Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Fashion World of Cleopatra Selene and the Augustan Age, guest post by Author Stephanie Dray

 Please give a warm welcome to author Stephanie Dray!!! Historically Obsessed is very proud to be a part of Stephanie's blog tour for "Lily of the Nile". You can check out the rocking giveaway going on or take a peek at my review. But first check out this amazing guest post by Stephanie on "The Fashion World of Cleopatra Selene and the Augustan Age".

Lily of the Nile
"Heiress of one empire and prisoner of another, it is up to the daughter of Cleopatra to save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers... 

To Isis worshippers, Princess Selene and her twin brother Helios embody the divine celestial pair who will bring about a Golden Age. But when Selene's parents are vanquished by Rome, her auspicious birth becomes a curse. Trapped in an empire that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, the young messianic princess struggles for survival in a Roman court of intrigue. She can't hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her hands, nor can she stop the emperor from using her powers for his own ends. But faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined to resurrect her mother's dreams. Can she succeed where her mother failed? And what will it cost her in a political game where the only rule is win-or die"?

The Fashion World of Cleopatra Selene and the Augustan Age
Stephanie Dray

Cleopatra VII was the most fashionable woman in the ancient world. Like a modern day celebrity, she set the trends. During her visit to Rome, she made such a sensation that Roman matrons hurried to copy her distinctive hairstyles. It’s hard to believe that her daughter didn’t inherit just a touch of Cleopatra’s sense of style.

Cleopatra’s daughter is the heroine of my forthcoming debut novel, Lily of the Nile. One of the most enjoyable things about writing this book was researching the clothes, cosmetics, jewelry and hairstyles of the period. But whereas Cleopatra was a trendsetter who ushered in an era of extravagance, such lavish indulgence went out of style after the famous queen’s suicide.

Her ten year old daughter, Cleopatra Selene, was captured by the Romans, then dragged through the streets as a chained captive. In the hopes that Selene might one day be useful to him, Augustus spared her life, so she grew up in the imperial household.

As if to define himself as the very opposite of the defeated Queen Cleopatra, Augustus preached of simple virtues, wearing homespun clothing and encouraging the women of his family to dress as modestly as possible. His wife, Livia, owned expensive jewelry (some of them having belonged to Cleopatra) but she seldom wore them in public, claiming that her children were her jewels. In official statuary, Livia and the other women of the imperial family are always portrayed in frumpy swaths of cloth, practically mummified in the name of virtue.
  A Roman lady adorning herself in the latest fashion

However, the emperor’s daughter, Julia Caesaris, is known for having worn fashion-forward clothing in public, in spite of her father’s complaints. During the Augustan Age, transparent Coan cloth was very popular, and it is thought to have been a form of silk. If dyed in expensive colors like purple or indigo, such a garment could have funded a small army. A woman’s gown always fell to her feet--only prostitutes wore anything short enough to show off ankles and knees. However, it’s almost certain that even well-bred ladies gave a flash of leg because the Romans didn’t have buttons or zippers or other modern fastenings. They used pins and clasps to keep their clothes fastened and for wealthy women, this was the way to show off expensive jeweled brooches.
Parthian earrings, a style that shows up on many portraits of women in the era.

And oh, how ancient Roman women loved to show off their jewelry and gems. Cleopatra Selene is known to have worn her mother’s amethyst ring, the famous one with which Cleopatra was said to have bewitched Mark Antony. It’s likely that she inherited some of her mother’s other famous adornments--perhaps some of the giant pearls and emeralds. I absolutely love the cover of Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter on which Selene is depicted with a serpentine armlet, but I often wonder if the historical Selene would have wanted to raise that spectre of her mother’s apparent suicide by snake.

A serpentine armlet such as in Michelle Moran’s cover

Women of the upper classes in Augustan Age Rome plucked all the hair from their bodies and used cosmetics. Given Selene’s Egyptian heritage, she may have lined her eyes with kohl, but given her strict upbringing in the emperor’s household, she’s unlikely to have painted her face until after she became queen in her own right.

Roman Cosmetic pots

Given her adherence to Isis, she may have worn her gown knotted between her breasts, and of course, when she became Queen of Mauretania, imperial purple was one of her biggest exports, so she undoubtedly draped herself in imperial purple!

Thank you Stephanie for the intriguing article on Selene's fashion world and stunning pictures of jewelry. I would kill for the armlet!

Stephanie Dray is the author of a forthcoming trilogy of historical fiction novels set in the Augustan Age, starting with Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra's Daughter. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

She is currently sponsoring the Cleopatra Literary Contest for Young Women, the deadline for which is March 1, 2011, but join her newsletter now for updates and a chance to win a free copy of Lily of the Nile and additional prizes.

Lily of the Nile


  1. Wonderful post! I love reading about the fashions of the times.

  2. Oh, Liz, you know this post would be one I would LOVE!

    You should totally make a Selene inspired piece for Royally Obsessed! I know you would rock it ;)

  3. Dolleygurl, that makes two of us. I was watching the MA movie this morning with my daughter and she wants all the clothes too. I guess we all love fashion.

    Allie, Ah ha I lured you in...I am glad it worked. Are the pieces not to die for? I thought doing one for Selene. Have you see the gold Egyptian necklaces where you can get your name in hieroglyphic's? They are a few hundred bucks but I want one so so so bad. We can dream right?

  4. I'm always drooling over various Roman and Egyptian jewelry pieces! I always keep my eye out for a serpentine armlet...

  5. Ha you and me both are drooling over the same things then. I once dressed up as Cleopatra for Halloween. I had a golden headdress with a snake on it. The best part were the arm bracelets. Where they went I have no idea I guess I had way too much fun that Halloween because I lost them. Thank you Stephanie for the wonderful post and visit. I enjoyed the novel and your post very much.

  6. I have a Cleopatra wig too! I wore it this Halloween. Thank you so much for having me here. I've had a blast ;)

  7. What a great post Lizzy! I love to read about fashion in history.
    Liz- Missed you girl:)
    The book sounds amazing!!

  8. Ah ha a wig too? That is great Stephanie I hope someday to go to a big Halloween party and get decked out to the nine in Cleo style. No that thanks is all mine it had been a pleasure.

    Ms. Lucy I swear it is like you knew i was dying for you to visit. I hope all is well. I miss you terribly and hope you can come back more often soon. If you get a chance I think you would really enjoy this one. Hugs too!

  9. This was an interesting read, I too love reading about fashion through history! And this is an era I am not really an expert on, so I found it very entertaining :)

  10. What an awesome post! I love reading about all the fashion in ancient days.
    And thanks to Stephanie for stopping by!

  11. Malena, I love fashion too. I find it so fascinating that there are so many differences in time periods and locations. I am glad you enjoyed the post.

    Allison, yes thank you Stephanie we loved the post.


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