidly being replaced by tunics
with closed, usually short, sleeves. This style of
tunic appears to have originally been worn by
freedwomen (form slaves given their freedom),
slaves, and the poor during the Republic, and
was adopted by the women of the merchant
class during the 1st and early 2nd centuries. By
the early 3rd century, the gap-sleeved tunic was
old-fashioned and even the women of the
Imperial family were starting to wear the closedsleeved tunic in some depictions. The closedsleeved tunics worn by the rich merchants
and/or upper class women appear to have been
floor length, had clavi decorations at the
shoulders, and were worn belted high under the
bust. Women of the lower classes wore their
tunics shorter and un-belted, usually without any
decoration. The stola was still being worn by
some matrons in the early 2nd century, but it was
going out of fashion and was eventually replaced
by the dalmatic (a wide-sleeved over-tunic) in
the late 3rd century.
Figure 50: Roman mummy portrait from Fayum
Mantle/Palla
Egypt. From IMAGO: The Roman Society
Centenary Image Bank.
The palla was a large rectangular mantle worn
by women, primarily outdoors. It was wide
enough to cover the body from shoulder to knees, and long enough to drape around the body
diagonally like a toga, often with the back section drawn up over the head like a veil. The palla could
also be worn draped around the shoulders like a shawl, wrapped around the hips, or in a number of
ways. While pallas for colder weather were usually made of wool, lighter versions in linen, cotton, and
silk were also available. Pallas could be any color, although in the 1 st century they were usually plain
with a contrasting border. By the 3rd century CE the palla could be decorated with patterns as well as
borders. 26

26

(Cleland, Davies and Lloyd)

54

Headband/Vitta
The vitta is a headband or fillet of wool used
primarily in womens hairstyles to help secure the
hair. The vitta wrapped around the head and tied at
the back, with the long tails falling behind. Young
women wore a different form of the vitta, which was
exchanged for that worn by married women on their
wedding day. The vitta, together with the stola, was
the traditional symbols of the freeborn matron of
Roman citizenship. Noblewomen were more likely to
be depicted wearing a diadem rather than a vitta;
nevertheless, vittae can occasionally be found in
contemporary art.
Jewelry/Cultus
It appears the most Roman women had pierced ears
and wore earrings. The simplest style was a semipermanent metal loop called inauris that was
sometimes hung with a bead. The most common
form of necklace among the less wealthy was a string
of beads called a monile baccatum.27 Egyptian
portraits often show three or four necklaces of
varying lengths worn at the same time, from tight
chokers to long strings of beads or pearls. Shorter
necklaces are often half-hidden in the high neckline
of the tunic.28
Clothing Summary
This doll is dressed in a fashion that would be
Figure 51: Fayum mummy portrait from
appropriate in both Roman Egypt and Rome itself.
the 2nd century. From the Louvre.
Under a white linen under-tunic with simple
embellishment at the neck she wears a blue linen
fascea. Her blue wool tunic with silk clavi is belted under the bust with a cord belt made of braided
threads. She also wears a blue striped Indian cotton palla. She wears a wool vitta in her hair, blue
glass bead earrings, and a simple necklace of alternating blue and red glass beads.

27
28

(Ermatinger)
(Croom 156-7)

55

Creative Elements & How They Are True to Period Style


Each of the six extant Roman rag dolls examined by Janssen is unique. In creating my doll, I drew upon
elements of several of the other extant dolls, upon my examination of photographs of the extant doll,
and upon my experience in constructing the doll with tools as close to those used in period as possible.
Hair: Attachment
Its not clear what kind of hair the British Museum doll
had but, given that all her other details appear to have
been made of yard/thread, I hypothesized that her hair
was probably also made of wool yarn/thread. I used
hand-spun yard in the natural red-brown color of red
Icelandic sheep. This color is a reasonable
approximation of my own hair color. The real human
hair used on the Petrie Museum doll is described as
brown, and the human hair on the Ashmolean Museum
doll is described as auburn. This makes the choice of
the red-brown wool a reasonable choice for the dolls
hair.
Natural red wool was not unknown to the Romans. In
fact, the color term Erythraeus refers specifically to the
natural color of red-haired sheep. The Icelandic sheep
this wool came from are direct descendants of the
Figure 52: Enlarged photo from the Victoria
& Albert online collection.
sheep native to northern Europe which were taken to
Iceland by the Norse. Its possible that they would have
had access to wool from this type of
sheep; there are other breeds of sheep
with naturally red and red-brown wool
that they would also have had access to in
Roman Egypt.
The Manchester Museum doll is noted as
having hair made up of strands of thread,
however the photographs I have do not
allow any kind of analysis of the hairstyle.
The extant doll held in the Victoria &
Albert Museum also has yarn/thread hair,
establishing that this is a viable option for Figure 53: Photo of the doll hair in progress.
Roman rag dolls. The remaining strands of

