Mary Harlow

Mary Harlow

Associate Professor of Ancient History

BA, PhD (Leicester)

Subject: Roman History


Tel: +44 (0)116 252 3010



Personal details


I read Classical Studies and Ancient History at Leicester in the 1980s where I also studied for my PhD. In 1995 I commenced teaching and after a brief stint at St Andrews moved to Birmingham where I remained until 2012. At the same time she was also an Associate Lecturer for the Open University (1995-2000). In 2000-2002 I held a Leverhulme Research Fellowship to study Dress and Identity in Late Antiquity, and in 2011 began a short residency as Guest Professor at the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research at Copenhagen which ended up becoming a 2 year secondment (2011-2013). I also have strong research interests in the field of Roman life course studies, age and ageing and the Roman family.


Prehistoric, Ancient Near Eastern and Aegean Textiles and Dress. An Interdisciplinary Anthology. Edited by Mary Harlow, Cecile Michel and Marie-Louise Nosch. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 2014

Greek and Roman Textiles and Dress. An Interdisciplinary Anthology. Edited by Mary Harlow and Marie-Louise Nosch. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 2014.

Greek and Roman Textiles

'Weaving the threads: metholodolgies in textile and dress research for the Greek and Roman world - the state of the art and the case for cross disciplinarity' (with ML Nosch). In Mary Harlow and Marie Louise Nosch (eds) Greek and Roman Textiles and Dress. An Interdisciplinary Anothology. Oxford: Oxbow. 1-33.

'Palla, pallu, chador: draped clothing in ancient and modern cultures.' In Marie Louise Nosch, Zhao Feng & Lotika Varadarajan (eds) Global Textile Encounters. Oxford: Oxbow. 15-24.

'Dressed Women on the Streets of the Ancient City: What to wear?' In Emily Hemelrijk and Greg Woolf (eds.) Women and the Roman City in the Latin West. Leiden: Brill. 225-42.(2013)

‘Roman Children and Childhood and the Perception of Heritage’ in K. Darian Smith and C. Pascoe (eds) Children, Childhood and Cultural Heritage, London: Routledge 144-58 (2012)

‘Death and the Maiden’ in M. Carroll and J. P. Wild (eds) Dressing the Dead Stroud: Amberley: 148-157 (2012)

‘Dressing to please themselves: clothing choices for Roman women in Harlow (ed) Dress and Identity, Archeopress: Oxford. 37-46 (2012)

‘Left-over Romans: the Life Course in the Late Antique West’ (with Chris Callow) Families in the Imperial and Late Antique Roman Worlds (edited by Harlow and L. Larsson Lovén) Continuum, 221-37 (2012)

Viewing the Old: recording and respecting the elderly at Rome and in the Empire’ (with Ray Laurence) in K. Mustakallio (ed) De Senectute et Mortis: Ideals and Attitudes towards Old Age and Death in Antiquity and Middle Ages Brepolis: Tournhout 3-27 (2012).

‘Betrothal, middle childhood and the life course’ (with Ray Laurence) in L. Larsson Loven & A. Stromberg (eds) Marriage in Antiquity (ARACHNE) Gothenburg Cambridge Scholars Press 56-77 (2010).

De Amicitia and the role of age’ (with Ray Laurence) in Passages from Antiquity to the Middle Ages III: De Amicitia. Acta Insituti Romani Finlandiae 21-32 (2010)

2010 M. Harlow & R. Laurence, ‘Introduction’ in Harlow and Laurence (eds) A Cultural History of Childhood and the Family vol. 1: Antiquity Berg: Oxford. 1-12.

‘Family relationships’ in Harlow and Laurence (eds) A Cultural History of Childhood and the Family vol. 1: Antiquity Berg: Oxford. 13-30 (2010)

‘The Greek and Roman family’ (with Tim Parkin) in A. Erskine (ed) Blackwell’s Companion to Ancient History, Blackwell: Oxford, 329-41 (2009)

‘Roman Society’ for Oxford Shorter History of Europe: The Roman Era, E. Bishpam (ed), Oxford University Press 109-34 (2007)

‘The impossible art of dressing to please: Jerome and the rhetoric of dress’ in L. Lavan et al (eds) Objects in Context, Objects in Use: Material Spatiality in Late Antiquity Leiden: Brill, 531-47 (2007)

‘Blurred visions: male perceptions of the female life course – the case of Aemilia Pudentilla’ in Age and Ageing in the Roman Empire, JRA Supplementary Series 65, M. Harlow and R. Laurence (eds). 195-208 (2007)

‘Dress in historical narrative: the case of the Historia Augusta’ in The Clothed Body in Ancient World, L. Cleland, M. Harlow and L.J. Llewellyn-Jones (eds) Oxford: Oxbow, 143-53 (2005)

Growing Up and Growing Old in Ancient Rome: A Life Course Approach, (co-authored with Ray Laurence) London: Routledge (2002)



My research follows two main (and complementary) directions: Roman dress and the Roman life course. My interest in dress focuses on dress in action: in understanding the varied source material (archaeological textiles, iconography, literary and documentary writing) to build a picture of the effect of dress as worn. I am interested in how dress is used to display status, gender, age, ethnicity and identity generally, and how that identity is negotiated through the Roman social system. Working at the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research at Copenhagen gave me a far wider perspective on dress in terms of ancient history, archaeology and anthropology and a future project will involve me in tracing ideas of ‘traditional’ craft from the point of view of the historian. Study trips to both Iran (2009) and India (2012) have also produced insights into uses and manipulation of draped clothing, and the problems of attempting to de-code dress as an outsider – a situation reminiscent of the ancient historian trying to access Roman private life.

Research into the Roman life course encompasses the study of age and ageing with focus on stages of life (childhood, youth, early and mid-adulthood, old age) but more particularly on inter- and cross-generational relationships. I am interested in the way in which assumptions about behaviour at certain stages of life underlies much of the social discourse that surrounds family life in the Roman period while at the same time Roman authors acknowledged the difference between chronological, biological and social ageing.

This work includes the history of the Roman family, and the study of private life, gender and the emotions. This work ties in with my interest in dress, in particular in my membership of the European Dress ID project (2005-12) (Group C: Age and Gender). Currently I collaborate with colleagues in the UK, in Denmark (Copenhagen), Sweden (Gothenburg) and in Canada in these areas of research.



  • Roman dress and textiles
  • Roman age and ageing (childhood, youth, adulthood, old age)
  • Roman Family
  • Gender and the body



Podcast on Roman Dress and Traditional Textile Craft, June 2014.

Share this page: