Roman "Pendants" Revealed to be Ancient Make-Up Applicators

  • Rare cosmetic sets identified at Wroxeter Roman City
  • Unique objects on display for the first time


Researchers at English Heritage have discovered that previously identified Roman pendants at Wroxeter Roman City in Shropshire were actually cosmetic sets used for eye make-up, the charity revealed today (18 September). The objects are on display at Wroxeter for the first time from today.

Excavated at Wroxeter in the early 20th century, these copper alloy objects were catalogued at the time as "lunate pendants", but re-examination by English Heritage experts at the Roman site have revealed that they were used to grind minerals for make-up and were specially shaped to be used on the eye for applying liner and shadows. Known as cosmetic grinders, these small mortar and pestle sets had suspension loops that allowed them to be carried on a cord, a feature which led to their earlier categorisation as pendants.

Developed in the 1st century AD, these ancient cosmetic sets were exclusive to Britain, and were a response to the import of cosmetics and ideas about personal beauty coming from the Mediterranean and Roman provinces as far away as Egypt. Their discovery highlights the thriving, prosperous and metropolitan place that Wroxeter Roman City was over 2,000 years ago.

Cameron Moffett, English Heritage Curator, said: "Being able to re-identify these pendants as cosmetic sets is hugely important to our understanding of the women who lived and worked at Wroxeter Roman City – these small objects literally changed the face of Britain.

"When we think of the Roman period, conversation is often dominated by the masculine realms of influence, from Emperors and politics to battle tactics, but of course women played a key role. It’s these functional, everyday items that really paint a picture of relatable women, to whom make-up was wholly accessible, following the trends of the time and using tools so similar to the ones we use today."

To coincide with the objects going on display for the first time at Wroxeter Roman City, English Heritage has released a new Roman History Inspired Make-Up Tutorial as part of its popular historical tutorial series, which has seen Fashion Historian Amber Butchart and Makeup Artist Rebecca Butterworth recreate looks from history including Elizabeth I (which has received more than 4 million views on YouTube) at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, Queen Victoria at Osborne on the Isle of Wight, the Georgians at Kenwood House in London and the 1930s at Eltham Palace in Greenwich. Taking inspiration from Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus in 3rd century AD, the tutorial features a demonstration of how to apply eyeliner using a replica cosmetic grinder.

The newly identified cosmetic sets are on display at Wroxeter Roman City from today.

To watch the Roman Make-Up Tutorial, visit:

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