Roman costume history in Europe B.C. 53 to A.D. 450.

Ancient roman sculpture. Roman Juno. Roman costume history

Bust of Juno

Description:Juno crowned with an indented diadem

Content

Ancient Roman Palace. Auguste Racinet. Ancient architecture.

Roman Palace after Auguste Racinet.

The Ancient Roman Costume History in Europe B.C. 53 to A.D. 450.

The Toga, Tunic, Stola.

The necessary garments of mankind were never many: one adjusted to the body, reaching to the knee or mid-leg, for the men, and to the ankle for the women; another, ample enough to cover the whole person in inclement weather. These two, with or without some protection for the feet, comprised the whole of the clothing of many millions of human beings in pre-historic times, and under innumerable names have, with very few additions, descended, however altered in form or material, to the present day. The first of these two garments was adopted by the Romans from the Greeks, who called it kitten*. The Latin name for it was tunica (a tuendo corpore), familiarized to us as tunic, which has within some few past years reappeared in the nomenclature of English costume, both civil and military. It was woollen or linen, according to the season, and originally had sleeves reaching scarcely to the elbow; but, in the time of the Emperors, to the wrist. Over the tunic patricians wore that specially Roman garment, the toga (from togo, to cover), the exact form of which has been an endless subject of controversy. It was sufficiently ample to envelope the whole person when necessary, and to allow a portion to be pulled over the head for protection from the weather. In fact, during the Republic it was the only garment, and may be likened in that particular to the plaid of the Scotch Highlanders, which was wrapped round the body much after a similar fashion.

Pompeii house. Auguste Racinet. una casa en Ponpeya. Roman Ancient architecture.

Pompeii house after Auguste Racinet.

 Roman costume history. Roman Senator toga. Roman Emperor.

Roman Senator in the toga. Roman Emperor in a military tunic.

The plebeians, in lieu of the toga, wore as their outer garment a cloak of rough or coarse material, and of which there were three kinds viz., the lacerna, the byrrhus, and the penula each of which had a cowl attached to it to cover the head when required, and nearly resembled each other. Montfaucon, speaking of the byrrhus, describes it as nearly the same thing as the lacerna, and adds, “It is also thought that the lacerna took the name of byrrhus from a Greek word signifying something reddish (Trvppos), it being usually of a red colour.” The name of byrrhus was subsequently given to a cowl, or other head-covering, whence the Italian term for a cap, berretta, French birette.
To these must be added a military mantle, the sagum or paludamentum, which the Romans had borrowed from the Gauls. It was a large open woollen cloak, and originally had sleeves, which were taken from it when it was brought into Italy. In dangerous times it was worn in the city of Rome by all ranks of persons except those of consular dignity. When worn by the general or the chief officers of an army, it was of a scarlet colour with a purple border. It has been sometimes confounded with the chlamys, which was principally worn by travelers.

 Roman costume history. Ancient woman clothing long tunic, stola.

Roman Ladies

The women were clad in the long tunic, or the stola, a similar vestment, reaching to the feet, having a broad fringe or border at the bottom. Of outer garments they had a variety, all borrowed from the Greeks, the peplus or eanos (called by them also the palla or amiculum); the palliolum, a small cloak or veil; the theristrion, an exceedingly thin summer mantle; the chlamys and the penula, which they wore in common with the men; and several others of which we have the names but no definite description: and still be it remembered, whichsoever was worn, according to season, fashion, or convenience, it formed only one additional article of attire to the tunic or to the stola.

Ancient Roman Costume Vestal virgin. Toga and Tunica. Roman costume

Roman Vestal

Dress of the Roman priests; of the vestals

The Romans, like all other nations, had peculiar dresses appropriated to peculiar offices and dignities. The Flamens or priests of Jupiter wore a cap or helmet, from its conical form called apex, with a ball of cotton wound round the spike. The Salii or priests of Mars, on solemn occasions, danced through the city of Rome clothed in an embroidered tunic, girt with a brazen belt, and over it they wore the toga pretexta, or the trabea, having on their heads a very high cap, a sword by their side, in their right hand a spear or a rod, and in their left, or depending from the neck, the ancilia, one of the shields of Mars.

Roman costume. Ancient Roman sculpture. Antique Vergine Vestale dresses

Vergine Vestale

The Luperci, or priests of Pan at the Lupercal, wore only a girdle of goat-skin about their waist. The vestal virgins wore a long white robe, bordered with purple; their heads were bound with fillets (the infulæ and vittæ). At their initiation their hair was cut off and buried, but it was permitted to grow again and be worn afterwards.
Wreaths or crowns were given as rewards of military achievements or other noble deeds. The corona castrensis, wrought in imitation of a palisade, was presented to whoever had been the first to penetrate into an enemy’s camp; the corona murialis, shaped in the semblance of battlements, to whoever had been the first to scale the walls of a besieged city; the civic crown, formed of oak leaves, to whoever had saved the life of a citizen; and the naval crown, composed of the rostra or beaks of galleys, to whoever had been the first to board an enemy’s vessel.

The Roman head-dress

Julius Caesar is said to have worn a wreath of laurel to conceal his lack of hair, baldness being accounted a deformity amongst the Romans. In the time of his successors, such as were bald used a kind of peruke, made with false hair upon a skin, and called capillamentum or galericulum “crines ficte vel supposite.”

Ancient Roman crowns and wreaths.

Ancient Roman crowns and wreaths.

Description of picture above: Ancient Roman crowns and wreaths. Corona triumphalis, obsidimalis, civica, muralis, castrensis, navalis.

The Romans, like the Greeks, commonly wore their hair short, but combed it with great care, and perfumed it. The professors of philosophy let their hair and beards grow, to give themselves an air of gravity. The head-dress of the women in the days of the Republic was exceedingly simple; but as riches and luxury increased, the ladies’ toilet was proportionately extended, and obtained the name of “the woman’s world,” mundus muliebris; a title adopted by John Evelyn in the reign of Charles II. for a satirical poem on the female fashions of that period. The ladies of the Roman Empire frizzled and curled their hair in the most elaborate manner, adorning it with ornaments of gold, pearls, and precious stones, garlands of flowers, fillets, and ribbons of various colours. The back-hair was enclosed in a net or caul after the Grecian fashion, enriched sometimes with embroidery, and made so thin that Martial sarcastically called them bladders. Slaves, for distinction sake, wore long hair and beards, but when anyone was manumitted he shaved both head and chin, and assumed the woolen cap called the pileus. The ancient Romans permitted their beards to grow, until Publius Ticinius Maenas, about 450 years after the building of Rome, brought barbers from Sicily, and first introduced the custom of shaving which prevailed till the time of Hadrian, who, to conceal certain excrescences on his chin, revived the fashion of wearing beards; but after his decease it was neglected, and shaving was resumed.

Habits of Roman slaves. Origin of the bulla.

Roman costume. Bulla. Ancient Roman fashion.

Roman youth wearing the Bulla

The slaves in Rome wore habits nearly resembling the poor people. Their dress, which was always of a darkish colour, consisted of the exomis or sleeveless tunic, or the lacerna, with a hood of coarse cloth, and the shoes called crepidæ.

Roman Bulla of gold. Ancient Roman costumes and clothing.

Bulla of gold

The Roman boys who were sons of noblemen wore a hollow ball of gold, called bulla, which hung from the neck upon the breast. The origin of this practice amongst the Romans was, according to Macrobius, the gift of a bulla by Tarquinius Priscus, the conqueror of the Sabines, to his son, who, at fourteen years of age, had killed an enemy with his own hand. The bulla was made hollow for the reception of amulets against envy. A beautiful one was in the exquisite collection of the late Mr. Samuel Rogers. Our engraving is from one in the British Museum. Sons of freedmen or of poor citizens wore the bulla made of leather.

