Mary Harlow

Mary Harlow

Associate Professor of Ancient History

BA, PhD (Leicester), FSA, FHEA

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.


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. T. Currently I collaborate with colleagues in the UK, in Denmark (Copenhagen), Sweden (Gothenburg) And France  in these areas of research. I am a founder member of ATOM (Ancient Textiles from the Orient to the Mediterranean), with whom I have been working since 2015 (see video link below).


Topics available for PhD supervision

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

Learn more about studying for a PhD with us

Media - short film on how to wear a toga made for Classics For All


  • Short film on Dyes and Spices, as part of the International Research Network Ancient Textiles from the Orient to the Mediterranean (ATOM), August 2016:

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