Clothes of the northern “barbarians”

Triumph of the Roman Emperor. Captured Germans are taken through the streets of Rome. Drawing from the Soviet textbook on the history of the Ancient World for the fifth grade. There are some inaccuracies, but in general, an exhaustive idea of ​​the fashion of imperial Rome and its barbarians opponents is given!

A woman should not wear men’s clothing.
Deuteronomy 22: 5

Clothing culture. During the Bronze Age, the ancient Germans developed a highly developed clothing culture, as evidenced by numerous historical findings. So the term “barbarian”, which today has a completely obvious meaning, did not fit the Germans of that time completely, but only meant what the Romans understood by these concepts. And among the Romans, “barbarian” is just a “stranger.” Moreover, the influence on the clothing of the Roman Empire on the part of the “barbarians” was much stronger than on the part of the Romans on the barbarians, which does not at all indicate the backwardness and imperfection of the costume of the same ancient Germans.

Clothes of the northern

Celt (left) fighting a German. Fig. Angus McBride


The main type of clothing of the Greeks, Romans and other representatives of the Mediterranean culture was a simple draped piece of linen, while the ancient Germans and Gauls in the west and the Parthians in the east mastered cutting and sewing techniques, as evidenced by bone and bronze needles found by archaeologists.

Bronze daggers from the Bronze Age in Europe, Army Museum, Paris


Naturally, the rather harsh climate influenced the way of life of the Germans. The sleeves that appeared in their costume already in the 3rd century. BC, as well as pants, which appeared even earlier, already in the VI century. BC, is the best confirmation of this. In the conditions of a snowy and frosty winter, you cannot find much without pants and with bare hands. By the way, it was they, the tribes of the North, who made the main revolution in clothing: since a person sat astride a horse and put on his pants before that, clothing began to be subdivided into male and female!

Clothes from Trajan’s Column. A.D. 113 e. In the center, a German warrior, an ally of Rome, is clearly visible: with a naked torso, but in trousers and with a club in his hand. Below and to the left is a dak with a painted oval shield, dressed in a tunic with narrow and long sleeves up to the wrists, in trousers and a cloak. All other Dacians on this bas-relief are dressed in about the same


The Germans called the pants “brugs”, and the Celts called “brakka”, “marriage”, which is consonant with the Russian-language word “trousers”. The Romans have long despised this type of clothing. It is known that even special centurions walked around Rome, checking whether there were hateful barbarian trousers under the togas of citizens, but … over time they were forced to admit that although this clothing is ridiculous, it is comfortable, especially for soldiers and, first of all, for horsemen.

Clothes from Trajan’s Column. And here Roman soldiers are depicted already wearing pants like breeches …


It was the Germans who began to subdivide clothing according to the seasons into winter and summer and brought in chests for its off-season storage. Well, on the whole, it should be said that the clothes of the Germans were in no way inferior to the clothes of the ancient Greeks and Romans both in quality and in decoration, and in terms of expediency, of course, they were superior.

“I myself join the opinion of those who believe that the tribes inhabiting Germany, who have never been mixed through marriages with any foreigners, from time immemorial constitute a special people who have preserved their original purity and only resemble themselves to themselves. Hence, despite such a number of people, they all have the same appearance: hard blue eyes, light brown hair, tall bodies, capable of only a short-term effort; at the same time, they do not have the patience to work hard and hard, and they cannot stand thirst and heat at all, while bad weather and soil have taught them to easily endure cold and hunger. “

(Cornelius Tacitus. On the origin of the Germans and the location of Germany, AD 98)

Based on the finds of archaeologists, we can imagine what the clothes of men and women looked like – Germans of the Bronze Age. Women wore one-piece linen blouses with short sleeves in the summer. The long skirt was supported by a wide leather belt with long tassels, decorated with a bronze disc instead of a buckle. A dagger in a leather sheath could hang on the belt. Skillful bronze jewelry – diadem, bracelet and breast jewelry – were not uncommon. Moreover, women took part in the battles, being in the ranks with men. Their task was, first of all, to frighten the enemy with loud shouts. The male warrior was armed with a long sword and a dagger with bronze hilts. The animal hide cloak was fastened with bronze medallions-clasp. Bracelets in the shape of a sun disc on the wrists and forearms, as well as a plaque decorated belt showed his high status. A warrior could wear a knee-length skirt with a fringe of coarse wool. On the feet are leather sandals, both women and men wore them.

German woman surrounded by Roman legionaries. Fig. Angus McBride


However, this type of female dress is also known, which could belong to girls participating in dances, or priestesses. Their short woolen skirt was made of woolen threads enclosed in bronze tubes, as a result of which such a skirt made a sound with every movement of its owner. The dress included heavy embellishments with spiral, star, or wavy patterns. This strange type of costume has existed for centuries, and its details and decorations are on display in many museums in Europe.

