The Roman Tunica or Greek Chiton

Libera, or the female Bacchus in a tunic

Libera, or the female Bacchus in a tunic

The Roman Tunica or Greek Chiton

Tunica, an under-garment. The chiton (Greek: χιτών, khitōn) a sewn garment, was the only undergarment worn by the Greeks. Of this there were two kinds, the Dorian and Ionian. The Dorian chiton, as worn by males, was a short wollen shirt, without sleeves; the Ionian was a long linen garment, with sleeves.
The former seems to have been originally worn throughout the whole of Greece; the latter was brought over to Greece by the Ionians of Asia. The Ionic chiton was commonly worn at Athens by men during the Persian wars, but it appears to have entirely gone out of fashion for the male sex about the time of Pericles, from which time the Dorian chiton was the undergarment universally adopted by men through the whole of Greece.
The distinction between the Doric and Ionic chiton still continued in the dress of women. The Spartan virgins only wore this one garment, and had no upper kind of clothing, whence it is sometimes called Himation (Pallium) as well as Chiton. They appeared in the company of men without any further covering; but the married women never did so without wearing an upper garment.

Ancient Greek clothing. How to wear a Doric chiton or tunic

Greek girl in Doric chiton

The Doric chiton

This Doric chiton was made, as stated above, of wollen stuff; it was without sleeves, and was fastened over both shoulders by clasps or buckles, which were often of considerable size. It was frequently so short as not to reach the knee. It was only joined together on one side, and on the other was left partly open or slit up, to allow a free motion of the limbs. The following cut represents an Amazon with a chiton of this kind: some parts of the figure appear incomplete, as the original is mutilated.

Ancient Greek female cloth, Greece long-sided Ionic chiton with wide sleeves

Female with Ionic long-sided chiton.

The Ionic chiton

The Ionic chiton, on the contrary, was a long and loose garment, reaching to the feet, with wide sleeves, and was usually made of linen. The sleeves, however, appear generally to have covered only the upper part of the arm; for in ancient works of art we seldom find the sleeve extending farther than the elbow, and sometimes not so far.

Royal clothing in ancient Greek

Figure with diploidion or bib over peplos and chiton poderes.

(Above Picture: Diploidion, Diplois, Dịplax, as opposed to simply coat the Haplois or the Himation, double layer outer garment of the Greeks. A woman’s chiton would always be worn at ankle length)

The sleeves were sometimes slit up, and fastened together with an elegant row of brooches. The Ionic chiton, according to Herodotus, was originally a Carian dress, and passed over to Athens from Ionia, as has been already remarked. The women at Athens originally wore the Doric chiton, but were compelled to change it for the Ionic, after they had killed with the buckles or clasps of their dresses the single Athenian who had returned alive from the expedition against Aegina, because there were no buckles or clasps required in the Ionic dress. Both kinds of dress were fastened round the middle with a girdle, and as the Ionic chiton was usually longer than the body, part of it was drawn up so that the dress might not reach farther than the feet, and the part which was so drawn up overhung or overlapped the girdle. There was a peculiar kind of dress, which seems to have been a species of double chiton, called Diplois, Diploidion, and Hemidiploidion. It appears not to have been a separate article of dress, but merely the upper part of the cloth forming the chiton, which was larger than was required for the ordinary chiton, and was therefore thrown over the front and back. The following cuts will give a clearer idea of the form of this garment than any description.

Greek clothing tunica. Ionic, Dorian Chiton. Ancient costumes

Diploidia, double Chitons. (Museo Borbonico, vol ii.
tav. 4, 6.)

Since the Diploidion was fastened over the shoulders by means of buckles or clasps, it was called Epomis, which is supposed by some writers to have been only the end of the garment fastened on the shoulder. The chiton was worn by men next their skin; but females were accustomed to wear a chemise under their chiton. It was the practice among most of the Greeks to wear an himation, or outer garment, over the chiton, but frequently the chiton was worn alone.
The Athenian youths, in the earlier times, wore only the chiton, and when it became the fashion, in the Peloponnesian war, to wear an outer garment over it, it was regarded as a mark of effeminacy.

The Tunica of the Romans

The Tunica of the Romans, like the Greek chiton, was a woollen under garment, over which the toga was worn. It was the Indumentum or Indutus, as opposed to the Amictus, the general term for the toga, pallium, or any other outer garment. The Romans are said to have had no other clothing originally but the toga; and when the tunic was first introduced, it was merely a short garment without sleeves, and was called Colobium (κολόβιον). It was considered a mark of effeminacy for men to wear tunics with long sleeves (municatae) and reaching to the feet (talares). The tunic was girded (cinch) with a belt or girdle around the waist, but it was usually worn loose, without being girded, when a person was at home, or wished to be at his ease. Hence we find the terms cinctus (girded, having been girded), praecinctus (surrounded, encircled), and succinctus (ready, prepared, succinct, concise), applied, to an active and diligent person, and distinct us to one who was idle or dissolute.
The form of the tunic, as worn by men, in works of art it usually terminates a little above the knee; it has short sleeves, covering only the upper part of the arm, and is girded at the waist: the sleeves sometimes, though less frequently, extend to the hands.

Both sexes at Rome usually wore two tunics, an outer and an under, the latter of which was worn next the skin, and corresponds to our shirt and chemise. The under tunics were called Subucula (Tunica intima) and Indusium, the former of which is supposed to be the name of the under tunic of the men, and the latter of that of the women: but this is not certain. The word Interula (underwear worn by both sexes; inner garment) was of later origin, and seems to have been applied equally to the under tunic of both sexes. It is doubtful whether the Supparus or Supparum was an outer or an under garment.
Persons sometimes wore several tunics, as a protection against cold: Augustus wore four in the winter, besides a subucula. As the dress of a man usually consisted of an under tunic, an outer tunic, and the toga, so that of a woman, in like manner, consisted of an under tunic, an outer tunic, and the palla. The outer tunic of the Roman matron was properly called stola (Stola).
Over the tunic or stola the palla is thrown in many folds, but the shape of the former is still distinctly shown. The tunics of women were larger and longer than those of men, and always had sleeves; but in ancient paintings and statues we seldom find the sleeves covering more than the upper part of the arm. Sometimes the tunics were adorned with golden ornaments called Leria.
Poor people, who could not afford to purchase a toga, wore the tunic alone, whence we find the common people called Tunicati.
A person who wore only his tunic was frequently called Nudus. Respecting the clavus latus and the clavus augustus, worn on the tunics of the senators and equites respectively, see Clavus Latus, Clavus Angustus. When a triumph was celebrated, the conqueror wore, together with an embroidered toga (Toga picta), a flowered tunic (Tunica palmata), also called Tunica Jovis, because it was taken from the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. Tunics of this kind were sent as presents to foreign kings by the senate.

Associated to:

  1. Ancient Costume History of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and others.
  2. The Toga and the manner of wearing it.
  3. Ancient Minoan Costume. The Palace of Minos at Knossos.
  4. Roman, Greece and Egypt. The Corset and the Crinolin.
  5. Ancient Roman Costumes History B.C. 53 to A.D. 450.
  6. Byzantine costume history. 5th to 6th century.

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