Materials used by the Romans for their ordinary clothing

Respecting the materials known to the Romans for their ordinary clothing, they appear to have been limited to woollen, linen, and silk. Linen, we learn from Herodotus, was imported to Greece from Colchis and Egypt. The women used it earlier than the men, and at all times in much greater quantities. Pliny, citing a passage from Varro, says it had long been a custom in the family of the Serrani for the women not to wear robes of linen, “which being mentioned as a thing extraordinary,” observes Mr. Strutt, “proves that linen garments were used by the Roman ladies in times remote.” A vestment of this kind, called supparum, was worn by the unmarried Roman females as early as the time of Plautus.

Roman Empire, Ancient Map

The Roman Empire. Source: Elements of ancient classical and scripture geography: with an Atlas by Joseph Emerson Worcester.

Silk unknown to them during the Roman Republic

Silk appears to have been unknown to the Romans during the Republic. It is mentioned shortly afterwards, but the use of it was forbidden to the men. Vespasian and his son Titus are said to have worn robes of silk at the time of their triumph, but it is thought that the garments were only embroidered with silk, or that they were made of some stuff with which silk was interwoven; for Heliogabalus, A.D. 218-222, is described as being the first Emperor who wore a robe of pure silk; and we learn from Pliny that the silk manufactured in India was esteemed at Rome too thick and close for use. It was therefore unravelled and wrought over again, in the island of Cos, with linen or wool, and made so thin as to be transparent. In the time of the Emperor Aurelian, A.D. 161-180, a vestment of pure silk was estimated at so high a price that he refused to allow his Empress one on that account.8 The Emperor Justinian, by the agency of two Persian monks, introduced silkworms at Constantinople in the sixth century, and in the following reign the Sogdoite ambassadors acknowledged that the Romans were not inferior to the natives of China in the education of the insects and the manufacture of silk.
When the arts fell into a total decline, glitter of materials became the sole substitute for beauty of form, and Oriental splendour characteristically denoted the gradual extinction of the Roman Empire in the West.

Corybantian Dance. Ancient Roman empire. Gymnopaedien. Agora. Sparta

Corybantian Dance.
Corybantes (Greek Κορύβαντες) are vegetation demons and orgiastic ritual dancers accompanying the goddess Cybele (in the Roman Empire and Magna Mater). They come from Greek mythology and are on the Anatolian kingdom of Indo-European Phrygians (there Berekyndai) be attributed. Corybantian dances were danced among others in the Gymnopaedien.
The Gymnopaidia was “the festival of the unarmed boys”. The Gymnopaidien were the so-called “naked games”, it consisted mainly of choral competitions of three age groups of men (boys, youth, adult men to 30 years). It was held at the Agora in Sparta, the line was probably in the hands of the ephors, the entire male population of Sparta took part. The Gymnopaedie was one of the three most important festivals of Sparta in honor of Apollo beside the Hyacinthia and Karneen.
Picture: Dictionary of Antiquities by William Smith.

Roman Head coverings. The petasus. The pileus. The infula, or mitre.

Ancient Roman Head coverings, head-dresses. Antique women hairstyle. The petasus. The pileus. The infula, or mitre.

Roman Head coverings

Both Greeks and Romans generally went bare-headed, but they had several sorts of head-coverings for special circumstances, the two best known being the petasus and the pileus. The petasus was a low-crowned hat with a broad brim, which might be profanely likened to the celebrated mambrino of Don Quixote, originally a barber’s basin. It was worn chiefly by travellers, and for that reason it is usually accorded to the figure of Mercury, with the addition of wings. Caligula permitted the people of Rome to wear the petasus at the theatre, to shade their faces from the sun.

Ancient Roman hairstyles and head-dresses. The petasus. The pileus. The infula, or mitre

Roman hairstyles and head-dresses.

The pileus was a woollen cap, worn by the Romans at the public games and at festivals, and by such as had been slaves, after they had obtained their freedom. It was also generally worn by sailors.
There was a head-dress called infula, or mitre, which was a white woollen fascia or riband, or, as some say, white and yellow which was tied round the head from one temple to the other, and fastened with a knot behind, so that the two ends of the bandage might hang down, one on each side. It appears to have been a ceremonial ornament, and worn only by those persons who sacrificed. The girdle was called mitra by the Greeks.

Ancient Roman theatre figures costumes. Roman costume

Figures from entrance to a Roman theatre. Painted by L. Alma Tadema.

Amongst the most favourite ornaments of the Roman ladies we find ear-rings, necklaces, and bracelets. Their extravagance in the purchase of these articles is commented upon by contemporary writers with a severity not exceeded in after-ages by the censors of the fashions of their time. Pliny says, “They seek for pearls at the bottom of the Red Sea, and search the bowels of the earth for emeralds to decorate their ears.” And Seneca tells us that “a single pair was worth the revenue of a large estate,” and that some women would wear at their ears “the price of two or three patrimonies,” almost the very words of Taylor the Water-poet, in his condemnation of the fashions of the reign of James I. Ear-rings and bracelets were also worn by some effeminate young men, and finger-rings by both sexes.

The armor of the Romans.

Roman armor derived from the Greeks and the Etruscans.

Ancient Roman military. General armor. Abdominal Cuirass. lambrequins. Emperor armed. Roman helmet.

Roman General. Abdominal Cuirass with lambrequins. Roman armed emperor.

We must now turn to the armor of the Romans, derived from the Greeks and the Etruscans. Livy, speaking of Servius Tullius, tells us that “he armed the Romans with the galea, the clypeus, the ocreæ or greaves, and the lorica, all of brass” (“omnia ex ære”). This was the Etruscan armour, but in later times they substituted steel; for Silius Italicus says, “ferro circumdare pectus.”

Ancient Roman military armor. General and Germanic mercenaries dress. Knights weapons. Antique Soldiers

Germanic mercenaries, Roman general

The lorica was a breast-plate, deriving its name, as did the modern cuirass, from its having been originally of leather, and in like manner retaining it when made of metal. It followed the line of the abdomen at the bottom, and seems to have been moulded to the human body. The square aperture for the throat was defended by a pectoral, also of brass; and the shoulders by pieces of the same metal, made to slip over each other.

Ancient Roman legionaries, soldiers and officers costumes. Military dresses. Knights amor. Template for carnival costume ideas.

Roman officers

Roman Legionaries conquer a city. Heavy artillery. Ancient Military catapult. Weapons.

Roman Legionaries conquer a city

Roman heavy artillery. Ancient Military catapult. Weapons.

Roman heavy artillery

Roman battering ram. Ancient military warfare weapon.

Roman battering ram

Above pictures – Roman Battering Ram, may relate to the campaigns of the Roman General Marcellus who led the siege of Syracuse between 214-212 BC. Original inscription: (C) BELIER COUVERT D’UN TOIT ET PORTE SUR DES ROULETTES (D) BELIER QU’ON ELEVOIT ET QU’ON ABBAISSOIT SELON LE BESOIN PAR LES FORCES MOUVANTES, OU PAR LE MOYEN DES CORDES ET DES POULES CONFORMEMENTA A LA ADESCRIPTION QUI EN A ESTE FAITTE PAR HERON. (Assaulting the walls of a fortification successfully is the key to taking any fortified position. This can be done using one or more of the following methods; battering through, scaling over the walls, or sapping to weaken the walls very foundation. A siege engine is a device that is designed to break or circumvent city walls and other fortifications in siege warfare. The earliest siege engine in Europe was the battering ram, followed by the catapult in ancient Greece. The first Mediterranean people to use advanced siege machinery were the Carthaginians, who used siege towers and battering rams against the Greek colonies of Sicily. These engines influenced the ruler of Syracuse, Dionisius I, who developed a large siege train. The Romans preferred to assault enemy walls building earthen ramps (agger) or simply escalading the walls, as in the early siege of the Samnite city of Silvium (306 BC). Soldiers working at the ramps were protected by shelters called vinea, that were arranged to form a long corridor. Wicker shields (plutei) were used to protect the front of the corridor during its construction. Sometimes the Romans used another engine resembling the Greek ditch-filling tortoise, called musculus (“Little mouse”). Battering rams were also widespread. Siege towers began to be used by the Roman legions from around 200 BC.)

