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The Christians: Romans, Byzantines And The Monks

( Originally Published 1928 )


DURING the early period the Christians known as Nazarenes wore Grecian tunics and the pallium. The marble Saint Cecelia, lying on her side as though sleeping in the Catacombs of Saint Calixtus at Rome, wears a long-sleeved tunic, a girdle and a veil which completely covers her head.

The long tunics and mantles were superseded in the fifth century as follows :

Men.—The men wore cloaks fastened to the right shoulder; a knee-length tunic; trousers with a broad stripe down the front tucked into laced buskins.

Women.—The women used tunics, fringed and bordered; wide sleeves; a white girdle, very long with the ends brought up in folds over the left shoulder. The rich indulged in jewels and clothes of fine material.


The Empire of the East with its capitol at Constantinople, after 328, ceased to be Roman and was called Greek or Byzantine. The influence of the East began immediately to show itself upon the civilization and the costumes.


Men.—Knee-length tunics with checked girdles were fastened high under the armpits; trousers extended either to below the knees where they were met by buskins, or were cut short, allowing the knee and several inches above to show. Knots and drapes of material were placed as decoration on the trouser ends and at the top of the buskin. For soldiers, a cuirass with knee pants showing beneath it, and greaves on the bare legs sufficed.

Women.—The hair was confined in a most distinctive mode, a rolled pompadour being wound with ribbons, also ornamented with pearls and jewels. Long strings of pearls, each terminating with a large one of a pear shape, fell from the hair over the shoulders, and long earrings of pear-shaped pearls were worn. This was a fashion of Byzantine origin.

A large square cloak having a hole through which the head was passed fell in four points, each weighted with tassels. Checked borders were much used.

A long-sleeved tunic was finished by a wide border in varied colors, and reached to the floor. Flowered effects, also leaves, appeared in all-over designs on silk (a material more favored than wool by the Byzantines) . The girdle, a band of white about three inches wide with one long fringed end, hung to the bottom of the gown in front.

Theodora, wife of Justinian, Emperor of the East, 483-565, belongs to the period just described. She should be costumed in voluminous and rich clothes, and not appear half naked as in the movies.

By 700 ornamentation greatly increased. Tunics developed a loose, wide sleeve allowing the tight one of an inner gown of contrasting color to show at the wrist. Women wore large jeweled ornaments behind each ear, and parted the hair in the middle.

A curious decoration in the form of rectangular plaques embroidered, jeweled and of diversified color, was applied to the borders of enormous cloaks.

There was much color in the costume; knee-length tunics covered with embroidery in brilliant hues were worn over long white ones.

All shields and spears were marked with the monogram of Christ ; the vestments were very elaborate.


A wide panel of material heavily jeweled, encircling the shoulders and descending in front nearly to the edges of the robe, was worn by the emperor, empress and nobles. Pearls were suspended from the hair of women and sewn to the edges of their garments. Crosses depending from ropes of pearl were fastened in the hair, which once more offered a distinctive style. A braid was made close be-hind each ear, a tight-fitting caul of gold and pearls placed on the head, and the two braids then carried up from the back of the neck over the crown to the forehead, where they disappeared beneath a jeweled band. Another head-dress differed only in that the hair was rolled with rib-bons instead of braided. These styles were used subsequently in Germany.

The Asiatic influence showed largely in the men's clothes. Phrygian caps were in evidence, also trousers with stripes and patterns running spirally up the leg.

Byzantine costumes of the fourth century are correct for the "Comedy of Errors."

The Monks.—An Egyptian ascetic, born 251 and later known as Saint Anthony, was copied by thousands of religious enthusiasts ; men who consecrated their lives to the service of Christ as missionaries and teachers were known as monks and from the third to the sixth century founded many monasteries in Europe, thus spreading Christianity and civilization, and having a tremendous influence on costume. Their own has always been a wide-sleeved and cowled tunic of coarse cloth held by a rope girdle. Some orders wore over it a scapulary, i.e., a garment cut like a surcoat which reached to the hem of the undergarment. The foot was either bare or shod with a simple leather sandal.

The best known followers of Saint Anthony were :

Saint Benedict, 480-543, who founded the famous Benedictine monastery known as Monte Cassino, between Rome and Naples ;

A priest called Patricius, who converted Ireland before his death in 469 and became known as Saint Patrick, be-loved of the Irish;

Saint Augustine, who in 496 was sent by the Pope to England with forty other monks as companions and was successful in converting the Britons from the worship of Woden and Thor;

Saint Boniface, 688-753, who converted Germany.

All of these monks directly influenced dress by subduing the barbaric and introducing the civilized. Indeed, to two missionary monks returning from a pilgrimage to China, Europe was indebted for its first silk in 533 A.D.

Mongol-Chinese numbering 700,000, led by Attila the Hun, were driven back into Asia after their defeat at the battle of Chalons, 442 A.D., thus saving Europeans from pigtails and oriental dress.

In 711 the Saracens conquered Spain, which they held for eight hundred years. They attempted to follow up this victory by subduing France, but were overwhelmingly defeated at the battle of Tours, 732, by the Franks under the leadership of Charles Martel. France was saved not only from the Turks but from their trousers.

Charlemagne reigned 768-814. He was victorious over the greater part of western Europe and the Pope rewarded him with the Imperial crown of the Caesars. To him is accredited the founding of modern civilization. The French people immediately started on their long career as dictators of the mode.

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