Archaeology Odyssey 6:4, July/August 2003

Excavating Hollywood

In 1937, Hollywood costume designer John Armstrong was working on I, Claudius, a film version of Robert Graves’s novel set in first-century A.D. Rome. Asked to design costumes for the Vestal Virgins, the six priestesses of the Roman hearth goddess Vesta, Armstrong meticulously researched the clothing they wore—long, modest veils and robes, as were appropriate to women who took a vow to remain chaste during their 30-year period of service.a When Armstrong showed his designs to the film’s director, Josef von Sternberg, the latter exploded: “I want sixty [women] and I want them naked!” Armstrong obliged, creating new bikini-like costumes that, he later recalled, “looked lovely … but had nothing to do with Roman religion.”1

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