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Hairstyles and Cosmetics in Ancient Greece

Hairstyles in Ancient Greece

In the ancient Minoan civilization the women wore their hair long with
elaborately fashioned locks. This is probably because the women advertised
their marital status with their locks.

Instances of hair in the Iliad:

  • Achilles had yellow hair
  • Thersites had little hair on the top of his head.
  • The fierce Abantes wore their hair long behind.
  • Meleager was golden-haired .
  • Thracian warriors wore their hair in a tuft at the top of their heads.
  • Golden-haired Agamede, daughter of Augeas, king of Elis
  • Idomeneus had hair was already flecked with grey
  • Dark-haired king (Poseidon)
  • Yellow-haired Menelaus
  • Euphorbus had hair which was like that of the Graces, and his locks so deftly bound in bands of silver and gold
  • Hector had dark hair
  • The old man (Priam) had white hair and beard
  • 14.176 – “and (Hera) combed her hair, and with her hands pIaited the bright tresses, fair and ambrosial, that streamed from her immortal head.”
  • 17.60 – “In blood was (Euphorbus’) hair drenched, that was like the hair of the Graces, and his tresses that were braided with gold and silver.”

The Achaeans seem blond while the Trojans seem to have dark hair. Some hair styles defined the sub-culture of the warriors.

Instances of hair in the Odyssey:

  • Athena then made Odysseus look taller and stronger than before, she also made the hair grow thick on the top of his head, and flow down in curls like hyacinth blossoms
  • Athena disguises Odysseus and says: you shall lose all your yellow hair;
  • they took yellow-haired Rhadamanthus to see Tityus the son of Gaia
  • Their servants are all young men, well dressed, wearing good cloaks and shirts, with well looking faces and their hair always tidy
  • He had a servant with him, a little older than himself, and I can tell you what he was like; his shoulders were hunched, he was dark, and he had thick curly hair. His name was Eurybates.

Instances of Hair in Hesiod

  • (ll. 947-949) And golden-haired Dionysus made brown-haired Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, his buxom wife: and the son of Cronos made her deathless and unageing for him.

During the classical period women wore their hair long except when they were in mourning during which they cut their hair short. Slaves wore short hair. Before the 5th century women’s hair was allowed to fall over the shoulders and back. It was often fastened by a headband or diadem. Later hair was often restrained. After the fifth Century BCE there were a number of possibilities including buns, headbands, scarves, and hair covers. During Hellenic times the hair was artificially waved and curled.

Instances of Hair in the Poet Sappho

Fragment 98

My mother used to say,
when I was just your age,
that a girl who bound her hair
with a purple band wore
the most becoming thing
that any girl could wear.
But for the girl whose hair
is more yellow than torches
wreathes of flowering buds
are more becoming by far.
Not long ago I had
a broad embroidered band
from Sardis.  But for you
Kleis, I have no colored
band, nor do I know
where I shall get one.

Translated by Barbara Hughes Fowler

Hairdo in Ancient Greece
Hairdo in Ancient Greece during the Classical Period

Example hairstyles follow:

Bartlet head, Boston 03.743

The Bartlet Head is an important and rare original example of late Classical or early Hellenistic sculpture located at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It is remarkable also for it unusual hair style. Her long, wavy hair is bound in a thin taenia (ribbon) that is wrapped twice around her head, and pulled back into a bun at the nape of the neck. Some locks are pulled up in loops at the top of her head, an effect that appears as a topknot, and has been referred to as lampadion (“little-torch”).

A woman sits in a klismos chair holding a mirror. In front of her is possibly a basket. She wears a peplos and on her head is a headband or scarf.
Ancient vase with woman and mirror

