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Byzantine costumes

About 330aC emperor Constantine the Great chose Constantinople as capital of the Roman Empire,
because of its location on the crossroads of the two main trade routes of the time - the land road leading
from Europe to Mesopotamia and the sea crossing of Bosporus, which linked the Mediterranean with the
Black Sea.

The change from ancient to Byzantine costume began (c.400) with the end of the Roman Empire.
The social and financial status as well the profession, the age and sex were the main factor for costumes
during Byzantine period. Costume was the identity for the two main parts of Byzantine society,

a) The higher class with aristocrats, provincial officials (public and military) and clergy and

b) The poor citizens, servants, monks, soldiers and farmers.

Men's costume in Byzantium didn't change too much over the centuries. It consisted of the tunica, the
dalmatic, the cloak and shoes or boots. The shapes of the garments were consistent throughout the
classes, only the quality of the fabric and trimming distinguished them.

Shepherds. Detail of mosaics from the monastery of Hosios Lukas Mosaic from Casale, Piazza
in Phokis. Hellenic Ministry of Culture. Armerina Bologna Collection
of Peloponnesian Institute-

Tunica was the basic article of clothing in Byzantium. For the

lower classes, it was the everyday working garment. For the
upper classes, it was the underlayment for some of the richest
clothing in history.

The tunica was a derivation of the ancient Roman tunica talaris,

or tunic to the ankles. They were trim in the sleeve and mostly
loose in the body. The more active wearer would gird it up to
the shins or knees with a thin belt. The sleeve length would
change according to the class of the wearer and the weather.

The most well known tunic of this type is the coptic tunic. Some
dock workers still seemed to be clad in a himation which is an
ancient type of tunic made of rectangles pinned at the shoulders
and belted at the waist. This was definitely a lower class way of
Servant at work in the fields. wearing clothes.
Mosaic from the Great Palace of Constantinople.
4th-7th century.
Ankara, Ministry of Culture General Directorate of
Monuments and Museums.
The primary fabric for a tunica was undyed linen or
undyed wool. Both would be in a plain weave.

The wool was not the heavy scratchy stuff we know as

wool. It was a finer, tropical weight with a smooth finish.
Silk was also used for these types of garments.

They are seen in a small assortment of colors; red, ochre,

yellow and orange. There is an existing tunic made from
what could only be termed as a linen terrycloth. An even
rarer type of tunic was the resist dyed tunic. This resulted
in an indigo tunic with the designs in the natural ground

Coptic tunics were trimmed lavishly. Clavi (stripes) and segmentae (roundels and squares) were done in a
tapestry weave and were the most common type of trim. Most examples are in the natural tunic/ purple
trim scheme, but there are many examples of more colourful trims. Most of the examples have the
tapestry weaving as part of the garment.

The tunics were woven individually, and much of the trim was done on the loom. A large number of
examples, though, show tapestry woven trim attached to a plain weave body. Cards for card weaving have
also been discovered in Coptic areas and card weaving also gives a similar look as tapestry weaving.
Colours seen in existing trim are as follows: natural, tan, light and dark brown, yellow, gold, pink, red,
maroon, light and dark blue, cobalt blue, aqua, light and dark green, yellow-green, orange, coral, purple
and black.

Dalmatica was the over robe worn by the upper classes and on special occasions, by the common

An early (6th -10th cent.) type of dalmatic is characterized by the one worn by Emperor Justinian in the
Ravenna mosaics. It has long tight sleeves and comes down to the knees. This would be worn over a tunic
or shirt and was usually belted.

Emperor Justinian and his consequence. Mosaic from St Apolinarius in Ravenna.

The dalmatica would mostly be of a solid base with trim applied in specific
areas. Trim would be lavish, but restricted to neck, cuffs, hem, upper arm
seam, side slits and occasionally medallions above the knees. This trim could
be more tapestry woven strips and medallions or embroidery encrusted with
pearls and gems.The colour schemes would parallel the schemes on the
tunicas. For the lower classes, it was usual for these decorative strips to be cut
from scraps or short lengths of expensive brocades. This practice carried up
into the northern cities as well.

Later dalmatics (10th -13th cent.) are the most recognizable Byzantine
garment. It now reaches to the floor and the sleeves have become somewhat
wider. This could be worn belted or not. There would sometimes be small side
slits put in for ease in walking. Some examples of this type of dalmatic close
down the front and fasten with buttons.