Roman legionary costume. Lorca segmentata. Gladius. Scutum. Signum

Roman legionary in full armor.

Roman legionary costume. Ancient knight in full armor with spear, shield, sword and dagger.

Roman legionary in full armor.

Roman cavalry. Ancient military. Roman soldier costume

Roman cavalry

Some of these abdominal cuirasses were made of gold. One is said to be in the possession of the Count of Erbach, but I could not obtain any information about it when I visited the collection at Erbach. They were also enriched with embossed figures, Gorgons’ heads, thunderbolts, &c., and appended to them were several straps or flaps of leather, to which the French have given the name of lambrequins. They were fringed at the ends, and sometimes highly ornamented. In the time of Trajan the lorica was shortened and cut straight round above the hips, and, to supply the deficiency in length, two or three overlapping sets of lambrequins, as may be seen by the figures of generals on the Trajan Column.

Antique Helmet. Roman Empire. Military.

Antique Helmet of bronze, found at Ribchester, England. Source: History of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster by Edward Whatton

Another sort of lorica was composed of several bands of brass, each wrapping half round the body, and being fastened before and behind, on a leathern or quilted tunic. In the British Museum, some of these brazen bands are preserved, and are about three inches wide. It is to this class of armour, when subsequently made of steel, that the above words of Silius Italicus allude.
These laminated loricæ were very heavy, and their weight was complained of by the soldiery in the time of the Emperor Galba.

Ancient Roman armor. Lorica Squamata. Roman Army, Legionary Soldier cuirass.

Lorica Squamata

Ancient Roman armor. Laminated lorica segmentata. Roman Army, Legionary Soldier cuirass.

Laminated Lorica

Other loricæ were composed of scales or leaves of brass or iron overlapping each other, and called squamata. This sort of armor had been adopted by the Romans from the Dacians or Sarmatians by the Emperor Domitian, who, according to Martial, had a lorica made of slices of boars’ hoofs stitched together; and Plutarch tells us that Lucullus wore a lorica made with pieces of iron, shaped like the scales of a fish.

Antique Statue Roman emperor Hadrian

Statue of Hadrian

Roman helmets. The galea and the cassis

The Romans had two  helmets, the galea and the cassis, the former being originally of leather, and the latter of metal; but the leathern head-piece seems to have fallen into disrepute in the days of Camillus, who, according to Polynæus, caused his soldiers to wear light helmets of brass, as a defence against the swords of the Gauls. After this time the terms galea and cassis were used indifferently. On the top of the helmets of the common soldiery is generally seen a round knot, and those of the infantry were furnished with umbrills and movable cheek-pieces, called bucculæ.
“Fracta de casside buccula pendens.” Juvenal, Sat. x., v. 134.
The helmets of the generals were of gold, surmounted by crests ornamented with feathers of various colours: “Cristaque tegit galea aurea rubra.” Virgil, Æ. ix., v. 49.

Ancient Roman Helmet with umbrill and cheek-pieces. Roman Helmet of common soldiery. Helmets of Roman Legionary Soldiers.

Roman Helmets

Ancient Roman Scutum Shields. Roman Army Weapons, Legionary, Soldier cuirass.

Roman Scutum Shields

Ancient Roman Scutum Shields. Roman Army Weapons, Legionary Soldier cuirass. Aspidai Shield

Roman Shields, Scutum, Aspidai.

Ancient Roman gladiator helmets and weapons

Roman gladiator helmets and weapons

Ancient Roman Gladiator helmets

Gladiator helmets

“The Roman shield,” Mr. Hope remarks, “seems never to have resembled the large, round buckler used by the Greeks, nor the crescent-shaped one peculiar to the Asiatics.” Its form was either an oblong square or an oval, a hexagon or an octagon, The cavalry alone wore a circular shield, but of small dimensions, called parma.
As offensive weapons, the Romans had a sword of somewhat greater length than that of the Greeks, in the earlier ages they were of bronze, but at the time of their invasion of Britain they were of steel; a long spear, of which they never quitted their hold; and a short javelin, which they used to throw to a distance. They had also in their armies archers and slingers.

The Roman foot gear

Of sandals and shoes the Romans had a variety, the greater portion copied from the Greeks; one sort covering the whole of the foot, and sometimes reaching to the middle of the leg, called ypodemata in the Greek, and in the Latin by several names, viz., calceus, mulleus, pero, and phæcasium.

Ancient Roman shoes. Buskins and Sandals.

Roman Buskins and Sandals

Another kind covered the sole of the foot only, and were made fast to it by thongs of leather or of other materials. These were called by the Greeks pedita generally; but were variously denominated by the Romans caliga, campagus, solea, baxea, crepida, sandalium, and sicyonia. Occasionally the term calceus was applied to all. The mulleus was a shoe forbidden to be worn by the common people. Its colour was usually scarlet; but sometimes it was purple. The phæcasium was a thin light shoe worn by the priests at Athens, and also used by the Romans. It was commonly made of white leather, and covered the whole of the foot. The pero, a shoe worn by the people of ancient Latium, was made of untanned leather, and in later times worn only by rustics and people of the lowest classes. The caliga and the campagus were sandals worn by the military. The sole of the former was large, sometimes strengthened with nails, and chiefly appropriated to the common soldiers, while the campagus was the sandal worn by the Emperors and generals of the army. It differed little in form from the caliga; but the ligatures were more often crossed over the foot and more closely interwoven with each other, producing a resemblance to network. The Emperor Gallienus wore the caligæ ornamented with jewels in preference to the campaign, which he contemptuously described as nothing but nets.
The solea, the crepida, and of course the sandalium, were all of them species of sandals fastened about the feet and ankles by fillets or thongs; but though probably each had its peculiarities, it is, as Mr. Strutt remarks, impossible at this distance of time to ascertain them.
The soleæ, we are told, might not in strict decorum be worn with the toga, and it was considered effeminate to appear with them in the streets of Rome. The Emperor Caligula, however, regardless of this rule, not only wore the solese in public, but permitted all who pleased to follow his example.

The baxea was also of the sandal kind, worn originally, according to Arnobius and Tertullian, by the Grecian philosophers, and, as it appears from the former author, manufactured from the leaves of the palm-tree. The baxeæ are noticed by Plautus, but nothing respecting their form is specified. The sicyonia, Cicero tells us, was used in races, and must therefore have been a very light kind of sandal. Lucian speaks of it as worn with white socks. There was a shoe or sandal called the gallica, being adopted from the Gauls, which was forbidden to be worn with the toga, and to these may be added the sanlponeæ worn by the country people, and the shoes with soles of wood (soleæ lignæ) used by the poor.

Ancient Gallic costumes and clothing. Gallo - Roman shoes and Siiper

Gallo – Roman shoes and Siiper

Two names, “familiar in our mouths as household words,” occur in the catalogue of Roman foot gear the sock and the buskin. The sock (soccus) is stated to have been a plain kind of shoe, sufficiently large to receive the foot with the caliga, crepida, or any other sort of shoe upon it. The buskin (cothurnus) was anciently worn by the Phrygians and the Greeks, and derived its reputation from being introduced to the stage by Sophocles in his Tragedies. It was a boot laced up the front of the leg, in some instances covering the toes entirely; in others a strap passed between the great toe and the toe next to it connected the sole with the upper portion, which met together over the instep, and were from thence laced up the front like the half-boots worn at present. Virgil thus alludes to them as worn by the Tyrian huntresses: “Virginibus Tyriis mos est gestare pharetrum Purpureoque alte suras vincire cothurno.” Æneid, lib. i. v. 336.

