Ancient Greece and Rome 1200 BCE-476 CE: Fashion

Arts and Humanities Through the Eras. Editor: Edward I Bleiberg, et al. Volume 2. Detroit: Gale, 2005.

Fashion in the Minoan Period


The history of Greek fashion extends all the way back to the Bronze Age to the Minoan culture on the island of Crete off the Greek mainland. Evidence for the clothing worn in Minoan Crete comes mainly from the frescoes that decorated the walls of the palaces, and from Minoan statuettes found on the island. The clothes and fabrics of this time period have long since disintegrated with time, although at the site of Mochlos in northeast Crete, a find of linen has been reported from a tomb dating to the Pre-Palatial Period (3500-1900 B.C.E.). It was probably an import from Egypt, but it does show that linen was known and used on Crete before the Minoan civilization burst upon the stage of history at the start of the second millenium B.C.E. Egypt also provides evidence for Minoan fashion. At Thebes, the capital of Egypt during the Eighteenth Dynasty, wall paintings from five tombs of high-ranking officials dating to the early years of the dynasty show foreigners from the Aegean area bringing tribute to the pharaoh. One of these tombs, dating to the mid-fifteenth century B.C.E. within the Neopalatial or “New Palace” period on Crete (1700-1450 B.C.E.), belonged to Rekhmire, a vizier (high executive officer) of the pharaoh Thutmose III, and in it, these Aegean people are labeled “Princes of the Land of Keftiu,” that is, Crete. The artists who did these paintings of the envoys from Crete clearly made an effort to show their costumes accurately.

Men’s Clothing

The basic garment for men was a loincloth tucked around the waist and held in place by a belt or girdle. The styles of loincloth varied with place and time; some styles seem to have been in fashion in particular regions. The loincloth might be worn as a kilt, hanging freely from the waist, or it might be tucked in under the groin, making it into something like a pair of shorts. In fact, by sewing the flaps of the loincloth, front and back, together under the groin, it evolves into a pair of shorts. This is a style found at Mycenae where a bronze dagger has been unearthed portraying a lion hunt on its blade, inlaid in gold. The scene shows men wearing shorts fastened under the groin. Above the waist, men normally wore nothing, as in Egypt. When cooler weather necessitated additional covering for warmth, there were furs and the skins of wild animals which could be worn as cloaks.

Kilts and Codpieces

A codpiece is defined as a flap appended to the front of tight breeches worn by men in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but the term serves to describe a feature of men’s dress in Minoan Crete. In early representations it is shown as a straight, narrow flap sometimes worn with a belt alone and no loincloth under it. In the Neo-Palatial Period (1700-1450 B.C.E.), it is commonly shown as a wide flap worn over a short, stiff kilt which was slit at the sides to expose the thighs and upturned at the back rather like a duck’s tail. After 1500 B.C.E., however, the codpiece apparently went out of fashion to be replaced by long kilts, held up by a girdle or, as time went on, with a wide belt; sometimes a large, beaded tassel replaced the codpiece. The paintings of the “Keftiu” from the tomb of Rekhmire at Egyptian Thebes provide evidence for the change in style. The paintings show Cretans (inhabitants of the island of Crete) wearing long kilts without codpieces, but recent cleanings of these paintings revealed that the costume of the Cretans had been altered not long after the pictures were originally painted. The Cretans as they were originally depicted had short stiff kilts with codpieces. Scholars presume that the Egyptians altered the paintings after they became aware that fashions in Crete had changed to bring the costumes up-to-date.

Women’s Clothing

In the Protopalatial Period (1900-1700 B.C.E.), women wore long skirts with girdles circling the waist twice and tied, with their ends hanging down in front. Bodices left the breasts bare and the costumes had collars which rose to a high peak at the back of the neck. In the early Protopalatial period women wore what look like cloaks made from a semi-circular swatch of what was probably woolen cloth, though scholars have suggested it might be leather. A sash was put around the waist and knotted in front. Holes were cut for the arms, the breasts were bare and at the back of the neck was a high collar. As time went on, skirts became more elaborate. In paintings, they are often shown with flounces, and when women appear in court ceremonies, their skirts display intricate woven patterns that required skillful weaving. Minoan women, if they could afford it, clearly gave a great deal of care to their wardrobes. One feature of the dress of Minoan women from the Neopalatial period (1700-1450 B.C.E.) is an elaborate belt—sometimes padded, sometimes apparently made of metal—which covers the midriff where the bodice joins the skirt. There is also evidence for a patterned apron falling from the belt not only at the front but at the back as well. It looks, in fact, as if it was modeled on the loincloth worn by the men. In the last period of the Minoan civilization on Crete (after 1450 B.C.E.), and also in the Mycenaean civilization on the mainland which was heavily influenced by Minoan style, pictures show women wearing flounced floor-length skirts woven in elaborate patterns, and apparently cut so that the bottom of the skirt dips in the center, both in front and rear. It is not entirely clear if these representations accurately depict the clothing; it has been suggested that the artists who painted women wearing skirts of this sort were merely trying to show divided skirts, or alternatively that this was their way of portraying the movement of long skirts as women walked. There is no doubt, however, that Cretan women who took part in the life in the palaces wore elaborately woven costumes in bright colors—and no doubt they were expensive. Yet only a small percentage of women could have afforded court dress and it is difficult to determine what ordinary women wore since they were not typically the subjects of palace frescoes. There is, however, an ivory seal found at Knossos that shows a girl wearing a jumper hanging loosely without a belt from the shoulders to the knees. The skirt is short, but still appears to have stylish flounces. The seal is under some suspicion as a forgery, but if it is genuine it is evidence for short skirts among the ordinary women of Minoan Crete.

Footwear and Caps

The Minoans went barefoot in religious ceremonies and probably in their private houses, but when footwear was necessary, they had boots and sandals. The Greek word for “sandal” (sandalon) is of pre-Greek origin and may go back to Minoan times, before Greek-speakers reached Crete. Boots and sandals are often shown with upturned toes. As for headgear, the common type was a wide, flat cap for men, whereas women, at least in the Proto-Palatial period (before 1700 B.C.E.), are shown with high pointed hats like Phrygian caps which had high peaks folded over so that the peak pointed frontwards. After this period, there is evidence of a great variety of headgear for women, but much of this evidence comes from paintings showing religious ceremonies. It is a matter of conjecture whether women wore similar headgear in secular settings.


Both men and women wore a variety of jewelry that included armlets, bracelets on the wrists, necklaces, anklets, and a great variety of earrings, using gold, silver, copper, bronze, and semi-precious stones. The jewelers were remarkably skillful. They had the technical expertise to make filigree work which requires hard soldering of small gold or silver wires. They also produced enormously delicate granulated work where minute grains of gold are soldered to a gold or silver backing. They had mastered the technique of inlaying with stones or paste, and making repousse work, where a design is embossed on a thin sheet of metal by pressure from behind, thus producing the design in relief on one side of the sheet and the same design beaten up from the underside on the other. French excavators discovered one of the most remarkable examples of the Minoan jewelers’ craft at the tomb at Mallia on the northern coast of Crete and now in the Heraklion Museum. It is a pendant in the form of a bee, designed and executed with great skill.


As in classical Greece, the staple fabric in Minoan Crete was wool. A large portion of the written tablets found at Knossos record flocks of sheep, and they may have been kept for their wool. Minoans also used linen; they probably first imported it from Egypt, but may have produced their own linen at a later time. Mycenaean Greece, which borrowed its style from Minoan Crete, definitely produced linen, for the written texts from Pylos in southwest Greece, dating to about 1200 B.C.E., refer to growing flax in the region. Minoans wove fabric on upright looms of the type used in later Greece, and though no loom has survived—they were made of wood and all have long since rotted away—at one Minoan house at Ayia Varvara on Crete, a stone with two rectangular holes cut into it was found in the women’s quarters; archaeologists suspect it may have held the upright posts of a loom. Primitive though these vertical looms seem to be, a look at the clothing of Minoan women shows that they could produce intricate designs.


Linen is difficult to dye, and so linen garments often were left white. Wool, however, takes pigments well, and vegetable dyes were commonly used to tint it. Minoans almost certainly imported the dried leaves of the henna plant from Egypt to make red dye, and the addition of natron (sodium carbonate)—another product from Egypt—turned the henna dye yellow. Alkanet, a deep red dye made from the roots of a variety of plants, was another way to color fabrics, as was a purple dye made from the shellfish known as the murex; heaps of crushed murex shells have been found at coastal sites on eastern Crete like Palaikastro and are good evidence of purple dye manufacture there in the Proto-Palatial and Neo-Palatial Periods.


There is good documentary evidence for a perfume industry on Crete and on mainland Greece in the Bronze Age, prior to 1100 B.C.E. The palace at Pylos on the southwest coast of mainland Greece overlooking the Bay of Navarino, which was destroyed by fire suddenly about 1200 B.C.E., has yielded a cache of clay tablets written in “Linear B” script, which is an early form of Greek, and they give details about perfume manufacture carried on under the direction of the palace bureaucracy. “Linear B” is a label given this script by modern archaeologists to distinguish it from “Linear A” which is found on Crete and is not Greek. The Pylos tablets give the names of four perfume makers employed by the palace to make perfume. There is also evidence for perfume manufacture from Knossos on Crete and Mycenae on the mainland. Ancient peoples of this area made perfume by transferring scent to oil, most commonly olive oil. Although olive oil does not take a scent well, the boiling of aromatic leaves and heavy-scented flowers with the oil resulted in an acceptable result for the upper classes in the Minoan and Mycenaean world. It is likely that both men and women made use of perfumes.

