Child's Tunic from Byzantine Egypt

Child's Tunic from Byzantine Egypt

Stylish and Practical: Fashion in the Byzantine Empire

Richly Decorated Tunic, 660–870 A.D. Egypt, Eshmunein. Tapestry weave in polychrome and undyed wool on plain-weave ground of undyed wool applied borders with pattern and brocading weft in polychrome wool and undyed linen. Via

The rise of the Byzantine Empire saw a flourish in fashion. The wealthy and opulent Empire was reflected in the colorful, heavily-detailed clothing of its people, which continues to inspire designers and enthusiasts today.

Some of this inspiration from the East was quite literal. Two Persian monks had smuggled silkworms out of China, bringing them to the Byzantine Empire. The Empire thus produced a strong silk fabric called “samite.” In the sixth century, silk production saw a vast improvement, allowing greater detail to be woven into the fabric.

Wool was also an important fabric in Byzantine fashion. “Tapestry-woven wool inserts incorporate figural and floral motifs rendered with subtle colorations to provide shading and detail.” These intricate details added cost to garments and were often recycled (the design would be cut away when the garment became too worn and restitched onto another piece).

The use of color, texture, and imagery in Eastern design also found its way onto the clothes of Byzantine citizens. The garments of the upper classes featured beautiful iconography and biblical scenes.

As color was also important to the Byzantines, gemstone hues like red, blue, and green were widely used in the garments of the very wealthy. This is because such dyes were expensive to produce. Purple, however, was reserved for royalty.

Christianity and faith were at the center of the Byzantine Empire, so it only makes sense that their garments would reflect this. “Among the more distinctive garments developed by the Byzantines were those worn by the clergy in the Christian church,” just as the most precious gemstones and jewelry were reserved for the clergy in the Middle Ages.

Byzantines shunned the restrictive, winding Roman toga, preferring simple, flowing designs (which they wore prior to the reign of Justinian the Great). Worn close around the neck, extending to the wrist, Byzantine dress was more modest than Roman. Other than the hands, face, and neck, no flesh was displayed, to keep with the modesty dictated by their faith.

Simple in design, the tunic was worn by men and children. Women wore a longer, more modest tunica, simply designed and able to cover a woman’s body even through pregnancy. Women also covered their hair with head cloths. Wealthy women adorned their garments with jewelry and accessories like bells.

Upper class men wore a chlamys, a semi-circular cloak pinned at the shoulder. Members of the senate “[…] would sport a tablion, a colored panel across chest or midriff. This was often adorned in certain colors and jewels to denote rank even among the senatorial class.” Neither wealthy men nor wealthy women wore any sort of stocking or legging (both of which were associated with barbarians).


In the early stages of the Byzantine Empire the traditional Roman toga was still used as very formal or official dress. By Justinian's time this had been replaced by the tunica, or long chiton, for both sexes, over which the upper classes wore other garments, like a dalmatica (dalmatic), a heavier and shorter type of tunica, again worn by both sexes, but mainly by men. The hems often curve down to a sharp point. The scaramangion was a riding-coat of Persian origin, opening down the front and normally coming to the mid-thigh, although these are recorded as being worn by Emperors, when they seem to become much longer. In general, except for military and presumably riding-dress, men of higher status, and all women, had clothes that came down to the ankles, or nearly so. Women often wore a top layer of the stola, for the rich in brocade. All of these, except the stola, might be belted or not. The terms for dress are often confusing, and certain identification of the name a particular pictured item had, or the design that relates to a particular documentary reference, is rare, especially outside the Court.

The chlamys, a semicircular cloak fastened to the right shoulder continued throughout the period. The length fell sometimes only to the hips or as far as the ankles, much longer than the version commonly worn in Ancient Greece the longer version is also called a paludamentum. As well as his courtiers, Emperor Justinian wears one, with a huge brooch, in the Ravenna mosaics. On each straight edge men of the senatorial class had a tablion, a lozenge shaped coloured panel across the chest or midriff (at the front), which was also used to show the further rank of the wearer by the colour or type of embroidery and jewels used (compare those of Justinian and his courtiers). Theodosius I and his co-emperors were shown in 388 with theirs at knee level in the Missorium of Theodosius I of 387, but over the next decades the tablion can be seen to move higher on the Chlamys, for example in ivories of 413-414. [3] A paragauda or border of thick cloth, usually including gold, was also an indicator of rank. Sometimes an oblong cloak would be worn, especially by the military and ordinary people it was not for court occasions. Cloaks were pinned on the right shoulder for ease of movement, and access to a sword.

Leggings and hose were often worn, but are not prominent in depictions of the wealthy they were associated with barbarians, whether European or Persian. Even basic clothes appear to have been surprisingly expensive for the poor. [1] Some manual workers, probably slaves, are shown continuing to wear, at least in summer, the basic Roman slip costume which was effectively two rectangles sewn together at the shoulders and below the arm. Others, when engaged in activity, are shown with the sides of their tunic tied up to the waist for ease of movement.

The most common images surviving from the Byzantine period are not relevant as references for actual dress worn in the period. Christ (often even as a baby), the Apostles, Saint Joseph, Saint John the Baptist and some others are nearly always shown wearing formulaic dress of a large himation, a large rectangular mantle wrapped round the body (almost a toga), over a chiton, or loose sleeved tunic, reaching to the ankles. Sandals are worn on the feet. This costume is not commonly seen in secular contexts, although possibly this is deliberate, to avoid confusing secular with divine subjects. The Theotokos (Virgin Mary) is shown wearing a maphorion, a more shaped mantle with a hood and sometimes a hole at the neck. This probably is close to actual typical dress for widows, and for married women when in public. The Virgin's underdress may be visible, especially at the sleeves. There are also conventions for Old Testament prophets and other Biblical figures. Apart from Christ and the Virgin, much iconographic dress is white or relatively muted in colour especially when on walls (murals and mosaics) and in manuscripts, but more brightly coloured in icons. Many other figures in Biblical scenes, especially if unnamed, are usually depicted wearing "contemporary" Byzantine clothing.

Modesty was important for all except the very rich, and most women appear almost entirely covered by rather shapeless clothes, which needed to be able to accommodate a full pregnancy. The basic garment in the early Empire comes down to the ankles, with a high round collar and tight sleeves to the wrist. The fringes and cuffs might be decorated with embroidery, with a band around the upper arm as well. In the 10th and 11th century a dress with flared sleeves, eventually very full indeed at the wrist, becomes increasingly popular, before disappearing working women are shown with the sleeves tied up. In court ladies this may come with a V-collar. Belts were normally worn, possibly with belt-hooks to support the skirt they may have been cloth more often than leather, and some tasselled sashes are seen. [4] Neck openings were probably often buttoned, which is hard to see in art, and not described in texts, but must have been needed if only for breast-feeding. Straight down, across, or diagonally are the possible options. [5] The plain linen undergarment was, until the 10th century, not designed to be visible. However at this point a standing collar starts to show above the main dress. [5]

Hair is covered by a variety of head-cloths and veils, presumably often removed inside the home. Sometimes caps were worn under the veil, and sometimes the cloth is tied in turban style. This may have been done while working - for example the midwives in scenes of the Nativity of Jesus in art usually adopt this style. Earlier ones were wrapped in a figure-of-eight fashion, but by the 11th century circular wrapping, possibly sewn into a fixed position, was adopted. In the 11th and 12th centuries head-cloths or veils began to be longer. [6]