Roman armor, shields, weapons, helmets, axes, swords, sandals, music instruments, jewelry, furniture.

Roman armor, shields, weapons, helmets, sandals, music instruments, jewelry, furniture.

In Rome, as in Phrygia, the cothurnus was worn by both sexes; but, from the circumstance above mentioned, it has been specially associated with Tragedy. The soccus being worn by the comic actors, in like manner became typical of Comedy.
Socks or feet-coverings made of wool or goat’s hair, called udones, were used by the Romans, but it was considered effeminate for men to wear them. The shoes of the wealthy were not only painted with various colours, but often sumptuously adorned with gold, silver, and precious stones. The Emperor Heliogabalus had his shoes set with diamonds interspersed with other jewels. The Emperor Aurelian disapproved of the painted shoes, which he considered too effeminate for men, and therefore he prohibited the use by them of the mullæi (which were red), and of white, yellow, and green shoes.
The latter he called “ivy-leaf coloured,” calcei hederacei. Sometimes the shoes had turned-up, pointed toes, which were called “bowed shoes,” calcei repandi, a fashion evidently derived from the East, and which was subsequently carried to such an extravagance in the Middle Ages. The senators, from the time of Caius Marius, are said to have worn black leathern boots reaching to the middle of the leg, a custom to which Horace is supposed to allude by the words: “Nam ut quisque insanus nigris medium impediit crus Pellibus.” Lib. i. Sat. 6, v. 27, 28.

Gallic Warrior with armor, shield and sword. Roman-Gallic wars.

Gallic Warrior 400 – 200 B.C.

Roman Gallic wars. Gallic Warrior with armor, shield and sword.

Gallic warrior in armor 400 – 200 B.C.

The Roman-Gallic Costumes History. Gauls and Britons.

Gallic Horseman, warrior, gaul, Roman invasion, costume

Gallic Horseman after the Roman invasion.
CAVALIER GAULOIS APRÈS L’INVASION ROMAINE.
(Premiers siècles de l’ère chrétienne, d’après les sculptures anciennes.)

Ancient Gallic costumes and clothing. Gauls Historical tunica dresses

Gaul from statues of the louvre

Ancient Gallic costumes and clothing. Gauls Historical tunica dresses

Gauls from statues of the louvre

Similarity of the Britons to the Gauls temp. Julius Caesar.

Content:

Similarity of the Britons to the Gauls temp. Julius Caesar – Costume of the Gauls and Britons – Celtic Europe. Weapons and armour of the Gauls and Britons – Difference in the costume of the three nations inhabiting Gaul at that period, viz. the Belgae, the Kelts, and the Aquitani. – Dress and arms of the Celtiberians and Lusitanians – Early colonists of Spain celebrated for the tempering of steel

In this rapid résumé of the information which has been collected from the best ancient authorities, and commented upon by the most learned modern writers on Roman antiquities, I have confined myself to such points of the subject as I consider may be necessary for the illustration of the Costume of Europe generally, and especially that of the various nations who, under the sway of the Caesars, naturally adopted the habits and customs of their powerful and more cultivated conquerors.
We have the united testimony of Julius Caesar, Strabo, and Pomponius Mela, that “the Britons were near and like the Gauls;” that “in their manners they partly resembled the Gauls;” that they “fought armed after the Gaulish fashion;” and that “the inhabitants of Cantium (Kent) were the most civilized of all the Britons, and differed but little in their habits from their continental kinsmen.”
We also learn from Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, and Pliny, that they had acquired the arts of dressing, spinning, dyeing, and weaving wool, and possessed, in common with the Gauls, some valuable secrets in the practice of those arts unknown to other nations. Pliny specially names the herbs they used for colouring purposes, and says they dyed purple, scarlet, and other colours from those alone.

Gallic History. 1st century Roman temple of Augustus at Lyon

Gallic Roman temple in honor of Augustus in 1st century A.C. at Lugdunum.

Costume of the Gauls and Briton

To the Gauls, then, we naturally turn for the illustration of the dress and arms of the Britons; and the coins, columns, and arches of their conquerors, the Romans, furnish us with numerous examples of them at different periods of the Empire. Their dress denotes their Oriental origin. It consisted of close-fitting pantaloons or loose trowsers (for both are represented) reaching only to the ankles, where they are met by shoes of leather, such as we give examples of below from originals engraved in the work of the Abbe Baudry, ‘Puits funéraires du Bernard;’ a body-garment with sleeves, reaching to about the mid-leg, and a mantle. These articles of apparel were called by the Romans brace, gallicae, tunica, and sagum, from which names are derived the modern French braies, galoches, tunique, and say.

This description perfectly corresponds with that of the Britons, who at the time of the Roman invasion were clad in the pais (from py, inward; ais, the ribs), which Diodorus calls kiton, a tunic; the llawdyr, or loose pantaloons, called by the Romans brages and braccæ; the mantle (saic, in Keltic), from whence the Latin sagum; and the shoes of untanned leather, raw cow-hide that had the hair turned outwards, called esgidiau (from aes-cid, protection from hurt).

Gaul Warriors costume. Gaul celtic armor. Alphonse De Neuville.

Gaul Warriors. Illustration by Alphonse De Neuville.

The engravings are from Roman statues of Gauls in the Louvre at Paris, and afford examples of this costume as admirable as they are doubtlessly authentic. On the head of the seated figure is a cap, the peak of which falls forward, as in the representations of Phrygians and Amazonians. The British cap is described by Meyrick as more conical, but he says they had one with a peak, which they termed penguioch. (‘Orig. Inhabit, of Brit. Islands,’ p. 1 1.)
Of the several kinds of cloth manufactured in Gaul, one, according to Diodorus and Pliny, was composed of wool dyed of various colours, which being spun into yarn was woven either into stripes or chequers, and of this the Gauls and Britons made their summer garments. This striped or chequered cloth was called breach, brycan, or breacan; breac, in Keltic, signifying anything speckled, spotted, striped, or in any way party-coloured. The cloak or mantle called sagum, from the Keltic word saic which, according to Varro, signified a skin or hide, such having been the material which the invention of cloth had superseded was, in Britain, of one uniform colour, generally either blue or black, while the predominating tint in the chequered tunic and trowsers was red. That in this chequered cloth we see the original breacan feile, “the garb of old Gaul,” still the national dress of the Scotch Highlanders, there can be no doubt; and that it was at this time the common habit of every Keltic tribe, though now abandoned by all their descendants except the hardy and unsophisticated Gaelic mountaineers, is admitted, I believe, by every antiquary who has made public his opinion on the subject.

Ancient Gallic warrior in armor. Roman-Gallic wars.

Gallic warrior in armor. 60 BC.

Gallic chieftain costumes. 4th century clothing. Roman-Gallic wars.

Gallic chieftain under the Roman domination. 2nd to 3rd century.

The hair was turned back upon the crown of the head, and fell in long and bushy curls behind. Men of rank amongst the Gauls and Britons shaved the chin, but wore immense tangled moustaches. Strabo describes those of the inhabitants of Cornwall and the Scilly Islands as hanging down upon their breasts like wings.

The British and Gaulish women wore a long tunic (the pais) reaching to the ankles, and over it a shorter one (the gwn), latinized by Varro guanacum, whence our modern word gown, the sleeves of which reached only to the elbow. The dress of Boadicea ( Voedugg, i.e. “the Victorious”), Queen of the Iceni, has been described by Dion Cassius. She wore a tunic of several colours, all in folds, and over it, fastened by a fibula or brooch, a robe of coarse stuff; her light hair fell loosely over her shoulders, and round her neck was a torque of gold. This necklace, or collar of twisted wires of gold or silver, called torch or dorch in British, was worn by both sexes in all the Keltic nations, and was peculiarly a symbol of rank and command. So fond were they of ornaments of this kind that those who could not procure them of these precious metals wore them of brass and iron, of which, Herodian says, “they were not a little vain.”
Rings, bracelets, armlets, brooches, and necklaces of gold, silver, brass, beads, and Kimmeridge coal, have been found in undoubtedly Gaulish and British interments. The priesthood in Britain was divided, we are told, into three orders, the Druids, the Bards, and the Ovates.

