It is believed that the bikini was a 20th century invention, but an ancient mosaic reveals women in Rome wore it while playing sports.
All of them are surprisingly well preserved. One of the rooms of the villa is called Sala delle Dieci Ragazze, which can be translated as “Room of the Ten Girls” – based on the number of those depicted in the floor mosaic.
Eight of them wear what in the modern world would be called a two-piece bikini, another woman wears a yellow translucent dress, while the image of the only one figure has not survived to this day.
The bottom of this set of clothing looks like a terracotta-colored band made of fabric or leather, similar to men’s loincloths. As for the top, it is reminiscent of a modern strapless breastband. Such chest harnesses also have their own history and have been known since the times of Ancient Greece. It is believed that most often the material for this was linen. This piece of clothing was intended for women leading an active lifestyle and partaking in physical exercise.
"Roman Bikini Girls"
A 4th Century CE, Roman Mosaic in "Ten Young Girls" room depicts young women doing various sports exercises or receiving awards.
— Archaeo – Histories (@archeohistories) May 23, 2023
Thus, it can be assumed that in ancient times such a bikini was not used for swimming, but rather for sports. This is exactly what all the women depicted in the mosaic are doing. Some of them run, and others throw a discus or hold weights in their hands.
Two women are playing with a ball together. Researchers speculate that this could be some kind of early form of volleyball. In general, ball games are considered one of the most ancient. Their mentions can be found in Homer’s Odyssey. One of the girls, standing in the center, holds a palm branch in one hand and is about to place a victory crown on her head – probably a reward for the best performance. All the women look athletic and have noticeable muscle outlines on their arms and legs.
When it comes to sports, women in ancient Rome were permitted to practice physical forms of exercise, but they faced certain restrictions within a patriarchal society. They were not allowed to take part in competitions with men, and public female nudity was frowned upon. Therefore, a kind of prototype of the modern bikini made it possible to play sports without much inconvenience.
Ancient Leather “Thong”
Rare Roman leather bikini bottoms, tied on each side of the hips with leather laces, AD 43-100. Found during excavations of a #Roman well in London’s Queen Street in 1953. Preserved in waterlogged conditions for almost 2,000 years. Museum of London.#FindsFriday#Archaeology pic.twitter.com/mfq9I1fABV
— Alison Fisk (@AlisonFisk) December 2, 2022
This mosaic is not the only evidence of the ancient roots of this garment. Another bikini bottom, or more precisely something resembling a leather thong, was found in 1998 by British archeologists.
It is believed that it corresponds precisely to the modern analogue of swimming trunks and is fastened with tiny strings. This interesting ancient exhibit is now being presented in the London Museum.