ROMAN emperors were a sensitive lot when it came to their head of hair, or lack thereof, according to local historian Adrian Murdoch.
The rulers felt that any imperfection of their locks showed weakness and they did anything they could to disguise it.
Some added gold highlights while many more wore floral head wreaths.
Bizarre facts they may be but Alva journalist and author Adrian sought them out when writing his latest book, Emperors of Rome.
It charts all 78 Roman emperors who ruled in the west for more than 500 years.
From founder of the Roman Empire, Augustus, in 27 BC to the young Romulus Augustulus who was deposed in AD476, Adrian delves deeper behind the throne.
He told the Advertiser, “If you’ve ever done history at school it focuses on the impact on society and you forget about the people involved. Everybody does Augustus and knows who Caligula is and at university they do term-sized chunks but you never do how you get from A to B to C. I wanted to get an idea of the men behind the throne.” His idea to humanise the figures leads to some surprisingly odd revelations – among them, the hair facts.
Adrian went on, “Lucius Verus was so vain that he put highlights – gold dust – in his hair. He didn’t want anyone to think he was going grey. A lot of emperors were very touchy when they started going bald. They went out their way to stop statues showing their balding heads – that’s why Julius Caesar would be posed with a head wreath.
“Another emperor didn’t like that he was short and always wanted to be carried around on chairs. It’s those bits of information that humanise them and that’s what I wanted to bring out.” He ranks Petronax as a favourite among what he calls the ‘bonkers emperors’ – “he was a teacher and thought being a Roman Emperor was easier than teaching” – and Theodosus as the most impacting.
Adrian explained, “He had the biggest impact as he was at the end of the empire. He was there when the empire absorbed Christianity and made it its own. It was Theodosus that put priests in government. Around that time you stopped seeing images of Christ as a shepherd and instead saw Christ dressed as a Roman emperor.” The book – which includes 69 hi-res images of coins from the British Museum collection – initially started life as a series of short videos on Adrian’s website, Bread & Circuses. Over the course of 2012 he got together with producer friends and made 3-minute long segments on each Roman Emperor and uploaded them online.
After finishing the series, he decided to write the information down as a book. When it came to print, he went the unusual step of shunning offers from publishers to put his work in shops and instead took the e-book route. He called in favours to illustrate, design and edit the book before it was published on the Kindle last week through Rott Publishing.
He said, “I wanted something that people could afford. Also, the great thing about the Kindle is that you can update. If I find another two revelations the text can be amended – and it takes just 24 hours to update. It’s much less of a gamble [than publishing a hard copy].” Adrian is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and has presented a number of documentaries for the History Channel and National Geographic. Recently he completed filming on a new show called ‘Ancient Black Ops’ about spies and black operations in the ancient world.