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Clothing Of The Romans

( Originally Published 1928 )

Antiquarians dispute various details, but the tunic and the toga are conceded to have been the chief articles of attire of the very ancient Romans.

The Fasces, Saga, Paludamentum, Trabea and Etruscan Togas.—The last king of Rome, Tarquinius Priscus, expelled in 509 B.C., introduced these from Etruria, also the custom of triumphing in a golden car drawn by four horses; he surrounded the axes borne before important public officials with bundles of elm or birch rods called "fasces." These symbols of power were tied with purple ribbon and represented the right to execute a death sentence ; they were carried by the Roman lictors during the Republic which lasted from 509 to 367 B.C. Each consul was accompanied by twelve lictors dressed in white tunics with a cloak fastened on the right shoulder. This mantle was the Etruscan saga or paludamentum, a military cloak resembling the Grecian chlamys.

The shape of the trabea, also copied from a garment of that name worn in Etruria, is disputed. It is, however, conceded to have been a robe of white wool with scarlet stripes running horizontally, the whole edged with a purple hem or border, the latter not applied but made one with the garment; this, Cicero says, was "twice dyed." When knights in solemn procession wore the trabea, they were called the "Trabeati." According to Virgil and Livy, it was also used by kings and priests.

The togas known as picta, pura and praetexta and the tunica palmata, were Etruscan.

There was little change in fashion before the days of the Empire. Coriolanus is supposed to have died in 490 B.C., and Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C., yet despite the interval of time, the costuming is the same for both Shakespearean plays dealing with these characters.


During the reign of the first emperor, Augustus Caesar, 27 B.C. to 14 A.D., the Graco-Roman period was at its height, influencing costume as it did art.

The Tunic.—The tunic was of wool, left in early times in its natural yellowish tint. With men the length was a matter of choice. Cicero says that Cataline's companions had tunics reaching to their feet and he implies that they were considered effeminate. The tunica palmata, worn by generals when celebrating a victory, was covered by palms embroidered in gold. The "laticlavian" tunic of the Roman consuls is made for stage use with two bands of purple encircling the neck opening and extending down to the hem. It is stated by some authorities that a "clavus" was a round spot which dotted the tunic all over, while other antiquarians contend it was in the form of a purple band either sewn on or woven into the tunic. On those of the senators and magistrates the band or "latus clavus" was broad, while for knights the "augustus clavus" was narrow. No girdle was worn with this tunic. In early times this seems to have been the general fashion, but evidently it became bad form, as Caesar was criticized for the looseness of his clothes.

When two tunics were used, the one next the body, called "subucula," served as an undershirt, of wool for men, but almost invariably of linen for women.

The Greek fashion of catching the upper edges of the tunic together over the upper arm with buttons, was copied by Roman women. Sleeves were set in later, these gradually attaining great length.

The Fascia.—A woman's girdle encircled the body under the bust and about the waist and hips, its long knotted ends hanging to the floor in front of the body.

The Toga.—Over the tunic was worn a voluminous wrap in which the Roman was swathed when appearing in public. Like the Grecian cloaks, it had no fastening. Its exact form has been disputed, but for stage use all togas dating from the days of Talma have been cut after a pat-tern in use at the Theatre Francaise. This is a semicircular form having the segment of a circle folded over on it. In the early Roman period the toga was made of wool left in its natural yellowish color. It was a garment of magnificent dimensions, being cut so that the length was three times that of its owner. This was necessary in order that the two ends of the semicircle's diameter with their leaden weights might just clear the floor before and behind the body when the garment was in place. To adjust, after the segment is folded back on the semicircle with the curved edges down, lay the goods over the left shoulder so that a weighted end nearly touches the floor in front of the left arm. Reach behind the figure, gather up all the fullness in folds, which must then be carried up under the right arm-pit across the chest, and flung over the left shoulder. If the garment is correctly cut the weighted end should fall to the ankle. By inserting the hand inside the material flung across the chest, a portion of the sinus (also called pectora, according to Ovid), i.e., the folds first draped over the bosom from the left shoulder, can be pulled up, thus forming a pouch or pocket in which the Roman probably carried his sudarium (pocket handkerchief)

In later times the togas, like the tunics, were made of silk and other fine materials and received much decoration. The toga was never used in periods of mourning.

The toga praetextaa, bordered with a band of purple, was worn by magistrates, censors, priests, and later by emperors; by freeborn boys until fourteen years old; by girls until marriage.

The toga virilis, also called pura and libera, was assumed by boys when they laid aside the praetexta. The right arm was kept within its folds during the first year as a mark of modesty.

The toga picta, purple, embroidered with golden stars and rich Phrygian needlework, was worn by victorious generals, also emperors, consuls and other high officials on great occasions.