With footwear, scholars are more certain, as there are considerable numbers of examples recovered by archaeology from the drier parts of the Empire. A great variety of footwear is found, with sandals, slippers and boots to the mid-calf all common in manuscript illustrations and excavated finds, where many are decorated in various ways. The colour red, reserved for Imperial use in male footwear, is actually by far the most common colour for women's shoes. Purses are rarely visible, and seem to have been made of textile matching the dress, or perhaps tucked into the sash. [7]

Dancers are shown with special dress including short sleeves or sleeveless dresses, which may or may not have a lighter sleeve from an undergarment below. They have tight wide belts, and their skirts have a flared and differently coloured element, probably designed to rise up as they spin in dances. [8] A remark of Anna Komnene about her mother suggests that not showing the arm above the wrist was a special focus of Byzantine modesty. [9]

Although it is sometimes claimed that the face-veil was invented by the Byzantines, [10] Byzantine art does not depict women with veiled faces, although it commonly depicts women with veiled hair. It is assumed that Byzantine women outside court circles went well wrapped up in public, and were relatively restricted in their movements outside the house they are rarely depicted in art. [11] The literary sources are not sufficiently clear to distinguish between a head-veil and a face-veil. [9] Strabo, writing in the 1st century, alludes to some Persian women veiling their faces (Geography, 11. 9-10). [ failed verification ] In addition, the early 3rd-century Christian writer Tertullian, in his treatise The Veiling of Virgins, Ch. 17, describes pagan Arab women as veiling the entire face except the eyes, in the manner of a niqab. This shows that some Middle Eastern women veiled their faces long before Islam.

As in Graeco-Roman times, purple was reserved for the royal family other colours in various contexts conveyed information as to class and clerical or government rank. Lower-class people wore simple tunics but still had the preference for bright colours found in all Byzantine fashions.

The races in the Hippodrome used four teams: red, white, blue and green and the supporters of these became political factions, taking sides on the great theological issues—which were also political questions—of Arianism, Nestorianism and Monophysitism, and therefore on the Imperial claimants who also took sides. Huge riots took place, in the 4th to 6th centuries and mostly in Constantinople, with deaths running into the thousands, between these factions, who naturally dressed in their appropriate colours. In medieval France, there were similar colours-wearing political factions, called chaperons.

A 14th-century mosaic (right) from the Kahriye-Cami or Chora Church in Istanbul gives an excellent view of a range of costume from the late period. From the left, there is a soldier on guard, the governor in one of the large hats worn by important officials, a middle-ranking civil servant (holding the register roll) in a dalmatic with a wide border, probably embroidered, over a long tunic, which also has a border. Then comes a higher-ranking soldier, carrying a sword on an untied belt or baldric. The Virgin and St Joseph are in their normal iconographic dress, and behind St Joseph a queue of respectable citizens wait their turn to register. Male hem lengths drop as the status of the person increases. All the exposed legs have hose, and the soldiers and citizens have foot-wrappings above, presumably with sandals. The citizens wear dalmatics with a wide border around the neck and hem, but not as rich as that of the middle-level official. The other men would perhaps wear hats if not in the presence of the governor. A donor figure in the same church, the Grand Logothete Theodore Metochites, who ran the legal system and finances of the Empire, wears an even larger hat, which he keeps on whilst kneeling before Christ (see Gallery).

Many men went bareheaded and, apart from the Emperor, they were normally so in votive depictions, which may distort the record we have. In the late Byzantine period a number of extravagantly large hats were worn as uniform by officials. In the 12th century, Emperor Andronikos Komnenos wore a hat shaped like a pyramid, but eccentric dress is one of many things he was criticised for. This was perhaps related to the very elegant hat with a very high-domed peak, and a sharply turned-up brim coming far forward in an acute triangle to a sharp point (left), that was drawn by Italian artists when the Emperor John VIII Palaiologos went to Florence and the Council of Ferrara in 1438 in the last days of the Empire. Versions of this and other clothes, including many spectacular hats, worn by the visitors were carefully drawn by Pisanello and other artists.[2] They passed through copies across Europe for use in Eastern subjects, especially for depictions of the three kings or Magi in Nativity scenes. In 1159 the visiting Crusader Prince Raynald of Châtillon wore a tiara shaped felt cap, embellished in gold. An Iberian wide brimmed felt hat came into vogue during the 12th century. Especially in the Balkans, small caps with or without fur brims were worn, of the sort later adopted by the Russian Tsars.

Not many shoes are seen clearly in Byzantine Art because of the long robes of the rich. Red shoes marked the Emperor blue shoes, a sebastokrator and green shoes a protovestiarios.

The Ravenna mosaics show the men wearing what may be sandals with white socks, and soldiers wear sandals tied around the calf or strips of cloth wrapped round the leg to the calf. These probably went all the way to the toes (similar foot-wrappers are still worn by Russian other ranks).

Some soldiers, including later Imperial portraits in military dress, show boots nearly reaching the knee - red for the Emperor. In the Imperial Regalia of the Holy Roman Emperors there are shoes or slippers in Byzantine style made in Palermo before 1220. They are short, only to the ankle, and generously cut to allow many different sizes to be accommodated. They are lavishly decorated with pearls and jewels and gold scrollwork on the sides and over the toe of the shoe. [12] More practical footwear was no doubt worn on less formal occasions.

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.

This stayed close to the Greco-Roman pattern, especially for officers (see Gallery section for example). A breastplate of armour, under which the bottom of a short tunic appeared as a skirt, often overlaid with a fringe of leather straps, the pteruges. Similar strips covered the upper arms, below round armour shoulder-pieces. Boots came to the calf, or sandals were strapped high on the legs. A rather flimsy-looking cloth belt is tied high under the ribs as a badge of rank rather than a practical item.

Dress and equipment changed considerably across the period to have the most efficient and effective accoutrements current economics would allow. Other ranks' clothing was largely identical to that of common working men. The manuals recommend tunics and coats no longer than the knee. [13] As an army marches first of all on its feet, the manual writers were more concerned that troops should have good footwear than anything else. [14] This ranged from low lace up shoes to thigh boots, all to be fitted with "a few (hob) nails". [15] A head-cloth ("phakiolion" or "maphorion") which ranged from a simple cloth coming from below the helmet (as still worn by Orthodox clergy) to something more like a turban, was standard military headgear in the Middle and Late Empire for both common troops and for ceremonial wear by some ranks [16] they were also worn by women.

The distinctive garments of the Emperors (often there were two at a time) and Empresses were the crown and the heavily jewelled Imperial loros or pallium, that developed from the trabea triumphalis, a ceremonial coloured version of the Roman toga worn by Consuls (during the reign of Justinian I Consulship became part of the imperial status), and worn by the Emperor and Empress as a quasi-ecclesiastical garment. It was also worn by the twelve most important officials and the imperial bodyguard, and hence by Archangels in icons, who were seen as divine bodyguards. In fact it was only normally worn a few times a year, such as on Easter Sunday, but it was very commonly used for depictions in art. [17]

The men's version of the loros was a long strip, dropping down straight in front to below the waist, and with the portion behind pulled round to the front and hung gracefully over the left arm. The female loros was similar at the front end, but the back end was wider and tucked under a belt after pulling through to the front again. Both male and female versions changed style and diverged in the middle Byzantine period, the female later reverting to the new male style. Apart from jewels and embroidery, small enamelled plaques were sewn into the clothes the dress of Manuel I Comnenus was described as being like a meadow covered with flowers. Generally sleeves were closely fitted to the arm and the outer dress comes to the ankles (although often called a scaramangion), and is also rather closely fitted. The sleeves of empresses became extremely wide in the later period. [18]

The superhumeral, worn throughout the history of Byzantium, was the imperial decorative collar, often forming part of the loros. It was copied by at least women of the upper class. It was of cloth of gold or similar material, then studded with gems and heavily embroidered. The decoration was generally 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 the richness. The collar came over the collarbone to cover a portion of the upper chest.