References to Hair Care in the Ancient Literature

  • In Aristophanes, Lysistrata line 47 reference is made to “These crocus-gowns, this outlay of the best myrrh, slippers, cosmetics dusting beauty, and robes with rippling creases of light.”
  • In Aristophanes, Lysistrata (line 79): she states: “Dear Spartan girl with a delightful face, washed with the rosy spring,..”
  • In Aristophanes, Lysistrata (Line 149): “With smooth roses powdered on our cheeks, our bodies burning naked through the folds of shining Amorgos’ silk, and meet the men with our dear Venus-plats plucked trim and neat.”
  • In Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae at the beginning (line 2}: “Oh! lamp, I will tell thee thine origin and thy future; ’tis the rapid whirl of the potter’s wheel that has lent thee thy shape, and thy wick counterfeits the glory of the sun; mayst thou send the agreed signal flashing afar! In thee alone do we confide, and thou art worthy, for thou art near us when we practise the various postures in which Aphrodite delights upon our couches, and none dreams even in the midst of her sports of seeking to avoid thine eye that watches us. Thou alone shinest into the secret recesses of our thighs and dost singe the hair that groweth there, and with thy flame dost light the actions of our loves.”
  • In Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae line 735: “…how black it is! it could not be more so if Lysicrates had boiled the drugs in it with which he dyes his hair…”.
  • In Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae line 117: “I am but a servant, and yet I have poured on my hair the most exquisite essences.”
  • Euripides, Hippolytus line 1426: “For unmarried girls before their marriage will cut their hair for you”
  • Euripides, Medea “And ever dressing her hair with a fragrant chaplet of roses she sends the Loves to sit at Wisdom’s side,..”
  • Herodotus, The Histories (7.208 line 3) (of Spartans): “He saw some of the men exercising naked and others combing their hair.”
  • Homer Iliad (14.175) (of Hera): “Therewith she annointed her lovely body, and she combed her hair, and with her hands pIaited the bright tresses, fair and ambrosial, that streamed from her immortal head.”

Shorn Hair as a Sign of Slavery

The following passages from Euripides Electra relate to the fact that Electra appears with shorn hair:

“Electra — O black night, nurse of the golden stars, [55] in which I go to the river’s streams, bearing this pitcher resting on my head–not because I have come to such a point of necessity, but so that I may show to the gods Aegisthus’ insolence–and send forth laments into the wide sky, to my father.

Pylades — But now that I see this maidservant, bearing a weight of water on her shorn head, let us sit down, and inquire [110] of this slave girl,..

Electra — [140] Take this pitcher from my head and put it down, so that I may cry aloud the night-time laments for my father. A wail, a song of death, of death, for you, father, under the earth, I speak the laments [145] in which I am always engaged, day by day, tearing my skin with my nails, and striking my cropped head with my hand, for your death.

Electra — And my head and hair, close shaven as if by a Scythian’s razor.” (line ) line

The suggestion that slaves could be recognized by shorn hair. It is also possible that shorn hair was a part of mourning.

Later in the play Electra talks about the following to her mother, Clytemnestra:

“You who, before your daughter’s death was decided, [1070] as soon as your husband had started from home, were adorning the golden locks of your hair at the mirror. A wife who decks herself out for beauty, when her husband is gone from home–strike her off the list as worthless. [1075] There is no need for her to show her pretty face out of doors, unless she is seeking some mischief.”

Names for hairsytles


Ancient Greek ladies did use cosmetics but very lightly. They
liked light skin that looked like they stayed in the shade.

Most people already have an image of Aphrodite in their head. Women have this image of the ideal woman so they can compare it to their own bodies. They use this comparison to improve their attractiveness through the use of cosmetics and jewelry. Men have an image of the ideal woman that they use to determine what women they should be attracted to. They have the desire to see the woman totally nude so they can consummate the sex act with the
beautiful woman. Women take advantage of this image in men. By careful arrangement of their cosmetics and dress they can suggest beauty in the minds of the men. The men use their image to fill in the details and then think of the woman as desirable. This mechanism has been fully active since the time of the ancient Greeks. The Greek men and women worshipped Aphrodite because they felt she was in control of it.

Ancient Greek ladies had access to many substances that they used to improve their health and appearance. Honey was used to moisturize their skin. Olive oil was used to protect the skin and give it a shine. Olive oil could be infused with scents and applied to improve aromas.

Charcoal could be ground to dust. This dust could be mixed with olive oil for eye shadow. Powdered iron oxide could be used for rouge. Powdered iron oxide can be mixed with bees wax and olive oil for a paste to be used on the lips fo the ancient Greek ladies.

White lead could have been used to whiten the skin. The while powder could have been mixed with olive oil and wax to apply to the skin and whiten it. Unfortunately the lead would have been absorbed by the body to cause some harm but the result would not have been fast enough to have been noticed by the ancient Greeks. Many ancient women suffered in this way.

The ancient Greek women depilated themselves and wore cosmetics lightly.

The women of ancient Greece used no tattoos or other symbolic markings on their skin in spite of the fact that their not so distant ancestors did both. Cult figurines found local to Greece but of pre-historic date often show patterns like those found in the tattoos of present primitive peoples, suggesting that these represent markings on the bodies of the people. But these primitive peoples were also dominated by rituals which wer not practiced by the women of Greece. This is surprising.

The women of Greece did use cosmetics for much the same reason as the women of today. But their style was somewhat different. The high class women of ancient Greece were confined
to the houses with their porticoes and gardens. They stayed out of the sun and had a somewhat light complexion. The other ladies attempted the same look with cosmetics. As a result they unfortunately used a lot of white lead to make their complexion whiter. They also used rouge to produce a healthy, excited glow, and eye shadow for contrast. None of this is evident in the art of the time which suggests that for the women of ancient Greece their illusion was complete.