Garments in Classical Greece

Problems with Terms

The terms for Greek clothing types can be confusing, all the more so because the Greeks themselves sometimes used them carelessly. The carelessness is understandable, for every piece of clothing in ancient Greece, whether for men or women, consisted of a rectangle of cloth. The difference was in the size of the cloth and how it was draped over the body. To add to the confusion, Greek styles were adopted by the Romans. Rome’s national costume was the toga, but in the third century B.C.E. Rome extended her rule to the Greek cities in what was called “Magna Graecia” (Great Greece) in southern Italy, and the more that the Romans learned of Greek culture, including fashion, the more they were fascinated by it. The Roman Publius Scipio Africanus, who was responsible for the defeat of Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C.E., was among the Roman leaders who adopted Greek fashion over the Roman toga. The confusion arises from the fact that the Romans adapted Greek fashion to their own, so it is not always easy to find exact Greek equivalents for Roman costumes. The toga, too, seems to have started its long history simply as a rectangular piece of cloth—the shape it had when it came off the loom.

Dorians Versus Ionians

The Dorians were Greeks who migrated into the Peloponnesos—that is, the area of Greece south of the Isthmus of Corinth—after 1150 B.C.E. when the Mycenaean civilization was foundering, and they founded a number of states, notably Sparta in southeast Greece, and Argos to the north of it. The Dorians favored physical fitness and simplicity in their everyday life, and Dorian fashions reflected it. The Spartans in particular were famous for their austerity. The Dorians liked plain fashions that allowed the body free movement. The Greeks whom the Dorians displaced fled to Athens and from there, they set out for the western coastline of modern Turkey and the offshore islands, where they founded twelve cities which grew and prospered. This was Ionian Greece: twelve cities joined together in a loosely organized league, and though there were more Greek foundations on the coastline of Turkey and the islands than the twelve Ionian cities, it was Ionia that set the style. Ionian fashions reflected the affluent, comfortable, and luxurious life which the Ionians enjoyed, and though the Ionian cities lost their independence by the mid-sixth century B.C.E., they continued to thrive. The types of costume worn by both the Dorians and the Ionians were the same, but whereas the Dorians preferred simple styling and lack of embellishment, the Ionians favored more elaborate fashions and fine fabrics. In the fifth century B.C.E., however, the Ionian cities fell under the domination of Athens and they lost their preeminence as style setters.

Greek Clothing Terms

The basic item of clothing was the chiton, which was a tunic. If it was short, it might be called a chitoniskos, which means a “little tunic,” and if it lacked sleeves, which was generally the case, it was called an exomis, which means a “sleeveless garment.” There were some tunics with sleeves, which Romans with a conservative mindset considered a mark of oriental luxury, though in fact, Rome’s greatest general and politician, Julius Caesar, wore one. The variety of terms becomes more confusing with the Dorian chiton which is, in fact, a peplos (a simple rectangle of cloth folded and hung from the shoulders). The epic poem Iliad, written by the Greek poet Homer, described the heroes who fought at Troy as wearing a cloak over the tunic which was called a chlaina, or sometimes a pharos; strictly speaking, they were not quite the same, for the pharos was a larger garment. In fact, Homer used the word pharos for any large piece of cloth, including a ship’s sail or a funeral shroud. The chlaina seems to have been a general term for any heavy woolen cloak worn in cold weather. In the classical period, the word usually refers to the cloak called the himation, an outer garment worn by both men and women. The Romans used the Latin word pallium for himation, and regarded it as a peculiarly Greek costume, to such a degree that comedies staged in Roman theaters that were adapted from Greek plays were called fabulae palliatae—scenarios played in Greek dress. Another popular cloak was the chlamys. It was an oblong swatch of cloth that made almost a perfect square when it was doubled. The peplos, also called the Dorian chiton, was a rectangle of cloth folded over at the top and then doubled and draped over the body, and held in place with safety pins or brooches at the shoulders. The overfold or apotygma at the top of the garment could hang down as far as the waist. It was probably the earliest Greek dress for women, and it was capable of many variations.

The Chiton

The Greek word chiton translates as tunica in Latin, from which the English word “tunic” is derived. It was a shirt worn directly over the body, sometimes as an undergarment. There is evidence of prototypes in the Minoan period, but it is in the sub-Mycenaean period (after 1200 B.C.E.), about the same time as the perone or safety pin appears in Greece, that men began wearing a short, sleeveless tunic recognizable as the chiton worn by the warriors in Homer’s Iliad. The word chiton has Eastern origins, for it is related to a Semitic word that refers to linen cloth; this evidence suggests that the earliest chitons were linen garments, though later they are often woolen. Chitons came in a great variety of styles. Young men and those regularly involved in physical activity preferred a short chiton which left the legs bare. If the skirt of the chiton was too long, the wearer pulled it up and let it hang over his belt in a fold known as a kolpos. A warrior wore a chiton as an undergarment beneath the cuirass (a piece of armor that protected his torso). A passage in Iliad illustrates the use of a chiton in a description of how the warrior goddess Athena put on her armor: first she took off her peplos, which was a woman’s dress, and pulled on a chiton as an undergarment between her cuirass and her skin. Those individuals who are not as active, such as older men, men of high rank, and professional musicians, might wear a chiton long, reaching to the ankles, and over it they would wear a cloak such as the chlaina or the pharos. Both the short and the long chiton were prevalent all over the ancient Greek world.

The Ionian Chiton

About 600 B.C.E., the end of what art historians call the “Early Archaic Period,” draped statues of women wearing chitons that reach the feet, leaving only the toes bare, began to appear. There are good early examples from Ionia, where several seated statues have been found lining the Sacred Way to the temple of Apollo at Didyma. The so-called kore-statues of young girls (in Greek: korai) found in Athens in the debris from the Persian sack of the Acropolis in 480 B.C.E. also provide models of the chitons worn by women in the Middle and Late Archaic periods. Made of fine linen, they fell in regular folds to the feet, and over them a woman would wear a shawl or a cloak like the himation or the chlaina. The evidence of the sculpture suggests that the Ionian chiton came into style in Athens about 600 B.C.E., replacing the peplos or Dorian chiton, as it was sometimes called. The historian Herodotus, writing in the second half of the fifth century B.C.E., explained the replacement of the peplos in Athens as the result of a violent incident, the accuracy of which cannot be verified. According to Herodotus, in the early seventh century B.C.E. the Athenians made an attack on the island of Aegina in the Saronic Gulf. It failed, and only one survivor of the Athenian expeditionary force returned to Athens. Upon his return, the widows of the men lost at Aegina mobbed him and stabbed him with the safety pins from their Dorian chitons in grief and anger that he alone should have survived. The Athenians were so shocked by this murder that they passed a law forbidding women to wear the Dorian chitons which were fastened at the shoulders with safety pins, and instead ruled that they should wear the Ionian chiton, which was sewn and did not use the safety pins that could become lethal weapons. The Aeginetans continued to use safety pins, however, as did the Argives who had helped the Aeginetans defeat the Athenians; in fact, Herodotus claimed that they adopted safety pins with even longer shafts which were more lethal.

Reaction Against Dorian Dress

Even if the incident really happened, it was probably not a singular event that prompted the change to Ionian style for women’s clothing. The Aeginetans and the Argives were both Dorians, speaking the Dorian dialect of Greek, whereas the Athenians were Ionians and by adopting the fashions of the Ionian Greeks in Asia Minor whose cities were flourishing at this time, the women were making a political statement. Later, when Ionia was conquered by Persia after 546 B.C.E., the Athenians tended to look down on the Ionians because they were no longer free men and their sumptuous fashions seemed to signal a willingness to be subjects of the Persian king; in the Greek mind, anything Persian was associated with luxury and opulent living. But at the beginning of the seventh century B.C.E., Ionia was the cultural leader of Greece. Men in Athens wore Ionian chitons as well, and Thucydides, a younger contemporary of Herodotus, remarks that the older Athenians of his day still wore them. But the Persian Wars in the first quarter of the fifth century B.C.E.ushered in a taste for simpler fashions in Athens; in Dorian Greece, the Dorian chiton had never gone out of style. In the new postwar world, the elaborate Ionian chiton was considered a mark of oriental luxury and soft living. It suggested the Persian way of life.

Fashions In Chitons

The peplos came into style again in Athens after the Persian Wars, but it did not displace the chiton. In fact, chiton and peplos existed side by side throughout the fifth century B.C.E., borrowing features from each other. The kandys, a chiton with long sleeves worn over longer chiton became fashionable for free women during the century. Sleeves were considered exotic; the Persians wore them, and in the last quarter of the fifth century, fashionable Athenians developed a taste for styles with a touch of Persian opulence to them. Also during the same century there are examples of a short tunic reaching to the waist that is worn over the chiton. It is probably what was called the chitoniskos, or “little chiton,” and it seems to have been made from a heavier fabric than the chiton itself and is often richly decorated. Men in the classical period abandoned the Ionian chiton, as Thucydides pointed out, but it continued to be used by priests, charioteers, singers, musicians, and actors. The short, sleeveless chiton remained in style for physically active men. For ceremonial occasions, however, the himation became the costume of choice.

The Himation

The himation was an essential outer garment for both women and men. It was simply an oblong woolen shawl of generous dimensions. There were various ways of draping it around the body. A woman, for instance, might drape it under the right arm and pin or tie it at the left shoulder. In colder weather she could drape her upper body with it and draw it over the head like a cowl. Sometimes, however, she used a separate piece of cloth to cover her head, with one end falling down over the himation. A man threw his himation around his body from left to right, confining his arms; in fact, it was the mark of a gentleman not to extend an arm outside his himation. Wearing one’s himation with grace was a mark of social standing in the community and it cannot always have been an easy achievement, for the himation was generally worn without fasteners like buttons or safety pins, and the wearer must have sometimes used his hands that were hidden by his himation to hold it in place. It was far too awkward a garment for a working man, who generally wore a chiton without sleeves called an exomis. In fact, wearing a himation signaled that the wearer did not have to do physical labor. Politicians and philosophers liked it, and in portrait sculpture, it had some of the same connotations as the Roman toga, which it somewhat resembled. It showed that the wearer was not a member of the common people, and it was a fine garment to wear when delivering a lecture or a public speech.

