cl-Rom-Brit-art - 10/17/95
"Basic Romano British Costume" by Sion Glas.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: pp003060 at interramp.com (Laurie Brandt)
Subject: Basic Romano-British Costume
Date: Wed, 19 Apr 1995 18:16:21 -0500
Organization: the Polyhedron Group
Basic Romano British Costume
By Sion Glas
In an Era of legend and Myth, very little is known about the
Romano-British. The clothing of late Roman and Post Roman Britain is well
documented in coins, stone carvings, and written descriptions. So too is
the garb of the early Welsh, and early Saxon England. I will not go into
the attire of Ireland of the period, for others have done a far better
job, and the most of what I could say would be mearly repeating their
The focus of this class will be on three cultures, the Romano-British, the
Continental Germanic Tribes, and the Byzantines. Though there is a great
deal of overlap, as well as late Roman/Greek survivals in attire.
The Doric Chiton continues to be worn, as well as the Roman Stola, Dalmic,
and Palla. However, all of these are worn in decreasing frequency so as to
be all but gone by the end of the Romano-British Era.
The Sagum was a simple cloak worn by almost everybody in the period. It
was a rectangle of material approximately three meters long and 1.3 to 1.5
meters wide, made most commonly of wool, linen, or fur. The Sagum could be
just a simple piece of fabric, or a ornately decorated and lined garment.
the seeming only group not to use the garment were the Byzantine men, who
commonly wore a semicircular cloak with a pair of highly decorated panels.
The cloak is called a Paludamntum, and the panels are called Tablion. The
Paludamntum seemed to be for formal wear, but could just as easily have
been for daily wear.
The men of both Constantinople and Britain, seem to wear, basically the
same clothing, differing only in decoration and the cloaks they chose to
The British men wearing the sagum, and the Byzantine men wearing the
The tunics worn by came in two types, the Byzantine Dalmic, and the Coptic
Dalmic. The Byzantine Dalmicis a modified T tunic with long moderately
tight sleeves, coming at least to the wrist, and flaring at the waist,
coming to a bell shape, and falling to the mid-thigh, or to just below the
knee, depending on the preference of the wearer.
The Coptic Dalmic on the other hand was a very baggy T tunic that belted
and bloused at the waist to suit the wearer's needs and desires. Both of
these garments were usually decorated at the collar, cuffs, and hem, with
embroidery or simple bands of fabric. These tunics often had matching
strips of decoration running from both shoulders to the hem, these
decorated strips were called Clavi and were related to the old roman
decorations of the same name.
The Pants, sometimes called Braies, Trews, Bracce, or any of a half dozen
other names, can be best described as pajama pants coming to just below
the ankle, though in western Britain, the hill tribesmen, often wore the
length to just above the knee. Also in western Britain, a type of pants
were worn that looked very much like a pair of modern dancers leg warmers.
The final mens garment is the supertunic. The supertunic is basically a
shorter version of the womans supertunic to be discussed late The coptic,
dalmic, could, and often was worn as a supertunic by Byzantine men.
The British woman had a much wider choice in clothing than her Byzantine,
Irish, or Germanic sisters. Whereas she would wear the same under tunic as
a Byzantine woman, a floor length version of the mens dalmic, with fewer
decorations, she could wear several styles of over tunic or gown.
The first style of over tunic for the British woman was a early model of
the Romanesque gown, having, short sleeves, and a hem that fell between
the mid thigh and the floor, This tunic also had a gentle bell shape,
starting just below the arms.
The next style was the Byzantine Stola, a gown very similar to the first
style, but having long sleeves that had a tapering angel-wing. This tunic
also usually came down to the ankle, and sometimes to the floor.
The third womans over tunic is a bell shaped, floor length, sleeveless
gown, with little, if any, decoration or trim of any kind.
Any of the above gowns could, and in the case of the Byzantine stola
would, be trimmed as much as any mans tunic.
The next garment a British woman could wear was... The Supertunic.
Whereas the other gowns could be made of linen, silk or in Constantinople,
cotton, the supertunic was most often made of heavy wool. the reason for
this was the primary purpose of the over tunic, WARMTH!!! In a cold and
damp climate such as Britain, this was very important! The second purpose
for the supertunic seems to be a reason that we can all understand,
The supertunic came in three basic styles, the gathered, the pleated, and
a version that was a combination of the first two.
The gathered supertunic is made by making a sleeveless chemise, a tube
with arm slots and a drawstring. The pleated supertunic on the other hand,
is made by making a box tunic and then pleating the "shoulders" with a odd
number of matching pleats on each side.
The third style of supertunic, I am unsure as how to make, but it should
not be too difficult to work out.
As mentioned earlier the supertunic was also worn by men, the major
difference between the way that men and women wore the supertunic was
that, women could wear it loose or belted and bloused, whereas the men
would normally wear the supertunic in the bloused style. The only other
difference was that the womans supertunic was usually longer in length.
Over all the British woman would wear the sagum.