Dress of the British Druids, bards, and ovates.

Celtic Druidical Jewellery, decoration gauls

Druidical ornaments and implements.

The dress of the Druidical or sacerdotal order was white, the emblem of holiness, purity, and truth. The Welsh bard Taliesin calls it the proud white garment which separated the elders from the youth. Unless by elders we are to understand elders in the church, as in some communities the phrase is used at present, we might infer that white garments were not confined to the priesthood. The Bards were attired in garments of blue, emblematical of peace. They were the poets, the historians, and the genealogists of the Keltic nations. Cynddelw, in his ode on the death of Cadwallon, calls them “wearers of long blue robes.”

The Ovates, professing astronomy and medicine, wore green, the symbol of learning, as being the color of the clothing of nature. Taliesin makes an Ovate say, “With my robe of bright green possessing a place in the assembly.” The disciples of the orders wore variegated dresses of the three colours, white, blue, and green, or, according to another account, blue, green, and red.

Ancient British, Gallic and Teutonic Costumes. Druid Priestly Costume Gaul Boadicea British Chietainess Costume

British, Gallic and Teutonic Costumes.

Description of above illustration

Such are, at least, the statements of various learned Welsh archaeologists, collected and commented on by Sir Samuel Meyrick, in his ‘Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Islands’, himself a Welshman and most critical antiquary; but while bound to place them before my readers, I am equally compelled to warn them of the very slender claim they have to authenticity. Taliesin, “chief of the Bards,” is said to have flourished in the sixth century; and even granting him so early a date, there is a lapse of five hundred years between the landing of Caesar and the composition of the poems attributed to the Welsh bard, whilst many of the works relied upon for information on this subject are of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (See’Taliesin, or the Bards and Druids of Britain,’ by D. W. Nash. 8vo. 1858.). The only authority I am aware of for the dress of the Druids is the bas-relief found at Autun, and engraved by Montfaucon. It represents two Druids in long tunics and mantles, colour, of course, not indicated: one crowned with an oaken garland and bearing a sceptre; the other with a crescent in his hand, one of their sacred symbols. The mantle of the former is fastened on the left shoulder by a portion of it being drawn through a ring, and instances of this fashion are subsequently met with in Anglo-Saxon costume. I believe I was the first to suggest that the annular ornaments resembling bracelets, so constantly discovered both here and on the Continent, and presumed to be merely votive from the circumstance of their being too small to wear on the arm or the wrist, may have been used for that purpose. Of the gold crescents and other articles supposed to be Druidical found in Ireland and in every part of Keltic Europe, numerous examples have been engraved.

Gallic Costume History. 3rd to 4th century clothing. Roman-Gallic wars.

Gallic chief under Roman rule in traditional costume. 3rd to 4th century.

Gallic Costume History. 5th century costume. Gaul independent. Roman-Gallic wars.

Gaul independent. Gallic leader before the Roman conquest. 60 BC..

Celtic Europe. Weapons and armour of the Gauls and Britons

Of the weapons and armour of the Gauls we gain a better knowledge from contemporary writers, illustrated by sculpture and specimens exhumed and preserved in national and private collections.

Ancient Gallic warriors. Gallic and Gallo-Roman helmets. Soldier cuirass. Horned helmets. Celtic Cernunnos

Gallic and Gallo-Roman helmets

Read more: Gallic and Gallo-Roman helmets.

Diodorus Siculus says, “Upon their heads they wear helmets of brass, with large appendages for the sake of ostentation, for they have either horns of the same metal joined to them or the shapes of birds and beasts. Some wear hooked thoraces of iron, and others of gold.” “Hooked” I consider to mean “linked” rings or scales hooked together, as both descriptions of armour were worn by the Dacians, Sarmatians, Phrygians, and other Asiatic nations, the Sarmatians using scales made from the hoofs of horses, in lieu of metal. The Romans also had their “lorica hamata.” The offensive weapons of the Gauls consisted, according to Diodorus, of a long and broad sword called spatha, which they suspended by iron or brazen chains on the right thigh, and darts called lankia, whose iron blades were a cubit or more in length, and nearly two hands in breadth. To these Propertius adds a peculiar sort of spear or javelin, which he calls gesum: „Nobilis e tectis fondere gesa rotas.”

Ancient Dacian warrior on horse. Thracian Historical armour.

Dacian Warrior

Posidonius mentions, also, a dagger which served them for a knife. I cannot identify in any sculpture these weapons, and they do not apparently correspond with those of the Britons, to whom they are assimilated by Caesar and Tacitus. The British sword could neither be called long nor broad. It was leaf-shaped, made of mixed metal, and identical with the swords found throughout Keltic Europe and on the northern coast of Africa. It is true that after the Roman occupation there appears to be some authority for presuming that a long, straight, two-handed sword, called by Meyrick a cleddyv deuddwrn, the prototype of the claymore of the Scottish Highlander, was in use in the subjugated provinces, but whence derived it is difficult to say, as it is certainly neither Roman nor Phoenician.

Another Gaulish weapon was the saunian, a sort of spear or lance, which is vaguely described as hooked, but has no affinity with the spears or lances of the Britons, designated by Meyrick the llanawr, or blade weapon, and the gwaev-fon or gwayw-fon, the former of which was leaf-shaped like their sword, and made of the same metal, a mixture of copper and tin, whilst the saunian is said to have been all of iron. It is also remarkable that no mention is made of the small bronze axe or hatchet known to antiquaries by the name of celt, which has been so much and so long an object of the keenest controversy, and is so curiously illustrated in the tomahawk of the North American Indians and the South Sea Islanders. Neither do the shields of the Gauls correspond with those of the Britons. The latter were round, or oblong and flat; the former are represented as oval or sexagonal, and in some instances semi-cylindrical.

We can only reconcile these discrepancies by considering that Britain, by its insular position and remoter distance from Rome, at that period the centre of European civilization, acquired more tardily the knowledge of the arts than their continental kinsfolk, who were not only the immediate neighbours and subjects of the masters of the world, but also in continual communication with the Greek colony at Marseilles, and the Phoenician merchants on the opposite coast of Africa. Of the body armour and helmets of the Gaulish chiefs, some precious relics have been preserved. M. Demmin has engraved a Gallic cuirass in bronze, found in a field near Grenoble, and preserved in the Musée d’Artillerie at Paris; and M. Quicherat a Gaulish casque, found near Falaise, and a highly-ornamented one with cheek-pieces from the borders of the Danube. A most singular head-piece, resembling an early form of mitre, but called a helmet, was found in the Thames, and is now in the British Museum. It is of bronze in beaten work, and ornamented with incrustations of cement which resemble enamel. A bronze helmet, either Gaulish or British, corresponding in ornamentation with the peculiar patterns of that period, was found amongst the armour at Goodrich Court previous to its removal to South Kensington, but when or whence acquired by Sir Samuel Meyrick no record has been found. The fragment of a breastplate, gorget, or pectoral of gold, found at Mold, in Flintshire, is also in the British Museum. It is of pure gold, three feet seven inches in length; and its width in front, where it appears to have been hollowed out to receive the neck, is about eight inches.

Celtic helmet. Ancient gaul warrior weapons and armor in England

Gaulish helmet. Bronce Head-piece.

Difference in the costume of the three nations inhabiting Gaul at that period, viz. the Belgae, the Kelts, and the Aquitani.