56

hair on the Victoria & Albert doll were described by Janssen as consisting of irregular stitches29,
however closer examination of the photograph provided by the Victoria & Albert online collection
shows what appear to be additional stitching holes. Given that Roman dolls, both rag dolls and carved
dolls, appear to have been intended to model the hairstyles of adult women, it is reasonable to think
that originally this doll had a full head of yarn/thread hair with a bun, or some other kind of hairstyle,
attached at the back of the head. The strands of yarn/thread hair appear to be stitched by means of
passing the needle entirely through the head and drawing the yarn/thread around the sides to imitate
pulling back the hair.
I did attempt this technique on my doll; however the differences in construction methods between the
two dolls made stitching the hair directly through the head impossible. The separately constructed,
and very dense, stuffing portion of my dolls head proved too difficult to stitch through. In fact, while
attempting to add hair in this manner, I broke one of my bone needles.
Instead of adding hair by stitching through the head, I
revised my method to stitch through only the outer
covering of the head. Since I wanted to create a
hairline around the face and the back of the neck, and
wanted to be able to pull the hair back to style it, I ran
the lengths of yarn parallel to the hairline, rather than
perpendicular to it as was done on the Victoria &
Albert doll. I also wanted to replicate the style that I
wear most often when in the guise of my Roman
persona. The style is modeled on the hairstyle of the
Empress Faustina II during the later portion of her
reign. More information on the hairstyle is provided
the next section; however the hairstyle requires that
the hair around the face be plaited before being
drawn back into a large plaited bun. This required
that there be at least two lines of yarn hair
surrounding the face of the doll one line to be
plaited at the sides of the face, and one line to be
drawn back directly into the bun. I also added some
strands of hair at the crown of the head to act as an
anchoring point when creating the bun. The hairstyle
itself was stitched into place using the methods

29

(Janssen 237)

in

Figure 54: Faustina II, c. 161-70 CE. From


Janet Stephens "Ancient Roman
Hairdressing: on (hair)pins and needles",
p. 116.

57

explained by archeological hairstylist Janet Stephens.30


Hair: Style
Carved Roman dolls are often dated based on their hairstyle,
which emulate the styles worn by various empresses. There is
evidence to suggest that this was likely the case with the rag
dolls as well. Given that the current dating of the British
Museum doll indicates a very wide possible range (1st 5th
century) and I have chosen to place the doll within my Roman
personas time period of very late 2nd century to very early 3rd
century, I chose to use the hairstyle I wear most often. The
style is based styles depicted on empress Faustina II (wife of
Marcus Aurelius) and popular from 160-180 CE and also
sometimes depicted on empress Crispina (wife of Commodus)
and other ladies during the period from 180 192 CE. As
Alexandra Croom notes in Roman Clothing and Fashion, there
were a great variety of popular Roman hairstyles over the
course of five centuries, but individual styles could remain
Figure 55: Portrait bust of Faustina
popular for twenty or thirty years. The latest fashions in
the Younger c. 161 - 180 AD. From
hairstyles were generally introduced with a new empress, who Sotheby's catalog for sale 8035,
12/09/2004 10:15 AM.
would wish to distinguish herself from her predecessors.
Those women wishing to pursue the latest fashions might
change their hair with the empress, while others would continue to wear the older style. It is
conceivable that some women might wear the same basic
hairstyle for most of their adult lives.

Figure 56: Faustina II Sestertius 176180. From iCollector.com.


30

(Stephens)

The hairstyle includes volume at the side of the face, either in


the form of loose waves, twist or plaits, and a very large,
round bun sometimes depicted as a coiled plait. The bun is
set on the back of the head or lower, rather up on the top of
the head as seen in many other Roman hairstyles. My
personal preference with my own hair is to plait the hair at
both the sides of the face and to construct the bun as a
plaited coil, with the side plates brought back and wrapped
around the central bun. This is the hairstyle depicted on the
rag doll.

58

Although it is not this exact hairstyle, Janet Stephens includes both written instructions and step-bystep photographs for reproducing a similar hairstyle she calls the Serpentine bun in her article Ancient
Roman Hairdressing: on (hair) pins and needles
published in the Journal of Roman Archaeology,
Vol. 21, 2008. The Serpentine bun, which she
dates to Empress Julia Domna c. 200 CE, also falls
within the timeframe set for this entry. The
instructions provided include sewing the hair into
the given hairstyle using a long, thick, blunted
needle and wool yarn or thread. Needles of this
type have been found in Roman tombs, depicted
in contemporary art, and most notably in the
beauty case of Cumae which is now housed in
the Museo Nazionale in Naples, Italy. This case
contains jewelry, a mirror, a spindle, a comb, and a
large bone needle. It is thought that this case
might have belonged to an ornatrix (Roman
hairdresser) as it contains the tools of the trade: A
comb to detangle and smooth the hair, a hairpin
Figure 57: Julia Domna's Serpentine bun. From
to part and secure the hair, a spindle to make
Janet Stephen's "Ancient Roman Hairdressing:
thread for hairdressing, and a needle to sew the
on (hair)pins and needles", p. 118.
hair into place.31
Janet Stephens instructions for the Serpentine bun are as follows:
1. Braid narrow sections of hair on each side of the front hairline into 2-strand rope braids that are
overdirected* and asymmetrically augmenting**. If one has no assistant, use pieces of thread
to tie off the ends of the braids so that they wont unravel, as done here.
2. The remaining hair is split into 2 sections, left and right. Combine the tail of the respective rope
braids with each section. Braid the left and right sections all the way to their ends with loose
tension at the root and gradually tighter tension toward the ends.
3. To form the flattened disk shape of the Serpentine bun, coil the left-hand braid sideways from
the ends toward the root while simultaneously stitching together the adjacent edges of the
braid as one coil.
4. Cross the right hand braid over the base of the left hand disk and stitch this braid around the
outside edge of the disk.
31