The Imperial Regalia of the Holy Roman Emperors, kept in the Schatzkammer (Vienna), contains a full set of outer garments made in the 12th century in essentially Byzantine style at the Byzantine-founded workshops in Palermo. These are among the best surviving Byzantine garments and give a good idea of the lavishness of Imperial ceremonial clothing. There is a cloak (worn by the Emperors with the gap at the front), "alb", dalmatic, stockings, slippers and gloves. The loros is Italian and later. Each element of the design on the cloak (see Textiles below) is outlined in pearls and embroidered in gold.

Especially in the early and later periods (approximately before 600 and after 1,000) Emperors may be shown in military dress, with gold breastplates, red boots, and a crown. Crowns had pendilia and became closed on top during the 12th century.

Court life "passed in a sort of ballet", with precise ceremonies prescribed for every occasion, to show that "Imperial power could be exercised in harmony and order", and "the Empire could thus reflect the motion of the Universe as it was made by the Creator", according to the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who wrote a Book of Ceremonies describing in enormous detail the annual round of the Court. Special forms of dress for many classes of people on particular occasions are set down at the name-day dinner for the Emperor or Empress various groups of high officials performed ceremonial "dances", one group wearing "a blue and white garment, with short sleeves, and gold bands, and rings on their ankles. In their hands they hold what are called phengia". The second group do just the same, but wearing "a garment of green and red, split, with gold bands". These colours were the marks of the old chariot racing factions, the four now merged to just the Blues and the Greens, and incorporated into the official hierarchy.

Various tactica, treatises on administrative structure, court protocol and precedence, give details of the costumes worn by different office-holders. According to pseudo-Kodinos, the distinctive colour of the Sebastokrator was blue his ceremonial costume included blue shoes embroidered with eagles on a red field, a red tunic (chlamys), and a diadem (stephanos) in red and gold. [19] As in the Versailles of Louis XIV, elaborate dress and court ritual probably were at least partly an attempt to smother and distract from political tensions.

However this ceremonial way of life came under stress as the military crisis deepened, and never revived after the interlude of the Western Emperors following the capture of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 in the late period a French visitor was shocked to see the Empress riding in the street with fewer attendants and less ceremony than a Queen of France would have had.

This is certainly the area in which Roman and Byzantine clothing is nearest to living on, as many forms of habit and vestments still in use (especially in the Eastern, but also in the Western churches) are closely related to their predecessors. Over the period clerical dress went from being merely normal lay dress to a specialized set of garments for different purposes. The bishop in the Ravenna mosaic wears a chasuble very close to what is regarded as the "modern" Western form of the 20th century, the garment having got much larger, and then contracted, in the meantime. Over his shoulder he wears a simple bishop's omophorion, resembling the clerical pallium of the Latin Church, and a symbol of his position. This later became much larger, and produced various types of similar garments, such as the epitrachelion and orarion, for other ranks of clergy. Modern Orthodox clerical hats are also survivals from the much larger and brightly coloured official headgear of the Byzantine civil service.

Men's hair was generally short and neat until the late Empire, and often is shown elegantly curled, probably artificially (picture at top). The 9th century Khludov Psalter has Iconophile illuminations which vilify the last Iconoclast Patriarch, John the Grammarian, caricaturing him with untidy hair sticking straight out in all directions. Monk's hair was long, and most clergy had beards, as did many lay men, especially later. Upper-class women mostly wore their hair up, again very often curled and elaborately shaped. If we are to judge by religious art, and the few depictions of other women outside the court, women probably kept their hair covered in public, especially when married.

As in China, there were large Byzantine Imperial workshops, apparently always based in Constantinople, for textiles as for other arts like mosaic. Although there were other important centres, the Imperial workshops led fashion and technical developments and their products were frequently used as diplomatic gifts to other rulers, as well as being distributed to favoured Byzantines. In the late 10th century, the Emperor sent gold and fabrics to a Russian ruler in the hope that this would prevent him attacking the Empire.

Most surviving examples were not used for clothes and feature very large woven or embroidered designs. Before the Byzantine Iconoclasm these often contained religious scenes such as Annunciations, often in a number of panels over a large piece of cloth. This naturally stopped during the periods of Iconoclasm and with the exception of church vestments [3] for the most part figural scenes did not reappear afterwards, being replaced by patterns and animal designs. Some examples show very large designs being used for clothing by the great - two enormous embroidered lions killing camels occupy the whole of the Coronation cloak of Roger II in Vienna, produced in Palermo about 1134 in the workshops the Byzantines had established there. [4] A sermon by Saint Asterius of Amasia, from the end of the 5th century, gives details of imagery on the clothes of the rich (which he strongly condemns): [20]

When, therefore, they dress themselves and appear in public, they look like pictured walls in the eyes of those that meet them. And perhaps even the children surround them, smiling to one another and pointing out with the finger the picture on the garment and walk along after them, following them for a long time. On these garments are lions and leopards bears and bulls and dogs woods and rocks and hunters and all attempts to imitate nature by painting. But such rich men and women as are more pious, have gathered up the gospel history and turned it over to the weavers. You may see the wedding of Galilee, and the water-pots the paralytic carrying his bed on his shoulders the blind man being healed with the clay the woman with the bloody issue, taking hold of the border of the garment the sinful woman falling at the feet of Jesus Lazarus returning to life from the grave.

Both Christian and pagan examples, mostly embroidered panels sewn into plainer cloth, have been preserved in the exceptional conditions of graves in Egypt, although mostly iconic portrait-style images rather than the narrative scenes Asterius describes in his diocese of Amasya in northern Anatolia. The portrait of the Caesar Constantius Gallus in the Chronography of 354 shows several figurative panels on his clothes, mostly round or oval (see gallery).

Early decorated cloth is mostly embroidered in wool on a linen base, and linen is generally more common than cotton throughout the period. Raw Silk yarn was initially imported from China, and the timing and place of the first weaving of it in the Near Eastern world is a matter of controversy, with Egypt, Persia, Syria and Constantinople all being proposed, for dates in the 4th and 5th centuries. Certainly Byzantine textile decoration shows great Persian influence, and very little direct from China. According to legend agents of Justinian I bribed two Buddhist monks from Khotan in about 552 to discover the secret of cultivating silk, although much continued to be imported from China.

Resist dyeing was common from the late Roman period for those outside the Court, and woodblock printing dates to at least the 6th century, and possibly earlier - again this would function as a cheaper alternative to the woven and embroidered materials of the rich. Apart from Egyptian burial-cloths, rather fewer cheap fabrics have survived than expensive ones. It should also be remembered that depicting a patterned fabric in paint or mosaic is a very difficult task, often impossible in a small miniature, so the artistic record, which often shows patterned fabrics in large-scale figures in the best quality works, probably under-records the use of patterned cloth overall.

The Caesar Constantius Gallus in a later copy of the Chronography of 354, with one of the best surviving indications of what the pictures on clothes described by Asterius looked like.

Consul Anastasius wearing consular robes akin to imperial ones. From his consular diptych, 517.

