Roman 'Pendants' Revealed to be Ancient Makeup Applicators

Rare Roman cosmetic sets shown in English Heritage's new History Inspired Makeup Tutorial are on display at Wroxeter Roman City 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.

A selection of these objects are on display at Wroxeter for the first time from today as English Heritage releases a new Roman History Inspired Makeup Tutorial based on some of this evidence.

Originally these copper alloy objects, that were excavated at Wroxeter in the early 20th century, were catalogued as 'lunate pendants'. However, re-examination by English Heritage Collections Curator, Cameron Moffett, 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 Collections 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.'


Coinciding with the new objects on display at Wroxeter Roman City, English Heritage has released a new Roman History Inspired Makeup Tutorial as part of its popular YouTube series.

Taking inspiration from Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus in the 3rd century AD, the tutorial features a demonstration of how to apply eyeliner using a replica cosmetic grinder.

The History Inspired Makeup Series sees Fashion Historian Amber Butchart and Makeup Artist Rebecca Butterworth recreate looks from history including Elizabeth I at Kenilworth Castle, which has received more than 4 million views on YouTube.

Other episodes feature the 1930s at Eltham Palace, Queen Victoria at Osborne, and a male and female Georgian transformation at Kenwood.

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