Patterns are the fabric of choice in Byzantium, which was known from the
earliest times for its beautiful fabrics. The sleeve hem, bottom hem and neck
would be heavily decorated. Embroidery, precious stones and pearls would be
used. Pearls would outline all the major portions of the decoration as well as
being part of it. If the garment was not made of a patterned fabric, decoration
would be applied to give the impression that it was of the more expensive
fabric. Fabrics for this would be fine linen, wool, cotton and for the wealthy,
silk. The traditional patrician costume consisted of a dalmatic with wide
sleeves over a tunic with tight sleeves and high boots.

Superhumeral: This was the imperial

decorative collar. It was one of the most
recognizable parts of Byzantine clothing.

It could be of cloth of gold or similar

material, then studded with gems and/or
immense amounts of embroidery.

The decoration was general divided into

compartments by vertical lines on the
collar. The edges would be done in
pearls of varying sizes in up to three

There were occasionally drop pearls

placed at intervals to add to the

The emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and the empress Irene, richness. Rarely was the base fabric
wearing imperial costumes. distinguishable after the decoration was
Detail from mosaic of anathematic (votive) depiction from the gallery applied. The collar would come over the
of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. collarbone to cover a portion of the
The depiction is dated from circa 1044. upper chest.
Ankara, Ministry of Culture General Directorate of Monuments and
Pants: Leg coverings of some nature were worn by almost all
Byzantines. Breeches makers are shown in Diocletian's Edicts of Prices,
so they were available from the beginnings of the Eastern Empire.

Those who worked outdoors left the legs bare. Shepherds are shown
with wrappings on their legs from the ankle to the knee. Dock labourers
are shown with totally bare legs. Justinian wore hose. Frankish
breeches were seen in areas where contact between the cultures

During the early 12th century they were looked down upon as unmanly, but
by the end of the century they were already being widely adopted. Hose
seem to be the choice of the upper class and they came in rich colours.
Trousers were wildly patterned and they fit fairly loosely. They seem to have
what amounts to a drawstring waist, then they narrow down to a reasonably
slim ankle.

Shoes: Not too much is seen for shoes in Byzantine Art. The Ravenna
mosaics show the men wearing what appear to be sandals with white socks.
Emperor Basil II is shown wearing knee high red boots, embroidered with
pearls. Other Imperial portraits show only the tips of the shoes.

Outside labourers would either have sandals or be barefoot. The sandals

follow the Roman model of straps over a thick sole. Some examples of the
Roman cuculus or military boot are also seen on shepherds. Red sandals
marked the Emperor; blue shoes, a sebastokrator; and green shoes a

Cloaks: The semicircular cloak seemed to have been the most


Emperor Justinian wore one as well as his guards. The length usually
fell to about the hips or buttocks and on each straight side there might
be a tablion.

The tablion was a decorative spot sometimes used to show the rank of
the wearer by the type of embroidery and jewels that were used.

Each element of the cloak is outlined in pearls and embroidered in gold.

Sometimes an oblong cloak would be worn. This was more of a military
cloak and not generally worn for court occasions. Cloaks would be
pinned on the right shoulder for ease movement.
Mosaic from Casale, Piazza Armerina
Collection of Peloponnesian Institute

Hats: There were very few styles of hat for men in Byzantium. A small type of Phyrgian
cap was seen in the earliest times, (before the 9th century).

Mostly, men went bareheaded. In the 12th century, Emperor Andronicus Comnenus was
seen wearing a smoke colored hat shaped like a pyramid. An Iberian wide brimmed felt
hat came into vogue during the 12th century and the turban also began to be seen more
frequently. In the northern reaches of the Byzantine sphere, small caps with or without
fur brims were seen.
Women's costume in Byzantium didn't change too much over the centuries either. It basically
consisted of the tunica, the stola, and shoes. The lower classes still wore basically Roman clothes. These
had lots of drape and movement, so the ladies could get on with their work. The upper class women wore
the more stiff, jewelled garments.

Tunica: These were the basic underclothes for every class and every time period. It would only vary in
material by class of the wearer. It was long and had tight sleeves that were trim to the body. The neck
would be cut either in a boat style or in a regular round configuration. This garment could be of fine wool,
as in Roman times, or of linen or silk. Generally it was the sole garment of the lower classes. It could be
plain or have trimming. The trimming would be around the foot of the garment, the neck, and the wrists.
Clavi would also be seen, in varying lengths. The most common would be Clavi to almost the hem, but
these would not have the trimming at the foot. As underclothes, it would have invariably been of fine white

Mosaic from Casale, Piazza Armerina – Bologna

with three different types of Tunica.
Collection of Peloponnesian Institute-Greece

In the summer, women of the working classes would be seen in classical tunicas. These have no sleeves
and were sometimes pinned at the shoulders. If it was the sole garment, it could be done in colours and it
seemed to have been undecorated. Slate blue, raspberry, yellow and red are shown in paintings.

