Byzantine clothing


Emperor Justinian I with his retinue brings gifts to the temple. Mosaic of the apse in the church of San Vitale. Mid-6th century n. e. Ravenna

So the turn came to the clothes of Byzantium – the Third Rome: the last heiress of the culture of Ancient Rome, an empire in which religion dictated the canons of fashion, and fashion helped the triumph of religion …

By the fate of the fallen Byzantium
We don’t want to learn
And the flatterers of Russia keep repeating:
You are the third Rome, you are the third Rome.
… About Russia! forget the past glory:
The two-headed eagle is crushed,
And the yellow children for fun
Scraps of your banners are given.
Resigned in awe and fear
Who could forget the covenant of love …
And the Third Rome lies in the dust,
And there won’t be a fourth.

(Panmongolism. 1894 Vladimir Soloviev)

Clothing culture. We continue the theme of the history of clothing. And today we finally have Byzantium, which had a huge impact on the civilization of our ancestors, gave us its religion and culture and … sunk into oblivion, as if it never existed at all.

Kingdom between West and East. In theory, it was supposed to absorb all the best, both on the one hand and on the other. But it remained “by itself” and then perished, despite all its wealth and high culture. However, the question of why this happened is beyond the scope of our topic. Today our story is dedicated to the clothes of the Byzantines and their appearance, which many of our legendary princes had to admire.

So, what were the traditional clothes of Byzantium, which fully inherited the traditions of Roman culture after 476?


Empress Theodora with her retinue. Mosaic of the apse in the church of San Vitale. Mid-6th century n. e. Ravenna

Traditional clothing

And it so happened that the Byzantines’ Roman clothes were soon supplemented by luxurious oriental motifs in decoration patterns, designs, in a variety of colors and in shiny fabrics. Although, we note that the decoration necessarily contains Christian symbols, patterns, and ornaments.

Luxurious varied finishes began to cover the entire surface of clothing. And besides, it should be supplemented with pearls and precious stones sewn onto it. Interestingly, the arrangement of the trim was dictated by the fashion for straight vertical and horizontal lines, which gave the impression of the rigidity of the entire suit.


Dalmatic finishes. Fig. from the edition “World history of costume. Fashion and styles. Minsk: Harvest, 2009, p. 40.


Principles of cutting and finishing a tunic. In the same place

Why it was so is understandable.

The clothing culture of Byzantium, like, in fact, its entire culture, was strongly influenced by the church. And she in Byzantium declared human nature sinful, and any beauty called to serve God! The most beautiful, naturally, were the lines of the divine cross. And, accordingly, it was the cruciform arrangement of the pattern lines that began to be considered the standard of all clothing.


Outfit of the warriors of the Eastern Roman Empire of the 3rd – 6th centuries: 1 – infantryman of the “Legion of Hercules”. On the head is a characteristic casis helmet, 2 is a crossbowman with a solinarion in a Byzantine tunic, 3 is another East Byzantine light infantry warrior in a characteristic fur hat, 4 is an East Roman infantryman from the Fifth Macedonian Legion. V-VI centuries. Fig. V. Korolkov from the edition “Knights of the East”, M .: Pomatur, 2002, p. 6

Consequently, any nakedness, so characteristic of antiquity, was also declared sinful. In Byzantium, the body was hidden in every possible way, for which the shape of the clothes served. And, likewise, whatever the body hid was approved.

That is why the Roman loose tunic was in use, although its name has changed. Now she was called Dalmatian, and toga began to correspond to kasula – a wide cloak with a hood. At the same time, the dalmatic was often supplemented with a shoulder and an apron on the belt.


Byzantine fresco depicting St. Luke. St. Luke is depicted in the armor of a Byzantine warrior.
(Greek monastery in Boeotia, Greece)

A long shirt-skirt, like a Greek chiton or a Roman tunic, became the main component of the Byzantine costume. At the same time, she also acquired new forms. So, its surface has lost folds, sleeves were sewn to it, often long and narrowed at the wrists. The cut of the same tunic was very simple – in the shape of the letter T, with various lines of patterns sewn on it from a multi-colored braid.

