What it really looked like to be an Ancient Roman: a talk with a Domina


As many of you may now this week will be released the remake of a historical colossal: Ben-Hur.

If you are a lil bit cultured (or you grandparents and parents have a great taste in cinema) you know exactly what I am talking about.

Since sometimes we have a blurry idea of what the Roman Empire really looks like – driven by a kitsch taste of the 60’s – I wanted to interview someone that can clarify you the ideas on it.

Tania Toso, an Italian reenactress – no honey, I am not talking about a dominatrix (actually I do not know her private attitudes, so she could even be so) – of the Ancient Rome.

From 2009 to 2015 she was into the association X Regio Aquileiawhich created the Tempora in Aquileia reenactment – where it was her duty taking care of the historical market.
Since this year she become part of the Legio VI Ferrata as a reenactress in the role of
a Domina (dealing with historical weaving and tailoring, reproducing also daily use artifacts) where she conduced an exclusive and very successful research lab on lupanares (brothels).





This is Tania, in sweet companionship.



A: Contrary to what many believe, dressing up like the ancient Romans is not tying a bed sheet on like at a toga party, right?


T: Absolutely right, in fact I – as a reenactress – am also a historical reconstructor. This means that you have to study a lot: starting from the few textile finds in order to understand of which fabric and patterns they are made of, to then search informations on the statues and mosaic and pictorial representations. The next step is the real reconstruction, looking for the proper materials to use and only at the end you can dedicate yourself to the historical sewing.

So, for the ones who think that the Roman reenactment is merely tying up a bed sheet and putting on a laurel crown, they are completely wrong! There are hours and hours of researches and experimentations behind – obviously I am talking for myself – unfortunately is full of reenect-arse all around! Those, contribute to maintain this totally wrong ideology and stereotype of an image related to the “sense of romanity” which is really harmful since the public takes totally wrong informations, completely nullifying the professional work that the few us do.



A: How long could it take to realize (with the original historical techniques) a textile artefact as a dress?


T: Let’s say that if we would take as an example a wool tunic and we would recreate each productive process starting with the shearing of the sheep, it would take months – working at sustained pace.

I usually just buy the most historically correct fabrics I can find and then, with bronze needles – faithfully reproduced by skilled artisans – in almost 3 hours I can tailor a male tunic. I sew rigorously all by hand, reproducing of course also the historical seams.



A: Changing topic and switching to the “motors”, so to the race of the quadrigas, I know that this year you have been at the colossal historical reenactment of Nimes (F): how it is to see such a live show – especially from a reenactress point of view?


T: Nimes has been a very beautiful experience, I found myself inside the arena – together with other 24.000 spectators – witnessing a fantastic spectacle. I experienced unique emotions in my Domina’s clothes, which let me to completely step into the shoes of whom 2000 years ago was sitting at my same place!




Nimes historical reenactment courtesy of Tania



A: Show us your contempt – as a historical reenactress – for Ben Hur’s remake.


T: Honestly I will watch it, even if it will be the typical Hollywood thing out of proportion, precisely this is the reason I want to go and see the costumes and the umpteenth bullshits they will have donePractically I will be ready to watch it with Sgarbi’s critical vein on.



A: Internationally, are the Roman reenactment aggregations present all over where the ancient Empire was or are some Countries left? Does exist any official recognized association on an international scale? Is it very hard to become part of it?


T: Yes, internationally can be found Roman historical reenactment associations as far as in China, where once at year they stage a commemoration in memory of a Legion that went that far.

The oldest association is British and if I am not wrong, it made its début more than 30 years ago. Then we find many in France, Spain and Germany where obviously the Roman Empire has left a lot of visible traces. In Denmark, on the other hand is much more in vogue the Viking reenactment, while in eastern Europe – from Hungary to Croatia – we find also some Roman groups but not many. Obviously in Greece and Macedonia, there are Hellenistic revival groups.

Unfortunately I do not know if abroad there is a kind of selection in order to be part of the groups, but as a fact the most requested units abroad are the Italians.

Recently 100 Italian reenactors, Romans and Celts – including the Legio VI Ferrata, which I belong – were invited by the English Heritage to participate at the second edition of Hadrian’s Wall Live, to literally reevoke at the Empire’s borders, living for five days within the walls of a Roman castrum (fort) at 50 meters from the famous Hadrian’s wall. It is not a coincidence that all the called groups were Italians, in fact, the seriousness and perfection of the historical reconstruction leads us to be very popular and appreciated abroad, exactly as in Nimes.



A: Now, talking of authentic passions, hot as an ardent gridiron: how it is to share the same oxygen – at zero distance – with the man that divulges hard, His Majesty Alberto Angela? Have there been any tidal wave caused by the hormonal upheaval of the public?


T: Alberto Angela akathe one that divulges hard” orthe reenactors’ protector – so that they will reenact always in the philological way”… What can I say, that man is truly fascinating and magnetic. I met him several times in Aquileia (IT) and every time he has a moment to dedicate to each, whether it can be a selfie, an autograph or an easy chit-chat: he truly is a nice and down to Earth person. Sharing his same oxygen is a real honour and come on girls, let’s say the truth – for us a little bit nerdy – namely that we can’t wait to watch Ulisse every Saturday’s night – perhaps an episode dedicated to the Ancient Rome: in his presence the hormones are thankful for his existence and make also the Mexican wave!



La Legio VI Ferrata

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Alessandra Sciarrino

Featured image via Ph Sandra Busatta