(Stephens 123)

59

5. Once the disk is complete, lift it onto the back of the head and sew it to the scalp hair all the
way around its edge. The style is now complete. 32
NOTES:
*Overdirected braids are worked in the opposite direction from where they are intended to lie
on the head, which produces extra volume at the base of the braid. In this case, the hair is
brought forward to be braided so that when it is pulled to the back of the head, there is a
controlled puff of hair that creates fullness around the face.
**asymmetrically augmented braids are similar to French braids in that they have additional hair
added into the braid for a portion of its length, but unlike French braids which use
approximately the same amount of hair in each augmented bunch, the augmenting bunches of
hair grow progressively larger. This results in a braid that grows from quite small to quite thick
very quickly.

Figure 58: Steps 1, 2, and 3 in creating the Serpentine bun. From Janet Stephens "Ancient Roman
Hairdressing: on (hair)pins and needles", p. 128.

32

(Stephens 126)

60

Figure 59: Steps 4 and 5 in creating the Serpentine bun, plus the finished style. From Janet Stephens
"Ancient Roman Hairdressing: on (hair)pins and needles" p. 128.

The dolls hairstyle, and mine, is achieved in a very similar manner, although I often have to resort to
using hairpins instead of sewing as I have no ornatrix to attend me. I acted as the dolls ornatrix.
1. Braid narrow sections of hair on each side of the front hairline into 3-strand braids that are
overdirected and asymmetrically augmented. Tie off the ends of the braids with string.
2. Braid the remainder of the hair into a single large 3-strand braid centered fairly low on the back
of the head and tie off the end with string.
3. Coil the large back braid into a large bun, working from the base of the braid outward. Sew the
edges of the coils to each other as you progress.
4. Sew the large bun to the scalp hair all the way around its edge (in the case of the doll, I sewed
through the hair and into the fabric of the dolls head).
5. Take the right side braid and bring it to the back, passing it under the base of the bun and then
coiling it around the bun. Sew it in place to the edge of the bun.
6. Repeat with the left side braid, making sure that the tails of all braids are securely hidden. The
style is now complete.

61

This is an extremely secure, durable,


and practical hairstyle. Even without
being sewn into place, my hair in this
style has lasted through long days of
high wind, high humidity, rain, and
every other event condition, including
long days at Gulf Wars and Pennsic,
without every coming loose or needing
to be touched up. I can imagine that
Figure 60: Photos of the doll's hairstyle.
this would be a practical and attractive
hairstyle for a woman with a household to manage and/or a business to run.
The rag doll also wears the vitta, which is a band or fillet of wool used primarily in womens hairstyles.
The vitta wrapped around the head and tied at the back, with the long tails falling behind. Young
women wore a different form of the vitta, which was exchanged for that worn by married women on
their wedding day. The vitta, together with the stola, was symbols of the freeborn matron of Roman
citizenship. Noblewomen were more likely to be depicted wearing a diadem rather than a vitta;
nevertheless, vittae can occasionally be found in contemporary art. Because a rag doll is more likely to
belong to a Plebeian child, rather than a child of the Equestrian or Senatorial family, I chose to dress
her appropriately and had her wear the vitta.
Face
As discussed above in my analysis of the extant doll in the British
Museum, the doll appears to have originally had a stitched, or
embroidered, face. Since none of the other extant rag dolls have
fully stitched faces, I used what evidence I could find as a guide in
creating the face on my rag doll. It is possible that my 21st century
expectations are influencing my interpretation, but I think I see
possible stitching holes in the photographs of the dolls face that
could be interpreted as depicting eyebrows, eyes, nose and mouth.
On the other hand, its also possible that my concerns about 21st
century influences are causing me to see the resulting doll face as
more modern, and less plausibly Roman, than it actually is.

Figure 61: My interpretation


of stitching holes on the extant
doll's face.

The Manchester University Museum doll has an entirely painted


face, with black eyebrows and eyes, and red lips. The Petrie
Museum doll has black painted eyebrows and eyes, with red
stitched lips. For this reason, I used black wool to stitch the dolls eyebrows and eyes, and red wood to
stitch her mouth. The two dolls mentioned above, and the Victoria & Albert Museum doll, all have

62

molded noses, however there is no evidence that the British Museum doll ever had a molded nose, so I
did not make one. Because the eyes and eyebrows are stitched in black, I also stitched the nose in
black wool thread.
In experimenting with this project, I initially thought that it would be practical to stitch the face onto
the linen prior to sewing the linen over the stuffing ball and cinching the neck. This would also allow
me to make the best use of my tools, which consisted of a bone
needle (much thicker than we would normally consider suitable
for embroidery) and hand-spun wool threads. I quickly
discovered that this was not practical. My attempt resulted in
the face not being placed properly on the dolls actual face.
Although the stitching is simpler due to having to be
accomplished once the doll head was assembled, stitching the
face onto the doll after the head was assembled produced a
satisfactory result. Given that these rag dolls all appear to have
been home-made, rather than assembled in a professional
workshop; I imagine that this is probably the way this doll was
made. It might also explain why the doll in the Ashmolean
Museum was never given a face.