The Peplos

The peplos was a woman’s costume consisting of an oblong swatch of woolen cloth. The cloth was first folded horizontally so that the top quarter was turned back, and then it was doubled by folding it from top to bottom. What resulted was a piece of cloth doubled over to form a square, with an overfold called an apotygma in Greek on the upper edge. It sheathed the body of the wearer, and was fastened at each shoulder by safety pins or buttons so that it hung free. On the right side, the peplos hung open, and one might catch glimpses of the woman’s body as she moved. Young women in the Greek city of Sparta liked this style, but women elsewhere usually wore a belt or girdle at the waist to keep the side of the peplos closed and thereby preserve the wearer’s modesty. The open side of the peplos might also be pinned together; in Homer’s Odyssey, one of the suitors trying to win the favor of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, presented her with a peplos that had twelve gold pins. Since it needed only two pins, or at best four, to fasten it at the shoulders, presumably the rest were used to pin up the open side.

The Origin of the Peplos

The peplos was not a Mycenaean costume, and probably it arrived in Greece about the same time as the safety pin—that is, in the sub-Mycenaean period (after 1200 B.C.E.), after the citadels of the Mycenaean civilization had fallen and the great palaces destroyed. The Dorian newcomers may have brought the peplos with them, for they migrated into Greece in the sub-Mycenaean period, and so the name “Dorian chiton” which was sometimes applied to the peplos, may be justified. It was, however, worn in early Athens also until the end of the Early Archaic Period, about 600 B.C.E., when women switched to the Ionian chiton. With the reaction in Athens against frills and frippery after the Persian War, the peplos came back into fashion. In Sparta and the rest of Dorian Greece, the Ionian chiton never displaced the peplos. As the Greek language evolved, the word “peplos” acquired a wider meaning and applied to a variety of costumes. There was, however, one instance where the word “peplos” continued to mean a simple, old-fashioned piece of woolen cloth folded to form a woman’s dress. Every four years, at the Great Panathenaea festival in Athens, the women of the city presented the goddess Athena with a new robe that they had woven. They used it to dress the ancient wooden statue of Athena Polias—that is, Athena, Guardian of the City—the most sacred cult statue in Athens, which was kept in the temple known as the Erechtheion. The robe was a peplos and the pattern did not change.

Peplos Types

Styles change with time and the peplos was no exception. From the classical period of the fifth century B.C.E. on, we must distinguish between the peplos worn without an undergarment, known as the peplos endyma, and the peplos worn over a chiton, the peplos epiblema. The girdle in early examples of the peplos simply encircled the waist, but with the skirt above it tucked up so as to form a loose fold. The apoptygma, or overfold, which at first was short, grew in length until it reached the hips. In statues and relief sculptures of the fourth century B.C.E., the overfold is sometimes shown falling freely, but more often as time went on it was held in place by the girdle. The peplos epiblema that was worn over a chiton developed a number of variations. Sometimes the skirt came down to the ankles and only a glimpse of the chiton underneath can be seen at the bottom. Sometimes the peplos came down no further than the knees, and the chiton was shown covering the lower legs. Some statuettes of Athena show her wearing a peplos with an overfold that has pleats of unequal length, and sometimes the peplos is shown pinned only at the right shoulder with the overfold pinned along the right arm to form a kind of short sleeve. It is hard to distinguish this kind of peplos from the Ionian himation. In fact, the Greek authors themselves used the terms for their clothes more indiscriminately as we move into the fourth century B.C.E.

The Chlamys

The chlamys was a garment of non-Greek people in northern Greece, the Thessalians and the Macedonians. In fact, the chlamys, along with the petasos or causia (a hat with a brim), was the national costume of Macedonia. The distinctive items of costume worn by foreigners from the north when they are depicted on Greek monuments were the chlamys, the causia, the alopekis (a fox-skin cap), and the embades (boots that came part way up the calf of the leg). A Macedonian nobleman signaled his standing by wearing a purple chlamys and causia, and Alexander the Great, the king of Macedon who conquered the Persian Empire, made the chlamys his customary dress. The chlamys was a swatch of cloth that was more or less rectangular with three straight sides and the fourth side concave. It was worn by putting it around the shoulders, straight edge up, and fastening it at the base of the neck, so that its folds fell down as far as the knees. The chlamys might also be fastened at the rear, leaving the wearer’s back and buttocks bare. The two ends of the concave side formed points hanging down on either side, and were often compared to wings. Upon its introduction into Greece, it became the usual costume for horsemen. It appears on the Panathenaic frieze from the Parthenon in Athens, where young ephebes (youths undergoing their military training) are shown wearing it as they gallop in the wake of the procession or prepare to mount their horses. In the Greek city of Sparta, the chlamys became the costume of choice for the Spartiates, the military elite that ruled Laconia. It was not adopted by the Romans, but the Romans had a number of military cloaks which were similar, such as the paludamentum, the abolla, and the sagum. The trabea worn by the members of the equestrian order in Rome when they paraded on horseback in honor of Castor and Pollux seems to have been a similar garment. The chlamys, however, lasted into the Byzantine period. In the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna (Italy) there is a mosaic of the empress Theodora (527-548 C.E.) who is shown wearing a chlamys as part of her imperial regalia.

The Toga

National Costume of Rome

The toga was the national costume of the Romans. The Roman people were the gens togata—the “people that wear the toga.” In his epic poem, the Aeneid the Roman poet Vergil used the term with pride to refer to the populus Romanus, that is, the “Roman People.” Aliens—persons who were not Roman citizens—and Roman exiles were forbidden to wear it. It seems, however, that the law which forbade non-Romans to wear the toga was not universally enforced, for the provinces of Cisalpine Gaul and Transalpine Gaul were called, unofficially,Gallia togata—that is, “Gaul where the toga is worn”—which indicates that Romanized provincials sometimes wore the toga even before they received the citizenship. There was a tradition that the toga came to Rome from Etruria, the region of modern Tuscany in Italy which was inhabited by people the Romans called Etruscans and the Greeks Tyrrhenoi, who seem to have been immigrants from Asia Minor around 1000 B.C.E. Their underground tombs were decorated with wall paintings which show men wearing a short toga, though it is by no means the same as the Roman version of the same garment. The Roman toga probably began as a simple piece of woolen cloth which was worn with no undergarment and fastened in place with a safety pin, called in Latin a fibula. The name comes from the Latin verb, tegere, which means “to cover.” The toga was a coverlet, used to cover a person’s body by day and his or her bed at night. In the early period, women wore it as well as men. The Roman men even wore it to battle in the early days of Rome.

The Cinctus Gabinus

In some rituals which were connected with warfare—such as opening the Gates of Janus, which the Romans threw open whenever they embarked on a war—they girded up their togas in what was called the cinctus Gabinus. They took the corners of their togas, threw them over the left shoulder, wound it under the right arm and around the chest, thus making their togas into garments that did not impede their movement. The origin of this curious custom was explained by the story of the ancient enmity between Rome and the town of Gabii, which dated back to the time before the last Roman king was expelled in 510 B.C.E. The Romans used the cinctus Gabinus when they fought Gabii. The 193 centuries, or battalions, of the early Roman citizen army were divided into five classes according to wealth, and only the first class could afford full body armor. A Roman in the lowest class in those faroff days tied up his toga around his waist so that his arms were free to wield a weapon, and went into battle to fight as best he could. His toga gave him little protection, but it was better than nothing.


Gradually, the toga grew more elaborate, and its usage became more restricted. Women replaced it with the stola, a long upper garment which became the conventional dress of a married woman. Soldiers gave it up for a more convenient cloak called the sagum. Even so, right up to the end of the republican period in the first century B.C.E. and even into the imperial period that followed it, togas were sometimes issued to Roman armies in winter camp. By that time, however, the toga had lost its military role and became a costume of peacetime and a symbol of citizenship. In Rome, a citizen was expected to wear his toga in public. The emperor Augustus (ruled 27 B.C.E.-14 C.E.) forbade citizens entry to the Roman Forum or to the circus if they were without togas. Outside, Rome, however, citizens quickly adopted foreign costumes which could be put on and taken off easily; the toga as it developed became so elaborate that a Roman needed help to put it on. Even in Rome itself, Greek fashions became increasingly popular in the first century C.E., and the toga was reserved more and more for official functions. Women abandoned it early, except for women who were courtesans or were found guilty of adultery. The stola which married women wore was denied to them, for it was the mark of the respectable Roman matrona—a woman who was properly married.

Rite of Passage

In many cultures, a young man’s transition from boyhood to manhood is marked by what is called a “rite of passage.” In Rome, the rite of passage involved changing from the toga of adolescence to the toga of a man. A Roman youth of free birth wore the toga praetexta, a toga with a band of purple woven along the edge of the garment. Under it, he wore a tunic which had two purple woven stripes which extended from his shoulders to the hemline, and around his neck he wore a locket called a bulla which might be made of gold, silver, bronze, or even leather. When the youth came of age, he exchanged the toga praetexta for the toga virilis, the man’s toga, which was all white, the natural color of the wool. In the early days of Rome, well down into the second century B.C.E., a youth gave up the toga praetexta at age sixteen. Later, the ceremony often took place at the end of the youth’s fifteenth year. There were exceptions: the emperor Tiberius would not allow the future emperor Caligula to assume the toga virilis until his twentieth year, and the future emperor Nero assumed it at age fourteen. The toga praetexta was also worn by important state officials, and the fact that children wore it as well was perhaps a recognition of the vulnerability and, at the same time, the importance of childhood. Children were as important to the future of the state as the men who held prestigious magistracies. The ceremony in which a young man gave up the toga praetexta usually took place during the festival of Bacchus known as the Liberalia on 16 March. The night before, the boy took off his toga praetexta and put on a white tunic to sleep in; this tunic was known as the tunica recta (the “straight tunic”), so-called because it was woven on the old-fashioned upright loom. The ceremony started the next morning with a sacrifice offered to the Lares, the household gods of the family. The boy dedicated his toga praetexta to the Lares and along with it, his bulla, the locket containing the amulet or charm which he wore around his neck as a boy to ward off evil influences and protect him in the vulnerable years of childhood. It was rather like a modern good luck charm except that Roman society really did believe in the “Evil Eye” and assorted malign influences so hex signs to ward them off were more significant than good luck charms are in modern times. It also marked the wearer as the child of a freeborn Roman citizen. The young man then put on his new toga. It was the toga pura, which did not mean that it was “pure,” but rather that it was not dyed, i.e. it was the natural color of the wool. This was the “toga of a man,” the so-called toga virile. It signified that he was now an adult male. His family and friends escorted him in his new toga virile to the forum where they presented him to the Roman people, the populus Romanus, who would henceforth regard him as one of their members. The young man then went to the Capitoline Hill, and in the Temple of Jupiter he offered sacrifice to the gods of the state, the divine triad Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. He was not yet of an age to begin a public career, but old enough to take an interest in public affairs and learn from his elders how to conduct the business of the state. He had crossed the divide between vulnerable youth and manhood.