Constantine IV and his ego, mosaic in the Basilica of Sant-Apollinare-Nuovo in Ravenna


Pants (as a kind of clothing) were borrowed by the Byzantines from the East.

Here they looked like two separate trousers, fastened to the belt with ribbons. The length of the pants ranged from short (knee-deep) to long (ankle-length). But leg-fitting stockings with a full toe part were also known.


Byzantine ambassadors to Sultan Al-Mamun. Miniature from the manuscript “History of the Byzantine emperors in Constantinople from 811 to 1057, written by the Kuropalat John Skilitsa.”
National Library of Spain, Madrid

That is, the Byzantine clothing of the early Middle Ages was a fusion of the traditions of Roman and Oriental costume.

Well, and information about how the Byzantine clothes looked like, we get from the surviving mosaics and icon painting of Byzantium. By the way, there is also a fashion for certain facial features. Thus, an elongated oval, large eyes and a small mouth become characteristic of the “Byzantine face”.


The 6th century miniatures of the Gospel of Rabula reflect the more abstract and symbolic character of Byzantine art. The Mother of God is clothed in purple.
Laurentian Library, Florence

Women’s and men’s clothing

As for women’s clothing, it is multi-layered. The long, foot-length lower table tunic with tight-fitting sleeves, decorated with a border at the wrist, is covered by the upper one, with wide open sleeves. The hard cape complements the suit and gives the figure a static, triangular shape. The cloak is overlaid on the shoulders at the back, and the ends are crossed at the front and thrown back. The decoration is rich in ornaments and decorative elements – signs of class distinctions.


Mosaic from the Basilica of Sant Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. It depicts virgin martyrs, holding martyr crowns in their hands. Among the martyrs: the holy virgins Kikiliya, Anastasia the Patterner, Agnia, Eulalia, Agathia of Catan, Victoria, Euphemia, Justina. But, despite all their martyrdom, the richness and variety of the fabrics of the clothes they wear are clearly visible …

The Roman penula with a slit for the head is also found in the clothes of noble women of Byzantium. The head is covered with a maforium headscarf, which is a symbol of the Mother of God and is often found in icon-painting images of saints.

The lower classes in Byzantium tried to follow the upper ones. But it is clear that the clothes were sewn from cheap fabrics, the patterns were the simplest, and they were shorter in length.


Diptych Barberini. High relief in marble, depicting the victorious emperor. Louvre

But the outer clothing of the emperor and the nobility was exceptionally rich. First of all, it included a cloak-mantle with a brocade clasp on the shoulder, with rich decoration and a quadrangular emblem of the highest power – tablion (a piece of expensive brocade sewn on the cloak in front and behind). The nobility applied purple tablions. And the edges of the cloak were decorated with a lush decorative border.


The Four Tetrarchs is a dark red porphyry sculptural composition mounted in the southern façade of the Venetian Cathedral of San Marco. The statue was made in the first half of the 4th century and was part of the Constantinople Philadelpheion, built next to the Column of Constantine (present-day Chamberlitas Square). The sculpture was taken out by the crusaders from Constantinople in 1204. On the figures are cloaks of paludamentum, pterygs and military “caps from Pannonia”, hands rest on swords of the spat type, with a hilt in the form of an eagle’s head in the Sassanid style fashionable for that time.

This photo shows that part of the pedestal and the legs of one of the tetrarchs have been replaced with a remake. In the 1960s, during the excavation of the ruins of the Mireleion Palace in Istanbul, the missing fragment of the foot and the pedestal was found, and now it is stored in the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul

An amice is a round collar richly embroidered with precious stones, worn over the head and was also an important element of the royal attire. This element of the tsarist costume later became characteristic of the Russian boyars and tsars.


