Baldness and Hair Care in Imperial Rome

Martial, 6.12 and 6.57

“Fabulla claims as her own the hair she buys!
Hey Paul—wouldn’t you say that she lies?

Iurat capillos esse, quos emit, suos
Fabulla: numquid illa, Paule, peierat

57

“You make fake hair with gel, Pheobus—
Your filthy scalp is covered with drawn-in hair
You don’t need to summon a barber for that head:
A sponge can give you a better shave, Phoebus.”

Mentiris fictos unguento, Phoebe, capillos
et tegitur pictis sordida calua comis.
Tonsorem capiti non est adhibere necesse:
radere te melius spongea, Phoebe, potest.

The loss of hair was a sensitive issue in antiquity too. Suetonius (Life of Domitian, 18) records the emperor Domitian was extremely touchy about his premature loss of hair:

“His baldness offended him so much that he took it as a personal insult if anyone else was slighted for it in humor or seriousness. Nevertheless, in the pamphlet he published addressed to a friend On Haircare, he offered these words to console both of them: “Don’t you see how beautiful and big I am?”* And even so, my hair’s fate awaits me. I endure with a strong spirit the aging of my hair in youth. Know this: nothing is more gripping or brief than beauty.”

*Here, Domitian quotes from Homer’s Iliad where Achilles “consoles” Lykaon before he kills him by pointing to their shared mortality.

caluitio ita offendebatur, ut in contumeliam suam traheret, si cui alii ioco uel iurgio obiectaretur; quamuis libello, quem de cura capillorum ad amicum edidit, haec etiam, simul illum seque consolans, inseruerit: ‘οὐχ ὁράᾳς, οἷος κἀγὼ καλός τε μέγας τε; eadem me tamen manent capillorum fata, et forti animo fero comam in adulescentia senescentem. scias nec gratius quicquam decore nec breuius.’

I guess we can say that not only was Domitian the princeps of the Roman Hair Club for Men, but he was also a member!

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