Togas for Girls

Girls also wore the toga praetexta, but they gave it up at age twelve upon reaching puberty. From then on until marriage, girls wore a palla, or mantle. A girl over twelve is shown wearing a palla on the south relief of the “Altar of Peace” in Rome which the Roman senate commissioned in 13 B.C.E.; it can still be seen reconstructed in modern Rome, on the bank of the Tiber River. Unlike the toga, it was a rectangular swatch of cloth, but on the “Altar of Peace” it is shown folded over the girl’s body in a manner so similar to a toga that it might be mistaken for one, except that its squared lower border gives it away.

The Shape of the Toga

The toga was simply a piece of cloth that was folded and wrapped around the body. In the early days of Rome, when the cloth was a piece of woolen homespun, it probably kept the shape that it had when it came off the loom: rectangular. The evidence from ancient authors, scanty though it is, indicates that the toga was a semi-circular piece of cloth with one straight edge, and when a purple stripe was woven along the edge—a wide one (latus clavus) for senators and a narrow one (angustus clavus) for members of the equestrian class—it could have been woven only along the straight edge. There have been many modern attempts to reproduce the sort of toga of the monuments and it seems likely that it was not a piece of cloth that was a true semi-circle, but rather that it was half an ellipse with one straight edge that was broad enough to allow the purple stripes to be woven parallel to it. Conservative though the Romans were, the toga styles changed over time; the toga of the late empire bore a general resemblance to the toga of the Roman republic, but it was not the same garment. Yet stone-cutters in the late empire turned out toga-clad figures for official statues of emperors and public officials which were erected across the empire.

How the Toga was Worn

The toga of republican Rome, in its simplest form, was thrown over the left shoulder, drawn across the back and under the right arm and then thrown back again over the left shoulder so that there was an oblique fold across the chest. The right shoulder and arm were left unencumbered, but not bare, for a man would wear a tunic under his toga. There is a statue in the Archeological Museum in Florence, Italy, known as Il Arringatore (The Orator) which shows the kind of toga that might have been worn in the second century or the beginning of the first century B.C.E. The skirt does not reach the feet, and along its lower edge there is what seems to be a row of embroidery. The toga that Roman politicians Cicero or Julius Caesar might have worn in the last days of the Roman Republic, however, covered both shoulders. Under the Roman emperors, togas became elaborate with folds carefully arranged. The toga of the imperial period had two added features: an overfold of cloth called a sinus that ran diagonally across the chest, and a clump of drapery called an umbo that was a sort of decorative knot made by pulling up the folds on the left side in order to hold the drapery together. Apparel this elaborate cannot have been easy to put on or take off. The proper arrangement of the folds of the toga was a mark of elegance, and there were slaves trained to do the task, called vestipliciif they were male slaves, or vestiplicae if they were women. If a Roman magistrate was to officiate at a ceremony in imperial Rome where a toga must be worn, his slaves might have to sit up the night before to prepare the pleats and folds by squeezing them with tongs. The sinus in particular needed care, for in some portrayals of toga-clad figures it hangs loosely but elegantly across the chest and almost touches the ground. The toga which began as a practical piece of clothing ended up as an elaborate ceremonial costume.

The Lacerna

Since the toga gave poor protection against inclement weather, the Romans adopted a hoodless woolen outer cloak which was popular in the army: the lacerna. It was worn over the toga and was open at the side, leaving the arms free. The Romans fastened it with a brooch or buckle on the right shoulder so it could be tossed back over the shoulder. It was dark colored when it was used as a military cape, but when it was adopted as civilian dress, it was often made of bright colors and lighter cloth, particularly for upper-class men and women. In cold weather, the spectators in the amphitheater or theater who were wearing togas needed their lacernae to keep warm.

Types of Toga

Togas were made of wool—a light woolen fabric for summer and a heavier one for winter wear. Unless they were dyed, they remained the natural color of the wool, which was off-white, though given the absence of good laundry facilities, many of the togas worn in Rome must have been a rather dirty grey. It was important for a citizen who presented himself as a candidate for office to have a pure-white toga, and he would use chalk to give his toga the requisite color—hence, the Latin word for “candidate” (candidatus) came from the word for “white” (candidus). The toga praetexta worn by children and by state officials had a purple border. So did the togas worn by senators and men of the equestrian order. Senators had a wide purple border (the latus clavis or “laticlave”) to mark their status, whereas men of the equestrian order, the so-called equites or “horsemen” whose minimum income requirement was less than half a senator’s, had a narrow stripe. The equites by the second century B.C.E. were men of property who stayed away from a career in politics; they included in their ranks businessmen and tax farmers—that is, private entrepreneurs who contracted with the government to collect taxes. A variety of toga with stripes known as the trabea was worn by the Flamen Dialis and the Flamen Martialis, the high priests of Jupiter and of Mars, and also by the augurs, the priestly officials who took the auspices, but it is unclear how the stripes were arranged. A toga called the trabea was also worn by men of the equestrian order who paraded on horseback in the festival of Castor and Pollux (Rome’s legendary founders) to commemorate the semi-mythical Battle of Lake Regillus. Their trabea, however, seems to have been a short mantle like the Greek chlamys. It was the distinctive costume of the equites, for when Roman theaters staged comedies where the characters were citizens of the equestrian order, they were known as comoediae trabeatae—comedies where the actors are costumed intrabeae. Dark-colored togas were worn as a sign of mourning. This type of toga was known as the toga pulla: the “dark-colored toga.” A pullum was a garment dyed dark-grey. A toga known as the toga picta, or trabea triumphalis, was decorated with patterns and must have taken great skill to weave; it was worn in the period of the Roman Republic by generals returning from a victorious campaign who were granted the right of holding a triumph. The triumphant general paraded his spoils and captives through the streets of Rome, and finally made his way along the Sacred Road (Via Sacra) through the Roman Forum to the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. In the rear of the procession came the general himself in a chariot, wearing a toga picta. The general did not actually own this toga, for these togas were kept among the treasures of Jupiter, and brought out only on special occasions. Under the Roman Empire, however, triumphs were reserved for the emperor, and the first emperor, Augustus, made the toga picta his official costume.

The End of the Toga

Juvenal, the Roman satirist who probably wrote in the first quarter of the second century C.E., wrote in his third satire that throughout most of Italy no man was seen in a toga until the day he died, when he was laid out in one. When shows were staged in the country theaters on holidays, everyone, magistrates included, wore a plain white tunic. Yet the toga remained the proper ceremonial garment until the fourth century C.E. as evidenced by developments from Roman sculpture. A relief sculpture of Marcus Aurelius, emperor from 161-180 C.E., which was re-used on the Arch of Constantine in Rome, shows a figure wearing a short toga which comes only to the knees; another panel of the same emperor, now in the Conservatori Museum in Rome, shows a person with a similar short toga, who is playing the reed pipe known as the aulos. It has been suggested that this short toga was the toga of the Roman common man, but the absence of such figures in art makes it difficult to come to a conclusion. Marcus Aurelius’ predecessor, Hadrian, appears in one statue wearing a toga that resembled a Greek himation. Hadrian was a lover of Greek culture, which may account for his toga in the Greek style, but the fashion did not endure for long. In the third century C.E. a new style developed with a broad fold running from under the right arm across the chest and over the left shoulder, giving the appearance of a baldric, or sash running diagonally across the chest. This was the “banded toga” and a man needed the help of a valet to put it on. It was not a costume for everyday wear. Sometimes it seems that the bands were held in place with concealed stitching. Difficult though it might be to put on, the banded toga remained popular through the fourth century as ceremonial garb. As we reach the fifth century, a toga-clad statue of a consul in the Capitoline Museum in Rome shows the final stage of the toga’s evolution. The statue dates to about 400 C.E., and it portrays a man wearing a tunic with short sleeves over a long-sleeved tunic. Over that he wears a toga with a long sinus in front, which the magistrate had to hold up with his left arm to prevent it dragging on the ground. This was clearly a purely ceremonial costume for it did not allow the wearer to move freely. By the time the toga reached the end of its long history, it had become unfitted for physical movement. Nonetheless it was not without an offspring. It mutated into the vestment of a Roman Catholic priest which is known as a stola—not to be confused with the costume of a Roman married woman which was known by the same name.