Figure 62: Photo of the doll's


face.

With so little evidence to compare it to, I cannot honestly say that the final effect is entirely Roman;
however I do not feel that it deviates entirely from the realm of plausibility.
Jewelry
The carved ivory dolls founds in the graves of wealthy Roman girls are
often ornamented with jewelry. The doll buried with Crepereia
Tryphaena wore a tiny gold ring on her left hand and additional doll-sized
jewelry, including gold bracelets, loose pearls, and small pieces made of
green pasta vitrea (colored opaque glass) and gold spirals that may have
been jewelry or hair ornaments, were also found in the grave. Cossinias
ivory doll wore a gold necklace, and a gold bangle on each wrist and
ankle. Even the British Museum doll still has one blue glass earring
attached, and the Manchester University Museum doll has a necklace of
alternating black and red beads painted around her neck.

Figure 63: Detail of an


ivory doll wearing a gold
necklace. From Rome,
My doll was, of course, given two blue glass bead earrings attached to the
Palazzo Massimo, 1st - 2nd
head with linen thread to replicate the earring still worn by the extant doll. My
original impression of
century.
how the extant earring is attached to the doll was that the thread was knotted inside the outer layer
of linen, but one knot had pulled through the fabric. After examining the earring more closely, I

63

believe that a thread was looped through the linen covering


the head, the bead was strung unto the double thickness of
thread, and then a large knot was tied to secure the bead.
The extra space between the head and the bead offers several
possibilities. The first possibility is that there was a second
bead that broke and came off the thread. Another possibility
is that the space was left intentionally to simulate the dangling
earrings worn by Roman women. I have opted to simulate
dangling earrings.
In addition, I created a necklace of alternating blue and red
glass beads strung on waxed linen thread that is tied around
the dolls neck because these types of necklaces are found so

Figure 64: Enlarged view of the


remaining blue glass bead "earring".
From Google Cultural Institute.

commonly in mummy portraits.


Although the extant bead appears to be opaque blue glass, I was unable to
find any beads of similar color, opacity, and comparable size locally. I was
unable to find any information specifically about the bead, which I 3mm
estimate to be approximately 3 mm in size. I was unable to locate matte
deep blue glass 3 mm bead locally. I tried two sizes of seed beads, but they
were too small. I also found 4mm glass beads, but those seem a little larger Figure 65: Photo of
than the extant bead. Between the two, I settled on the larger 4mm beads my doll's right hand.
as fitting the scale of the doll better. Roman glass beads were
available in both opaque and translucent varieties, and both glossy
and matte, so I could reasonably use any plain glass bead of an
appropriate size, so I used the most opaque beads 4mm beads of the
deepest blue I could find for this project. For the necklace I added
alternating plain red glass beads in the same size, in imitation of the
painted red and black bead necklace on the doll in the Manchester
University Museum.

Figure 66: Enlarged photo


of doll's right "hand" from
DK Eyewitness Books:
Archeology, p. 7.

Hands
No detailing is mentioned in regards to the hands of the extant doll.
Its clear from the photographs that the seam creating the roll that
forms the arms runs along the top of the arms, rather than underneath the arms as would likely be
done by most modern crafters. The arms end in flattened, clubs that, in some photos, appear to be
vaguely mitten-shaped. I attempted to create the same effect. I was more successful on the right
hand than on the left.

64

Torso/Genitalia
Of all the extant Roman rag dolls examined by Rosalind
Janssen, the British Museum doll is unique in that it does not
have molded breasts. The carved ivory Roman dolls also all
detail breasts, navel, and pubis, with varying degrees of
detail. While this might lead to speculation that the doll was
not intended to represent an adult woman, or at least a
nubile adolescent female, the presence of the blue glass
earring along with the stitching holes and remains of red
detailing threads on the dolls torso indicate that this doll
shared these details with the other rag dolls.
It is difficult to determine much about the detailing from
examining the photo of the dolls torso. There appear to be
a number of possible stitch holes in the chest, but the area
where I would expect to find stitches detailing nipples is
heavily degraded on one side and appears unmarked (?) on

Figure 67: Enlarged photo of the doll's


front torso from DK Eyewitness Books:
Archeology, p. 7.

the other side. There is a clear


stitch hole and area of decay which
Janssen has identified as a navel.
There may be the remains of lines
marking the pubis, but it is difficult
to tell from this photograph.
Because there is so little solid
evidence remains on the extant doll,
I referenced the doll from the Petrie
Museum for this reproduction. The
doll in the Petrie Museum has
nipples, navel, groin, and pubic area
delineated in stitches with red wool
thread. I also referenced the doll
from the Victoria & Albert Museum
which, Lauren Caldwell notes as
having a stitch and hole makring the
vulva and labia.33 I chose a darker
red-brown madder dyed wool
33

(Caldwell 101)

Figure 68: Petrie Museum torso on the left, my doll torso on the
right.

