EU-project investigating Clothes as a mirror of Identity in the Roman Empire

What began as a symposium of the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museums in 2005 has become a multinational and interdisciplinary EU-research and exhibition project, DressID.
Textile researchers, archaeologists, papyrologists, historians, art historians, conservators, zoologists, archaeobotanists, physicists, chemists and many more collectively devote themselves to the investigation of actual Roman textiles and the depiction of clothing in Roman art. In order to channel the multiple scientific approaches, DressID has created a unique, interdisciplinary collaborative or cooperative structure. Eleven working groups examine the self-perception of peoples in the Roman Empire, focussing on dress as an expression of ethnic, regional, religious, social, and gender self-representation.

The project has two chief areas of research: the textiles themselves and their context. The first concentrates on elements of dress, material and technique, quality, colour and dating, as well as on experimental reconstruction. The results of this research will be prepared for presentation to the public in a traveling exhibition. Parallel to, and building on, this work, the second focus is on contextual questions that arise from the written and visual evidence, in particular the self-representation of the individual in the social context of the Roman Empire, the relationship of Rome to the provinces, the production and trade of textiles, and the depiction of the specially dressed individual in terms of gender, social status, profession, age and sometimes cult.
The five-year programme is led by the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museum in Mannheim and includes six other research institutions as EU-Partners: The "Centre for Textile Research (CTR)" at the University of Copenhagen, the "Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA)" in Brussels, the Universities of Crete (Rethymnon), Sheffield and Valencia, and the Museum of Natural History in Vienna. 50% of the project's budget is provided by the project partners, 50% is funded by the "Culture Programme of the European Union".

Under the aegis of the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museum in Mannheim, the German Archaeological Institute takes up the issue of the representation of dress on Roman monuments, especially those that offer information about the social and administrative status of the individual depicted. Furthermore, DAI expertise in the area of archaeozoology contributes to the study of early domestication of animals and the use of their byproducts in textile production.

Ancient written sources of the Roman period already demonstrate that clothing was a major vehicle of expression for personality and identity, but exactly how that was conveyed through the cut of clothing or the quality of the fabric, for example, still needs to be investigated. Until now, research on textiles was given little regard and was the concern of only a few experts. DressID offers a thorough reappraisal, and its collaboration and incorporation of various avenues of research promises greater knowledge and new conclusions. The results will be accessible to a broad audience through numerous publications and a traveling exhibition in several venues in Europe. It will open at the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museum in 2011, and then travel to the Natural History Museum in Vienna, and the Science Museum in Valencia. DressID fills a gap, and through its European-wide collaboration of experts and institutions, creates new standards for the study of textiles.

Cooperation / Cooperation partners

Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim
Centre for Textile Research (CTR), University of Copenhagen
Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), Brussels
University of Crete (Rhethymnon)
University of Sheffield
University of Valencia
Museum of Natural History, Vienna.


The German Archaeological Institute (DAI) is a »scientific corporation« of the Federal Institution under the auspices of the Foreign Office. The staff of the Institute carries out research in the area of archaeology and in related fields and maintains relations with international scholars.
Furthermore, it organizes congresses, colloquia and tours, and informs the public through the media about its work.  

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