Chora Church, the Grand Logothete Theodore Metochites, who ran the legal system and finances of the Empire, wears an enormous hat, like all high officials, and a patterned robe.

Basil II in military dress, early 11th century

Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki, 12th century Greek mosaic from Kiev showing military dress, including the high sash around the ribs, as a badge of rank.

Sketches by Pisanello of the Byzantine delegation at the Council of Florence in 1439


As Rome overtook the Ptolemaic system in place for areas of Egypt, they made many changes. The effect of the Roman conquest was at first to strengthen the position of the Greeks and of Hellenism against Egyptian influences. Some of the previous offices and names of offices under the Hellenistic Ptolemaic rule were kept, some were changed, and some names would have remained but the function and administration would have changed.

The Romans introduced important changes in the administrative system, aimed at achieving a high level of efficiency and maximizing revenue. The duties of the prefect of Aegyptus combined responsibility for military security through command of the legions and cohorts, for the organization of finance and taxation, and for the administration of justice.

The Egyptian provinces of the Ptolemaic Kingdom remained wholly under Roman rule until the administrative reforms of the augustus Diocletian ( r . 284–305 ). [7] : 57 In these first three centuries of Roman Egypt, the whole country came under the central Roman control of single governor, officially called in Latin: praefectus Alexandreae et Aegypti, lit. 'prefect of Alexandria and Egypt' and more usually referred to as the Latin: praefectus Aegypti, lit. 'prefect of Egypt' or the Koinē Greek: ἔπαρχος Αἰγύπτου , romanized: eparchos Aigyptou, lit. 'Eparch of Egypt'. [7] : 57 The double title of the governor as prefect "of Alexandria and Egypt" reflects the distinctions between Upper and Lower Egypt and Alexandria, since Alexandria, outside the Nile Delta, was not within the then-prevailing traditional geographic boundaries of Egypt. [7] : 57

Roman Egypt was the only Roman province whose governor was of equestrian rank in the Roman social order all others were of the senatorial class and served as Roman senators, including former Roman consuls, but the prefect of Egypt had more or less equivalent civil and military powers (imperium) to a proconsul, since a Roman law (a lex) granted him "proconsular imperium" (Latin: imperium ad similitudinem proconsulis). [7] : 57 Unlike in senatorially-governed provinces, the prefect was responsible for the collection of certain taxes and for the organization of the all-important grain shipments from Egypt (including the annona). [7] : 58 Because of these financial responsibilities, the governor's administration had to be closely controlled and organized. [7] : 58 The governorship of Egypt was the second-highest office available to the equestrian class on the cursus honorum (after that of the praetorian prefect (Latin: praefectus praetorio), the commander of the imperial Praetorian Guard) and one of the highest-paid, receiving an annual salary of 200,000 sesterces (a "ducenarian" post). [7] : 58 The prefect was appointed at the emperor's discretion officially the governors' status and responsibilities mirrored those of the augustus himself: his fairness (aequitas, 'equality') and his foresight (providentia, 'providence'). [7] : 58 From the early 2nd century, service as the governor of Egypt was frequently the penultimate stage in the career of a praetorian prefect. [7] : 58

The governor's powers as prefect, which included the rights to make edicts (ius edicendi) and, as the supreme judicial authority, to order capital punishment (ius gladii, 'right of swords'), expired as soon as his successor arrived in the provincial capital at Alexandria, who then also took up overall command of the Roman legions of the Egyptian garrison. [7] : 58 (Initially, three legions were stationed in Egypt, with only two from the reign of Tiberius ( r . 14–37 AD ).) [7] : 58 The official duties of the praefectus Aegypti are well known because enough records survive to reconstruct a mostly complete official calendar (fasti) of the governors' engagements. [7] : 57 Yearly in Lower Egypt, and once every two years in Upper Egypt, the praefectus Aegypti held a conventus (Koinē Greek: διαλογισμός , romanized: dialogismos, lit. 'dialogue'), during which legal trials were conducted and administrative officials' practices were examined, usually between January (Ianuarius) and April (Aprilis) in the Roman calendar. [7] : 58 Evidence exists of more than 60 edicts issued by the Roman governors of Egypt. [7] : 58

To the government at Alexandria besides the prefect of Egypt, the Roman emperors appointed several other subordinate procurators for the province, all of equestrian rank and, at least from the reign of Commodus ( r . 176–192 ) of similar, "ducenarian" salary bracket. [7] : 58 The administrator of the Idios Logos, responsible for special revenues like the proceeds of bona caduca property, and the iuridicus (Koinē Greek: δικαιοδότης , romanized: dikaiodotes, lit. 'giver of laws'), the senior legal official, were both imperially appointed. [7] : 58 From the reign of Hadrian ( r . 117–138 ), the financial powers of the prefect and the control of the Egyptian temples and priesthoods was devolved to other procurators, a dioiketes ( διοικητής ), the chief financial officer, and an archiereus ( ἀρχιερεύς , 'archpriest'). [7] : 58 A procurator could deputize as the prefect's representative where necessary. [7] : 58

Procurators were also appointed from among the freedmen (manumitted slaves) of the imperial household, including the powerful procurator usiacus, responsible for state property in the province. [7] : 58 Other procurators were responsible for revenue farming of state monopolies (the procurator ad Mercurium), oversight of farm lands (the procurator episkepseos), of the warehouses of Alexandria (the procurator Neaspoleos), and of exports and emigration (the procurator Phari, 'procurator of the Pharos'). [7] : 58 These roles are poorly attested, with often the only surviving information beyond the names of the offices is a few names of the incumbents. In general, the central provincial administration of Egypt is no better-known than the Roman governments of other provinces, since, unlike in the rest of Egypt, the conditions for the preservation of official papyri were very unfavourable at Alexandria. [7] : 58

Local government in the hinterland (Koinē Greek: χώρα , romanized: khṓrā, lit. 'countryside') outside Alexandria was divided into traditional regions known as nomoi. [7] : 58 To each nome the prefect appointed a strategos (Koinē Greek: στρατηγός , romanized: stratēgós, lit. 'general') the strategoi were civilian administrators, without military functions, who performed much of the government of the country in the prefect's name and were themselves drawn from the Egyptian upper classes. [7] : 58 The strategoi in each of the mētropoleis were the senior local officials, served as intermediaries between the prefect and the villages, and were legally responsible for the administration and their own conduct while in office for several years. [7] : 58 Each strategos was supplemented by a royal scribe ( βασιλικός γραμματεύς , basilikós grammateús, 'royal secretary'). [7] : 58 These scribes were responsible for their nome's financial affairs, including administration of all property, land, land revenues, and temples, and what remains of their record-keeping is unparalleled in the ancient world for its completeness and complexity. [7] : 58 The royal scribes could act as proxy for the strategoi, but each reported directly to Alexandria, where dedicated financial secretaries – appointed for each individual nome – oversaw the accounts: an eklogistes and a graphon ton nomon. [7] : 58 The eklogistes was responsible for general financial affairs while the graphon ton nomon likely dealt with matters relating to the Idios Logos. [7] : 58–59

The nomoi were grouped traditionally into those of Upper and Lower Egypt, the two divisions each being known as an "epistrategy" after the chief officer, the epistrategos ( ἐπιστράτηγος , epistratēgós, 'over-general'), each of whom was also a Roman procurator. Soon after the Roman annexation, a new epistrategy was formed, encompassing the area just south of Memphis and the Faiyum region and named "the Heptanomia and the Arsinoite nome". [7] : 58 In the Nile Delta however, power was wielded by two of the epistrategoi. [7] : 58 The epistrategos's role was mainly to mediate between the prefect in Alexandria and the strategoi in the mētropoleis, and they had few specific administrative duties, performing a more general function. [7] : 58 Their salary was sexagenarian – 60,000 sesterces annually. [7] : 58