65

thread for these details. I cant tell what color of red the
threads on either the British Museum doll or the Petrie
Museum doll were originally, however they appear to have
tended toward dark red or red brown rather than light red or
peach/pink as would probably have been the choice for a 21st
century doll.
Feet/Shoes
When we come to the feet, we are at a distinct disadvantage
because, of the six complete and partial Roman rag dolls
examined by Janssen, only the British Museum doll has feet.
The Manchester University Museum and Ashmolean Museum
doll do not appear to have ever had legs or feet. The doll in

Figure 69: Enlarged front of feet on


extant doll. From DK Eyewitness
Books: Archeology, p. 7.

the Petrie Museum was cut off at the thighs. The partial doll
in the Victoria & Albert Museum is cut off at the lower torso,
and the nearly intact doll in the same location is missing its
feet. Both Dolansky and Caldwell noted that the carved ivory
dolls found in wealthy graves include carved shoes on the feet
of the dolls, so it is logical to assume that rag dolls might also
have shoes if they have delineated legs.
The photo of the front of the British Museum dolls feet
appears to show a number of stitching holes, but it is not
possible to discern a complete pattern from them. The back
view of the feet shows what may be more stitching holes,
plus the remains of red wool, confirming that the dolls feet
originally had detailing on them which were, presumably,
shoes.

Figure 71: Doll feet

Figure 71: Calcei femeninos in


the Saalburg Museum. From
Flickr - Roberto Pastrana.

Figure 70: Enlarged photo of the back of


feet showing stitching holes and
remains of red wool thread.

Figure 73: Ancient Roman leather


shoe in Chesters Museum. from
www.vroma.com

66

Roman women are known for wearing sandals, but they also wore shoes and boots. In adding stitches
shoes to the doll, I chose to stitch simple calceoli (ladies soft shoes) out of natural red wool, rather
than sandals which would reveal the toes, or lack of toes.
Doll Clothes
Given that Roman dolls are clearly intended to represent adult women, I chose to dress this doll as an
adult woman of the moderately wealthy merchant class living in the Roman Province of Egypt. It is
likely that doll clothes were constructed of scraps of leftover fabric or cut from worn out garments that
were being discarded or remade into new items. With this reasoning, I used fabric scraps from other
projects to construct the doll clothing. The linen tunica is made of a scrap of off-white linen left over
from one of my own under-tunics. The wool tunica is made of a scrap of hand-woven wool fabric,
woven by Honorable Lord Lars Knarrarsmidr, which was given to me as a birthday present and is
currently in the process of being made into period clothing. The palla is made from the end of one of
my own Roman pallas that was cut off after a corner was damaged. The hand-spun and hand-dyed
wool threads and hand-dyed silk threads are scraps left over from a project and given to me for this
use by Mistress Anne Blackthorn. The handspun black wool and red wool threads were also spun and
given to me by Mistress Anne Blackthorn. The linen threads are leftover warp ends from the loom of
Honorable Lord Lars Knarrarsmider. The other linen threads are leftover weft threads from his loom.
All of the materials used in the doll are scraps and/or odds and ends, just as would probably have been
the case in period.

Figure 73: Mummy portrait of a


Roman woman Kerke Fayum Egypt
175-200 CE. From Flickrriver.

Figure 72: Fayum mummy portrait from


"Fayoum Portraits" on laputanlogic.com,
02/02/2004.

67

Materials
Chart of Materials: Period Materials vs. Materials Used in Entry
Item

Material Used in Period

Material Used in Entry

Is this a substitution?

Doll outer covering


Doll inner layer
Stuffing Material
Doll construction thread
Doll hair

Linen
Linen
Linen rag & papyrus
Linen
Unknown probably wool
yarn/thread
Red wool yarn/thread,
Black wool yarn/thread,
red and/or black paint

Off-white linen fabric


Off-white linen fabric
Linen rag & papyrus
Linen thread (warp ends)
Undyed, hand-spun wool
yard from a red sheep
Hand-spun, hand-dyed
red wool yard/thread,
and hand-spun black wool
yarn/thread
Blue glass bead on linen
thread
Blue & red glass beads on
waxed linen thread

No (1)
No
No (2)
No
No (3)

Strip of blue linen fabric


Linen fabric embroidered
with hand-spun, handdyed red wool
Hand-woven blue wool
fabric embroidered with
hand-dyed silk

No
No

Doll details

Earring(s)
Necklace

fascea (breast-band)
Tunica (under-tunic)

Tunica (outer tunic)

Palla (mantle)

Vitta (headband)

Cingulum (belt)

Blue glass bead on linen


thread
No known glass bead doll
necklaces, but one doll
has a painted bead
necklace
Wool or linen strips
Extant dolls tunic of linen
embroidered with red
wool
Extant dolls tunics of
linen or wool fabric with
embroidered or appliqud
clavi (for a dolls tunic)
No known dolls pallas,
however real pallas were
wool, linen, cotton, or silk.
No known dolls vitta, but
real vittae were made of
wool
No known dolls cingulum,
but womens belts of the
period were made of cloth
or twined cords

No (4)

No (5)
No (6)

No (7)

Blue striped cotton fabric


hemmed with linen
thread
Braided blue wool thread

No (8)

Braided linen thread

No

No

Explanation of Choices
(1) The linen used for the extant doll has been described as coarse by the archeologists. My
examination via the photographs showed that the linen appears to have 25 x 53 threads per
inch, which is not particularly coarse by modern standards. The original linen would obviously
have been hand woven. I did not use hand-woven linen for this project. Most of the hand-

