byzantine costume

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Byzantine costumesAbout 330aC emperor Constantine the Great chose Constantinople as capital of the Roman Empire, because of its location on the crossroads of the two main trade routes of the time - the land road leading from Europe to Mesopotamia and the sea crossing of Bosporus, which linked the Mediterranean with the Black Sea. The change from ancient to Byzantine costume began (c.400) with the end of the Roman Empire. The social and financial status as well the profession, the age and sex were the main factor for costumes during Byzantine period. Costume was the identity for the two main parts of Byzantine society, a) The higher class with aristocrats, provincial officials (public and military) and clergy and b) The poor citizens, servants, monks, soldiers and farmers.

Men's costume in Byzantium didn't change too much over the centuries. It consisted of the tunica, the dalmatic, the cloak and shoes or boots. The shapes of the garments were consistent throughout the classes, only the quality of the fabric and trimming distinguished them.

Shepherds. Detail of mosaics from the monastery of Hosios Lukas in Phokis. Hellenic Ministry of Culture.

Mosaic from Casale, Piazza Armerina Bologna Collection of Peloponnesian InstituteGreece

Tunica was the basic article of clothing in Byzantium. For thelower classes, it was the everyday working garment. For the upper classes, it was the underlayment for some of the richest clothing in history. The tunica was a derivation of the ancient Roman tunica talaris, or tunic to the ankles. They were trim in the sleeve and mostly loose in the body. The more active wearer would gird it up to the shins or knees with a thin belt. The sleeve length would change according to the class of the wearer and the weather. The most well known tunic of this type is the coptic tunic. Some dock workers still seemed to be clad in a himation which is an ancient type of tunic made of rectangles pinned at the shoulders and belted at the waist. This was definitely a lower class way of wearing clothes.

Servant at work in the fields. Mosaic from the Great Palace of Constantinople. 4th-7th century. Ankara, Ministry of Culture General Directorate of Monuments and Museums.

The primary fabric for a tunica was undyed linen or undyed wool. Both would be in a plain weave. The wool was not the heavy scratchy stuff we know as wool. It was a finer, tropical weight with a smooth finish. Silk was also used for these types of garments. They are seen in a small assortment of colors; red, ochre, yellow and orange. There is an existing tunic made from what could only be termed as a linen terrycloth. An even rarer type of tunic was the resist dyed tunic. This resulted in an indigo tunic with the designs in the natural ground colour. Coptic tunics were trimmed lavishly. Clavi (stripes) and segmentae (roundels and squares) were done in a tapestry weave and were the most common type of trim. Most examples are in the natural tunic/ purple trim scheme, but there are many examples of more colourful trims. Most of the examples have the tapestry weaving as part of the garment. The tunics were woven individually, and much of the trim was done on the loom. A large number of examples, though, show tapestry woven trim attached to a plain weave body. Cards for card weaving have also been discovered in Coptic areas and card weaving also gives a similar look as tapestry weaving. Colours seen in existing trim are as follows: natural, tan, light and dark brown, yellow, gold, pink, red, maroon, light and dark blue, cobalt blue, aqua, light and dark green, yellow-green, orange, coral, purple and black.


Dalmatica was the over robe worn by the upper classes and on special occasions, by the common

An early (6th -10th cent.) type of dalmatic is characterized by the one worn by Emperor Justinian in the Ravenna mosaics. It has long tight sleeves and comes down to the knees. This would be worn over a tunic or shirt and was usually belted.

Emperor Justinian and his consequence. Mosaic from St Apolinarius in Ravenna.