The following pictures appear to be a woman dealing with cosmetics, but no evidence of the cosmetics are present except for the mirror:

Question: what did they use as cosmetics

Answer: The ancient Greek women used very little cosmetics but they used olive oil, lanolin, and tallow, as a base and charcoal and earth colors for pigments. Unfortunately they used white lead to whiten their skin.

Roman women used a number of different beauty treatments and cosmetics. Unfortunately they used some horrible chemicals such as white lead and metallic mercury to enhance their beauty. Not unlike some of the chemicals used in primitive printer inks. These chemicals poisoned their bodies. They also used mineral baths. The curative virtue of mineral baths was known to the Romans. Where mineral springs occurred the water was channeled and
protected as it flowed into grand buildings which contained public pools and steam baths. The Romans contributed to the public health of their people by providing these facilities.
Unfortunately they usually provided only one pool which both sexes used and the public was allowed to use the baths naked. This mixing of the naked sexes was considered by the Christians to be sinful and the result was that Christians condemned bathing as sinful. This contributed to the awful conditions of the European Middle Ages when people never took baths.

Many of the chemicals that are used for cosmetics today were available to the Romans. The most important chemical may have been soap, which was first developed by the Romans. Beeswax and lanolin were both available.


Questions and Answers

Question: what kinds of clothes did circe wear

Answer: Homer says only that she wore braided tresses. Since she lived in the neighborhood of Crete during Minoan times, she probably wore Minoan dress.

Question: what did they look like

Answer: Click on the underlined links above.

Question: Is there any documentation that the prostitutes in Corinth had cropped hair or a shaved head while dedicated to aphrodite?

Answer: Sexual practices are hard to document, but that is the rumor. You do need to distinguish priestesses from temple slaves. The slaves are more likely to have shaved heads than the priestesses. The priestesses may have been more like a hetaera.

Question: What kind of clothes did they wear?

Answer: Ancient Greek clothing.

Question: did they have sertain “unspoke rules” about hair color like the egyiptions did (black hair) ?

Answer: The Cretans arranged their locks according to their marital status, but the later Greeks seem to have been free of such rules.

Question: What hair colour was preferred in Greece?

Answer: Golden.

Question: If golden hair was preferred in ancient greece, do you think any goddess referred to as ‘lovely-haired’ or ‘rich-haired'(Demeter, Rhea, Artemis, Leto) by Homer could have been golden-haired?

Answer: Some references to hair color:

  • “And golden-haired Dionysus made brown-haired Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, his buxom wife. Hesiod The Theogony(ll. 947-949)
  • “and even so Helen dishonoured the couch of golden-haired Menelaus.” Hesiod Catalog of Women Fragment #67 (ll. 1-7)
  • “of Ares, the golden-haired” Catalog of Women Fragment #98, Berlin Papyri, No. 9777: (63)(fragments), Hesiod
  • “But golden-haired Demeter” (ll. 301-320) Hymn 2 to Demeter, Homer
  • “Verily wise Zeus carried off golden-haired Ganymedes because of his beauty,” (ll. 202-217) Hymn 5 to Aphrodite, Homer
  • Then the heaven-born hero, golden-haired Polyneices,” Fragment #2, Homer The Thebaid (fragments)

Question: My gr.6 class is learning all about Ancient Greece. I
would like to know if there is any certain hairstyle that the
muses, gods, godesses, and myths that was popular or used for
superiority and festivals?

Question: what were mens hairstyles like in ancient greece


Question: How did Gaea where her hair?

Answer: Pictures of Gaea’s hair:

Question: ()

Answer: Crowns (diadem, meniskos, wreath), Scarves(kerkryphylona, sakkos,
sphendonei, stephanei, taenia), strings, hair pieces, combs, pins, leaves.

Question: I was wondering are there any Goddess’s with Red hair? Can you please send me a list if there is any? Thanks

Answer: Silenos has curly red hair, but he is a Greek god. Goddesses from other cultures include.

  • Lalita Tripurasundari, the Red Goddess
  • The twentieth prayer of the 141st chapter of the ancient Egyptian “Book of the Dead,” is dedicated “to the Goddess greatly beloved, with red hair.”
    [E. A. W. Budge, “The Book of the Dead,” (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Trubner, 1901), p. 430.] In the tomb of Pharaoh Merenptah (19th Dynasty), there are depictions of red-haired goddesses. [N. Reeves & R. H. Wilkinson, “The Complete Valley of the Kings,” (London: Thames & Hudson, 1997), p. 149.]
  • Palden Lhamo, the chief guardian-goddess of the Tibetan pantheon
  • Macha, Brigit, Epona, Irish goddess of the sun.
  • Morrigan, Irish goddess of the underworld.