M. Quicherat remarks that these golden breastplates were so thin that they were worn more for ornament than defence, and were probably sewn on to some under-garment, and that the bronze helmets were equally thin, and would require a lining of leather. Such breastplates and helmets were probably worn only by chieftains, as the Keltic races generally stripped themselves for battle, fighting naked to the waist; and Herodian and Xiphilin, in contradiction to Diodorus, assert that the Gauls did not wear helmets, and they certainly do not appear on the heads of any of the barbarians represented in conflict with the Romans on the arches and columns of the Empire. I have hitherto spoken of Gaul in general terms; but we must not forget our earliest schoolboy introduction to it, “Gallia omnis est divisa in partes tres,” &c., and that those three parts were occupied by the Belgae, the Kelts or Gauls proper, and the Aquitani, who, though all of the same race, differed from each other in language, institutions, and laws (” Illi omnes linguâ, institutis, legibus inter se differunt.” Caesar, De Bella Gallico). It is clear that there was also some difference in their dress, for the Aquitani, who were separated from the Gauls by the Garonne, wore whole coloured garments in lieu of the striped or chequered dresses of their kinsmen; while the Belgae, situated to the east of the rivers Seine and Marne, are described as wearing a short body garment not reaching lower than the waist and the braccae, but neither the tunic nor the sagum.
As the Gauls who were settled in the south of Britain at the time of the Roman invasion are supposed to have been principally of the Belgic branch of the great Keltic family, we must consider them to have been recognized by Caesar from some national peculiarity in their attire, and I am, therefore, at a loss how to reconcile the account of Diodorus with that of equally credible historians.

I fear that without the corroborative testimony of coeval sculpture or painting little reliance can be placed on descriptions of dress, armour, or weapons by foreign authors situated at a considerable distance from the countries of which they were writing, in days when communication was so difficult, and information confined principally to hearsay. The tales of travellers, I presume, were not more distinguished for accuracy then than subsequently, and, without any intentional desire to depart from the truth, superficial observation or defective memory, added to the perplexing medium of a strange tongue, must almost infallibly lead to error and confusion. While, therefore, I am bound to place before my readers all that within my knowledge exists on the subject of Costume which can be extracted from works ordinarily cited as authority, I feel equally bound to express my misgivings on certain points, leaving the decision to the unprejudiced judgment of the critical student.

Dress and arms of the Celtiberians and Lusitanians

The sculptures to which we are indebted for the costume of the Gauls are, for the most part, of a much later date than the conquest of Britain, and we cannot depend even on them for a faithful representation of the dress and arms of the Belgic colonists of the county of Kent, B.C. 55. Very meagre and scattered are the notices of those branches of the Kimbri or Kimmerians who had settled in the west of Europe beyond the Aquitani, and were known to Diodorus the Sicilian as the Celtiberians and the Lusitanians. He describes the former as wearing black rough sagas made of coarse wool, and being armed, some with light Gallic shields and others with circular cyrtrae (Lucan says the Spaniards had a small shield called cetra.) as big as bucklers; that their legs were protected by greaves made of rough hair, and their heads by brazen helmets with red or purple crests. They had two-edged swords of well-tempered steel, and darts of the same metal, their mode of preparing it being to bury plates of iron so long in the earth as was necessary for the rust to consume the weaker part, and therefore used only that portion which was strong and incorruptible. These weapons, he tells us, were so keen that neither shield, helmet, nor bone could withstand them.

Early colonists of Spain celebrated for the tempering of steel

It is curious to find the early colonists of Spain celebrated for the tempering of steel, as Toledo became in after-ages famous for its sword-blades, and the question arises in my mind how far we may depend upon the accuracy of the description retailed by Diodorus of the mode by which the Celtiberians attained such superiority for their weapons. The soil in the neighbourhood of Toledo, watered by the Tagus, contains an iron ore possessing all the most valuable qualities for which steel is distinguished, so that unskilled workmen can and do manufacture these famous weapons by simply roughing them out and leaving them for a few weeks in a trough filled with the river water, to which the ore is undoubtedly indebted for its peculiar properties. It is extremely probable, I submit, that the early colonists discovered this fact, and that the story of burial in the earth is either one of the misrepresentations I have alluded to, or that they effected by those primitive means what their more scientific successors have done by the direct action of the water.

Of their neighbours and kinsfolk, the Lusitanians, the same author says, “They are the most valiant of all the Kimbri. In time of war they carry little targets made of bowel strings, so strong as completely to defend their bodies. They manage them with such dexterity that by whirling them about they avoid or repel every dart thrown at them. They use hooked (barbed?) saunians, made all of iron, and have swords and helmets like those of the Celtiberians.”

The Teutones or Germans.

Ancient Teutons costumes

Ancient Germans, Teutons Clothing.

Picture above: Ancient Germans, Teutons Clothing. From Stone Age to the 4th century.

Eastward of the Belgae were the Teutones or Germans (Wher-man), the latter name being a new one for that people in the time of Tacitus, as he himself informs us (“Ceterum Germaniae vocabulum recens.” Germ. cap. ii.). He describes those who lived near the Weser as wearing neither helmets nor breastplates, but armed with a spear of enormous length and an unwieldy buckler, not riveted with iron, of which metal they had little, nor covered with hides, but formed of osier twigs intertwined or boards daubed over with glaring colours. The long spears, he tells us, were called frameæ. Swords were seldom seen, or the longer kind of lances (he has already remarked on the length of the spears); and some tribes (the Rugians and the Limovians, who dwelt on the coast of the Baltic) had short swords and round shields. The Æstians, who inhabited what is now called Prussia, used for their principal weapon a club. A multitude of darts, scattered (“missilia spargunt“) with incredible force, were an additional resource of the infantry. Gibbon, in a note on this passage, observes that either the historian used a vague expression, or he meant that they were thrown at random. Their military dress, when they wore any, was nothing more than a loose mantle. In the most inclement weather they were content with the skin of some animal. The tribes who dwelt in the most northerly parts clothed themselves in furs. The women manufactured for their own use a coarse kind of linen, which they embroidered with purple.

Head Gaul. Germania.

Head of a Gaul. Germania. Source: Arthur H.Smith. British Museum. Catalogue of sculpture in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London, 1904.

In accordance with Pomponius Mela, Tacitus says the rich wore a garment, not flowing loose, like those of the Sarmatians and Parthians, but girt close, and showing the shape of every limb. The sculpture on the Antonine Column commemorates the victories gained by Marcus Aurelius over several of the German tribes, wherein they are represented wearing the trowsers (braccha), shoes like those of the Gauls, tunics also of similar form, and a cloak (the sagum Germanicum) fastened on the shoulder by a fibula, and armed with a shield and a short curved sword, supposed by some antiquaries to be the seax of the Anglo-Saxons. The tribes on the borders of the Rhine wore the skins of wild beasts without choice or nicety, but those on the shores of the Baltic or Northern Ocean selected particular beasts, and, having stripped off the fur, ornamented themselves with pieces of the skins of marine animals unknown to the Romans. It would seem, therefore, that like the Britons described by Caesar, while certain tribes or classes were clothed in skins, the more noble and wealthy were attired in that remarkable garb which, as I have already observed, distinguished at this period one-half of the world from the other.
The submission of a considerable number of German tribes to the Romans led to an interchange of fashions apparently; for while the Germans, like the Britons, began to affect the dress and manners of the Romans, a Roman emperor adopted the sagum of the Germans in like manner, as another emperor assumed the caracalla of the Gauls.

The Dacians and the Thracians

To the east of the Germans were the Dacians and the Thracians, differing little in their dress and arms from the Asiatic nations from which they had branched the trowsered races of Europe. As early as the time of Herodotus they were similarly armed and attired; the Thracians wearing tunics and mantles variously colored, their legs covered with Phoenician cloth, and their shoes bound above their ankles. They were armed with small shields shaped like a half-moon, javelins, and short daggers. On their heads they wore helmets of brass, having ears and horns like an ox, of the same metal.

Celtic Helmets. Ancient Gaulish warrior casque with cheek-pieces.

