Colors Of Roman Clothing 

If you ever wondered what it meant in Ancient Rome, why certain people wore certain colors, we tackle it in this week long series.

Roman Sumptuary Laws were imposed by the rulers Ancient Rome to curb the expenditure of the people. The word Sumptuary comes from the Latin word which means expenditure. Such laws applied to various items including clothing.

The Roman Sumptuary Laws assured that clothing colors provided information about the status of the persons wearing them. The Roman Emperors are identified with the color Purple – it was an extremely expensive dye color to produce, but it is not common knowledge that wearing the color Purple was actually banned by anyone, but the Emperor via the Roman Sumptuary Laws.

The range of colors available for dyeing the materials and fabrics used for Roman Clothing increased as the romans came in contact with, and conquered many of the nation’s in the western world. The romans were great leaders, and even opened trade routes to China where they obtained luxury materials such as silk. As with all other aspects the Roman ‘borrowed’ and then enhanced the ideas and produce from other countries. 

To produce varying colors, the material was heated with the dye and occasionally additional elements. Other items were added to the dyes to produce a variety of different colors. These included wine, salts, shells, mosses, sheep urine, lentils, fungus, vinegar, wild cucumbers, walnuts, insects, barley malt, plants, bark, roots, berries, and flowers.

The main colors of Roman Clothing were produced by using the cheapest dyes, made from cheap and plentiful sources, which were available to the romans from their provinces in the Roman Empire. 

Shades of colors were produced by adding various elements as detailed above and combination colors such as orange were also produced. The main colors of Roman Clothing included the following:

  • White
  • Purple 
  • Blue
  • Red
  • Scarlet
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Brown 
  • Black 

We’ll be discovering how these colors were made, stay tuned!


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