The Textiles of the Greek and Roman World


Sheep were all-purpose animals in the Greco-Roman world. They provided sheepskins which peasants used as cloaks, wool for cloth, mutton to supplement the Greek diet, and milk for making cheese. In ancient Greece and Rome, wool fabric had the added advantage that, unlike linen, it was easy to dye. In addition, wool in its natural state came in a variety of colors depending on the breed of sheep. Latin had words to describe the various hues: albus meant “white,”niger “dark brown” or “black,” coracinus “deep black,” and fuscus “brown with a tinge of red.” There was also a color of wool called pullus that came from sheep in south Italy, and also from Liguria, a region in the northwest of the peninsula. Pullus was evidently brownish-black, and it was a color associated with mourning. In the Po River valley in northern Italy, a breed of sheep was developed which produced a fine white wool that could be woven into a gossamer-like fabric. If a man or woman preferred an artificial color, however, there were a large variety of dyes available; in Rome, legend claimed that Numa, the second king of Rome after Romulus, established the guild of dyers. The legend is not likely to be true, but certainly the guild had an ancient history.


Linen was made from the domesticated flax plant which was developed early in the Mediterranean world from the wild flax for its fiber and the oil from its seeds. Linen was used in the Bronze Age, prior to 1100 B.C.E., both in the Minoan period on Crete and the Mycenaean period on the mainland. The tablets found in the so-called “Palace of Nestor” at Pylos in Greece show that flax was cultivated in the south-west Peloponnesos before 1200 B.C.E., and in the later classical period, Elis in the north-west Peloponnesos was well known for its fine linen. In the Hellenistic period after Alexander the Great, Egypt produced linen with a high reputation, but by the Roman period, the big centers of production had moved to Syria and Palestine. In the west, the linen of the Po Valley had a good reputation, as did the linen from the coastal areas of southeast Spain. Linen was used not only for dress, but also fishermen’s nets, sails for ships, and the awnings in the theaters and amphitheaters that protected spectators from the sun; awnings were also made from cotton since it dried quickly, or a fabric that was half cotton, half linen was woven for use as canopies.


Cotton was an imported fabric. It first appeared in India, where it has turned up on archaeological sites in the Indus River valley, dating to the early second millennium B.C.E. By the Hellenistic period, from the third to first centuries B.C.E., it had spread to Upper Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia, evidently following the trade route between east Africa and India. Greek and Roman authors seemed to think that cotton was grown on trees; the Roman poet Vergil in his Georgics, for instance, refers to the cotton trees of Nubia. Very likely this was not a mistake as many modern scholars believe. Cotton nowadays is grown on a bush with the botanical name Gossipium herbaceum, but there is also a cotton tree, Gossipium arboretum, and quite possibly it was the source of the cotton fiber that the Greeks and Romans knew.


True silk comes from the domesticated mulberry silkworm which extrudes a silk fiber to make its cocoon. In the reign of the emperor Justinian (527-565 C.E.) silkworm eggs were smuggled into the Roman Empire and became the foundation of the Byzantine silk industry. Prior to that development, all silk was imported. There have been finds of silk in Europe that date before Emperor Augustus, but silk was rare before the Augustan period when trade with India opened up. It was a luxury fabric; silk swatches were sometimes unraveled and the silk thread rewoven with fine linen in order to make it go twice as far and bring down the price. The emperor Caligula (37-41 C.E.) wore a silk toga, and the emperor Elagabalus (218-222 C.E.) insisted on a new silk garment every day. The historian Ammianus Marcellinus, a Greek writing in Latin at the end of the fourth century C.E., remarked that the wearing of silk—once confined to the imperial court—had become widespread among upper-class Romans. In 408 C.E., when the Visigothic chieftain Alaric was holding Rome to ransom, he demanded among other items, 4,000 silk tunics for his men. The chief trade route that brought silk into Mediterranean markets shipped it from China to Indian ports where Persian merchants bought it, carried it up to the head of the Persian Gulf, and then transported it by caravan to the ports of entry into the Roman Empire on the Euphrates River. The transit trade enriched Persia, which made the Roman imperial government unhappy, and it tried to develop alternative routes. The problem was not solved until the Byzantine Empire developed its own silk industry.

Coan Silk

Not all silk in the Greek world came from China. On the island of Cos—which is more famous for the great doctor Hippocrates of Cos who established a medical school there—there was a thriving silk industry which used silk from the cocoon of an indigenous moth. The chief ancient sources for information on this industry are Aristotle and Pliny the Elder, who agreed that the technique of extracting silk fiber from the cocoon of this moth was discovered by a woman named Pamphile. Both men and women wove Coan silk, which was unusual in Greece where weaving was considered women’s work. But the output of the Coan silk industry cannot have been great, for Cos is a small island, and probably its silk was inferior to Chinese silk. China supplied a demand which Cos could not fill.


Women did the weaving in ancient Greece. The Greek historian Herodotus who visited Egypt in the mid-fifth century B.C.E. noticed that in Egypt men worked at looms, and he remarked on the difference between Egyptian and Greek custom. In Greece, the housewife was in charge of weaving cloth for the household. The Greek historian Xenophon commented on the importance of the wifely duty of weaving in his treatise on household management, Oeconomicus. In that work, he described a dialogue between his mentor, Socrates, and the wise Athenian Ischomachus, during which Ischomachus highlighted the importance of his young wife being the preeminent weaver in the household. Not all weaving was done in the home, however. Fine fabrics in particular required professional weaving, and specialty firms existed in classical Athens as early as the later fifth century B.C.E. There is evidence of an establishment that specialized in the chlamys (a short cloak) and another whose specialty was the chlanis, which was a cloak for the upper body like the chlaina, but made of finer fabric. In Italy, the fine white woolen cloth produced in the north, in the Po Valley, called for skillful weaving, and factories established there used highly trained slaves for the weaving. From the first century C.E. well-to-do women had more to do with their spare time than to stand at the loom working alongside their female slaves, though the empress Livia, the third and last wife of Augustus, tried to set an example of the antique womanly virtue that her husband promoted by working at the loom. In the towns and cities of the Roman Empire in the Augustan Age, however, there were already shops that sold ready-made clothes both for freemen and slaves.

The Creation of Fabric

Despite evidence of ready-made clothes, the vast majority of people in ancient Greece and Rome had to make not only their own clothes, but their own yarns and fabrics as well. The process of making fabric was long and labor-intensive. After the shearing of the sheep in the spring, the women washed the wool and pulled apart the matted fibers with their fingers. Then they carded it, separating the fibers with a comb, and rubbed it until they produced a mass of tow, or combed wool, kneeling as they did so on a kind of terra-cotta kneeling pad and propping their feet on a stool called anonos, or donkey. At this point they dyed the wool unless the finished cloth was intended to be the natural color of the wool. The wool next had to be spun, but the spinning wheel had not yet been invented; the woman responsible for spinning, known as the spinster, used a distaff and spindle to twist the yarn. The spinster wound the tow on the distaff, pulled out a length of it and secured it to the spindle that she held in her left hand. A weight called a spindle whorl was tied to the bottom of the spindle. It held the length of tow taut and once the spindle was set spinning, it twisted tow into yarn. The spinster continued to feed tow from the distaff into the growing length of yarn until the spindle reached the floor. Then she wound the yarn around the spindle and the process started over again. Once she spun a full skein of thread, she took it off the spindle and placed it in the wool basket. The strength and the texture of the thread depended on the speed of the spindle as it turned. Once the yarn had been created, it could be woven into fabric on a loom. In ancient Greece there were two types of loom. One was a small, easily transportable loom used to produce girdles and relatively narrow swatches of cloth, and the weaver could sit as she worked at it. The other was the old-fashioned large, vertical loom used to weave the swatches of cloth that would become tunics or cloaks. This was the upright loom on which was woven the Roman tunica recta which a youth wore when he came of age and put on the “toga of a man” (toga virilis). The threads of the warp hung downwards from the top of the loom and were held taut by loom-weights. The weavers sang as they worked. Homer in the Odyssey described the nymph Calypso, who kept Odysseus prisoner until the gods commanded her to let him return home to Ithaca, as a weaver who sang at her loom. The witch Circe from the same literary work also sang as she weaved. The drudgery of working a loom was not necessarily conducive to joyful songs, however. Weaving was hard work, and it is more than likely that the female slaves who toiled at the loom sang sad songs.

Patterned Cloth

In 1972, a kore—that is a statue of a woman, fully clothed—and a kouros—a nude male figure—were excavated at a cemetery near Merenda outside Athens. On the base of the kore statue was an inscription which read, “Grave of Phrasikleia. I shall forever be called kore. The gods have given me this name instead of marriage.” Phrasikleia had died before her marriage, and thus she would always be called a maiden (kore), never a married woman. More remarkable than this inscription, however, was the preserved original paint on the statue. Art historians knew that the Greeks painted their statues, but on those that have survived, the paint has disappeared or has faded almost to nothing. The paint on Phrasikleia’s chiton shows swastikas, which were considered good-luck signs at this time, and rosettes on the front of it, and four-pointed stars and various flowers on the back. The predominant colors are red, black, and yellow. Clearly this was a patterned wedding dress in bright colors for a marriage that never happened. At one time, it was thought that Greek weavers with their warp-weighted looms could not produce patterned cloth; when Greek authors mentioned decorated robes, scholars assumed this to mean that they were embroidered—decoration had been sewn on after the fabric had been woven. But Phrasikleia’s chiton proves that they were quite capable of making cloth with colorful patterns. The peplos which the women of Athens presented to Athena at every Great Panathenaea festival must have been a patterned weave of the same sort, and Athens was not the only place that regularly presented its guardian goddess with a new dress. In Elis in the northwest Peloponnesos, a peplos on which sixteen women had toiled was presented at regular intervals to Hera who was the guardian goddess of the state. Homer’s Iliad related that Helen of Troy wove a battle scene in color in her spare time. Helen was no different from other Greek housewives in this one respect: she, too, was skilled at the loom.