Gaulish Casque

Such helmets were also worn by the Phrygians, by the Greeks, and, according to Diodorus Siculus, by the Belgic Gauls. They were typical of the religion of the country, the horns of the ox or cow being emblematical of the moon; they were a fit accompaniment for the crescent-shaped shield which is seen subsequently in the hands of the Danes. The Trajan Column furnishes us with several examples of Dacian costume scarcely distinguishable from that of the Gauls. Their cavalry are clothed in tight-fitting dresses, entirely covered with scales from the throat to the point of the toes, their horses being similarly protected down to their hoofs. They wore the Phrygian bonnet when in civil attire, but their helmets were high skull-caps, differently shaped from the Phrygian, with a spike at the top, cheek-pieces, and a flap to protect the neck. Their arms were bows and arrows and a sickle-shaped sword, the edge on the inner curve like those of the Germans.

Ancient costumes history. Sarmatians clothing, Soythians Armor, Dacian warrior armor. Sarmatian Prince dress.

Costumes East Europe, Ancient Times

East Europe Ancient Times. Sarmatian and Dacian clothing.
Sarmatians: Warriors. 1.2.3.4.10.11. Dacians: Warriors 5.6.7.Women. 8.9. King.12. Soythians: Warriors. 13.14. Prince 15.

Interchange of fashions between the Germans and the Romans

The Veneti and the Ligurians, destined to found the great republics of Venice and Genoa, were amongst the latest colonists of Italy, and their origin and migrations have been variously suggested. As little is known of the former for a long time after their settlement as before their arrival, for it is not till four hundred years after the foundation of Rome that we hear of them as a powerful and warlike nation, when the Gauls, at the moment they were about to become masters of the Capitol, were compelled to make a hasty retreat, in consequence of an incursion into their own territories by the Veneti. We shall find them, centuries after their absorption into the Roman Empire, in the reign of Augustus, still wearing the Phrygian cap, as their gondoliers do to this day; nay, more, indicating in the official head-dress of the chief of their republic, the Doge, the form of the bonnet we perceive on the head of the Trojan Paris. All that we learn about the Ligurians is that they wore tunics and belts, and flung over their shoulders, by way of a cloak, the skin of some wild beast. Of the various tribes or hordes which, issuing from “the teeming North,” under the names of Goths, Vandals, Huns, Sclavonians, &c., swooped down by turns on Southern and Western Europe, we know little but what is legendary, or rendered doubtful by later investigations, and of that little nothing of importance to our present subject. The raw hides or undressed furs of wild animals cannot rank as costume, and, unlike the Assyrians, the Persians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans, they were too ignorant of the arts of painting and sculpture to transmit to us any comprehensible representations of themselves, however armed or attired. With the exception, indeed, of the above-named highly civilized and luxurious peoples, the same may be said of all the world known to the ancients from the days of Herodotus to the defeat of Attila, A.D. 451.

Ancient Roman and Dacian armor and weapons. Battle between the Romans and the Dacians.

Battle between the Romans and the Dacians.

The natural consequence of the gradual annexation to the Roman Empire of the various nations subjugated by Roman arms, was an assimilation of costume; and shortly after the perfect establishment of the Roman dominion in Britain by Julius Agricola, A.D. 78, the ancient British habit began to be regarded by the chiefs as a badge of barbarism, and their sons, we are told by Tacitus, affected the Roman dress. The braccæ were abandoned by the Southern and Eastern Britons; and the Roman tunic reaching to the knee, with the cloak or mantle still called the sagum, which the Romans had adopted from the Gauls, became the general habit of the higher classes.

Britons affected the Roman dress A.D. 78

In the dress of the British females, little if any change took place, as it had originally been nearly the same as that of the Roman women. The coins of Carausius, and the columns of Trajan and Antonine, exhibit the Keltic females in two tunics; the under one descending to the ankles, and the upper about half-way down the thigh, with loose sleeves extending only to the elbows, like those of the German women described by Tacitus. The upper tunic was sometimes confined by a girdle, and was called in British gwn, the guanacum of Varro, and the origin of our word “gown.” The hair of both sexes was cut and dressed after the Roman fashion, and constituted one of the most remarkable alterations in the appearance of our Keltic ancestors.

Under the word SHIELD will be found in the Dictionary engravings of two Romano-British shields, evident imitations of the Roman scutum. In his description of the larger one, found in the river Witham, and which till recently was one of the gems in the unrivalled Meyrick Collection, Sir Samuel remarks “It is impossible to contemplate the artistic portions without feeling convinced that there is a mixture of British ornament, with such resemblance to the elegant designs on Roman work, as would be produced by a people in a state of less civilization.”

Whether or no the Britons, during the three centuries of Roman domination, assumed any defensive body armour, in imitation of their masters, we are left to conjecture. In the fourth century they had to contend against repeated descents of the Saxons, and, with the assistance of the Romans under Theodosius, repelled them, but we have no description of the dress or weapons of the British forces.

Retention by the Irish of their ancient arms and clothing

Of the inhabitants of the remoter parts of Britain at this later period we know nothing appertaining to our subject. The Caledonians and Mæatæ, in the time of Severus, A.D. 193, are represented as naked savages, whose costume consisted of an iron chain round their waists. The Irish, who are described by Tacitus as in his time differing but little from the ancient Britons, evidently received at some remote period colonists from one or more distinct races. “The fact is substantiated by the marked distinction still existing in the persons and complexions of the eastern and midland districts and those of the south-western counties; the former having the blue eyes and flaxen hair characteristic of all the Scythic and German tribes, and the latter the swarthy cheeks and raven locks that bespeak a more southern origin, and point to Spain as the country from which they had ultimately passed, and Asia Minor or Egypt as the land of their fathers.“

In every part of Ireland weapons and ornaments have been found, precisely similar to those discovered in England, and proved to have been worn by the Belgic Gauls and Southern Britons. Undisturbed by the imperial legions, the Irish retained their ancient arms and clothing for centuries after Britain had become a Roman province; and the truis and braccae, the cota and the mantle fastened on the breast or shoulder, the torques and bracelets of gold and silver, the swords and battle-axes of mixed copper and tin, and spears and darts headed with the same metal, composed the habits and
arms of the Irish chieftains during the Roman occupation of Britain, and down to the period at which the authentic history of Ireland begins.

Controversy respecting the origin of the Welsh, and state of their first arrival in Britain.

I have left to the last part of this section the most delicate question with which I have to deal, the dress and weapons of the people inhabiting that little mysterious corner in the west of England, who still speak the language they did in the days of Julius Caesar, proclaim themselves “ancient Britons,” and assert, on the authority of their poets, that they are the lineal descendants of that tribe of the Kimmerians, or Kymry, who were led by Hugh Cadarn, or “the strong,” from the country of Summer, called “Deffrobani,” where Constantinople is, “through the hazy ocean to the island of Britain, when there were no men alive on it, nor anything else but wolves, bears, and oxen with high protuberances.” It is, fortunately for me, unnecessary that I should plunge into the interminable controversy respecting the origin of the Welsh, and the date of their first arrival and place of settlement in Britain. All I have to remark is, that the doubt thrown by recent investigations as to the Welsh language being that which was spoken by the Keltic tribes inhabiting the southern portion of the island, and the assertion of the latest editor of Gibbon that there never was an ancient people of any consideration or magnitude that permanently bore the name of Cimbri, (He observes that it only occurs three times in actual history, with long intervals between. There were three important occasions on which the Celtae, being hard-pressed, united in a general cumrhi, or gathering of strength; when the league was dissolved, the designation ceased. ‘Decline and Fall,’ ed. 1867, vol. i. chap. ix. p. 272, footnote.) added to the fact that no trace is to be found in the notices of Britain by the Greek or Roman writers of any people or tribe settled in the district now called Wales, from which the Welsh can with any probability be supposed to have sprung, deter me from relying upon the illustration of British antiquities by Welsh descriptions and appellations, as confidently as Sir Samuel Meyrick has done.
At the same time, I have considered it incumbent upon me, in this as in every other instance, to place before my readers the views and opinions of all writers of acknowledged reputation with whose works I have been fortunate enough to become acquainted. Of the Silures, the Demetae, and the Ordovices, the only British tribes whom we read of in Ptolemy, Tacitus, or in any of the historians of the period, as occupying, in the time of the Romans, the province afterwards called Cambria or Wales, we have no information of consequence to us in this inquiry, and of the Welsh it will be time enough to speak when we find them mentioned by contemporary authorities.

