The History of Roman Shades

Roman shades have become ubiquitous within households -in recent years. While you may not spend a considerable amount of time thinking about these window treatments, you may be surprised to learn of their colourful history. Afterall, every great idea, even window treatments, has an origin, and Roman shades can be traced back to – you guessed it – the days of the Romans.

Read on to learn more about the history of these staple shades, and how their evolution from Ancient Rome to the modern household.

A Brief History of Roman Shades

The first iteration of what we know today as Roman shades began during the construction of the Colosseum between 70 and 80 A.D. It was at this time when Roman citizens would drape wet cloth over their windows to help keep dirt and debris from the construction of the Colosseum, as well as heat and sunlight at bay. In fact, these are some of the earliest recorded uses of window coverings in modern history. There are also reports of commercial uses of window treatments dating back thousands of years, when the Greeks and Romans installed shading atop their porticos and colonnades within public spaces.

Gaining in popularity, the people of Rome began upping the window treatment ante by using colourful and ornate cloth adorned with intricate patterns to add style and flair to their windows.

Upon completion of the Colosseum, two things quickly became apparent. First, it was undoubtedly an architectural wonder, and second, it was an architectural wonder that got unbearably hot during the summer for those sitting in the upper seats. As it was typical for patrons to frequent the Colosseum for day-long events in the open air, the Romans devised a plan to help shade the spectators and keep them comfortable. They constructed a large awning-like shade with pleats that could be extended or contracted to help shield people from the scorching sun. This awning, called the Velarium, was held out on poles that extended into the stands, and operated much like modern-day Roman shades. The only difference, except perhaps size, was that the Velarium hung horizontally and extended out from the wall to which it was attached, whereas modern Roman shades typically hang vertically.

There is some material dating back to the time of the Velarium, which helps to illustrate the scene within the Colosseum. According to this Smithsonian Magazine article:

“Handsome stewards passed through the crowd carrying trays of cakes, pastries, dates and other sweetmeats, and generous cups of wine. Snacks also fell from the sky as abundantly as hail, one observer noted, along with wooden balls containing tokens for prizes—food, money or even the title to an apartment—which sometimes set off violent scuffles among spectators struggling to grab them. On hot days, the audience might enjoy sparsiones (“sprinklings”), mist scented with balsam or saffron, or the shade of the vela, an enormous cloth awning drawn over the Colosseum roof by sailors from the Roman naval headquarters at Misenum, near Naples.”

Further, according to classical historian Norma Goldman, the use of fabric to make spectators more comfortable was typical of Roman culture, as she outlines in her interview with PBS:

“Every public amphitheater or stadium,” says Goldman, “where people would have to sit out in the sun was tented with some kind of awnings. This was a pampered audience, and in the entire Mediterranean, people did not want to sit out in the hot sun. So there is evidence for awnings in most theaters, in almost all of the amphitheaters, and even in the stadium.

Additionally, wealthy audience members would “have their own set of canopies set up over their important seats towards the front of the arena”.

The Benefits & Modern Application of Roman Shades

Today, Roman shades are a staple in many households and are favoured because of their style, affordability and practicality. There are three common styles in which Roman shades can be found, which include: a hobbled fold, a flat fold and a relaxed style. The hobbled fold is traditional and consists of loops of fabric all the way down the blind. A flat fold is a more contemporary style that’s made from one piece of fabric, which is a great option if you’re partial to fabric with designs. Finally, a relaxed Roman shade can provide a more casual look, as this style doesn’t have a horizontal dowel running through the blind, allowing the fabric to softly drape at the bottom.

In addition to their various styles, Roman shades also boast a number of benefits. These include:

Flexible styling options

Roman shades are a classic style that aren’t trend oriented, meaning, with the right fabric choice, they have the benefit of a long and stylish life.

Light control and privacy

The pleated style of Roman shades allows plenty of control for you to open and close them, allowing in the desired amount of light. As well, because they are made of one whole piece of fabric there are no gaps for light to filter through, which also affords a great deal of privacy.

Energy efficiency

Regardless of the time of year and whether you’re looking to keep heat in or out of your home, properly lined Roman shades, made from the right fabric, are a tasteful and simple solution.


Compared to other window treatment options, Roman shades generally use about 25 per cent less fabric than curtains, making them a more economical option.

Great for small windows

Roman shades can add character to any window,  and give it a softer appearance, compared to other harder material options like wood blinds. Additionally, smaller windows can easily be overwhelmed by curtains or window treatments with intricate designs. Roman blinds take up no space on either side of the window, and come in a variety of fabric, colour and pattern options to suit your windows.

With different styles, and the fact that Roman shades can be made out of almost any fabric (even sheers), you’re bound to find an option that suits your home. Plus, Roman shades come with the added bonus of having an interesting history, which can make for great conversation amongst family and friends! If you’re in the market for new window treatments for your home, check out your local roman shade wholesaler. You’ll find a wide selection of consumer and wholesale Roman shades for any style and budget.

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