Excavations at a Roman fort at Vindolanda, which is near Hadrian’s Wall in Britain, have recovered various fragments of textiles and fifty of them were analyzed. The analysis revealed that eight of them had been dyed, and in all cases a red dye was used that came from the root of the madder plant (Rubia tinctorum). The Romans had various dyes, and madder red was one of the cheapest. Among the expensive dyes were the various shades of purple made from the murex shellfish. A cheaper, counterfeit purple could be obtained by combining madder red in the right proportions with indigo, which was imported from India. Coccinus, a brilliant scarlet made from the kermes, a scale insect, was in high demand as a luxury dye. It originated in Asia, but Spain also developed a lucrative kermes industry. Other dyes were a strong green with a blue tinge (prasinus), a fairly bright red (russeus), and dark blue (venetus). Dyes, however, were not much use without mordants to fix the colors. Ancient mordants included alum from wood ash or even human urine and natron—sodium carbonate, or washing soda, which was dug from natron pits in Egypt. To fix the color, dyers dipped the wool in the mordant before it was put in the dye vat and heated.

Dressing to Impress in Greece and Rome

Color in Greek and Roman Apparel

A visitor to ancient Greece or Rome would have been impressed by the bright colors of the clothing that the people wore, particularly the women. On this point, the Greek and Roman art that has survived tends to give a false picture. The marble statues were originally painted using wax-based paints, but it is very rare to find a statue now with traces of the original colors. The bronze statues have almost all disappeared long ago, melted down in the medieval period for their metal. The pictures on Greek vases of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E., when Athenian black-figured and red-figured vases were in style, present a record of changing fashions, but the vase painter was limited by the colors of his medium. In fact, Greek and Roman garments were far more colorful than most people realize. Weavers could produce elaborately patterned cloth. The peplos that was presented every four years to the goddess Athena at the Great Panathenaea festival was a masterpiece of design. It was woven by the women of Athens in a public building in the city where space was set aside for the loom, and the style of the garment did not change, but there was room for innovation in the pattern of the cloth.

The East Greeks

The Greeks always looked on the fashions of the Orient, particularly Persia, with admiration mixed with disapproval and contempt. On the one hand, the elaborate fashions associated with Persia signaled soft living and effeminacy; the Greek admiration for the well-muscled naked body was not to be found in Persia. On the other hand, Oriental fashions were enormously attractive for anyone who wanted his dress to signal his wealth and his cosmopolitan culture. East Greece—the Greek foundations in Asia Minor and Cyprus—was always an avenue for contact with the civilizations of the Orient. The collapse of the Mycenaean civilization had been followed by a period of migrations when three waves of migrants from Greece founded cities on the coastline of Asia Minor and the Dodecanese islands. The most important of these new foundations were made by Greeks speaking the Ionian dialect, and so East Greeks are often referred to as “Ionian,” though there were also Aeolian and Dorian foundations, established by Greeks whose dialects were Aeolian or Dorian. These Ionian cities were cheek-by-jowl with the Lydian Empire, and the last Lydian king, Croesus, subdued those that were on the mainland while the cities on the offshore islands were protected by their fleets. In 546 B.C.E. Croesus in turn fell victim to a new empire builder, Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire. The Ionian cities that had belonged to the Lydian Empire fell under Persian control. Persia was not content with the Greek cities on the Asia Minor coastline. Little by little it took over the cities on the offshore islands, and from Asia, it moved into Europe and by 512 B.C.E. it controlled the region to the north of the Aegean Sea. Yet Persia’s rule was relatively light. Ionian culture continued as before, and Ionian fashions, influenced by Lydia and then by Persia, were elaborate and ornate. Ionia became a conduit for Persian style to pass to Greece, particularly to Athens, which the Ionians regarded as their mother city. In the first two decades of the fifth century B.C.E., Persia made an attempt to conquer Greece which resulted in Persia’s defeat and her retreat from the region of the Aegean Sea. The elaborate fashions associated with the Orient went out of style in Athens which opted for a more sober, austere appearance, though older, more conservative men continued to wear Ionic chitons with their many pleats and do up their hair with pins made in the shape of grasshoppers. Ionia won its independence from Persia after Xerxes’ debacle in Greece, but then it fell under the domination of Athens. Ionia had the reputation of being a place where life was soft and easy, and the scientific view of the day held that soft living made men with soft muscles who were no good on the battlefield. Hard living made hard men, and as the Greeks saw it, it was the toughness of their foot soldiers and the free men who rowed their warships that won them victory over Persia. Simple clothing and toughness went hand in hand. The fact that Ionia won its freedom from Persia only to lose it the Athenian Empire seemed to prove that Ionia, with its love for Persianstyle fripperies, was not fit to defend its liberty. The reaction against Persian fashion did not last, however. Active warfare between the Athenian Empire and Persia ended in 450 B.C.E., and peaceful contacts between Athens and Persia resumed.

Persian Fashion in Athens

By the last quarter of the fifth century, Athenians demonstrated a fondness for Persian styles again. New items of dress appear with telltale names. The fine wool cloak called a syria must have been inspired by Syrian fashion. These cloaks may even have been imports from Syria. There was a kind of women’s shoes called persikai. One of Plato’s dialogues refers to wealthy people who wore “Persian belts”; the dialogue is fictitious, but Plato imagines it taking place before 415 B.C.E., and it is probable that some rich Athenians of that time were wearing expensive belts probably imported from Persia. Another garment of the late fifth century B.C.E. was the kaunakes, also known as the persis—a name which betrays its origin. It seems to have been a heavy cloak with little woolen tufts. Chitons with sleeves—another Persian innovation—also appear. Vase paintings depict examples of the chitoniskos cheiridotos—that is, the short patterned chiton with sleeves—worn over a long chiton. The short chiton might have fringes at the bottom, and fringes were considered Lydian, or at least, oriental. Another Persian garment which the Greeks adopted was the kandys, an outer garment with sleeves, dyed purple, and fastened at the shoulders. The wearer used his kandys to keep his arms warm, even though the sleeves were too long to be of practical use and were sewn up at the end. In the Persian court, these sleeves served to protect the king from assassination since men with their arms in the long sleeves of their kandys could not wield an assassin’s knife.

The Symbolism of the Sleeve

Sleeves were not new to ancient Greece. Musicians wore long chitons with sleeves when they performed at public festivals, but the sumptuous costumes of musicians were not everyday dress. The policemen who patrolled the streets of Athens also wore tunics with sleeves and trousers, but these public servants were actually Scythian slaves owned by the state, and they wore their native costume. Sleeves were thought to be a peculiar mark of Persian fashion, but they won acceptance, for on the sculptured frieze from the Parthenon in Athens (carved in the 430s B.C.E.) some of the young horsemen in the parade are shown wearing short chitons with sleeves. It looks as if some well-to-do young Athenians had adopted the latest Persian-style fashions. Yet when sleeves reached Rome, they were considered effeminate. A passage in Vergil’s epic, the Aeneid, demonstrates the prevailing Roman attitude towards this fashion. In the passage, a native Italian (representing the Romans) opposes a settlement of foreign Trojans in Italy by hurling insults at their leader, Aeneas; among the insults are derisive comments on their wearing of sleeves, which the Italian disparaged as unmanly. Aeneas had come from Troy, which was in Asia, and hence the Trojans were Asians and wore Persian costume. In the Aeneid, the Trojans have to abandon their Asian way of life before they win a place for themselves in Italy. It must not have been a complete abandonment, however, since Julius Caesar’s biographer, Suetonius, reported that the purple-striped senatorial tunic which Julius Caesar wore under his toga had sleeves with fringes.

The Parasol

Parasols were known in the Myceneaean world but they drop out of the picture in the Dark Ages of Greece. They reappear on vase paintings in the later sixth century B.C.E. as part of a well-to-do woman’s costume, though they were apparently not exclusively used by women. The lyric poet Anacreon, who enjoyed the patronage of a tyrant of Samos until Persia captured the island in 522 B.C.E., used his poetry to criticize a fellow named Artemon who wore gold earrings and held an ivory sun umbrella, “as ladylike as you please!” In Athens, the parasol became a status symbol for the freeborn woman. In Athens of the fifth century B.C.E. there was a sharp distinction between the citizens and the metics, or resident aliens. After the middle of the century, when the statesman Pericles passed a law that barred everyone from citizenship whose parents were not both Athenian citizens themselves, it was impossible for a metic to become a citizen. So the Athenian citizen body became an elite group that prevented outsiders from entering. The parasol marked the division. There was a law dating perhaps to about the same time as Pericles’ citizenship law that required the daughters of metics to carry parasols and stools for the daughters of citizens in the Panathenaic procession. The parasol was not merely a shield from the sun; it was a status symbol.

Persian Fashion in Rome

“I detest Persian frippery, boy,” wrote the poet Horace as the first line of one of his Odes. Horace claimed to like the simple life. He lived under the emperor Augustus and enjoyed the generous patronage of one of Augustus’ ministers, Maecenas, so he expressed the official view about luxury in dress and in life generally. This view of Persian fashion was not merely a matter of taste, but a cunning example of propaganda reminiscent of the Greeks’ abandonment of Persian fashion following their military conflicts with Persia. Augustus had begun his political career as the teen-aged great-nephew and adopted heir of the powerful Roman politician, Julius Caesar; following Caesar’s assassination, Augustus had to defeat Mark Antony and Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, before he could become master of the empire. His propaganda portrayed Cleopatra as the paradigm of oriental luxury that extended to her clothes. Augustus presented himself as the champion of Roman traditions in clothes as in everything else. Yet Romans who could afford it liked rich dress. The longest fragment of a novel written by Petronius in the reign of the emperor Nero (54-68 B.C.E.) describes a banquet given by a wealthy former slave named Trimalchio who liked to show off his wealth. He made a grand entrance to the banquet chamber on a litter, wearing a bright scarlet cloak and a tasselled napkin with a broad purple stripe in imitation of the senatorial stripe around his neck that, as a freedman, he could not legally wear. He wore rings on his fingers and on his right arm was a gold armlet and another of ivory with a gleaming metal clasp. Clothes signaled a message, and the message of Trimalchio’s costume was that he had “made it.”

