historical clothing

How Much did a Tunic Cost in the Roman Empire?

If this isn’t the famous robbery scene, from Arsenal MS. 5070 Boccaccio Decameron its as close as I can bother to get for a short blog post! The victim on the left is stripping off his clothes while the three robbers look on.

Back in 2017 I posted some information on the price of cloth and clothing in western Europe in 1500 and compared it to Eve Fisher’s modern calculations based on her and her friends’ skill at spinning, weaving, and sewing. I just realized that we can do similarly for the Roman empire in the year 301 CE thanks to the late Veronika Gervers.

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Saka Stockings and Plataea

Some of the felt stockings/felt boots from graves of the Pazyryk Culture in the Altai Mountains, in Polos’mak, N.V., Barkova, L.L., Костюм и текстиль пазырыкцев Алтая (IV-III вв. до н.З.) / Kostium i tekstil’ pazyryktsev Altaya (IV-III vv. do n. e.) / Pazyryk Altai Costume and Textiles (4th-3rd centuries BCE). Infolio: Novosibirsk 2005 (in Russian) pages 94-95 ISBN 5-89590-051-8 (copies occasionally appear on Bookfinder but expect to pay several hundred for a copy, this copy comes the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek by interlibrary loan)

Dario Wielec of Dariusz caballeros and Stefanos Skarmintzos want me to talk about the felt stockings with soles which have been found in some graves in eastern Central Asia. They were often worn in combination with a pair of short trousers that covered the thighs and crotch. You can find a full set of colour photographs and drawings on pp. 92-97 of the Russian book I cited in my original post. They are fascinating and beautiful objects (just think about having brightly coloured feltwork more than 2000 years old!) but I am not sure that they help us understand Chehrabad Saltman 4’s trousers for four reasons:

  • they are not what Saltman 4 is wearing (they are felt, his are woven cloth; they are two separate legs, he wears joined trousers; they have seams up the back of the legs, his have seams at the side of the legs; the felt boots are close-fitting, his trousers are “baggy”)
  • in artwork like the Darius Mosaic, Red Figure vase paintings, and the sculptures of the Aphaia temple on Aigina, the leggings of trousered warriors seem to go all the way up to crotch level without sagging. The felt stockings tend to be shorter (although I don’t have a full set of measurements) and in the middle ages when stockings (‘hose’) extended that high, they needed to be hung from a belt to stop them from falling down.
  • trousers in early Achaemenid art often have a zigzag, diamond, or spotted pattern. That strikes me as something which would be easy to weave in tapestry weave like a kilim. Clothing in this period often had gold leaf, felt, or leather appliques, and its possible that the zig-zag was applied to felt. But we have a fragment of a textile with a rhombus pattern from the Achaemenid period at Chehrabad.
  • I am not sure which genders wore these felt stockings, I seem to remember that the famous pair with shiny beads on the soles were from a female burial but I only have access to what has been translated into German or English and what I can obtain from my library or interlibrary loan.

Since none of the Chehrābād salt mummies are wearing these felt boots, and none of the artwork from the Achaemenid Empire or the Aegean clearly shows them, they don’t belong in a post on Saltman 4’s clothing. But if you scroll down, Herr Doktor Manning will give you his whole lecture on the trouser outfit across Eurasia.

A Red Figure plate painted with an archer running right and looking left with a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other
When Greek artists show the bottoms of leggings, they usually end straight at the ankles, sometimes ‘breaking’ over the top of the foot and sometimes fitting tightly. A Red Figure plate signed Epiktetos, in a style attributed to around 520-510 BCE. British Museum, Registration Number 1837,0609.59 I would cite the British Museum’s Terms of use but I can’t see them without enabling a bunch of Javascripts so just search https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx

A white woolen textile with a black pattern of trapezoids inside trapezoids woven into it
Achaemenid textile with ?woven? or ?embroidered? pattern, from Karina Grömer, Archaeological Textiles Review 60 (2018) p. 113 fig. 3 and Aali and Stöllner (eds). (2015) fig. 55 Photo: DBM/RUB/MFZ, K. Grömer

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Iranian Trousers for Plataea

A foot and shin in zigzag-patterned trousers and low shoes laced all around the ankle
A glazed brick relief of feet and shins from the palace of Darius I at Susa. Musee du Louvre, Département des Antiquités orientales, number Sb 14426 c/o Achemenet http://www.achemenet.com/fr/item/?/musee-achemenide/categories-d-objets/architecture/decor-architectural/3018977

People representing Median, Persian, or Saka soldiers at Plataea in 2021 will need trousers. Not everyone needs them: the King rules many lands full of all kinds of men, many of whom have not adopted the Median dress. But reenactors representing men (and possibly women?) from those nations will need them.