Each village or kome ( κώμη , kṓmē) was served by a village scribe ( κωμογραμματεύς , kōmogrammateús, 'secretary of the kome'), whose term, possibly paid, was usually held for three years. [7] : 59 Each, to avoid conflicts of interest, was appointed to a community away from their home village, as they were required to inform the strategoi and epistrategoi of the names of persons due to perform unpaid public service as part of the liturgy system. [7] : 59 They were required to be literate and had various duties as official clerks. [7] : 59 Other local officials drawn from the liturgy system served for a year in their home kome they included the practor ( πράκτωρ , práktōr, 'executor'), who collected certain taxes, as well as security officers, granary officials ( σιτολόγοι , sitologoi, 'grain collectors'), public cattle drivers ( δημόσιοι kτηνοτρόφοι , dēmósioi ktēnotróphoi, 'cattleherds of the demos'), and cargo supervisors ( ἐπίπλοοι , epiploöi). [7] : 59 Other liturgical officials were responsible for other specific aspects of the economy: a suite of officials was each responsible for arranging supplies of particular necessity in the course of the prefect's official tours. [7] : 59 The liturgy system extended to most aspects of Roman administration by the reign of Trajan ( r . 98–117 ), though constant efforts were made by people eligible for such duties to escape their imposition. [7] : 59

The reforms of the early 4th century had established the basis for another 250 years of comparative prosperity in Aegyptus, at a cost of perhaps greater rigidity and more oppressive state control. Aegyptus was subdivided for administrative purposes into a number of smaller provinces, and separate civil and military officials were established the praeses and the dux. The province was under the supervision of the count of the Orient (i.e. the vicar) of the diocese headquartered in Antioch in Syria.

Emperor Justinian abolished the Diocese of Egypt in 538 and re-combined civil and military power in the hands of the dux with a civil deputy (praeses) as a counterweight to the power of the church authorities. All pretense of local autonomy had by then vanished. The presence of the soldiery was more noticeable, its power and influence more pervasive in the routine of town and village life.

The Roman army was among the most homogenous Roman structures, and the organization of the army in Egypt differed little from its organization elsewhere in the Roman Empire. The Roman legions were recruited from Roman citizens and the Roman auxilia recruited from the non-citizen subjects. [8] : 69

Egypt was unique in that its garrison was commanded by the praefectus Aegypti, an official of the equestrian order, rather than, as in other provinces, a governor of the senatorial class. [8] : 75 This distinction was stipulated in a law promulgated by Augustus, and, because it was unthinkable that an equestrian should command a senator, the commanders of the legions in Egypt were themselves, uniquely, of equestrian rank. [8] : 75 As a result of these strictures, the governor was rendered unable to build up a rival power base (as Mark Antony had been able to do), while the military legati commanding the legions were career soldiers, formerly centurions with the senior rank of primus pilus, rather than politicians whose military experience was limited to youthful service as a military tribune. [8] : 75 Beneath the praefectus Aegypti, the overall commander of legions and auxilia stationed in Egypt was styled in Latin: praefectus stratopedarches, from the Greek: στρατοπεδάρχης , romanized: stratopedárchēs, lit. 'camp commander', or as Latin: praefectus exercitu qui est in Aegypto, lit. 'prefect of the army in Egypt'. [8] : 75–76 Collectively, these forces were known as the exercitus Aegyptiacus, 'Army of Egypt'. [8] : 76

The Roman garrison was concentrated at Nicopolis, a district of Alexandria, rather than at the strategic heart of the country around Memphis and Egyptian Babylon. [9] : 37 Alexandria was the Mediterranean's second city in the early Roman empire, the cultural capital of the Greek East and rival to Rome under Antony and Cleopatra. [9] : 37 Because only a few papyri are preserved from the area, little more is known about the legionaries' everyday life than is known from other provinces of the empire, and little evidence exists of the military practices of the prefect and his officers. [8] : 75 Most papyri have been found in Middle Egypt's villages, and the texts are primarily concerned with local affairs, rarely giving space to high politics and military matters. [8] : 70 Not much is known about the military encampments of the Roman imperial period, since many are underwater or have been built over and because Egyptian archaeology has traditionally taken little interest in Roman sites. [8] : 70 Because they supply a record of soldiers' service history, six bronze Roman military diplomas dating between 83 and 206 are the main source of documentary evidence for the auxilia in Egypt these inscribed certificates rewarded 25 or 26 years of military service in the auxilia with Roman citizenship and the right of conubium. [8] : 70–71 That the army was more Greek-speaking than in other provinces is certain. [8] : 75

The heart of the Army of Egypt was the Nicopolis garrison at Alexandria, with at least one legion permanently stationed there, along with a strong force of auxilia cavalry. [8] : 71 These troops would both guard the residence of the praefectus Aegypti against uprisings among the Alexandrians and were poised to march quickly to any point at the prefect's command. [8] : 71–72 At Alexandria too was the Classis Alexandrina, the provincial fleet of the Roman Navy in Egypt. [8] : 71 In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, there were around 8,000 soldiers at Alexandria, a fraction of the megalopolis's huge population. [8] : 72

Initially, the legionary garrison of Roman Egypt consisted of three legions: the Legio III Cyrenaica, the Legio XXII Deiotariana, and one other legion. [8] : 70 The station and identity of this third legion is not known for sure, and it is not known precisely when it was withdrawn from Egypt, though it was certainly before 23 AD, during the reign of Tiberius ( r . 14–37 ). [8] : 70 In the reign of Tiberius's step-father and predecessor Augustus, the legions had been stationed at Nicopolis and at Egyptian Babylon, and perhaps at Thebes. [8] : 70 After August 119, the III Cyrenaica was ordered out of Egypt the XXII Deiotariana was transferred sometime afterwards, and before 127/8, the Legio II Traiana arrived, to remain as the main component of the Army of Egypt for two centuries. [8] : 70

After some fluctuations in the size and positions of the auxilia garrison in the early decades of Roman Egypt, relating to the conquest and pacification of the country, the auxilia contingent was mostly stable during the Principate, increasing somewhat towards the end of the 2nd century, and with some individual formations remaining in Egypt for centuries at a time. [8] : 71 Three or four alae of cavalry were stationed in Egypt, each ala numbering around 500 horsemen. [8] : 71 There were between seven and ten cohortes of auxilia infantry, each cohors about 500 hundred strong, although some were cohortes equitatae – mixed units of 600 men, with infantry and cavalry in a roughly 4:1 ratio. [8] : 71 Besides the auxilia stationed at Alexandria, at least three detachments permanently garrisoned the southern border, on the Nile's First Cataract around Philae and Syene (Aswan), protecting Egypt from enemies to the south and guarding against rebellion in the Thebaid. [8] : 72