Alaric King of the Visigoths from 395–410. World Theater.

World Theater. Alaric King of the Visigoths from 395–410 sack of Rome in 410.

Ancient Etruscan costumes. Clothing of Etruscans Warriors, chariot, soldiers, musican. Auguste Racinet

Etruscan costumes

Picture abover: Ancient Etruscan costumes of warriors, chariot, soldiers, musican by Auguste Racinet

Trowsered and untrowsered nations

I have said that millions of men and women in these early ages were content with two or three garments of a similar description, whatever their name or the material of which they were composed; there were, however, other millions whose costume at the same period presented an important addition, so markedly characteristic of a distinct origin that it deserves, I think, more consideration than it seems to have hitherto received.

Ancient Sarmatian costumes and clothing. Antiquity warrior dresses from Scythia

Sarmatian

The Trojan Paris. Ancient Trojan costumes and clothing. Antiquity Troy dresses

The Trojan Paris

Ancient Parthian costumes and clothing. Arsacid Empire dresses

Parthian King. Arsacid Dynasty.

Ancient Phrygian costumes and clothing. Female Warrior in armour coat of ring-mail

Phrygian with coat of ring-mail

Ancient Dacian costumes and clothing. Thracian Historical tunica dresses

Dacian King

This addition was the clothing of the legs independently and completely down to the feet; a custom invariably observed by them through all their migrations, unaffected by change of climate or form of government. In brief, the nations of the ancient world might be fairly divided into two great groups or classes, the trowsered and the untrowsered. Amongst the latter were the Greeks and the Romans, deriving their origin, as it appears to be generally acknowledged, from the bare-legged Egyptians; while two great branches of the Scythic or Northern Asiatic family, which had overrun Europe and colonized the south of Britain long previous to the Roman invasion, viz. the Kimmerii and the Keltic, wore the distinguishing close trowsers or loose pantaloons called by them braces or brachia.

Roman Tunica. Long-sleeved tunic.

Roman in long-sleeved tunic.

To return to the Romans. The material of the toga was wool, the colour in early ages its own natural hue, a yellowish white, but later the undyed toga was retained by the higher orders; only inferior persons wearing them of different colours, while candidates for public offices bleached them by an artificial process. In times of mourning, a dark-coloured or black toga was worn, or it was left off altogether. Young men of noble birth wore a white toga edged with a purple border, and called the toga pretexta? until they attained the age of fifteen, when they assumed the toga pura, without a border. A toga striped with purple throughout, and called the trabea, was worn by the knights, and victorious generals in their triumphs were attired in togæ entirely of purple, which were in process of time made of silk and elaborately embroidered with gold. Such were denominated the toga picta or toga palmata. Varro in Nonius speaks of certain togaæ being so transparent that the tunics might be seen through them. There were also watered togæ, called by Pliny undulatæ vestes.

Ancient Roman tunica. Roman Orator in sleeveless tunic. Costume history.

Roman Orator in sleeveless tunic.

Among the ancient Romans the tunic was made of white woollen cloth and without sleeves, which were added to it afterwards, when it was called chiridota or tunica manicata. In general, the sleeves were loose and short, reaching only to the elbow, but their length and fashion seem to have depended on the fancy of their wearers, and in the time of the Emperors they were lengthened to the wrists and terminated with fringes or borders. After the Romans had, in imitation of the later Greeks, introduced the wearing of two tunics, they used the words subuculum and indusium to designate the inner one, which, though the prototype of the modern shirt, was also woollen. Augustus is said to have worn in winter no less than four tunics beside the subucula or under-tunic, and all of them woollen. Montfaucon is of opinion that the interior garments of men were rarely if ever made of linen until a late period of the Roman Empire. Young men when they assumed the toga virilis, and women when they were married, received from their parents a tunic wrought in a particular manner, called tunica recta or regilla.

Roman Tunica. Sleeved tunic and tunica recta.

Roman in sleeved tunic and female in tunica recta.

The Roman women had several kinds of tunics, which are mentioned by Plautus, but unfortunately without any description. The impluviata and the mendicula were tunics, but their colour, form, and texture are totally unknown. The ralla (which is thought to be the same as the rara) and the spissa differed much from each other in texture, the first being of a thinner and looser texture than the latter. They had also a tunic called crocotula, the diminutive of crocota, which was an upper garment in use amongst the Grecian females, and received its name, Montfaucon says, from crocus, saffron colour, or from croce, the woof of any texture.

The tunic worn by the senators was distinguished by a broad stripe of purple sewed on the breast, and called latus clavus. Those who had not arrived at patrician honours wore a narrow stripe of the same colour, and therefore denominated angst clavus. Roman citizens whose means were insufficient to enable them to procure a toga, wore the tunic only, as did also foreigners, slaves, and gladiators.
The belt or girdle was a necessary appendage to the tunic, and was made of various materials and ornaments, according to the rank or circumstances of the owner. It was not customary with the Romans to wear it at home, but no person appeared abroad without it, and it was thought effeminate and indecorous to appear uncinctured in the streets. The Roman women, married as well as unmarried, used girdles, which are occasionally concealed by the upper portion of the tunic falling over them.

Related:
(Ancient Egypt, Greek, Minoan, Mesopotamia, Roman, British, Levante fashion history)




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  1. Culture and fashion of Mesopotamia. Assyria, Babylonia and Sumer.
  2. Egyptian costume history.
  3. Ancient Greek fashion and costume history
  4. Minoan costume history. Ancient Greek, Crete.
  5. The Amazons. Female warrior.
  6. Ancient Roman costume history. B.C. 53 to A.D. 450..
  7. Costume history of the Persians and other Asiatics.
  8. Ancient British period. Fashion history of England. Bronze age.
  9. The Byzantine Fashion History 5th to 6th century.
  10. Collection of ancient costumes Egyptian, Greek, Roman and others.
  11. The Roman Tunica or Greek Chiton.
  12. The Roman Paenula. The cowl or hood.
  13. On the origin of the pants by Max Marcuse
  14. The Toga and the manner of wearing it.
  15. The Gallic and Gallo-Roman costume period.
  16. The shields of the Gauls. Clans in the Roman Empire.
  17. The Barbarian Invasions. The Migration Period in Europe, 395-527 A. D.
  18. Roman legionary in full armor.
  19. Roman Britain. Maps, Places, Tribes. Historical atlas.
  20. Celt and Roman. History of England 43 BC to 440 AD.
  21. Gallic and Gallo-Roman helmets of Celtic warriors.
  22. Britannia Saxonica. Chronology of the Anglo-Saxons.
  23. The Roman Paenula. The cowl or hood.
  24. Roman, Greece and Egypt. The Corset and the Crinolin fashion history.
  25. Frankish Merovingian costume history. 4th and 5th century.
  26. Byzantine costume history. 5th to 6th century.
  27. The Carolingian fashion period 752-987. Reign of Charlemagne.
  28. The Carolingian Fashion Period 987 to 1270.
  29. Europe in the time of Charles the Great 768 – 814. Maps and Places.
  30. Alfred the Great. The first English king.
  31. King Harold II. Last Anglo-Saxon king of England.
  32. Monachism. Monastic costumes history.
  33. History of costumes from ancient until 19th century