Persian Costume in the Late Empire

By the time of the late Roman Empire, the costume of the imperial court under Diocletian (284-305 C.E.) and Constantine (324-337 C.E.) borrowed heavily from Persian fashion. Constantine began to wear a diadem decorated with pearls as a symbol of his autocratic power. Costume borrowed from the Persian court signaled the emperor’s authority in late antiquity. Persia furnished a large share of the trappings of the imperial court as the Roman Empire evolved into the Byzantine Empire.

The Dress of Roman Women

A Girl’s Dress

Freeborn girls, that is, girls whose parents were not slaves, wore the same costume as free-born boys: a toga worn over a tunic. The toga was the toga praetexta with a purple border that had to be made of wool. The purple border was, at least in origin, apotropaic—that is, it protected the wearer against the Evil Eye or other unseen dangers that might attack a child. She would wear her hair carefully combed, braided and tied with a single band of wool cloth called in Latin a vitta, or in English, a “fillet.” The fillet was probably white and it signified purity. A boy would also wear a bulla or a locket, which contained an amulet—that is a charm which was worn to ward off evil spirits or miasmas that might infect him—but it seems that girls did not wear them. Few sculptures have survived of young Roman girls wearing the toga praetexta but those that have do not show bullas. However, a girl might wear a necklace of some sort which could have served the same purpose as an amulet. Once a girl reached puberty, she put off her toga praetexta and dedicated it to the goddess “Fortuna Virginalis”—Venus in her capacity as the guardian goddess of young maidens. This was the signal that she was now ready for marriage.

The Costume of the Roman Bride

On the night before her wedding day, a bride put on the tunica recta, so called because it was woven on the ancient upright loom which weavers had abandoned for regular cloth manufacture. The rite of marriage demanded that a bride weave her tunic of white wool on the upright loom, as well as her hairnet, which was dyed yellowish-orange, the color of flame. On her wedding day, the fillets in her hair as well as her hairnet would signal her chastity, in Latin, her pudor. Around her tunic she put a belt made of the wool of a ewe—a female sheep. The belt was knotted in a knot that her husband would undo when they went to the marriage bed together. Then the bride put on the marriage veil that was dyed yellowish-red. It would protect her from evil spirits as she made the journey from her father’s house to her husband’s, or, in ritual terms, when she left the protection of the Lares (household gods) of her own family to the Lares of her husband. Her new husband gave her fire and water as she entered his house, and she placed a coin on the little altar of her husband’s Lares that would be in a niche in a wall near the entrance. If she was moving to a new district of the city, she would place another coin on the altar of the Lar of the district, the Lares compitales.

The Married Woman

The standard dress of the Roman matrona—that is, a married woman—was the stola. It was a dress held to the shoulders by straps; it hung to the feet and resembled a modern slip, except that the skirt was fuller and fell in distinctive folds called rugae. Over her shoulders and covering her head was a cloak called a palla. Proper Roman women wore their head covered and the repercussions of neglecting this element of fashion could be severe. In the second century

B.C.E. a Roman called Sulpicius Gallus who was consul in 166 B.C.E. divorced his wife because she had left the house with her head unveiled. A Roman woman’s hair also signaled her status as a married woman; her hair should be carefully dressed and bound with fillets. The stola and the fillets that tied up her hair would remain the costume of a chaste married woman throughout her life.

Disgraced Women

In the same way that clothing demonstrated the purity of the young Roman girl and the fidelity of the Roman wife, adulteresses and prostitutes also wore distinctive clothes. If a husband divorced his wife because she had an affair with another man, she would wear a plain white toga; she no longer had the right to wear a stola. The proper costume for a prostitute was also a toga. This particular way of branding impure women seems to have relaxed as time went on. Juvenal, the sour satirist of Roman life who lived in the second century C.E., claimed that a virtuous woman was hard to find in Rome of his day and yet nobody wore the toga.

The Widow

If a woman’s husband died, she took off her stola and replaced it with a ricinium, a word derived from the Latin verb meaning “to throw back.” The ricinium was a shawl made of a square piece of cloth which a woman folded and then threw back half of it apparently over her shoulder. Wearing it was a sign of mourning and thus it was probably dark-colored, made from wool that was naturally dark. The widow wore the ricinium for the year prescribed for mourning. She may have continued to wear it longer if she did not remarry, but this cannot be proven conclusively.

The Unmarried Woman

Roman marriages were generally arranged. Fathers found proper husbands for their daughters. Romantic love sometimes upset their plans, and it is significant that the god who caused young men and women to fall in love was Cupid, the son of Venus, who shot poisoned arrows at his victims. In other words, romantic love was a poison that caused youths and maidens to neglect their duty to their families and seek improper unions. There were probably not a large number of unmarried women in ancient Rome. In Roman law, an unmarried woman and a widow were considered the same, but it is not clear that they dressed the same. Neither is it clear what the appropriate costume was for a woman who was divorced for reasons other than adultery, particularly in an era when some Roman men married and divorced for political advantage. It is understood, however, that the costumes prescribed for women belonged to the customs of early Rome known as the mos maiorum by the Romans—the way of life of our ancestors. While the Romans revered the ways of their ancestors, they did not always adhere to them religiously, so the guidelines for what women in different stations of life should wear may not have been closely followed.

The Latest Style

Though fashions changed much more slowly in ancient Greece and Rome than nowadays, it was important to keep up to date. Well-to-do Roman women had their own dressmakers and hair-dressers, who were generally slaves; if they did not satisfy the whims of their mistresses, they could be flogged. Evidence for hairstyles comes from portrait sculpture and painting. In the sixth century B.C.E. in Greece, both young men and young girls had their hair done in elaborate coiffeurs, to judge from the so-called kouros and kore sculptures—that is, freestanding statues showing nude young men and clothed young women which were erected in the archaic period. The marcelling (crimping of the hair into rows of waves) and plaiting of their hair must have taken hours of primping. In the classical period hairstyles became simpler. In Rome in the Augustan period, the emperor Augustus set the style with short hair combed forward on his forehead, and his wife Livia is shown with her hair parted in the middle and marcelled. By the end of the first century tight curls piled up on top of the head was the fashion. Hair dyes turned brunettes blonde, which was the most fashionable color. Sometimes the results were disastrous; the Latin poet Ovid wrote a poem of commiseration to his girlfriend who had lost her hair as a result of using harsh hair dyes.

The Apparel of the Soldier

Military Armor In Early Greece

Armor evolved over the long period of Greek and Roman history, but the requirements remained standard. Armor had to protect the soldier’s body, it had to allow him free movement of his arms and legs and it had to please the eye. Some of the earliest examples of military garb are from the late Mycenaean period; a vase called the “Warrior Vase” shows soldiers marching in column. They wear helmets and short kilts with tassels leaving their legs bare, and they carry “Figure-8” shields—shields which are pinched in at the middle so that when the soldier held it in front of him to protect his body, he could still use his arms to ward off the enemy. The warriors described in Homer’s Iliad who fought in the Trojan War wore similar armor, except that most of them were described as having round shields. Their armor allowed them to run in case the spears they threw at their enemies failed to hit the mark.

The Hoplite

As the Greek Dark Ages came to an end, the warrior of the sort found in Homer’s Iliad gave way to a heavily-armed infantryman known as the hoplite. He wore a helmet, a metal corselet with metal shoulder pieces, and a triangular plate called a mitra to protect his groin. His legs below the knee were protected by greaves, which was armor shaped like the lower leg and fastened behind the calf. Under his corselet he wore a linen tunic and below his waist he had a kind of pleated leather kilt which gave his lower body some protection. He seems to have gone barefoot, for he is represented in art generally without shoes. He got his name “hoplite” from his large, round shield, called a hoplon. He fought in formation, drawn up in eight ranks, so that his shield on his left arm protected the right side of the hoplite beside him, while his own right side was protected by the hoplite on his other side. As long as the formation—known as a phalanx—remained unbroken, a hoplite army could avoid heavy casualties. It was a different matter if the phalanx broke. The hoplite was not a nimble soldier since running in full hoplite armor was not easy. Apparently when the Athenian hoplites defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.E., it was the first time that a hoplite army charged on the run. By the fourth century B.C.E., the Greeks discovered how effective the lightly-armed soldier called the “peltast” could be against hoplites, particularly in rough country which was ill-suited to hoplite tactics. The “peltast” carried a pelte, small, light shield of leather without a rim which did not impede his movements; if a hoplite had to run for his life, the best he could do was to throw away his shield and that was considered a great disgrace. Nonetheless Greek armies continued to use the phalanx. Philip II of Macedon (ruled 359-336 B.C.E.), the father of Alexander the Great, revamped it, making it larger and arming the troops with pikes about 13 feet long. This was the battle formation which Alexander used in the two great battles where he defeated the Persian king Darius Codomannus and conquered the Persian Empire.

The Roman Army

The army that dominated the battlefields of the ancient world for the longest period was the army of Rome. In the early days of the Roman republic, it was a citizen army. A consul who set out on a campaign—Rome elected two consuls each year who served both as the principal magistrates of the state and as its commanders-in-chief—would conscript troops from the census list of those eligible to serve, who were owners of property. By the end of the second century B.C.E., Rome was in desperate need of more recruits, and a soldier named Marius, who would hold the consulship seven times during his life, opened the rank of the army to all volunteers. The next big change was made by the emperor Augustus who established a citizen army, made up of legionary soldiers who were citizens, and auxiliary troops who were not citizens and were paid somewhat less. We find their armor depicted on sculpture; Trajan’s Column in Rome is particularly useful, for it shows the campaigns of the emperor Trajan in Dacia, modern Rumania. Sometimes fragments of a soldier’s equipment are turned up by the archaeologist’s spade, or found by accident.

