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Coloring the 5th edition line drawings


Advantages and disadvantages

A major development for the 5th edition of the Cambridge Latin Course is that the line drawings which accompany the stories have been colored up. The advantages are obvious: they will help students to imagine the characters, settings and action of our stories in color, and provide them with more detail to inform their mental picture of the wider Roman world. The popular misconception of the Roman world as inhabited by people in white garments surrounded by white buildings and white statues is not corrected by black and white line drawings. Moreover colored pictures make the pages of the textbook look more attractive.

Of course there are potential disadvantages inherent in the coloration of our line drawings. There is a risk that colored drawings could detract from the Latin text and distract students’ attention away from the stories. The authors have tried to counter this possibility by avoiding bright, strident colors for the line drawings, although the printing process has produced colors of greater intensity than the color wash for which the authors had hoped. Moreover, we have strictly controlled the size of the pictures: they are never so large that the Latin stories assume only a secondary prominence on the page. There was also concern that sometimes color might obscure the finer details of line drawings, and it is for this reason that we have avoided coloring in hair: this allows users of the textbook to continue to see clearly the details of hairstyles, particularly pertinent in the case of women and girls. A final pitfall of coloring in the pictures is the possibility of making an error in the colors. We face the difficulty that the colors of wall paintings have not always survived well, certainly not as they appeared 2000 years ago, and literary references to color often do not provide all the information we need to identify a particular shade for an item in our pictures. In addition research in this area is nascent.

Nonetheless it was felt that the advantages outweighed any potential disadvantages, and the decision was made to go ahead with coloring the line drawings. Our broad approach for Units 1 and 2 has been to tie the colors of the drawings in the 5th edition textbook into the colors used in the 4th edition CLC E-Learning Resource, for the sake of consistency. However, where necessary we have departed from this principle to bring the colors of the textbook pictures into line with the latest scholarly thinking and research, and even to correct possible errors in the CLC E-Learning Resource.

Buildings and monuments

The image of frescos dominated by “Pompeian red” exerts a powerful grip on the imaginations of many, so much so that the color has its own entry on Merriam-Webster Online, and multiple companies selling paints, fabrics etc. describe their wares as Pompeian red. A search in Google Images for ‘Pompeian fresco’ appears to support the popular view. But in fact it has long been known that some (although not all) of the “red” discovered by archaeologists on the walls of Pompeii was in fact not red lead and cinnabar, but rather yellow ochre which was turned red by the hot gases from the eruption of Vesuvius. Italy's National Institute of Optics has suggested that the balance between red and yellow would have been almost 50:50, but other scholars are doubtful that it is possible to be sure about the proportion of red to yellow. In the face of such doubt, the 5th edition line drawings of Caecilius’ house use a substantial amount of Pompeian red, on the assumption that Caecilius would have been able to afford the expensive red pigment for his walls. However, as in the E-Learning Resource, yellow also has a significant presence in the Unit 1 line drawings, to remind users that we should not exaggerate the dominance of Pompeian red on the walls of the city.

It is known that the public buildings (especially pediments) and monuments in Egypt and Rome were ornamented with a range of different paints and marbles, but very little work has yet been done to determine the actual colors on particular structures. In fact the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine is the only building in Rome to so far be subjected to extensive color analysis. The Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project at Yeshiva University has used UV-VIS spectrometry to determine that the Menorah on the Arch was colored with yellow or gold pigment, but analysis of the coloration of the rest of the Arch has not yet been done. Since much is yet unknown, a significant number of decisions about the coloration of buildings and monuments in the 5th edition of the CLC were based on sensible guesswork: future research by archaeologists and scientists may yet reveal some decisions to be misguided and necessitate corrections in a future edition or reprinting.


Since 2005 the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen has been conducting research into ancient polychrome sculpture, and analysis so far suggests that Roman statues painted up in color were prevalent. When possible, the full range of color has been employed on the statues in our line drawings, for instance, on the statue of Salvius being toppled in Stage 40. The small size of some of the statues pictured meant that it was not always possible to represent all the details of the colors, but even in these cases we have at least colored the statues yellow to offer the suggestion of color, rather than white.