The Byzantines loved to wear jewelry. Here is a medallion of 1100 made of gold, decorated with enamel. Louvre

The costumes of the Byzantine court are displayed on the magnificent mosaic of the Temple of San Vitale in Ravenna, preserved from the middle of the 6th century. BC e. to the present day.

Empress Theodora is depicted on it with her retinue during a ceremonial exit. The empress’s crown is adorned with gold, precious stones and long propendulas – pearl pendants. The lower white table is decorated with a rich border. The cloak is made of purple fabric, the hem is decorated with gold embroidery. And her shoes are also trimmed with gold. By the way, purple and green colors of shoes in Byzantium were allowed only for the nobility.


And this is a wedding gold ring, VII century. Louvre

The fabrics used were very different, but their beauty was simply stunning.

Brocade and silk were covered with geometric patterns, stars, circles and stylized images of plants and animals. Well, and, of course, Christian symbolism also could not do without.

The fabrics were dense and heavy, which was necessary in order to emphasize the static character of the figure. Crosses, angels and Christian monograms were inscribed in circles and squares, just like lions, eagles and peacocks, so that the surface of clothes made of such a fabric looked like one continuous bright carpet.

Such costumes were typical of the later period of the Empire. But animals such as the bull and the eagle were usually the prerogative of the clothes of the emperor. The symbol of his power was a purple cloth.

But the white color in Byzantium for some reason was considered mourning.


A pair of earrings that would suit any modern woman, approx. 600 Walters Museum, Baltimore, USA

At the same time, the colors of the clothes of the Byzantines also depended on which party of the hippodrome they belonged to. And there were four of them: prasyns (“green”) and venetes (“blue”), which were considered the main ones, and also Rusii and levkas (“red” and “white”). And to show their commitment to their party, they brought its color into their clothes.


Byzantine bracelet with pearls 500-700 g. Material: gold, silver, pearls, amethysts, sapphires, glass, quartz. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In Byzantium, there were large enterprises that produced military armor and weapons according to uniform models. Therefore, the equipment of both the infantry and the horsemen from the Byzantines proper was, in fact, standardized. Whereas the mercenary units fought dressed and armed in their own way.


Gold earring with sapphire and pearl. Byzantium, VI-VII centuries Weight 11 g. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


But this diadem, created by the craftsmen of the Castellani firm around 1860, reflects the great interest that arose in the culture of Byzantium in the middle of the 19th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Jewelry Fashion and Armor

Moreover, it was interesting to reproduce works of art from earlier eras with historical accuracy – an approach that was especially manifested in the creation of so-called archaeological jewelry (jewelry based on excavations from antiquity), the production of which reached its apogee just in the middle of the 19th century.

Jewelry made during this period spanned the Etruscan, Ancient Roman, Early Christian, Byzantine, and Medieval styles. The Castellani firm in Rome pioneered and dominated the production of such archaeological jewelry. Founded by Fortunato Pio Castellani in 1814, the company was run by three generations of the family until it closed in 1927. Her products gained immense popularity in the highest circles of European society, and her success prompted many jewelers to work in a similar historical direction.

The horsemen used a kasis helmet with a chain mail aventail and metal earpieces. The name klibanion was borne by a shell made of metal plates sewn onto the skin and worn over the chain mail over the head. Halcotubes – leggings, made of narrow metal (copper) plates, also sewn onto the skin.

Often, on top of all this, the riders also wore a quilted colored epilorikion caftan, which was a kind of prototype of the uniform.

The horses of the riders of the Klibanophoros were also covered with armor made of felt and bone or metal plates.

Shields in the form of an inverted drop were characteristic of Byzantium and from here spread throughout Europe and the Arab East.

Well, mercenaries from Europe – Catalonia and Italy, as described by their contemporary in the same 15th century, were dressed in “bluish steel”.

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