Gold jewelry from the British Museum


The Germans’ underwear was a linen tunic-skirt made of a knee-length rectangular piece of fabric. The tunic was held on the shoulders on leather straps with bronze clasps. The lower end of the tunic was belted at the hips with a woolen belt with tassels. Over the puffins, they could wear a woolen cloak or a piece of skin with fur inside, which was fastened to the chest with a pin. Descriptions of ancient German clothing often include embroidered jackets made of wool or animal skins with sleeves.

Pants from Thorsberg. Schleswig Museum, Germany


Pants made of wool or linen with a wide belt were an indispensable attribute of their clothes, as they protected from the cold. In addition, they also served as underwear, and were extremely comfortable for riding, as mentioned in the 5th century. Roman writer Sidonin. Tacitus also wrote a lot about the weapons and protective equipment of the Germans.

Gallic warriors of the III-II centuries BC Fig. Angus McBride

“They also have little iron, as can be inferred from the nature of their offensive weapons. They rarely use swords or long spears, but use darts, or, as they call it, a frame, with narrow and short iron tips, a weapon so sharp and convenient that, depending on the circumstances, they fight hand-to-hand with the same darts, and from afar. Even the horsemen are content with a frame and a shield, while the infantrymen also throw throwing javelins, each of several pieces, and they, naked or in a short cloak, throw them at a great distance. They imperceptibly not the slightest desire to flaunt the decorations, and only shields they paint with bright colors. Only a few have shells, only one or the other metal or leather are we looking for. “

(Cornelius Tacitus. On the Origin of the Germans and the Location of Germany, AD 98)

Finds from a burial at Khoga burial mound, Uppsala, Sweden. Around 1000 BC e. State Historical Museum, Stockholm

“Everyone’s outerwear is a short cloak, fastened with a buckle, if not, then with a thorn. Not covered by anything else, they spend whole days at the fire kindled in the hearth. The richest are distinguished by the fact that, in addition to the cloak, they also have other clothes, but not fluttering, like the Sarmatians or Parthians, but narrow and tight-fitting. They also wear the skins of wild animals … The clothes of women are not different from that of men, except that women often dress in linen capes, which they paint with purple paint, and their sleeves do not come down from their shoulders, so that their hands are bare from top to bottom, as open and a part of the chest beside them. “

(Cornelius Tacitus. On the Origin of the Germans and the Location of Germany, AD 98)

Mound of Hog. Below are tweezers and a straight razor made of bronze with a grip entwined with gold wire. State Historical Museum, Stockholm


Shoes, both for men and women, were simple: the sole in the form of a piece of sturdy leather with a perforated edge. Laces were inserted into its holes, with which the edges were pulled up and wrapped around the foot. From the ankle to the knees, the legs were covered with windings made of linen or woolen fabric.

Comb from a burial in Uppland, Sweden. State Historical Museum, Stockholm

It was customary not only to comb your hair, but also to clean your ears! Ear spoon. Uppland, Sweden. State Historical Museum, Stockholm


Headdresses, too, did not differ in complexity and sophistication: a hood or a cap in the form of a hemisphere of sheared fur. But the hair of the Germans made a very strong impression on the Romans. The long blond hair of German women was admired by them, as was the hair of women from Denmark and Britain. German men shaved their beards and generally had the habit of caring for their vegetation, as evidenced not only by razors found in male burials, but also by tweezers for plucking hair.

Reconstruction of the appearance of the “man from Klonikawan”. OK. IV – III centuries BC. National Museum of Ireland, Dublin

“The Elling Woman” and her hairstyle. Silkeborg Museum, Denmark


Findings of the so-called swamp people, that is, bodies trapped in peat bogs and, due to the specific features of the swamp environment, mummified, also help scientists to judge the “fashions” and hairstyles of the Bronze Age. There are such finds in England, Denmark and Germany. For example, on the head of the “man from Tollund” there is even a pointed leather cap, sewn with fur inside, just like that of the fairy-tale gnomes; a woolen dress was found near the burial place of the “woman from Huldremos”, etc. And the “man from Klonikawan” provided some insight into hairstyles. It turns out that he had his hair styled with a mixture of resin and vegetable oil. The “man from Osterby” had a knot of hair over his right temple, and the Roman historian Tacitus indicated that such hairstyles belonged to the people of the Suevi tribe.

Gold pendant from Roman times. OK. 200-400 National History Museum, Copenhagen

Gold pendant. Found in Hvorslevard, Jutland. OK. 500-540 National History Museum, Copenhagen


Like all barbarians, the Germans loved jewelry. Bracelets in the form of coiled snakes with ruby ​​eyes, beads, earrings, pendants, brooches, hairpins – all this could be made of bronze and gold. So in comparison with them, the same Romans looked very modest, and even patrician women of the era of the empire. Checkered, bright fabrics from which tunics and trousers were sewn, patterns in the form of runic signs embroidered on clothes, again long trousers and long narrow sleeves, the use of fur, an abundance of bronze and gold jewelry – all this made them incomprehensible and “alien” for the Romans !

To be continued…

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