Skin color

The coloring of characters’ skin in the 5th edition of the textbook is one example of how we have tried to improve or correct the E-Learning Resource. On the DVD it is noticeable that the skin color of characters native to Italy and Britain are the same, which was surely not really the case. In the 5th edition we have attempted to render more appropriately the skin color of characters from provinces around the Mediterranean. We have not relied unduly on ancient wall paintings and funerary portraits to determine the skin colors and tones of people in the ancient world, since it might be misguided to assume that they depict actual skin color (as opposed to projecting some sort of artistic construct or ideal). Instead the revision team has taken the skin color of some modern Italians, Greeks, Syrians, Britons and Egyptians as a broad guide to a color suitable for the skin of Caecilius and Salvius, Pantagathus and Philus, Syphax, Bregans, Volubilis et al.

In pictures of crowd scenes we have attempted to convey through different skin colors a sense of the multi-cultural nature of (in particular) Pompeii, Rome, and Egypt. However the authors make no claim that the proportion of people shown with any given skin color accurately represents the situation at the end of the first century A.D.: there is insufficient evidence to calculate what proportion of people in any area of the Roman empire had a particular skin color.

Personal adornment

Some characters from the Mediterranean region have nonetheless not been pictured with olive skin, namely Metella, Rufilla, Galatea and Domitia. They are depicted with chalk white skin, to convey their use of cosmetics. (The small size of the pictures precludes the illustration of minute details such as their use of blusher.) Many details about women’s use of cosmetics are the subjects of speculation, such as which women wore this very pale makeup and how much of the time, and whether girls would have worn makeup. Literary evidence for women’s use of white cosmetics on their skin, such as Ovid’s Medicamina faciei femineae, needs to be treated with a certain amount of caution, coming as it does from male writers: it can sometimes be suspected of hyperbole in the pursuit of a moralizing agenda, or it may prescribe how women should look rather than describe how they actually did look. The admiration of the lovers in Propertius (Elegy 2.25), Ovid (Amores 2.4) and Martial (Epigram 1.115) for dark-skinned as well as fair-skinned beauties indicates that not all women whitened their skin. Moreover, it is noticeable that surviving wall paintings tend to show women with pale, but not chalk white, skin. On the other hand archaeological evidence in the shape of the residues surviving in makeup pots indicates that the literary references to women’s white makeup are at least partly grounded in the reality. In the face of this uncertainty, we have imagined that Metella, Rufilla, Galatea, Domitia and some (but not all) of their friends chose to use cosmetics to turn their skin chalk white. Cogibubnus’ wife, of whom nothing (including her existence!) is known, is imagined to be Romanised to the extent that she favors white makeup.

By contrast, slave girls are shown with natural colored skin, on the assumption that they would not have been allowed access to cosmetics. Lucia too is pictured without makeup. There are possible hints in the literary sources that some Roman girls did wear makeup. For instance, it has been suggested that Ovid’s exclamation ‘virginibus curae grataque forma sua est’ (Ars amatoria 1.624) is evidence for the use of cosmetics by Roman girls. However, this ‘care’ may have manifested itself in the use of creams and face packs, rather than in the application of artificial color to the skin. Much later (at the beginning of the 5th century) St Jerome begged for one Roman girl not to wear such makeup (Letter 107). However, there is no very convincing evidence that all or most girls in 1st century A.D. Pompeii whitened their skin, and we have supposed that the studious and spirited Lucia did not.

A rather different question about the adornment of skin arises in Unit 2: we face the problem, a subject of scholarly debate, of whether any native British slaves, chieftains or even Cogidubnus himself should be depicted with blue skin or blue tattoos on their bodies or faces. Some scholars question the veracity of the evidence of Classical authors such as Caesar (Gallic Wars 5.14) and Martial (Epigram 11.53), who describe British tribes as blue, and Claudian (On the Consulship of Stilicho 2, De Bello Gothico) and Solinus (Polyhistoriae 22) who mention the practice of tattooing in connection with British tribes. Other scholars point to the archaeological remains of equipment that could have been used for body-painting and tattooing (including cosmetic grinders of a kind found only in Britain and Gaul, needles, razors) as support for the thesis that some Britons did indeed dye their skin blue or sport blue tattoos.