The dalmatica would mostly be of a solid base with trim applied in specific areas. Trim would be lavish, but restricted to neck, cuffs, hem, upper arm seam, side slits and occasionally medallions above the knees. This trim could be more tapestry woven strips and medallions or embroidery encrusted with pearls and gems.The colour schemes would parallel the schemes on the tunicas. For the lower classes, it was usual for these decorative strips to be cut from scraps or short lengths of expensive brocades. This practice carried up into the northern cities as well. Later dalmatics (10th -13th cent.) are the most recognizable Byzantine garment. It now reaches to the floor and the sleeves have become somewhat wider. This could be worn belted or not. There would sometimes be small side slits put in for ease in walking. Some examples of this type of dalmatic close down the front and fasten with buttons. Patterns are the fabric of choice in Byzantium, which was known from the earliest times for its beautiful fabrics. The sleeve hem, bottom hem and neck would be heavily decorated. Embroidery, precious stones and pearls would be used. Pearls would outline all the major portions of the decoration as well as being part of it. If the garment was not made of a patterned fabric, decoration would be applied to give the impression that it was of the more expensive fabric. Fabrics for this would be fine linen, wool, cotton and for the wealthy, silk. The traditional patrician costume consisted of a dalmatic with wide sleeves over a tunic with tight sleeves and high boots.

Superhumeral: This was the imperialdecorative collar. It was one of the most recognizable parts of Byzantine clothing.

It could be of cloth of gold or similar material, then studded with gems and/or immense amounts of embroidery. The decoration was general divided into compartments by vertical lines on the collar. The edges would be done in pearls of varying sizes in up to three rows. There were occasionally drop pearls placed at intervals to add to theThe emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and the empress Irene, wearing imperial costumes. Detail from mosaic of anathematic (votive) depiction from the gallery of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The depiction is dated from circa 1044. Ankara, Ministry of Culture General Directorate of Monuments and

richness. Rarely was the base fabric distinguishable after the decoration was applied. The collar would come over the collarbone to cover a portion of the upper chest.


Pants: Leg coverings of some nature were worn by almost allByzantines. Breeches makers are shown in Diocletian's Edicts of Prices, so they were available from the beginnings of the Eastern Empire. Those who worked outdoors left the legs bare. Shepherds are shown with wrappings on their legs from the ankle to the knee. Dock labourers are shown with totally bare legs. Justinian wore hose. Frankish breeches were seen in areas where contact between the cultures occurred. During the early 12th century they were looked down upon as unmanly, but by the end of the century they were already being widely adopted. Hose seem to be the choice of the upper class and they came in rich colours. Trousers were wildly patterned and they fit fairly loosely. They seem to have what amounts to a drawstring waist, then they narrow down to a reasonably slim ankle.

Shoes: Not too much is seen for shoes in Byzantine Art. The Ravenna mosaics show the men wearing what appear to be sandals with white socks. Emperor Basil II is shown wearing knee high red boots, embroidered with pearls. Other Imperial portraits show only the tips of the shoes.Outside labourers would either have sandals or be barefoot. The sandals follow the Roman model of straps over a thick sole. Some examples of the Roman cuculus or military boot are also seen on shepherds. Red sandals marked the Emperor; blue shoes, a sebastokrator; and green shoes a protovestiarios.

Cloaks: The semicircular cloak seemed to have been the mostpopular. Emperor Justinian wore one as well as his guards. The length usually fell to about the hips or buttocks and on each straight side there might be a tablion. The tablion was a decorative spot sometimes used to show the rank of the wearer by the type of embroidery and jewels that were used. Each element of the cloak is outlined in pearls and embroidered in gold. Sometimes an oblong cloak would be worn. This was more of a military cloak and not generally worn for court occasions. Cloaks would be pinned on the right shoulder for ease movement.

Mosaic from Casale, Piazza Armerina Collection of Peloponnesian Institute Greece

Hats: There were very few styles of hat for men in Byzantium. A small type of Phyrgiancap was seen in the earliest times, (before the 9th century). Mostly, men went bareheaded. In the 12th century, Emperor Andronicus Comnenus was seen wearing a smoke colored hat shaped like a pyramid. An Iberian wide brimmed felt hat came into vogue during the 12th century and the turban also began to be seen more frequently. In the northern reaches of the Byzantine sphere, small caps with or without fur brims were seen.

Women's costume in Byzantium didn't change too much over the centuries either. It basically consisted of the tunica, the stola, and shoes. The lower classes still wore basically Roman clothes. These had lots of drape and movement, so the ladies could get on with their work. The upper class women wore the more stiff, jewelled garments. Tunica: These were the basic underclothes for every class and every time period. It would only vary in material by class of the wearer. It was long and had tight sleeves that were trim to the body. The neck would be cut either in a boat style or in a regular round configuration. This gar