One kind of evidence to use is artwork. Aside from the reliefs from Persepolis, the goldsmith’s work from Scythian tombs and the Oxus Treasure, and the mosaic from Pompeii which everyone knows, you will want to have a close look at some of the glazed terracottas of servants from Susa in Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia or on achemenet and of course at the tomb paintings from Tatarlı, Turkey.

By far the most important archaeological find are the trousers of saltman No. 4 from Chehrābād, Iran, radiocarbon dated to around 405-380 BCE. The saltman is still wearing trousers tucked into his shoes and covered by the skirt of his coat, and all of the textiles are so delicate and salt-encrusted that they cannot be removed, spread flat, and examined. What we know can be summarized in the following few sentences:

  • The trousers are woollen, tabby weave, 8 z-spun weft threads per cm, 11 s-spun warp threads per cm.
  • There are lateral seams in the trouser legs to ankle, and a vertical slit in the lateral thigh at hip level with the skin of the deceased exposed underneath. (Whether the seams are at the medial leg (inner thigh) or lateral leg (outer thigh) is not clear to me)
  • A red woollen thread is sewn along the side seams hiding them except at the slit.
  • Overall, they strike the excavators as loose and baggy.

There is no published information about stitches, thread, or dye of saltman 4’s trousers (the cloth looks natural white to me). Edit: Dr. Grömer describes the trousers and tunic as “made of a sturdy, plain natural white woollen cloth” (aus robustem einfarbig naturhellem Wollstoff bestehend).
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How Much Did a Shirt Really Cost in the Middle Ages?

A painting of peasants eating and napping under a tree while others harvest grain
Peter Brueghel the Elder, The Harvesters (1565: now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, accession number 19.164). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Some people on the Internet are curious about how much a shirt cost in the middle ages. Now you could try to answer that question by trying to calculate how long it would take to spin and weave the linen and sew the shirt, combining your guesses in an elaborate chain of assumptions using your modern education. A certain Eve Fisher imagined and calculated and came up with the figures $3500 or $4200 for a shirt like those depicted by painters like Peter Brueghel the Elder. This has been re-posted by a number of popular websites, and several weavers and spinners have dropped by her website to comment that they are not so sure about some of her assumptions. But did you know that we can skip all of these guesses and calculations, and the questions which they pose about whether we spin and weave as fast as people in the past, and just ask medieval people how much they paid for a shirt?

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The Linen Karballatu

A bascinet with a perforated-metal visor wearing a red hood with cheek flaps and a tall comb at the top folded down
I am cautious about posting closeups of my face on the Internet, but while I am visiting my parents I have a convenient surrogate available

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.
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The Forces of Madness Over-Reach

The unfinished end of the sleeve of a quilted garment against a cloth background
One cuff of the doublet about to be finished by stitching cloth along the raw edges.

The forces of madness have been on an around-the-world tour, but when they got back and slept off the tasty kebabs, weak beer, and very sweet sweets they discovered that their agent in the Alps had over-reached himself. This particular style of clothing was meant to fit very closely in some areas while standing away from the body in others, and in an excess of enthusiasm, their humble servant cut too much away from the opening of the lower sleeve to finish its edges by rolling or folding and stitching down. Fortunately, there are solutions.
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The Forces of Madness Make a Classic Blunder

Components of a quilted doublet spread on the floor showing that one breast has blue cloth on the inside and one has brown there
The four modules of the doublet, laid with their ‘right’ side facing the ground and their ‘wrong’ side facing the camera. Something is wrong with this picture.

While getting involved in a land war in Asia and going in against a Sicilian when death is on the line are classic blunders, most scholars agree that quilting a garment before you have made sure that you really have one right and one left breast is a good one too. Fortunately, that is a mistake which just costs time and thread to fix.

Solution below the fold.
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The Forces of Madness Transform Topology

SAM_8867

Since 1933, it has been well known that the forces of madness have an affinity with unusual topology. In the case of this style of garment, layers of flat cloth are assembled into a three-dimensional garment shaped like an hourglass, using a saddle-shaped curve along the high waistline. From this stage onwards it is hard to lay the assemblies flat for photographing, because the whole point of assembling them is to stretch flat planes into a three-dimensional shape. I used some books to support the edges of the seam across the small of the back to help create the right effect for the camera.

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The Forces of Madness Take up the Earth Basket

The ground has been surveyed, the walls measured, and the materials gathered. Now it is time to build the siege ramp for this sartorial siege, or less metaphorically to quilt endless rows of stitches.

A pile of stacks of pattern pieces for a jacket with complicated sleeves
Stacks of pattern pieces ready for the final adjustment of the stuffing then quilting and assembly. From left to right: back, sleeves, front

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