The toga candida, rendered pure white by the application of chalk, was used by those aspiring to some public career. This was their only body covering; as much as possible the body was left exposed in order to display wounds contracted in the service of the country.

The toga sordida or pulla, colored brown or black, was for the lower classes and accused persons.

Among women the toga was worn only by freed slaves and prostitutes.

The Stola.—A long loose garment with a wide border distinguished women of honorable standing.

The Palla and the Pallium.—The palla, a voluminous unsewn wrap like the Greek himation, shared popularity with the pallium, a cloak of cloth with interwoven flowered designs and bordered with fringe. Both could be placed over the head, then wrapped about the body under and over the arms and shoulders. Horace says the palla was also worn by Roman tragedians.

Veils.—Veils were of various colors ; like the Grecian, a bride's veil was red and called the flammeum.

The Lacerna.—A large piece of woolen cloth colored black or brown was worn by common people over the toga when traveling or in bad weather and fastened by a clasp on the right shoulder. Although despised by people of quality in early times, this garment was adopted later on by all classes. When red it was known as the birrhus. A hood (cucullus) was sometimes attached.

Footgear.—The mulleus reached to the middle of the leg, leaving much of the foot exposed as in a sandal. It was of red leather and originally the foot covering of Alban kings. Julius Caesar, who was descended from them, is said to have always worn it.

The cothurnus, very like the mulleus, is distinguished by a leather strap passing between the big toe and the others. It usually appears on representations of Diana, and many examples (also of the mulleus) are to be seen on paintings discovered at Herculaneum.

The phaecasium was a boot of white leather covering the entire foot, worn by women and such characters as Petronius.

The pero, according to Virgil, was a boot of rough leather or untanned hide, said to have been originally worn by senators. However, from the time of Caius Marius, 157-86 B.C., their boot was high, black, with an ornament of silver or ivory formed like a letter "C" or a crescent moon. This gave rise to the name "calcei lunati" (crescent-shaped shoes). The descendants of the one hundred senators appointed by Romulus were permitted to wear crescents on the shoe, above the heel and behind the ankle. The caliga was the stout, spike-soled shoe of the soldiers.

Sandals in museums reveal a great variety in style and open leather work. During the Empire the shoes of the women were elaborately ornamented with pearls, gold, silver, precious stones and embroidery.

Headgear.—The petasus or wide-brimmed Thessalonian hat (see the Greeks), was assumed by Romans of the bet-ter class when making a journey. The pileus, a cone-shaped hat tightly fitting the head, was worn by the common people, especially at the feast of the Saturnalia ; this was also the head covering of freed slaves.

The Hair.—The Romans wore their hair curled and waved, though the statues give us the impression of greater rigidity and more elaborate formation than shown on those of the Greeks. It was necessary to use false hair made up in braided forms to achieve some of the effects. Horace calls one of these erections the caliendrum. The vitta, a band of ribbon bound about the heads of maidens, was affected by the more staid and respectable, according to Ovid. Priests and priestesses, also sacrificial victims, were so decorated.

During the Empire the hair was not only painted yellow with saffron but sprinkled with gold dust.

The men (according to Pliny) were bearded until 454 B.C., and most of the emperors clean shaven. At the first indication of the advent of a beard, a boy went through the ceremonial of its dedication to a god. The Romans wore uncut hair in times of mourning.

The Caul.—The caul, a fashion often resurrected throughout the ages, is a net on the hair of gold wire, pearled and jeweled, and sometimes embroidered.

Jewels and Ornamentation.—Borders, with repeated designs over the center of the goods following the Greek fashion, were used. Jewelry was lavishly displayed; rings, made like the bracelets and armlets in many varieties of metal, were worn by men and women of low and high degree. Twisted gold wires were used both in rings and armlets. Rings with intaglios served as official seals for their owners' legal papers. Women wore necklaces and long earrings set with precious stones; armlets and brace-lets often represented serpents. Pins with large ornamental heads of intricate designs were used for sticking in the coiffure.

Cicero says the "fasciola" was a purple band placed about the ankle by women.

On his return from a victorious campaign, a hero, marching from the Campus Martius to the Capitol, wore a wreath of laurel denoting the people's recognition of his services. Julius Caesar obtained permission from the Senate to adopt the fashion for himself. On old coins we find the Caesars wearing laurel wreaths tied about the head with loops of ribbon.

The Bulla.—A golden ball, mentioned by Juvenal and of Etruscan origin, was suspended about the neck of noble Roman boys until the age of fourteen; it was sometimes of a heart shape and contained charms to ward off evil. It was worn also by triumphant generals. In Beerbohm Tree's production of "Nero," heart-shaped bullae decorated the necks of both Acte and Octavia, the young girls of the play.

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