Eyes of Rome
Domitian on Haircare

Domitian on Haircare

Written by Katie

There’s no doubt about it: in antiquity a full head of hair was prized by the Romans.


Antinous 2 172Both Julius Caesar and Emperor Caligula famously suffered from baldness (capillo raro).

Caesar was so conscientious of his thinning hair that he was overjoyed when wearing a laurel crown because the leaves hid his receding hairline.

We are told by Roman author and senator Suetonius that baldness was such a touchy subject for Emperor Caligula, he made the act of looking down on him from above a crime...punishable by death!

The horrors of hair loss reached new heights (!) in the era of Emperor Domitian.

Domitian was the son of Emperor Vespasian and the brother of Titus, the conquerors of Judaea in 70 CE.

Historians often describe Domitian as "crazy and unbalanced". He was socially awkward and preferred solitude. Like Caligula, Emperor Domitian was very sensitive of his baldness and official portraits continued to show him with flowing locks of hair until the end of his reign.

Suetonius tells us that Domitian was tall and well-built, except for his hammer-toes, and lost his hair only later in life. He took as a personal insult any reference, joking or otherwise, to bald men.

It comes as a quite surprise, then, to learn that Domitian wrote a short manual called “On Haircare” (Sulla cura dei capelli), which he published with a dedication to a friend.


He wrote by way of mutual consolation:

Domiziano da collezione albani fine del I sec. dc. 02 172

"Yet my hair will go the same way, and I am resigned to having an old man's head before my time. How pleasant it is to have good looks, yet how quickly that stage passes!"

Domitian

 

 If ancient libraries included a self-help section, Domitian’s manual undoubtedly would have been a good reference point for Roman men!