The Germanic man is the easiest to describe the costume for, being well
documented in bog finds, carvings, and literary sources. These sources
range from the writings of Julius Ceaser, the Canterbury Psalter the
carvings of Germanic prisoners of war in Rome, to the Sutton Hoo grave
In the early part of the period the average Germanic tribesman wore only
three basic garments, a simple T tunic, a pair of pants of either knee or
ankle length, and finally the near ubiquitous sagum. All of these garments
are described by Julius Ceaser as being made of leather, or fur. The bog
finds on the other hand show that while the sagum was often made of fabric
lined fur, the other garments were often made of linen or wool. It could
be that the bodies found were wearing ritual clothing, or they could have
been wearing their daily clothing. I am unsure as to which to believe, the
researchers in the field often disagree on the matter.
As time goes on, contact with outside cultures cause a change from the old
"Traditional" attire, to clothing more like that of their British enemies,
differing only in workmanship, and decoration.
The Germanic Woman's clothing of the Romano-British era is very difficult
to document. The bog finds and literary reports show that Germanic women
wore only four simple garments. These garments were, a gathered wraparound
skirt, a short sleeved tunic coming just below the woman's breasts called
the camasi, a vest with a extremely plunging neckline, and a sagum of
either heavy wool, or fabric lined fur.
The carvings of captured German women in Rome however show the tribeswomen
wearing Greek style chitons, and manuscript illuminations them wearing the
latest in local fashion. The reasons for this could be that the artist had
never seen a German woman in proper attire, or that the artist had only
seen the women in the garb shown. In the case of the manuscripts however,
it was most likely that the monks thought that such clothing was sinful
and illustrated these women in more modest attire.
The camasi and vest, I feel need more comment. Though the vest was most
commonly worn by a high ranking woman, it and the camasi have in common,
the easy access to the woman's breasts. The reasons for this could be
many, enticement, comfort, fashion, or any number of other reasons. My
personal belief is for a much more practical reason, in short, Baby must
be fed! These garments would make nursing an infant much more easy than
most other garments available to women in the period.
Once in Britain the Germanic woman, like the men, start wearing the same
clothing as the British women. Again, like the men the main difference
between Saxon and Celt is in the area of decoration. The only real
holdover is the camasi, which lengthens and becomes highly decorated.
The clothing of Byzantine women is both easiest to describe. and the
hardest. The reason for this is. while the basic garments did not change
for over one thousand years. the accessories changed on a near constant
The base clothing of the Byzantine woman is simple to describe a palla,
stola, and undertunic.
The under tunic is a simple bell shaped tunic, with close fitting overlong
sleeves. The hem of the over tunic would be long enough to reach the
The Stola is a bell shaped gown, of ankle length. with tapering angel wing
sleeves that reach to the wrist.
The palla is our old friend the sagum, but normally of a fine grade of fabric.
All of these garments are to be highly decorated. In many cases they are
trimmed in much the same way as the mens clothing, but in some cases the
stola was used to show the height of decadence. In the mosaics in Ravanna
Italy one of the attendants of the empresses Theodora is shown with the
twelve apostles embroidered on the hem of her stola. There are also
stories of prostitutes having their specialty displayed on the cuffs and
hem of their gowns. How accurate this last story is I am unsure. because I
only found it once during a search for another subject, and was not able
to find it again.
On her head a well dressed woman would wear a decorated roll of fabric
that was worn over a light veil.
Bigelow, Mary S. Fashion in History
Boucher, Francois 20,000 Years of Fashion
Fairfax, Proudfit, Walkup Dressing the Part
Payne, Blanche History of Costume
Stibbert, Fredick Civil and Military Clothing in Europe
Plates # 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
GIFs to follow
Laurie E. W. Brandt|aka Her Ladyship, Pegasus Devona, A.o.A., G.d's.
5814 Gloucester Ln.| Barony of Bryn Gwlad, Kingdom of Ansteorra
Austin, Tx 78723 |Gules, a pegasus rampent within a bourder argent.
|Society for Creative Anachronism Membership #04720
From: blktauna at netaxs.com (Donna Bowers)
Subject: Re: Basic Romano-British Costume
Date: 22 Apr 1995 13:58:31 GMT
Organization: Philadelphia's Complete Internet Provider
I have a bit of trouble agreeing with your comments about the Rhomanoi
The actual shape of the stola did change quite a bit over 1000 years, and
has emerged into 4 distinctive overall shapes
-the A line dress with bell sleeves, like Theodora's in Ravenna
-The high necked, sleeves tight to the elbow then flaring, slimmer bell
shape like Empress Irene
-The beginning of the Kaftan shape with narrower sleeves and buttons down
The accepted spots for decoration were varied over the centuries as well.
I also take exception to your use of decadence.<G> Conspicouos
consumption, a need to impress the lesser folks with the superiority of
Rome and the actual ability to pay for imperial silks do not really add
up to decadencs...
As for the cloak, yes I too find that the semi-circular cloak was more
popular in Rome, but the tablions were reserved for the Emperor and at
times members of the Imperial family alone. Very bad form for a commoner
to be wearing those...
Men's clothing also varied quite a bit over the thousand years of Rome.
Sorry for wasting the bandwidth on a long reply but this is my area of
interest. See the CA on the Eastern Roman Empire #75 I think. I wrote it...
blktauna at netaxs.com