The authoring team decided not to depict any of the British characters with their skin dyed blue: it is unlikely that Cogidubnus, who co-operated with the Romans, would have wanted to assert his British identity by dying his skin in this way, and it is unlikely that Bregans would have had the freedom to do so. Blue tattoos are a different matter: if Cogidubnus had been tattooed in blue as a young boy, or if Bregans had been tattooed at a time when he was still free, these markings would still remain in A.D. 81-82 when we imagine our stories to take place. Cogidubnus and Bregans are nonetheless not shown with tattoos colored blue with indigo derived from woad, because the small size of our pictures made attempts to depict such tattoos resemble bruises!


Of course characters’ skin color and use of cosmetics were not the only elements of their personal appearance to receive consideration: their clothes have also been addressed. Although men are still pictured wearing togas on more mundane occasions than they probably did in reality (it seems implausible that Caecilius usually wore this cumbersome garment to write letters), we have used a strategic grey wash at the hemline to convey that togas would often have been distinctly grubby. Hopefully students will discern a difference between the rather dirty toga sported by Caecilius and friends as they go about their daily routine, and those worn by the candidati at election time.

At the Festival of Isis in Unit 2 we have followed the Herculaneum fresco of the Worship of Isis, and Ovid’s promise to offer incense to Isis while clothed all in white (Amores 2.13), in depicting a preponderance of white garments. For the crowd at the dedication ceremony of the Arch of Titus in Stage 29 we have looked to Plutarch’s description (Life of Aemilius 32) of the crowd at a triumph clothed all in white. (Although the Arch ceremony was not properly speaking a triumph, it has features in common.) Lucia is also dressed in white, following the white or very pale tunics sported by the girls in the fresco from the palaestra of the Central Baths in Herculaneum. (It is equally possible, given the scant evidence available for the colors of girls’ clothes - no literary evidence at all, and very few freeborn girls depicted in colored wall paintings and mosaics - that she could have worn colored garments.) But elsewhere we have worked to dispel the popular image of an empire dressed entirely in white. We have clothed women in the rainbow of colors mentioned by authors such as Plautus, Petronius, Apuleius and Martial but most notably listed by Ovid in Ars amatoria III. We have shown Syrians, Greeks, and Egyptians in an appropriate array of colors. We have avoided showing slaves and free manual workers wearing white, on the grounds that it was as inconvenient a color in which to perform manual labor as it is now.

From Unit 2 onwards, we faced the knotty issue of the special striped and colored togas and tunics, and the coloration of some of these is conjectural. In Unit 2 we have shown Salvius constantly garbed in his toga praetexta because the purple stripe acts as a useful reminder of his status, even though it is uncertain that this would have been worn outside official occasions. The purple color of King Cogidubnus’ toga is by no means solidly grounded in ancient evidence, but takes its origin from Suetonius’ description (paraphrased by Servius in Commentary on the Aeneid 7.612) of the purple and white toga trabea of the kings (he means the early kings of Rome). In Unit 3 the equestrian Holconius is depicted with the narrow purple stripe of the equites on his tunic, but without the trabea, the scanty evidence for equestrian use of the trabea (Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ Roman Antiquities 6.13.4, Tacitus’ Annals 3.2, Valerius Maximus Memorable Deeds and Sayings 2) being confined to formal public occasions. Domitian is depicted in the toga praetexta on most occasions, but wears a purple toga on his visit to the Circus Maximus in the Stage 33 Model Sentences. The latter sartorial decision is based on Dio Cassius 67.4 and Suetonius Life of Domitian 4, which offer evidence that Domitian wore a purple toga on special occasions, even though there is no specific evidence that the Circus was one such.

For the colors worn by the soldiers in Unit 3, again these are not certain. Evidence for the colors worn by legionaries and centurions includes literary evidence, mosaics and wall paintings, purchase orders and receipts for military tunics, and scraps of fabric found in and around military camps. Sumner (2002) offers an admirable presentation of evidence, showing that tunics could be red, white and even green, that the sagum could be yellow-brown, red or white, and that the crests of helmets could be red, white or yellow, or black or brown. Scholars have speculated that color may have been an indication of rank, or that white was worn by soldiers in peaceful situations and red in battle conditions. In the absence of a consensus we have largely followed the colors adopted by the Ermine Street Guard (pictured in Stage 25) to dress legionaries and centurions in red.


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Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project: [accessed 02/25/14]

Tracking Color: The polychromy of Greek and Roman sculpture: [accessed 02/25/14]