Besides the main garrison at Alexandrian Nicopolis and the southern border force, the disposition of the rest of the Army of Egypt is not clear, though many soldiers are known to have been stationed at various outposts (praesidia), including those defending roads and remote natural resources from attack. [8] : 72 Roman detachments, centuriones, and beneficiarii maintained order in the Nile Valley, but about their duties little is known, as little evidence survives, though they were, in addition to the strategoi of the nomoi, the prime local representatives of the Roman state. [8] : 73 Archaeological work led by Hélène Cuvigny has revealed many ostraca (inscribed ceramic fragments) which give unprecedently detailed information on the lives of soldiers stationed in the Eastern Desert along the Coptos–Myos Hormos road and at the imperial granite quarry at Mons Claudianus. [8] : 72 Another Roman outpost, known from an inscription, existed on Farasan, the chief island of the Red Sea's Farasan Islands off the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula. [8] : 72

As in other provinces, many of the Roman soldiers in Egypt were recruited locally, not only among the non-citizen auxilia, but among the legionaries as well, who were required to have Roman citizenship. [8] : 73 An increasing proportion of the Army of Egypt was of local origin in the reign of the Flavian dynasty, with an even higher proportion – as many as three quarters of legionaries – under the Severan dynasty. [8] : 73 Of these, around one third were themselves the offspring (Latin: castrenses, lit. 'camp-men') of soldiers, raised in the canabae settlements surrounding the army's base at Nicopolis, while only about one eighth were Alexandrian citizens. [8] : 73 Egyptians were given Roman-style Latin names on joining the army unlike in other provinces, indigenous names are nearly unknown among the local soldiers of the Army of Egypt. [8] : 74

One of the surviving military diplomas lists the soldier's birthplace as Coptos, while others demonstrate that soldiers and centurions from elsewhere retired to Egypt: auxilia veterans from Chios and Hippo Regius (or Hippos) are named. [8] : 73–74 Evidence from the 2nd century suggests most auxilia came from Egypt, with others drawn from the provinces of Africa and Syria, and from Roman Asia Minor. [8] : 73–74 Auxilia from the Balkans, who served throughout the Roman army, also served in Egypt: many Dacian names are known from ostraca in the Trajanic period, perhaps connected with the recruitment of Dacians during and after Trajan's Dacian Wars they are predominantly cavalrymen's names, with some infantrymen's. [8] : 74 Thracians, common in the army in other Roman provinces, were also present, and an auxiliary diploma from the Egyptian garrison has been found in Thracia. [8] : 74 Two auxilia diplomas connect Army of Egypt veterans with Syria, including one naming Apamea. [8] : 74 Large numbers of recruits mustered in Asia Minor may have supplemented the garrison after the Kitos War against a Jewish uprising in Egypt and Syria. [8] : 74

The social structure in Aegyptus under the Romans was both unique and complicated. On the one hand, the Romans continued to use many of the same organizational tactics that were in place under the leaders of the Ptolemaic period. At the same time, the Romans saw the Greeks in Aegyptus as “Egyptians”, an idea that both the native Egyptians and Greeks would have rejected. [10] To further compound the whole situation, Jews, who themselves were very Hellenized overall, had their own communities, separate from both Greeks and native Egyptians. [10]

The Romans began a system of social hierarchy that revolved around ethnicity and place of residence. Other than Roman citizens, a Greek citizen of one of the Greek cities had the highest status, and a rural Egyptian would be in the lowest class. [11] In between those classes was the metropolite, who was almost certainly of Hellenic origin. Gaining citizenship and moving up in ranks was very difficult and there were not many available options for ascendancy. [12]

One of the routes that many followed to ascend to another caste was through enlistment in the army. Although only Roman citizens could serve in the legions, many Greeks found their way in. The native Egyptians could join the auxiliary forces and attain citizenship upon discharge. [13] The different groups had different rates of taxation based on their social class. The Greeks were exempt from the poll tax, while Hellenized inhabitants of the nome capitals were taxed at a lower rate than the native Egyptians, who could not enter the army, and paid the full poll tax. [14]

The social structure in Aegyptus is very closely linked to the governing administration. Elements of centralized rule that were derived from the Ptolemaic period lasted into the 4th century. One element in particular was the appointment of strategoi to govern the ‘nomes’, the traditional administrative divisions of Egypt. Boulai, or town councils, in Egypt were only formally constituted by Septimius Severus. It was only under Diocletian later in the 3rd century that these boulai and their officers acquired important administrative responsibilities for their nomes. The Augustan takeover introduced a system of compulsory public service, which was based on poros (property or income qualification), which was wholly based on social status and power. The Romans also introduced the poll tax which was similar to tax rates that the Ptolemies levied, but the Romans gave special low rates to citizens of mētropoleis. [15] The city of Oxyrhynchus had many papyri remains that contain much information on the subject of social structure in these cities. This city, along with Alexandria, shows the diverse set-up of various institutions that the Romans continued to use after their takeover of Egypt.

Just as under the Ptolemies, Alexandria and its citizens had their own special designations. The capital city enjoyed a higher status and more privileges than the rest of Egypt. Just as it was under the Ptolemies, the primary way of becoming a citizen of Roman Alexandria was through showing when registering for a deme that both parents were Alexandrian citizens. Alexandrians were the only Egyptians that could obtain Roman citizenship. [16]

If a common Egyptian wanted to become a Roman citizen he would first have to become an Alexandrian citizen. The Augustan period in Egypt saw the creation of urban communities with “Hellenic” landowning elites. These landowning elites were put in a position of privilege and power and had more self-administration than the Egyptian population. Within the citizenry, there were gymnasiums that Greek citizens could enter if they showed that both parents were members of the gymnasium based on a list that was compiled by the government in 4–5 AD. [17]

The candidate for the gymnasium would then be let into the ephebus. There was also the council of elders known as the gerousia. This council of elders did not have a boulai to answer to. All of this Greek organization was a vital part of the metropolis and the Greek institutions provided an elite group of citizens. The Romans looked to these elites to provide municipal officers and well-educated administrators. [17] These elites also paid lower poll-taxes than the local native Egyptians, fellahin. It is well documented that Alexandrians in particular were able to enjoy lower tax-rates on land. [18]

These privileges even extended to corporal punishments. Romans were protected from this type of punishment while native Egyptians were whipped. Alexandrians, on the other hand, had the privilege of merely being beaten with a rod. [19] Although Alexandria enjoyed the greatest status of the Greek cities in Egypt, it is clear that the other Greek cities, such as Antinoöpolis, enjoyed privileges very similar to the ones seen in Alexandria. [20] All of these changes amounted to the Greeks being treated as an ally in Egypt and the native Egyptians were treated as a conquered race. [ citation needed ]

The Gnomon of the Idios Logos shows the connection between law and status. It lays out the revenues it deals with, mainly fines and confiscation of property, to which only a few groups were apt. The Gnomon also confirms that a freed slave takes his former master's social status. The Gnomon demonstrates the social controls that the Romans had in place through monetary means based on status and property.

Ancient Greece

Dress in ancient Greece was generally for comfort during the warm weather. Both men and women wore a tunic called the chiton. It was a rectangular piece of fabric draped by the wearer in various ways. Sometimes it was sewn up one side. Generally it was fastened at either one or both shoulders by a clasp, pin, or brooch. The woman’s chiton fell to the ankles the man’s usually reached only to the knees. The chiton was made of wool, cotton, linen, or silk. Fabric colors included white, yellow, purple, red, and green.

Two types of chitons were worn in ancient Greece. The Doric chiton was folded over at the top and held at the waist by a tied belt. The Ionic chiton, made of a lighter material, was closely pleated and had wide false sleeves. In time, the differences between the chitons began to disappear as the Doric was made of a lighter material and the Ionic lost its sleeves.

