This is definitely more of an aristocratic tradition than a lower class tradition, though I assume that well-to-do merchant class Byzantines may have had a tiered wardrobe.
While doing research, you may find annotations or information for clothing known as “undress”, or “court undress”. Before you think you need to get nekkid, look at the context. It’s somewhat antiquated, but the concept of “undress” is the lowest level of acceptable dress. Not really your pajamas, but something you could be comfortable being seen in, while out for a meal in the palace with friends, or maybe the emperor if the occasion is not a state one.
Basically, court undress is your business casual, while full court dress is your best of the best ceremonial-grade garments. In between could be half-dress, your “cocktail hour” attire, or something you would wear to a weekly liturgy at your local basilica, a gathering at the palace, or a less formal court. Coronation? Easter? Christmas? A marriage? Get your good stuff on, non-optional.
It’s no secret that I love garb. I sew a lot, and probably own way more than I actually need to. My reasoning, or at least, what I tell people, is that you really can only get better and learn to understand new patterns and shaping if actually get the needle out. Another reason, is that stratifying my Byzantine collection is important. I’m still working on it, and developing more “undress” for myself as an aristocratic woman.
For example, my 12th Century outfit? This is not for everyday wear. This only gets trotted out for special occasions, namely coronations, and fashion shows because it’s just so extra. This is court dress. The propoloma elevates it.
But then, you have my 11th Century set which I made for my thesis. Is this court dress? Well, the mantle certainly kicks it up. But it’s not the highest ceremonial dress. Why? I’m not wearing a propoloma, I’m in a fakiolion instead. Could I wear this to court? Yes. Probably not for a coronation, or for Easter/Pascha ceremonies. But this would be acceptable for an event where fine dress is required. It could even be undress if I lost the mantle. That is more or less adding an air of piety to cover my shoulders for the divine liturgy. If I added a propoloma to this, it would be court dress without question. This is a good example of half-dress.
True undress? Probably more along the lines of this look. I’m in a minimally decorated wool delmatikion, with a plain white veil. I still have jewelry on, as I am aristocratic and need to wear some wealth, but this was Festival of the Rose out in Caid in February of 2017, and not a major event like Coronation or Crown Tournament. I was comfortable and completely dressed, I just don’t have a full body picture.
A good source for a woman in aristocratic undress would probably be the Theodore Psalter, which Tim Dawson references for similar reasons in “By the Emperor’s Hand”. Here, the woman pictured in well dressed, but not weighed down by ceremonial accouterments. This is something more along the lines of what I should be wearing regularly (when it’s not as hot as the surface of the sun outdoors.)
I do have a couple older linen delmatikioi I should try wearing more beyond Pennsic when I’m not melting down here.
Another level, though I am unsure if this is truly an aristocratic woman or not, is from this miniature in the Menologion of Basil II. I like this because it doesn’t have the long angel sleeves, and clearly has a short-sleeved esoforion beneath it. However, I’m not sure, exactly, who she is. Is this the empress in her “casual” wear because of the red boots? Is this a middle class woman? Either way, it’s another form of undress. My guess if she is aristocratic, or the empress, it’s very much of a “It’s warm out, and I’m keeping to myself” type of clothing. It’s still pretty ornamented, and red is not a cheap color. Of note is the fact that it is clearly an emergency situation with the “bad omen” in the sky, and her head is uncovered outdoors. Lots of questions!
Anyways, I hope this post helps people think a bit more about building a tiered wardrobe. It’s definitely something I need to put more thought into working on for myself.
On our previous, “Why do I live where the sun melts my face” episode, I designed the Archaic Chiton and Archaic Himation for those that needed less fabric than Roman could provide, but still look glam. I’m pretty much kicking most of my Roman pieces to the curb for this. I feel more at home as an Archaic Greek for an alternate summer persona. Probably because it allows me to be more of a peacock in line with my Byzantine primary work when those heavy layers are unsuitable. This gives me time to work on my academic work with Byzantine dress, while keeping cool with simple sewing projects I can bling out extravagantly with trim and bezants.
When it became clear that the weekend of Trimaris Memorial Tourney was going to be facing record breaking heat, I wondered how little I could wear, and still look put together. I feel like my Iron Age peploi/bog dresses/war tubes are just not okay enough outside of running around the field at Pennsic or working around camp. When my husband, who is known for his gingerness, is packing his Roman tunica and shorts and bottles of sunblock instead of his usual two layers of linen, you know what’s up.