Mail Armor

Roman soldiers in the Republic wore chain mail shirts, and they were not phased out until the first century C.E. Mail was made by interlocking one iron ring with four others. Making a corselet of mail required a great deal of skill and patience, but once made, it needed little maintenance. The iron rings rubbing against each other kept the mail shirt clean. The small farmers who formed the backbone of Rome’s armies in the early republic probably wore mail that they inherited from their fathers or grandfathers. Shirts of mail in republican times to the first century B.C.E. reached the mid-thigh; in the early imperial period from the time of the emperor Augustus (27 B.C.E.-14 C.E.), they came to just below the waist, but the soldier got added protection from leather strips called pteruges at the shoulders and around the hips. Chain mail left something to be desired, for though it shielded a man against the slash of a sword, it was poor protection against an arrow or the thrust of a dagger. The arrow did not need to pierce the armor to kill, for it could force the rings of the mail shirt into the wound, causing infection, and the results could be fatal.

Scale Armor

Scale armor was made from bronze or iron plates of various sizes which were connected in rows and then overlapped like the tiles of a roof. The finished product looked like fish scales—hence the name. It was cheaper to make than chain mail, and it gave better protection. Its disadvantage was that it was more difficult to put on and take off. In times of relative calm, the soldiers could rely on each other for help putting on their armor, but whenever a detachment was caught by a surprise attack, some of the troops might not succeed in putting on their armor in time to meet the onslaught of the enemy. Scale armor had been standard equipment for the Persian army long before Rome adopted it, for when Herodotus described in his Histories the army with which King Xerxes invaded Greece in 480 B.C.E., he reported that the Persian troops wore felt hats called tiaras, patterned tunics with sleeves, and coats of mail like fish scales. This type of armor remained popular in the East both in Parthia, Rome’s enemy on the eastern frontier in the time of the emperor Augustus, and among the Sassanid Persians who took over the Parthian realm in the third century C.E. The Persians used cavalry with both riders and horses armed head-to-toe in scale armor, looking like medieval knights except that the horsemen rode without stirrups. The Romans were always quick to borrow good ideas, and adopted scale armor for themselves, both for infantry and heavy cavalry.

Plate Armor (Lorica Segmentata)

A corselet made of metal strips—called in Latin a lorica segmentata—is the type most often associated with the Roman soldier. It is the armor of choice for movie directors who film cinematic epics about ancient Rome. It was invented in the early first century C.E. and one theory is that it was introduced after a military disaster of 9 C.E. when three Roman legions were annihilated in the Teutoberg Forest in Germany. Excavations at a site identified as the scene of the disaster, however, have uncovered fragments of an early form of lorica segmentata, which shows that some of the Roman legionary troops who lost their lives in the Teutoberg Forest were, in fact, wearing a corselet of metal strips. So the invention was not the result of the disaster, though its speedy adoption may have been. The cuirass protecting the chest and diaphragm had overlapping girth straps and curved shoulder plates that provided good protection. The disadvantage was its fastenings: the soldier held the armor on his body with hook and strap fasteners that were never entirely satisfactory. Moreover the soldier’s sweat as he fought degraded the leather straps that held the metal plates in place, and the resulting damage might require expensive repairs. The initial cost of making this type of cuirass, however, was less than for chain mail or scale armor. It has been generally believed that the cuirass of metal strips attached to a leather backing became more or less standard for the Roman legionary soldier from the second quarter of the first century C.E. until the third century C.E. when it was abandoned. This theory is difficult to prove, however, on the evidence of the ancient monuments and of archaeology. The Column still standing in the center of Rome which depicts the campaigns of the emperor Trajan (98-117 C.E.) into Dacia (modern Rumania) shows legionary soldiers wearing the lorica segmentata. It seems to have been standard equipment for the regular troops, where as the auxiliary troops—non-citizens recruited from the Roman provinces—wore other types such as mail shirts. But most of the fittings for the lorica segmentata cuirasses which archaeologists have discovered are from Roman forts that were held by auxiliary troops, not by the Roman legions. Moreover, although the Column of Trajan in Rome shows the lorica segmentata as the standard armor of the legionary soldier, there is another monument commemorating Trajan’s Dacian campaign—a tropaeum or “Victory Memorial” erected at Adamklissi in Rumania—and there both the Roman legionaries and the auxiliaries wear scale armor. The Adamklissi monument was sculpted by artists who were close to the battlefront and knew what both the Romans and the Dacians really wore in battle. The sculptors who carved the great spiral on Trajan’s Column showing the Dacian campaign in a continuous frieze worked in Rome. They knew merely what the legionary soldier was supposed to wear—not what he did wear.

The “Muscled Cuirass”

The “muscled cuirass” which encased the torso and showed the pectoral and stomach muscles underneath, was developed in the Hellenistic world, and the emperor Augustus made it a popular type for imperial sculpture. One of the most famous statues of Augustus, the Prima Porta statue, shows him in a warrior’s uniform with a muscled cuirass that sculpted the musculature of his abdomen. Augustus is portrayed with the physique of an athlete—in fact, his body has the proportions which the classical sculptor Polycleitus used for his nude figures of athletes—and his breastplate follows the contours of the well-developed pectoral and stomach muscles which the onlooker is to assume were underneath it. (In fact, Augustus did not have an athlete’s physique; he was not an impressive physical specimen.) Statues of torsos encased in armor plate of this sort have been found all over the empire, often headless, for the heads were sculpted separately and fitted to the base of the neck. It was a favorite type for statues of emperors. In fact, archeologists have not found a single example of an actual Roman “muscled cuirass,” though there are examples surviving from the Hellenistic period. This suggests that in the Roman period, the muscled cuirass was parade armor, more popular with sculptors than it was on the battlefield. The Roman sculptors show two types: one with a high waist which would be suitable for a horseback rider, and the other coming further down the hips with a curved extension at the bottom that would not be very suitable for a cavalryman. These cuirasses were fastened at the sides with hinges or rings that were tied together.


The helmet of the early Roman legionary soldier was an inverted hemispherical bowl with cheek pieces. Large numbers of these helmets were found in a region of northern Italy called Montefortino, and so nowadays it is called the Montefortino helmet. A cheaper alternative to the Montefortino was the Coolus type which had a neck guard to protect the back of the neck. Both types were borrowed from the Celts, with whom the Romans fought many battles from 387 B.C.E. when a horde of Celts sacked Rome, down to the end of the second century B.C.E. The Romans romanized them by adding crests, which at first were made of feathers fitted to a knob on the crown of the helmet, but by the end of the first century B.C.E.they were made of horsehair, either red or black. In the Civil War period of the first century B.C.E. new types of helmets appeared made of iron rather than bronze, with distinctive cheek guards, embossed eyebrows and ribbing at the rear of the helmet. The crest was no longer fixed to a knob but to a crest holder on top of the helmet. Crests were ornamental, and may have been worn into battle in the early imperial period, but the troops shown on Trajan’s Column did not wear crests. The helmet continued to develop to give the wearer increased protection until by the third century C.E., the head was almost completely encased.

Keeping Warm

Roman armies operated in varied climates, from the chilly wet weather at Hadrian’s Wall in Britain to the Euphrates River in modern Iraq. Keeping cool in hot weather was a genuine problem. Troops clad in mail armor operating on the eastern frontier were known as clibanarii, a word which comes from clibanus, meaning “oven.” In other words, in hot weather, mail-clad troops baked. In colder climates, however, the soldier had a variety of cloaks to keep him warm. The sleeveless cloak of variable length called the paenula was made of heavy wool cloth, leather, or sometimes fur. It varied in length, and sometimes had a hood. It survives as the chasuble, a sleeveless vestment worn by priests who are saying Mass. Another item of clothing that was taken over as a vestment of the church was the dalmatica, so called because it was woven from the wool of sheep from Dalmatia (the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea). It was a long tunic with long, wide sleeves which came into fashion in the second century C.E. The cucullus was a close-fitting cape with a peaked hood which extended to the waist. It gave protection against rain and cold. If it were open in front, it would have to be held together by a fastener of some sort, but if it was closed in front—as some of them were—it would have to be put on over the head, like a poncho. The lacerna was a cloak first worn by the troops which became popular among civilians because it was a practical overgarment for the toga. The sagum was a short military cloak of rough wool which Rome borrowed from the Gauls, and it became so popular with the soldiers that “putting on the sagum” was an idiom for going to war. It was probably no more than a rectangle of heavy cloth draped over the shoulders and tied under the chin. The paludamentum was a military cloak for the general. It was woven from purple wool, and though the size could vary, nine feet long and five feet wide is a good estimate of its size. When it is shown in sculpture, it is held at the right shoulder by a round brooch and then is thrown back so that the general’s—or emperor’s—muscled cuirass can be shown. It was a garment for parades, not for campaigning in the field.

Keeping the Legs Warm

The opinion shared by both Greeks and Romans was that trousers were barbarian dress. The Gauls wore them. They were called bracae in Latin, a word related to the English word “breeches.” Vergil in his Aeneid called them “the barbarian coverings of the legs.” In the days of the Roman republic, the province of Transalpine Gaul—that is, Gaul beyond the Alps—had the unofficial name of “Gallia bracata”: Gaul where the people wear trousers. On the other hand, Cisalpine Gaul—Gaul south of the Alps, that is, the Po Valley of Italy which had been colonized by Gauls in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E.—was “Gallia togata”: the Gaul where togas were worn. If Roman soldiers disparaged trousers as barbaric, they did deign to wear stockings. At Vindolanda, one of the forts along Hadrian’s Wall in the United Kingdom, a cache of Roman writing tablets contained a letter from a Roman soldier thanking a friend or relative for the gift of a pair of socks and underpants. Socks, often brightly colored, were also worn by civilians. The emperor Augustus himself, who was not robust, liked warm stockings. In the fourth century C.E. paintings and mosaics show a new type of leg covering, which seems to be a strip of cloth wrapped around the lower legs like the puttees worn by soldiers in the First World War. Presumably the soldier also wore socks in his military boots. The Roman prejudice against trousers was not universal; the soldiers recruited from non-citizen provincials who served in the Roman forces for 25 years and received citizenship when they were discharged did apparently wear trousers.