Women also wore a tunic called the peplos. The top of the peplos was folded over, looking like a second garment draped down to the waist. It was fastened at the shoulders and belted. In colder weather women would add a shawl called the epiblema. Young men wore the chlamys, a short cloak that was folded over the shoulders, especially while riding horses. In colder weather the himation—a large, loosely draped cloak—was worn fastened over one shoulder. Sometimes men would wear a wide-brimmed hat to help protect them from the sun’s rays.


The custom of burying the dead fully clothed and wrapped in multiple layers of fabrics began in Coptic Christian communities in Egypt in the 3rd century AD.

This natural-coloured wool tunic with tapestry woven ornaments was for a young child. Its decoration suggests it was a more formal tunic than some others found in graves, as it has a very full complement of ornaments: neck-bands, shoulder-bands, sleeve-bands, shoulder and skirt-squares and hem-bands with upturned ends. The side seams are left open at the top for the child's arms, but it is also equipped with narrow sleeves which could have been used as leading strings. However, the tunic is in a very good condition so it is possible that the little child never wore it in life.

Child's overtunic, woven in cruciform shape on the loom, of natural-coloured (now yellow) wool with woven ornaments in coloured wools and undyed linen thread. The wools are all S spun (possibly of local manufacture). The design is the same back and front although the back is now damaged by body fluids. The tunic has cuff bands, two square panels on the shoulders, a neck-border with pendant medallions, two squares at the bottom and a border round the hem with pendant medallions. The ornaments have a blue ground and are edged with red. They are woven with heads, animals, birds, flowers, circles and other symbols. There are three stripes of red and blue weft-twining on either side of the neck they end in coloured pom-poms, and there are two more stripes of weft-twining at the armpits (these were utilised as guidelines when weaving and also reinforced the turns). The tunic has been woven from proper left side, with starting edge, to right, where warp ends have been twisted into a cord. The woven decorations are also woven left to right, and when made into a tunic, all face sideways. The blanket stitches in natural coloured wool along the neck- and hem borders, are not only decorative, but also strengthen the longer transition between tapestry weave and plain weave. The tunic is left open at the armpits.

Originally the tunic had a waist tuck. Marks of stitches and the remains of sewing thread show a tuck of about 14 cm. The tuck must have been let out prior to burial as the waste discharged from the body covers the whole textile.

Given by Major R. G. Gayer-Anderson Pasha (d. 1945) and Lt. Col. T. G. Gayer-Anderson, C.M.G., S.S.O., The Little Hall Lavenham, Suffolk. At the time of acquisition, five pieces of material for mending were noted in the Accession Register. The Major had corresponded with the V&A since October 2nd 1942, on which date he confirmed what had occurred during a discussion on his and his brother's collections. The said collections were evidently 'scattered (for safety's sake), and confused so that I am now in process of reassembling them here one after the other - and as I do so will forward them at intervals addressed to the Director, Victoria and Albert Museum, S. Kensington if this is in order'. The first items were to be the textiles, Mogul miniatures and Turkish silver. He continued, 'As you and I more or less formulated at our interview, my brother. and I would like the Victoria and Albert to take from each collection. whatever objects it may desire to add (1) to its standing and (2) to its "transport" and travelling collections.' The rest should be submitted to other museums or institutions in London or the provinces, and anything left over to the British Red Cross in London to be disposed of at their occasional sales of antiques. The brothers wished the museum to attach their names as joint donors, and to display the objects as far as possible. The first trunk was delivered on 12/10/1942 and consisted mainly of textiles. They fell into five categories: Oriental textiles (29 pieces), Oriental Garments (56 pieces), Persian and Turkish Lace Edgings (an assortment), ?European Lace (white and red) removed from late Turkish garments (scrolls), and Coptic Textiles (shirts and panels etc) in 7 packets (about 100 pieces in all). Particular value was placed on the Coptic textiles and ideally, the brothers wanted what the V&A did not keep to be passed on as a 'Gayer-Anderson collection' to one museum rather than split up. In a later letter (4/11/1942) he indicated that he would like the Manchester Museum privileged as he had already donated Coptic textiles to them, and he added the Kingston-on-Thames School of Art (Surrey County Council) as a possible beneficiary for the same reasons (18/06/1943).

Of the Coptic pieces, the Major wrote: 'It is regretted that most of these pieces are in an unwashed and unironed crude condition and will require treatment and setting up. This applies especially to the many complete or semi complete examples of SHIRTS'. He added a note explaining, however, that 'All these speciments have been soaked and all major impurities removed'. The contents of each pack are described roughly by number and size (1/10/1942). Miss Clayton of the Department of Textiles was to make the decisions about the textile donations, but this decision was shelved until after the War so that the Museum could compare the pieces with their own collection which was not currently available (Sir Eric Maclagan to the Major, 10/11/1942). Four years later, after the death of the Major, his brother reminded the Museum of its commitment to selecting textiles and passing on others (26/03/1946). Interestingly, the response from the Keeper of Textiles indicated that he was afraid that it might take a little time 'as a number of the Coptic pieces will have to be cleaned before we can form a just opinion about them' in addition much of the collection was not yet back in the museum for the purposes of comparison and the department was short-staffed (George Winfield Digby, 29/04/1946). In December, the Keeper of the Manchester Museum wrote to investigate how far the V&A had progressed in their selection (R.U. Sayer, 2/12/1946). Early in 1947, the decision was made to retain nine pieces, including this child's tunic (2/01/1947). The other eight pieces are now V&A nos. T.8-19-1947. The remaining pieces were duly dispatched to Manchester with an indication that Kingston-on-Thames was next on the list. They had arrived in Manchester by 20/01/1947 and awaited attention from the specialist, Miss Laura Start. On 30 January 1947, James Laver wrote to Col. T. G. Gayer-Anderson to thank him and inform him of the action taken.

Note: The Major had worked in the Colonial Service in Egypt in the 1920s (Frances Pritchard, Clothing Culture: Dress in Egypt in the First Millennium AD. Manchester: Whitworth Art Gallery, 2006, p. 9).

Historical significance: Significant as a relatively rare survival of a child's tunic, with full formal decoration and in good state.

The construction of the tunic was similar for men, women and children: it was made in one piece, which was folded over the shoulders and sewn together along the sides. Sometimes the seam directly under the armpits was open - or both the sleeve seams and the side seams were open. A belt, woven, braided, knitted or tablet woven, was worn to hold the folds of the garment in place.

In the 4th century the technique was improved by weaving the garment in a single section with a slit for the neckline. The garment was woven lengthwise on a loom. Weaving started at the end of one of the sleeves and continued through the body section and then the second sleeve (as in this tunic). This technique required numerous warp threads on a very wide loom. The woven scenes were worked at same time as the base fabric. With the transfer of the Roman empire to Byzantium in 395 AD the sleeves gradually seem to have become narrower and the patterns richer. Woollen (rather than linen) tunics seem to have gradually become more common. Apart from the change in the sleeve fitting, the trunk volume increased. The tight sleeves held the masses of cloth in place.

In this example, the sleeves are incredibly narrow, and could have been used as leading strings (a way of holding on to a child, a little like reins), but would also have kept the wide tunic in place. The tunic is in very good condition given that it came from a tomb. Furthermore, many other preserved children's tunics show signs of wear and tear of life, and several have been repeatedly patched (maybe recycled from child to child). Indeed, this tunic may never have been worn in life. It is a formal tunic with a very full complement of ornaments - neck-bands, shoulder-bands, sleeve-bands, shoulder and skirt-squares, and hem-bands with upturned ends. The patterns of these bands and panels, with human heads, birds and animals in various colours on a blue ground, are imitated from the repeating patterns of a class of much favoured blue silk textiles, woven on the drawloom.