68

woven linen I was able to locate is upholstery


weight, which would be far too thick for this
project. I was able to locate medium weight
hand-woven linen at
www.textilereproductions.com for $28/yard.
I opted to use leftover scraps of linen for this
project, as was probably done in period. The
linen for the dolls inner and outer layers is
scraps of 5.3 oz middle weight linen from
www.fabric-store.com. This linen has 46 x 37 Figure 74: The original painted papyrus scroll.
threads per inch, which is a reasonably close
match for the original.
(2) While I was not able to obtain dried papyrus reeds, I
was able to obtain an old scroll painted on real
papyrus. The scroll was purchased in Egypt many
years ago and given away free at a yard sale in
Gainesville, FL. The papyrus paper was old and
starting to come apart. I was able to separate the
two layers of pressed reeds and then separate the
individual reeds to create the papyrus part of my
stuffing. While this probably does not have quite
Figure 77: The process of shredding the
the rigidity or volume of the loose reeds used in the papyrus scroll for stuffing.
original doll, the papyrus did add both bulk and
rigidity to the doll without adding much weight. The final result is lighter than a similar doll
stuffed only with linen rag would be.
(3) This wool was obtained from a red Icelandic sheep. The Icelandic sheep are direct descendants
of the sheep native to northern Europe which were taken to Iceland by the Norse. Its possible
that they would have had access to wool from this type of sheep; there are other breeds of
sheep with naturally red and red-brown wool that they would also have had access to in Roman
Egypt. This was a common enough natural color of wool that the Romans had a specific name
for the color erythraeus.
(4) The red wool yarn/thread consists of scraps leftover from dying experiments using madder, so
there are several different colors of madder reds, red-oranges, red-browns and pinks. The
threads were all hand spun by Mistress Anne Blackthorn and were given to me for use in this
project. The black wool was also hand-spun by Mistress Anne Blackthorn. It is the natural black
color of the wool. Wool moths had gotten into the ball and eaten parts of it, rendering the yarn
unsuitable for knitting, but the short lengths were still workable for small stitching projects.

69

(5)

(6)

(7)

(8)

Since dolls of this type were probably made at home out of scraps, this seemed a logical use for
this yarn.
Although the extant bead appears to be opaque blue glass, I was unable to find any beads of
similar color, opacity, and comparable size locally. I was unable to find any information
specifically about the bead, which I estimate to be approximately 3 mm in size. Roman glass
beads were available in both opaque and translucent varieties, so I could reasonably use any
plain glass bead of an appropriate size; however I found the most opaque beads of the deepest
blue I could to use for this project. The closest size match I could find was 4mm, which is slightly
larger but appears to be more true to scale than a seed bead.
For the necklace I used the same blue glass beads as described for the earrings above, and I
added alternating plain red glass beads in the same size, in imitation of the painted red and
black bead necklace on the doll in the Manchester University Museum.
The wool fabric for this tunic was hand-woven by Honorable Lord Lars Knarrarsmidr. The fabric
this scrap came from was given to me as a birthday present and is in the process of being
turned into period clothing. I used scraps from this fabric to make the dolls tunic. The threads
used to weave the fabric were not hand-spun or hand-dyed, but the color is a reasonable
substitution for a rich indigo blue. The herringbone twill pattern can be documented to textiles
of the period.
Cotton fabric, imported from India and cultivated in the Mediterranean, was available in this
period and listed by Pliny among the luxuries available in Roman stores throughout the Empire
for those of moderate wealth. Fabrics fine enough to be nearly transparent were available.
This fabric was not hand-woven or hand-dyed, however the blue stripes on sheer cotton fabric
are plausibly available to someone of moderate wealth in period, and the fabric is taken from a
repair made to one of my own pallas.

70

Tools
Chart of Tools: Period Tools vs. Tools Used in Constructing the Entry
Task
Measuring
Cutting
Sewing
Waxing thread
Pushing needles

Tools Used in Period

Tools Used in Entry

Is this a substitution?

Unknown
Sheers
Bone and/or iron needles
Beeswax
Thimble

My right hand
Small sheers
Bone needles
Beeswax
Thimble

No
No (1)
No (2)
No (3)
No (4)

Explanation of Choices
(1) Shears as a set of blades which are squeezed together in a cutting action. Shears were
commonly used by the Romans, though shears do not appear in Egyptian art until the Roman
period. It is believed that the Romans brought the use of shears for cutting with them. Shears
made of iron blades riveted onto a bronze spring were common, and many have been found
during the excavations in Pompeii.34 The Royal Ontario Museum maintains a large collection of
Roman iron shears, and early scissors, collected in Egypt and dating from the Roman period.
While very early versions of scissors were available in Roman Egypt, the shears were far more
common and thus more likely to be owned by woman of moderate wealth. The shears I was
able to obtain for this project are not made of iron, but they are operated in the same way as
Roman shears and are constructed as hardened steel blades riveted onto a softer metal spring.
(2) Romans used bone and metal (iron and bronze) needles, however it is believed that bone was
preferred over metal because the iron rusted and bronzed oxidized, becoming rough and
staining the fabric and threads. Since much of the fabric was woven to the shape of the
garment until the late Empire, and embroidery and fine sewing were primarily the work of
specialists or ladies of great wealth and leisure, the majority of Roman needles found by
archeologists are very large and clumsy by modern standards. When sewing linen or wool the
needle size (within reason) is somewhat immaterial because the needle guides the thread to
pass through the spaces between warp and weft fibers, rather than punching holes in the
fabric. A large needle can pass through relatively fine linen or wool fabric without permanent
damaging the fabric. Many of the Roman needles found by archeologists have two or three
eyes, which are thought to have kept the thread from slipping.35 Surviving examples of Roman
stitching appear coarse and clumsy compared to the sewing done in later periods. 36 The
needles used in this project were hand made for me by Lord Gunther McCardy Brighthawk of
Shining Glen. By my request he made two needles for me one thicker (and stronger) which
34

