University of Leicester
2020PLACEAEPhD.pdf (15.52 MB)

Fashioning Identity in the Late Roman and Late Antique World: The Case of North Africa (c. AD 200-500)

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posted on 2020-03-03, 14:58 authored by Amy E. Place
Late Roman and late antique North Africa (c. AD 200-500) possessed a vibrant clothing culture which frequently discussed and debated sartorial practice. Echoes of dressing behaviours survive in a variety of forms – literary, visual and archaeological. While much of this material is known to scholars, clothing is often reduced to a passive entity, misrepresenting its polyvalent nature. My thesis explores how our understanding of processes of identity construction in the African diocese improves with better recognition of the North African sartorial grammar. Drawing on a range of evidence, artefacts such as Christian apologetic discourse, epigraphic documentation, Patristic correspondence and secular and religious figurative mosaics, I examine four key areas of identity: gender, Christian, elite and cultural.
To achieve my aims, I employ the concept of ‘dress rhetoric’ to synthesise the diverse evidence. Adapted from Barthes’ ‘language of fashion’, my interpretative framework appreciates that dress rhetoric – in the guise of ‘written-clothing, ‘image-clothing and ‘real-clothing’ – does not always produce a consistent picture of clothing realities as individuals endeavour to advertise or repress identity traits. This does not negate contradictory interpretations, but rather reflects the multifaceted historical experience.
My discussion demonstrates that dress-codes were dynamic and malleable commodities, adapted to suit changing contexts, namely, the evolving gender and Christian discourse, new modes of elite representation and the political disruption caused by the Vandal invasion. My conclusions confirm that groups exploited aspects of clothing communication and its plethora of benefits. Encoded in dress rhetoric were significant social anxieties, as well as positive ideologies and exempla. Consideration of these dress-ways highlights pertinent power structures, those who decided acceptable or transgressive clothing practice and the enduring role of dress in manifesting social mores. This, in turn, articulates the relationship between the individual and their context and, most importantly, how they negotiated their place in society.



Mary Harlow; Andy Merrills

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Archaeology and Ancient History

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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