Question: One more Question! Is there any known pictures of the redheaded Goddess’s? I would really appreciate your help!! Once again thank you!


Question: How did they look after their hair

Answer: They washed it in clear water and put olive oil on it. They
combed it often in between washings.

Question: Is there any Greek Goddess’s (not God’s) with red hair??

Answer: I can find no such reference, but a goddess can appear with any hair color.

Question: have you any pictures of hair tools that the ancient geeks used and what kind of recipes did they use for haircare


Question: what were ancient greeks idea of beauty?

Answer: Answer: The ancient Greeks incorporated their idea of beauty in their art. They studied many individual examples of beauty and formulated an ideal example from this that represented the best example. This they then incorporated into their paintings and sculpture. They did not paint what they saw. Rather they painted the best that could possibly be. As a result the art of the Greeks represents this ideal beauty. Unfortunately we do not get a good idea of what a real person looked like

Question: What current fashions were influence by Minoan costume?

Answer: When Evans discovered the Minoan civilization, his contemporaries thought what he found quite strange. This suggests a lack of influence. The garments that the Minoans show in their art were probably not woven. Yet weaving with a loom was probably developed during the time the Minoans were flourishing. It is possible that the women imaged by the Minoans wore the garments developed during an earlier time and were the garments of the priestesses. If weaving were developed the garments produced would have been cheaper and easier to produce. The Minoans may have developed the woven garments named chitons and peplos and never imaged them because these garments were worn by the lower classes. But the words ‘chiton’ and ‘peplos’ are not Indo-European words and may have come from the Minoan Civilization. If this is true the influence of Minoan costume would have been profound. These garments in ancient Greece resulted in an emphasis on drapery. Today we see this influence in many garments

Question: what year was the bartlet style popular

Answer: Around 330 BCE.

Question: what all diffrent kind’s of hair styles do they have

Answer: Too many to list. Some cultures have only a few hair styles
but the ancient Greeks had a great variety.

Question: What was the hair accesorie called that looked almost like a tiara connected to a metal cup-like shape that held up the hair in a high bun? I have seen many of them but Im not sure what it is called and I need to know. I have the impression it is called a diadem but I always though a diadem was a sort of chest ornament..Im probably wrong so please help me out…thanx!

Answer: See the following:

I do not find any Greek women with buns on top of their head. There are many Roman women with buns, but most at the nape of their neck. The word of interest in greek is ‘stephane’, ‘στεφάνη’ which is something that circles the head. It can be a ribbon or a band of gold.

Question: what did priest wear

Answer: Priests wore the same clothes as everyone else: Peplos, Chiton, or Himation. Men were more likely to wear a himation than women.

Question: Did ancient Greek clothes have anything to do with social classes? And did they wear anything diferent than normal wear for partys?

Answer: Clothes style had little to do with class though clothes color did. The highest class wore purple while the lowest class could afford neither purple nor red. Jewely was a better indicator of class, with richer people wearing more jewelry. The type of event may be important too. At a συμπόσιον (symposium) the clothing looks elegant in images from ancient Greece. At a κῶμος (komos) the participants could be nude.

Question: What particular charecteristics of ancient greek women differ to those of other races? For example, what was the desired look for women in those times as opposed to a woman in africa or mexico?

Answer: The notion of race is hard to apply to ancient Greece. Greeks are better identified by the nature of their culture and religion. A further problem is that though ancient Greeks were very artistic and literate and described many aspects of their culture in great detail, the other cultures recorded very little. One exception is Egypt. Among their carving are depictions of other peoples such as the Phillistines. The Assyrians also depicted other cultures.

Though is is not easy to compare Greek women to other cultures their art gives plentiful evidence of their ideals. In fact the Greek art rarely depicts faults. Phryne, the model for the Aphrodite of Cnydus, was called that name because it means ‘toad’ referring to her complexion. But none of that was depicted by Praxiteles in his sculpture. So we know the Greek ideal but rarely the Greek reality.

In fact it would seem that the ancient Greek Culture was probably a mixture of races. The Minoan People may have been a red race from Africa. The Mycenaeans may have been Caucasian. The Mediterraneans seem a different race with dark skin and black hair. The people of Greece today seem one race but they seem to have diverse ancestors.

Herodotus traveled widely in the countries around ancient Greece and in his work The Histories many references to other races and cultures can be found.