The Importance of Mantles in Middle Byzantine Fashion

This is a very short disorganized blurb, and I apologize, but I wanted to get some notes down from what I’m exploring as far as my thesis goes.

As I’ve mentioned previously, my master’s thesis is exploring the last will and testament of Kale Pakouriane from 1098. I’m going into her inventory and trying to reconstruct her life from her material culture. One thing that really sticks out is the amount of mantles she has.

There are three different words for “cloak” or “mantle” in her will: mandyas, which I’ve already written up as the semi-circle one last year. The sagion, which was evidently shorter, apparently knee-length versus ankle-length, this is something Parani points out in Reconstructing the Reality of Images, and then the one line where my translation was getting extremely confused because of words is a garment that was allegedly called the thalassa, or “sea”. It was another type of cloak, but according to Dawson in his article within Varieties of Experience, there’s only a few mentions of it in written history, namely De Cerimoniis, where Constantine Porphyrogennetos refers to it as a gift for royalty, and in Kale’s will. He’s not sure why it’s named this, but narrows it down to having to do with a particularly luxurious fabric that could vary from a specific shot silk from the Arabian peninsula, or a blue/green/gray dyed COTTON from Persia or Hindustan. We just don’t know, and may never know.What this does mean, however, is that it was particularly luxurious.

What this project has taught me so far was that these mantles were a way to show off wealth and probably protect your equally luxurious clothing. Kale had an impressive wardrobe. I just ordered the French translation of the will and the scans of the actual Greek document. $200 later. Academia is stupid.

I know this is going to raise a lot of questions, but I don’t have all the answers yet. Please be patient while I work on this. My mundane life and graduate degree must come before anything SCA. I just wanted to get this information out. These little nuances will greatly change how we should project ourselves in 11th Century Byzantine clothing.

9 thoughts on “The Importance of Mantles in Middle Byzantine Fashion

  1. Your work also has implications for 10th century because what you find did not come from a vacuum. This is helpful for me too. While the silks I use need to be able to be justified for my period (no offset roundels!) What you are documenting was likely part of what women wore before your period too.

    So I need a really big piece of brocade for a really fabulous cloak.🙂

    Is there a guess as to the shape of the last and fanciest cloaks?

    I look forward to using what you write up to add good things to my garb.

    1. I strongly suggest not riding on my coattails for information about what women were wearing 100+ years prior to my period. Fashion changed a lot during the Komnenian Restoration. Please follow up with your own research.

  2. Thank you! Since we’re about 65 years earlier than you are, 10 years before the death of Basil II, my conjecture on our clothing is that our lines are *very* similar, but since Ioannes and Helene live in Caeseria Cappadocia,where all the silk roads meet, we have a bit more access to trade goods and, with good military luck, Ioannes is bringing home lots of awesome spoils.

    I’ve decided that we mostly reside on the border, and so, most of our daily wear is good linen and wool, rather than rich silks. For that, since we are conscious of appearance and well, BYZANTINE, I’m going to work on using freshwater pearls and other pretty, not-precious stones, for our Sunday, got to Liturgy garb embellishment, and leave the silks and satin and perfect-looking pearls for court garb. Also, possibly amber but in limited quantities.

    So, I’m digging into the changes between decorative motifs in those years, although I do remember seeing a lot of geometric designs while I was researching new feast gear for Ioannes, influenced by the Arab and Turk proximity to the frontier. Also, a lot of stylized floral/vine work, which I think might work for the embellishment of our mantles.

    My only confusion is whether the rectangular cloaks seen on men in icons means that was just an artistic preference, and they wore semi-circular mantles too, or if those were primarily feminine garments.

    Anyway, Thank you so much for all this. You ROCK.

    And many thanks to my beloved Ioannes, since he puts up with my generalized nosiness.

  3. Also, WHY can’t we have pretty things left over? I want to know HOW the pearling was done, not just pictures! I want to see fragments of silk and wool with goldwork and pearls, because dammit, how did the fine silk hold up to the weight of a bazillion pearls? What was it backed with? Was there any type of batting to add dimension? Were the borders removed and transferred to other garments? Heck, were old silk tunics cut down for the next smaller family member?

    I have some gorgeous patterned silk to use for Ioannes’s next court tunic but I know that silk is lighter than I would like to hang a four inch wide pearled boarder off, so I have to figure out the best way to attach 46 pounds of pearls.

    First though, I’m working on a linen tunic, in a deep wine. Well, the tunic will probably be black with wine colored cuffs, arm bands, collar facing and hem.

    You know, I’m kinda tempted to weight the tunic, before and after it’s embellished, just to get an idea of how much that stuff weighs.

    Well, okay, your thesis will probably answer some of that, since it’s the contents of her will, but still…. GAH. I HAVE QUESTIONS.

    Sorry, chatty today.

      1. That’s what Ioannes said. Until I told him the price. I think we’ll do ILL, and then go from there. If we decide we *really* need it, we’ll just save up for it.😀

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