The Linen Karballatu
Some years ago, I made up one of the famous Persian hoods in red linen cloth. I machine-sewed it and bag-lined it, and did not have sources other than reliefs, the Darius Mosaic, the bonnet from one of the Pazyryk tombs, and an interesting woodcut which Jona Lendering showed me. I used linen because it was available and appropriately light and flowing. I had a feeling that wool would have been more common. Back then, I knew that Strabo said that ordinary Persians wore a rag of sindōn (fine linen? by the middle ages sindon was a delicate silk) about their heads while rich ones wore a tower-like felt hat, so I had one possible source for linen (the original Greek is ῥάκος σινδόνιόν and πίλημα πυργωτόν and the citation is Strabo, Geography, 15.3.19). In the meantime I learned a bit of Greek, and also some Akkadian. It turned out that both of those languages are relevant.
From the seventh century BCE onwards, documents in Babylonia start to mention a kind of foreign hat called the karballatu which may be related to the Greek κυρβασία and one name for the flowing hood with cheek flaps which Persians and Scythians wore (another name used by Greek and Latin writers is tiara). Because they are interested in manufacture and price, and because cuneiform has logograms for materials, these documents often say what these hats were made of. The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary gives some examples:
- 2 širˀannu … and two karballatu which are linen (ša GADA: TCL 9 117: 13)
- 2 linen (GADA) karballutu (Cyr. 183, a marriage contract from Sippar)
- For two karballatu garments (TUG2), one shekel of silver (Nbn. 824: 14)
The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary does not, as far as I can recall, have any texts where these are said to be of wool.
Even better, we have a good idea what these hats looked like, because Darius’ grave inscription at Naqš-i Rustam mentions the Kimmerians who wear their karballatū upright (KUR Gimirri ša TUG2 kar-bal-la-ti-šu2-nu zaq-pa-ˀ). We usually call them the Sakā tigraxaudā or pointed-cap Scythians. Darius had a picture of their chief Skunkha carved on his victory relief at Behistun:
Whether or not your December involves any silly red hats, I hope you have a quiet weekend.
Edit 2021-04-18: Fixed broken link to Windrose Armoury site.
[…] eastern Central Asia we have a lot of felt head-gear, but the “Kimmerian/Scythian/Saka style” hoods in Babylonia were often made of linen. Babylonia had a felt industry since the Bronze Age, but apparently Babylonians liked linen […]