Ancient Rome had a punk


first visit  Louvre, Bust of Domitian
When the word "Ancient Rome" is said many things come to our minds. Gladiators, Emperors and back-stabbing (literally). But what mostly hits people during unending hours of history class where Romans are conquering and some other population is being defeated, is probably the glorification of this unbreakable "Roman pride". 
"S.P.Q.R."wasn't only the governments emblem, but a motto that united the pride of thousands in one of the biggest empires of history into a single city: Rome.

Naked or dressed it didn't matter. As long as you wore the title of Roman you were considered a member of of the state. But to be a respected member of high society you had to adhere to certain formalities. One of these so called formalities were the "Sumptuariae Leges" (Sumptuary laws) that in fact stipulated regulations in attire: details, colors and specific garments were supposed to represent a certain positions, class and age; like the notorious tyrian purple with golden threading detail, worn exclusively by the emperor, or the togas specifically designed for the pueris. Red was also fundamental, color of the legions and legionaries, it represented the temper of their great father, god of war, Mars. And white, color of austerity and justice, represented the Roman citizenship and the senate.

The Roman society was a well-controlled one in terms of conduct. It had a series of censoring officials (the word "censoring" in fact derives from latin word censeor meaning valuation, qualifications, judgement) that organized the Sumptuary laws. In these laws there were also prohibitions. For obvious socio-political reasons foreign (oriental, nordic and greek) clothing wasn't allowed in all means for a very long time. For example, pants, worn by the northerners (Asterix and Obelix type of northerners) were considered to be revealing and extremely barbarian, eventually the brachee became the only useful protection from the cold and were used by the Romans too.

I was very lucky to have a latin tutor that while teaching the extremely complicated and boring language to me also provided me with information about what was going on inside the city of Rome (In the end, it's all about the Gossip). 

It is clear that a society with this many restrictions and conformities comes with it's black sheep. A notorious example would be the last of the Julio-Claudians, emperor Nero. Marked as an extravagant psychopath, sexual pervert and tyrant by many historians,  superficially supporter of of the sumptuary laws, the emperor was very fond of greek inspired garments (mini-skirts), sideburns,  herbal dyes (It's been reported in old manuscripts that he did in fact have blue hair for a while) and wigs. A first example of the anti-comformist species? 

Maybe. But lets not put him in a box. He was obsessed with music and very confident about his talents. He'd force the people of Rome to attend his continuous performances of music and poetry. They couldn't stand it. Many people would actually pretend to die, be sick or fake childbirth in order to escape the infamous "Nero Concerts". This very same man, was the one seen sitting on top of a hill, playing the fiddle and singing songs, while watching Rome burn down to ashes. Some say he was the one who started the actual fire. His favorite drugs were brought to him from the eastern lands by a person specifically chosen for this job.

A "bad"emperor, or a wild child? it's not sure, as good old Freud said, we all live between two  extremes: The Über-Ich (super-I) and the Es, the former being the organized, controlled and self-limited side of the human nature and the latter being the wild aggressiveness in which we were born into. It varies from person to person, and clearly, Nero was more Es oriented.  Es is the essence of Dionysus, It  that brings creativeness, energy, art and music to the world, And Nero did this, in it's own obtuse way.

So on your next visit to the Sully section of the permanent collection in the Louvre, forget about the conquests, wars and Caesar, make sure you go and see the only remaining marble bust of emperor Nero (everything else was destroyed, go figure) close your eyes and picture him sitting on a hill, with blue hair, singing along to "Smoke on the water" while smelling the ashes of his own city on fire.

Sara RB
First year Fashion Design student at Istituto Marangoni

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