The original broad tuck at the waist of this example seems to have been let out just before burial (the body fluids cover the let down tuck uninterrupted), as the stitch marks are still evident and there are even remains of sewing thread, suggesting a quick unpicking. The waist tuck on children's clothes might fulfil a possible need for letting out to allow for growth, but in this case, it is likely the purpose was to cover the lower body of the dead child (the length of the tunic, with tuck in place, might suggest a boy - see similar tunic in Gothenburg: Erikson, Marianne, Textiles in Egypt 200-1500 AD in Swedish Museum Collections (Göteborg: Röhsska Museet,1997), pp. 84-91).

The custom of burying the dead fully clothed and wrapped in multiple layers of fabrics began in the 3rd century. Although found in graves, only a small number of tunics were actually made as funerary clothing and shrouds. Much of the clothing on corpses was not new, but there are also examples of not completely finished garments. The high mortality rate among children is reflected by the large quantities of children's clothing recovered from burials.

The custom of burying the dead fully clothed and wrapped in multiple layers of fabrics began in Coptic Christian communities in Egypt in the 3rd century AD.

This natural-coloured wool tunic with tapestry woven ornaments was for a young child. Its decoration suggests it was a more formal tunic than some others found in graves, as it has a very full complement of ornaments: neck-bands, shoulder-bands, sleeve-bands, shoulder and skirt-squares and hem-bands with upturned ends. The side seams are left open at the top for the child's arms, but it is also equipped with narrow sleeves which could have been used as leading strings. However, the tunic is in a very good condition so it is possible that the little child never wore it in life.

An Egyptian Child’s tunic from the Mamluk period

This tunic has been dated to the Mamluk period. It is linen, embroidered with dark brown silk. The ground linen has a thread count of 20 per cm. The dimensions of the garment is wider in the sleeves than the length- the height of the shirt is 57 cm and the width in the sleeves is 63.5 cm. This type of shirt represents a break from the Coptic full piece woven tunic. The tailor who made it would have made it the same as adult’s clothes, though cut down from other larger embroidered pieces.
The embroidery is pattern darning, on the gores, sleeves and a “necklace” at the slit of the neckline. The pattern darning also goes down the front and back of the tunic. The tunic’s width is mostly from the gores. The main “body” of the tunic is only slightly wider than the neck hole. The seams are a run and fell seam, as seen today on blue jeans. The embroidery found on children’s garments can vary greatly. I will see about charting this pattern darning style soon.

The tunic is in the Ashmolean Jameel Centre. I highly recommend following the link, as the HD zoom is wonderful.

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G illian Vogelsang-Eastwood and Tineke Rooijakkers discuss the significance of clavi in the early Roman era in the Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion (2010):

“Elite men in the early Roman period donned white garments with purple clavi (two vertical bands running down the front and back). Women, on the other hand, wore clothing in various colors, also with clavi. By the late Roman period, garments were increasingly decorated with borders, roundels (round, rectangular, or star-shaped ornaments) and short clavi. During the Byzantine period that followed, the detail within the roundels and clavi became more ornate and colorful, including floral, animal, and human depictions and showing mythological (often Dionysian) scenes.”

The tunic in figure 1 has short clavi on its shoulders and pairs of roundels on the shoulders and body. These designs were tapestry-woven separately and then applied to the linen.

Sara Pendergast, Tom Pendergast, Drew D. Johnson, and Julie L. Carnagie describe the purpose of the clavi in relation to the chlamys, or tunic, in Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear Through the Ages (2013):

“Chlamys, like the one worn by the man on the left, offered warmth and decoration and were often adorned with clavi, or purple stripes.”

Clavi did not have to be a certain color, though red was popular, and likewise, tunics could be a range of colors (Fig. 2) (The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Phyllis Tortora and Sara Marcketti describe the function and appearance of clavi in their Survey of Historic Costume (2015):

“Beginning in Republican times, senators were distinguished by their dress. Their tunics (and those of the emperor) had broad purple bands that extended vertically from hem to hem across the shoulders. These bands were called clavi (clah’vee), the plural form of clavus (clah’vus).” (91-92)

A pair of clavi whose tunic is long gone can be seen in figure 3. They are highly detailed, with figures of humans and animals.

Carolyn Bradley describes the function and appearance of a clavus in the Western World Costume (1954) as a:

“scarlet and purple stripe worn on the tunica, showing class distinction, used until the 3rd century band of embroidery used in 3rd and 4th centuries.” (76)

Most textiles this old no longer show their original colors. Tyrian purple was a bright reddish-purple color, not the violet we think of as ‘purple’ today, and the clavi and roundels on the tunic in in figure 4 may have originally been a similar color.

Herbert Norris describes the appearance and details of clavi in his Ancient European Costume and Fashion (1999):

Clavi become obsolete as badges of rank. At the end of the first century both clavi lost their significance as badges of rank, since they were used as a fashionable adjunct to the tunica in general, and also worn by women. When the dalmatica came into use, the angustus clavus became its characteristics decoration…During the third and fourth centuries A.D. the clavus was employed not only as a band of plain colour, but frequently as strips of embroidery of beautiful design, or the pattern was woven into the material.” (106)

Fig. 1 - Designer unknown (Egyptian). Richly Decorated Tunic, 660–870 (radiocarbon date, 95% probability). Wool tapestry weave textile (including sleeves): 201 cm x 119.1 cm (79 1/8 in x 46 7/8 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 12.185.2. Gift of Maurice Nahman, 1912. Source: MMA

Fig. 2 - Designer unknown (Egyptian). Tunic, 670-870. Plain woven wool, with appliqué ornaments tapestry-woven in coloured wool and linen on linen warps 131 cm x 209 cm (including sleeves). London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 291-1891. Source: VAM

Fig. 3 - Designer unknown (Egyptian). Two Shoulder Bands (clavi), 7th–9th century A.D.. Linen and wool 10 x 62 cm (3 15/16 x 24 7/16 in). Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 17.1392a-b. Denman Waldo Ross Collection. Source: MFA Boston

Fig. 4 - Artist unknown (Egyptian). Tunic, probably 5th century. Linen, wool 169 x 140 cm (66.5 x 55 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 26.9.6. Gift of Edward S. Harkness, 1926. Source: MMA



The pallium was a worn by both men and women (known as palla for women). It was a rectangular piece of colorful fabric, mostly wool or silk.


Worn by both men and women, paenula is a cloak with a hood that was worn during bad weather for protection. If this cloak was made from leather, it was called paenula scortae, and if it was made with heavy felt, the name would be paenula gausapina.


The lacerna, a military cloak, was worn only by people belonging to the middle class. However, many high class people would wear bight-colored lacerna, whereas people belonging to the lower class wore cheaper, dull, and dark cloaks.


The sagum is a cloak that was worn by Roman soldiers and officers alike. A shorter version of sagum, called sagulum, was also worn that would reach till the hips.


The laena was a thick, round-shaped cloak that was folded twice at the shoulders as it was made with heavy fabric.


The red cloak, called the paludamentum, was worn only by the commander-in-chief (consul or dictator) in the republican times. As part of the ceremony, the commander-in-chief would be given the cloak as it was the symbol of imperial power.

Thus we can see how the various flowing garments formed a part of the ancient Roman culture. Today, we can still catch glimpses of the ancient Roman clothing in many modern attires and designs.

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