Clothing and Identities — New Perspectives on Textiles in the Roman Empire (DressID)

The main objectives of the DressID project are:

  • to provide a position in cultural history for clothing and textiles
  • to demonstrate how clothing is a key to identity studies
  • to strengthen the network and exchange of knowledge and ideas of European scholars and to combine the various scientific traditions in Europe
  • to contribute to European identity by investigating its common cultural heritage
    Keywords: International collaboration, European collaboration, interdisciplinary research, uniformity, diversity, identity, clothing, Roman Empire, dress-code, network and interchange, communication, exchange

The Roman Empire

The Roman Empire forms the frame of the project. At the time of its maximum extent — in the 2nd century AD — the Roman Empire incorporated the territory of most of the present-day member states of the European Union, numerous Balkan countries, and all of the states on the Mediterranean seaboard. It also had an outstretching web of diplomatic and economic relations with peoples living beyond its borders. Not only geographically but also chronologically the project embraces a much longer period of time, starting in Early Iron Age and leading to Late Antiquity.
With its richness in various sources the Roman Empire provides a perfect potential for investigations of cultural uniformity and diversity. Its pervading political and administrative structures provide an excellent platform for identity studies on all levels.

Clothing and Identity in the Roman World

Clothing of individuals and collective bodies serves as a major tool for communication on a non-verbal level. As a whole it expresses relational constructions within groups, and it demonstrates affiliations or debarment as well as ethnicity, social rank, profession, gender and age. Clothing may reveal the regional origin of the bearer, present variations in local costumes, and it reflects in a highly visible way the correlation between tradition and innovation.
Dress-codes were permitted by recognisable elements of clothing like the use of the toga or the braca, and by apparent aspects as the quality of cloth and the combination of accessories, through which people might express their individuality in various ways.
The investigation both addresses the European-wide Roman dress and identity, but also the dress codes within the Roman Empire and beyond, reflecting peoples’ histories and cultures.

A new interdisciplinary method

Numerous textile experts and institutions all over Europe carry out specific investigations concerning Roman clothing on an individual basis. Now they join an interdisciplinary programme, the DressID-project, which combines all the knowledge and research results from various branches, in order to reach new insights. The new component of this multidisciplinary approach is the combination and inclusion of results gained by the humanities like archaeology, ancient history, and epigraphy with physics and chemical analyses as well as systematically conducted tests of tools and techniques provided by experimental archaeology. The investigating groups will consist of researchers with various exploratory foci. It is their aim to interweave the specialists’ knowledge into a large network of information on textile questions, and to enter an overall communication bridging the ranges of specialised knowledge in order to get a broader view and a better understanding of the social significance of clothing in the Roman world. Each of the researchers is asked to join any study group to give new impulse to the discussions.
Two clusters of study groups are formed. Study groups 1 to 4 and 6 will start right in the beginning. They focus on fundamental research and deliver important facts and data which will be evaluated and interpreted corporately with the second cluster, study groups A to E, starting their work slightly later.

Communication — publications and exhibitions


All the data generated by the researchers in this project will be available to other scholars and to the public via web-based communication, papers, public meetings, databases, and the public media. A major outcome addressing a larger international public is a series of dynamic exhibitions based on the ongoing research, touring around various European countries. These public presentations will show original finds from all over the ancient world in combination with the scientific results, visualised by experimental archaeology and modern media.