(Notis and Shugar)


(Beaudry)
36
(Cleland, Davies and Lloyd)
35

71

was used for the construction of the doll, and a thinner needle for finer work. Both needles had
three eyes, which I found not only prevented the thread from slipping, it also helped reduce the
stress on the thread somewhat. Unfortunately I broke the smaller needle during my first
attempt to add hair to the dolls head. Luckily that was one of the last stages of production and
I was able to complete the rest of the work with the larger needle. The larger bone needle was
also used in sewing all of the dolls clothing. I considered having another, finer needle made
but concluded that if the doll clothes were sewn in period by children learning how to sew,
they likely would not have been provided with a finer, less sturdy needle to work with.
(3) I have no conclusive proof that Romans in the 2 nd and 3rd centuries did, or did not, wax their
linen thread as they sewed with it, however waxed threads have been found in the Coptic
needlework dating from the late 3rd and early 4th centuries so it is probably a period practice.
(4) It is unclear whether the Romans used metal thimbles or not. Some experts believe that they
did not and that the provenance of the many supposed Roman thimbles in Museum
collections is unclear. Interestingly, in using relatively large bone needles, which are much
easier to grip than modern, small needles, I never actually needed to use the thimble, though I
had it with me so I am mentioning it here.

72

Figure 75: Roman shears


made in three pieces.
From Notis & Shugar's
"Roman Shears:
Metallography,
Composition and a
Historical Approach to
Investigation".

Figure 82: Roman


thimble. From
www.ancientromang
oods.com

Figure 76: Turkish


shears in an Egyptian
style from the Roman
period (2nd cent. CE).
From the Metropolitan
Museum of Art.

Figure 80:
Roman
ivory
needle.
2nd - 3rd
cent CE.
Metropolit
an Museum
of Art.

Figure 81:
Roman bone
needle. 2nd 5th cent CE.
Metropolitan
Museum of
Art.

Figure 83: Roman needles from Pompeii. Flickr Hadley Paul Garland

73

Figure 84: My tools: bone needles, simple shears, simple thimble, beeswax, and linen thread.

74

Methods
Chart of Methods: Period Methods vs. Methods Used in Entry
Task

Methods Used in Period

Methods Used in Entry

Is this a substitution?

Unknown

Estimation using my hand


to maintain scale
Small shears
Overcast stitches
Run thread along a lump
or cake of beeswax
Simple embroidery
stitches
Yarn/thread drawn
through the outer fabric
of the head to create hair
Plaited and sewn into
place
Roughly estimated

No (1)

Measuring
Cutting
Construction sewing
Waxing thread
Doll embellishments
Doll hair

Doll hairstyle
Measuring doll clothes
Sewing doll clothes

Doll earrings

Shears
Overcast stitches
Run thread along a lump or
cake of beeswax
Simple embroidery stitches
Unclear/unknown

Real hair was plaited and


sewn into place
Unknown probably
roughly estimated
Simple sewing: rolled
hems, overcast stitches,
running stitch, blanket
stitch, hem stitch
Linen thread appears to be
looped through the fabric
of the head, with the bead
strung on the doubled
thread which is then
knotted

Doll necklace

Unknown

Simple sewing: rolled


hems, overcast stitches,
running stitch, blanket
stitch, hem stitch
Waxed linen thread
appears to be looped
through the fabric of the
head, with the bead
strung on the doubled
thread which is then
knotted
Beads were strung on
doubled, waxed linen
threads with knots tied
between each bead.

No
No
No
No
Unsure?

No
No
No

No

Unsure?

Explanation of Choices
(1) Having done the analysis and estimating the size of all the pieces of the doll, actual construction
was completed without a ruler or way of obtaining exact measurements. My right hand, from
the base of the palm to the tip of my middle finger is approximately 7/17.5 cm. My thumb,
measuring from the point where the thumb connects to the hand below the index finger, is
2/5 cm long, and the knuckle to tip measurement of my thumb is 1/2.5 cm. My index finger is
3/7.5 cm long, as are the four fingers laid flat as a group. This provided me with the only units
of measurement used in creating this doll. For example, the long body piece was a bit longer

75

than the length of my hand and a little wider than twice my index finger minus the end of my
thumb. This system of measurement was used for three reasons: first, this doll was
constructed in front of the public as part of the demonstrations put on by the SCA at our local
Medieval Faire, so I was limited to the tools I could carry in a small basket and to working on my
lap under a tent by the tournament field. Ideally I would not have any non-period tools visible,
which means I did not carry any with me. Second, since these rag dolls appear to have been
homemade from scraps, I believe that their manufacture was approximated and organic than
carefully planned out. I wanted to replicate that in the construction of this doll while also
maintaining the approximate scale of the original. In the end, my doll is slightly taller than the
original by approximately 1 cm.