Stola: The stola varied only

slightly over the time of the

In the early years, ladies

continued the classical
Roman style of tunica, stola
and pallia.

In the 5th century, the stola

was wide and had no
separate sleeves. A sleeved
effect was gotten from the
excess width of the stola
being belted at the waist and
bloused over the belt, just as
in ancient Rome.

Empress Theodora and her consequence. Mosaic from St Apolinarius in Ravenna

Decorations were placed on the hems, tablions were placed above
the knee, and Clavii were done over the shoulders. Colours were
varied, lavender, purple, pale green, light, medium and dark blue,
pink, deep red, burgundy, gold, brown, black and white.

Trimming was also very lavish. The scheme would be similar to the
tunica but gold work and gems were known to be used in excessive
quantity. In the 7th and 8th centuries, the stola was trimmer fitting
and it developed bell sleeves. These sleeves were shorter than in
the next centuries, only coming to the elbow. They were still worn
with long sleeved tunicas and the arms of upper class ladies never
appeared bare. In the 9th and 10th centuries, the sleeves would be
tight to the elbow then flare out.

In the 11th through the 13th centuries, the stola began to look more
and more like the men's dalmatic. It transformed from being light
and draped into the heavily jewelled and decorated garment we
generally associate with Byzantium. The stola now was made out of
the same beautiful silk brocades as the men's. The sleeves were
generally longer, i.e. covering the wrists, and there would not be
slits for walking. The sleeves would also be more bell shaped and
flowing than the men's. The primary colours were purple and gold.
Other colours included deep blue, rose and white. Evidence of what
the common folks wore is hard to find during this time.

Picture of Anna Radini, 12th cent.

Hellenic Ministry of Culture

Superhumeral: The Superhumeral is a decorative collar worn

over the stola. It is nearly exactly the same as the men's version
except it was generally scaled down to fit no lower than the top
of the collarbone and no wider that the tip of the shoulder.
There are exceptions to this but, in general the collar was fairly
narrow and usually without the front and back dependant

A Superhumeral with those portions is called an ecclesiastical

pallium and was generally worn only by the priesthood and the
Imperial family. The Superhumeral would be edged with pearls
and covered with gold work and jewels. It was decorated in all
respects just like the men's version. Only the Empress seemed to
wear the full Superhumeral, however the smaller jewelled collar
was worn by the upper classes throughout the time Empire.

Theodora. Detail of mosaic from the southern wall of the sanctuary at the
church of San Vitale at Ravenna, dating from 547.
Opera di Religione della Diocesi di Ravenna
Shoes: Since most gowns sweep the ground, there is little pictorial evidence concerning women's shoes.
Empress Theodora has small pointed toed slippers as do her ladies. In other portraits, small black pointed
toes peek from underneath the robes. Simple flat, slightly pointed shoes should be correct enough until
more information comes to light.

Hats: These were also rare for ladies. There is the small roll with the veil which appeared early in the
history, (around the 5th Century) and also the small Russian cap. Generally the scarf or palla was draped
over the head when there was need for it. The palla could also be done like a small scarf and used to
cover the hair. Since Byzantium followed in the steps of Rome and it's fashion for large and elaborate
hairstyles, coverings are not very common. In the northern climates, the chin scarf and the wimple were
common head coverings.

Cloaks: Cloaks were semicircular from the

early centuries. After the 6th century, the
cloak was worn symmetrically. The straight
edge was worn over the head like a scarf.
Sometimes, though they would be pinned in
the center with a big brooch or they
wouldn't fasten at all.

Up until the 12th century, the rectangular

cloak was still worn by the working classes.
Empress Ariadne wore a full length
semicircular cloak with a picture of her son
embroidered in pearls in the tablion. The
cloak was also edged with a double row of
truly large pearls. The tablions were
reserved for the Empress alone, but the
Mosaic from St Apolinarius in Ravenna. cloak shape was worn by all classes.

Soteria. Mosaic from residence in Antioch, Syria.

Second half of 4th century. Antakya, Muzesi. Photo archive: A. Kamaras
© Ministry of Culture, General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums,

Article was written by Dawn Vukson - Van Beek. We try to find photos to fit with their description of
clothes. We gather pictures from all over the web. We did not take anything with notes saying we had to
ask permission, and always we mentioned our recourses. If we have used anything without permission, we
apologize and please let us know ( in order to correct our mistake.