76

Final Analysis
Original Conclusions
This entry was entirely constructed at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire during the five days that the
Faire was open to the public and the SCA was providing an extensive demonstration of medieval and
renaissance arts, crafts and lifestyle to the public. I did not have the benefit of electric lighting, even
on rainy days or in the evenings. I did not have the benefit of central heat on the days that it was cold.
I did not have the luxury of wearing glasses or using any tools or supplies except those I brought with
me in my small work basket. I used bone needles for all sewing and small shears for all cutting. My
linen threads were the warp ends cut off a friends loom, which are not as smooth and consistent as
thread off a purchased spool. My wool threads were all hand-spun, which are also not as consistent as
modern, machine spun yarn and thread. While most of the fabric I used was machine made because I
was utilizing scraps left over from other projects, as would likely have been done in period, the blue
wool used for the dolls outer tunic was hand-woven. Although I wasnt wearing Roman clothing, I was
wearing period clothing and accessories the entire time and I sewed while overseeing the tournaments
(heavy weapons and rapier demonstrations), the dancing, and while chatting with people in between.
I believe that this project represents the most truly authentic I have ever done because it was not
only highly authentic in terms of materials, tools and methods; it was completed under plausibly
period conditions as well.
Prior to beginning the actual construction of the doll, I wondered about the clumsiness of the stitching
compared to what I am used to seeing and doing. While researching this project, I frequently noted
the almost disdainful comments made by archeologists about the stitching on the Roman rag dolls and
doll clothes. While I was working on the project, I found it impossible to sew with the finesse and skill
that I am used to using these tools and under these conditions. I feel that my work is clumsy,
especially on the doll clothes. My companions frequently caught me muttering this quote referencing
the British Museum rag doll from Trevor Manns How Toys Began, the crude stitching, so evident,
is almost certainly the workmanship of the proud possessor of the doll. Shabby toys of this kind have a
special kind of charm To which I added Crude stitching?!?! Id like to see HIM come try this!

Conscious Compromises
Throughout the project I found myself constantly wondering if I was making a particular choice, or preferred a
particular effect, because my 21st century life pre-disposes me to see things and prefer things this way, or if I
was truly capturing a Roman aesthetic which just happens to also please the modern eye? As much as possible I
used research and extant examples to guide my work, but there were areas where there are no direct guides.
All I can do is try to follow the evidence I can find, educate myself to develop an eye for the period aesthetics,
and know that its not entirely possible to lose all of your 21 st century bias.

77

Re-thinking This Project


I would very much like to obtain high quality, color photography of the front of the British Museum rag doll. I
would also like to find information about the two other extant Roman rag dolls which were not examined by any
of the experts cited in this paper, and about which I could find no information. While having this additional
information might not change anything I did in this project, I would like be able to see if that truly is the case.
I may contemplate future projects recreating all of the known Roman rag dolls, and possibly even work in
conjunction with other artisans to recreate some of the other types of Roman dolls as well.

78

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Appendix: Oxyrhynchus
Oxyrhynchus (also spelled Oxyrynkhos) [Oxy-rhyn-chus (\k-si-ri-ks\)]
Oxyrhynchus means sharp-nosed fish.
The ancient city is located partially underneath the modern Egyptian city of el-Bahnasa, which is
located about 160 km south-southwest of Cairo.
The earliest city on the site was the ancient Egyptian city of Per-Medjed, named after the medjed (a
species of elephant fish living in the Nile River and worshipped as the fish that ate the penis of the god
Osiris). It was the capital of the 19th Upper Egyptian nome (province), on the western edge of the Nile
Valley. After Alexander the Greats conquest of Egypt in 3323 BC, the city was reestablished as a Greek
town called Oxyrrhynkhoupolis (town of the sharp-snouted fish). Under Greek rule, the city was a
prosperous regional capital and the third-largest city in Egypt.
In the Roman period, Oxyrhynchus remained an important regional capital. Economically it was
associated with the Baharia Oasis. The city had many public buildings, including a theatre that could
seat 11,000 spectators, a hippodrome, four public baths, a gymnasium, and two ports on the Bahr
Yussef canal. The city also supported a Roman garrison and many Greek, Roman and Egyptian temples,
as well as Christian churches.
Today Oxyrhynchus is most famous as the archeological site of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. For more than
1000 years, the inhabitants of the city dumped their garbage, including papyrus, at a series of sites in
the desert beyond the city limits. Since the city is built on canal rather than on the Nile itself, the area
did not flood every year. The area to the west of the Nile has virtually no rain. As a result, the garbage
dumps of Oxyrhynchus were gradually covered over by sand and forgotten until their discovery in
1882.
The garbage dumps include vast amounts of papyrus: ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman account
records, tax returns, census data, invoices, receipts, correspondence on personal, administrative,
military, religious, economic, and political matters, licenses, certificates, scrolls, books, plays, love
notes, and even student assignments and texts. Nearly all of it was placed in wicker baskets and
dumped out in the desert.
Between the garbage dumps, cemeteries, and the remains of the city which still exist underneath the
modern city of el-Bahnasa, excavations have been going on continuously for over 100 years.