Amenhotep Sa Amenemhat has been pretty inspiring with his work in the Bronze Age, predominately his impression of a New Kingdom Egyptian priest of Amun. He suggested I take a look at Egyptian, and I sort of sneered a bit. Really, the most common Egyptian look that women in the SCA attempt is the strappy sheath dress. I have no issue with it, because I’m a fan of supportive garments, I just have my own body image issues that are stopping me from tailoring my own. When Caid announced that their upcoming reign would be Egyptian, my friends from Calafia got in contact with me for sources, so I jumped onto the SCA Egypt group on Facebook and browsed through the files section, which I found out was pretty comprehensive on options outside of the strappy look.
I openly admit to not looking too deeply into Egyptian textiles. It’s not really my “thing”, though there’s quite a bit of overlap between that and some Bronze Age Greek I’ve been reading up on. When a book I have out on Interlibrary Loan, Ariadne’s Threads: The Construction and Significance of Clothes in the Aegean Bronze Age by Bernice R. Jones, cited images and contemporary extant pieces from Egypt that looked to be well-fitted tunic dresses of sorts versus the straps, or the oversized bag-tunic, I decided to look closer, and followed through to Pharaonic Egyptian Clothing by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, where a fast skim was able to make the idea of a bag tunic more doable for my personal tastes.
The bag tunic itself was worn by both men and women, and there were a variety of cuts and pleating styles done with it. Most artwork shows women wearing slim fitting clothing, in reality, this may not have been the case. The bag tunic could have been quite wide, and when belted under the bust, created the wide top. I’ve played this game with wide Roman chitons that required double belting. No thank you. I want part of the “less is more” idea, here. I had a remnant of 27″ wide natural colored linen and a free afternoon. Why the heck not?
The construction is exactly the same as a Roman man’s tunica, or at least, the way I make them. I folded the fabric in half the short way, and formed holes for the arms on the sides. The neckline is based on the bag tunic found at Tarkhan, where it is nothing more than a vertical slit, versus a Roman boatneck style. Other tunics show keyholes, so there was some good variation going on. This image from University College London gives a good diagram, and also shows the inclusion of fringe. I did not fringe my linen, though I was seriously tempted to do so.
I finished the hem of my garment with a slit for walking, and an inkle trim that has been sitting on my loom for the better part of two years. It reminds me of pieces found in Tutankhamen’s tomb, and was given the thumbs up by Amenhotep when I asked for advice.
When I initially tried it on, I was first a bit twitchy about the low cut of the neckline, but had to remind myself that this was far from a modest society. That wasn’t as much of the issue as it wanting to slide off of my shoulders, though. This was rectified by adding a tie to the back, which Vogelsang-Eastwood mentions in her book as a technique done on women’s clothing.
I also tossed together a necklace with some beads I had in my stash, mostly leftover from my previous Bronze Age foray into Mesopotamian garb. The turquoise is ceramic, but not real faience. The red is genuine carnelian, and the cowries are also real, and took a bit of finagling with jump rings to turn into viable pendants. I stacked this with a carnelian necklace I made for my Mesopotamian project and still have, because it’s all real stone and worth a pretty penny.
The finished look on my dressform:
Of course, I still needed to cover my hair. What better than the quintessential Egyptian kerchief? A wig was not going to happen in this heat, and I’m a fan of veiling and covering when out in the sun, because scalp sunburns are awful. This gives the added bonus of protecting the back of the neck as well. It’s basically a half-oval with trim used for ties. Based on ones found in Tut’s tomb. The blue is accurate to one of the finds.
And here I am all put together at Trimaris Memorial Tourney, Jeff takes bad pictures, so I found if I make terrible faces, they come out better. While I normally don’t put on makeup when it can melt off, I felt like the application of malachite-green eyeshadow and some black kohl eyeliner was necessary to complete the look. Both are non-toxic modern alternatives to the period cosmetics. Please, do not rub real malachite or lead galena on your eyes when we can fake it safely.
– One layer and you’re done.
– Throw your hair in braids, pin them up, cover, done.
– Totally non-gendered. Men could wear a shorter tunic if desired.
-The v-neck style can be adjusted a bit to allow for more to show in the back or front. This allowed me to control cleavage, and give my back more “venting”, this was nice and let the usual back sweat evaporate out and cool that spot nicely. It also allowed me to wear a normal t-shirt bra, instead of a bandeau which is what I opt to in my chitons so there are no visible straps.
– Excellent use of a remnant that was otherwise going to just become another Greek chiton. 27″ was plenty wide for me. But this won’t work for everyone.
-Kerchief can be re-configured on your head for a Norse look. I did that later in the day when I was cooking and eating dinner in our camp.
– It doesn’t feel much like, “me”. I got that vibe when I was making it more than wearing it. Though I got a ton of compliments for how put together it looked and the simplicity for dealing with the soaring temps.
-My Egyptian-ish sandals are in bad shape and made me gimpy.
– Not a lot of “peacocking” options outside of bling. The Egyptians didn’t really have dyes that worked on linen, so natural and bleached is the way to go.
Conclusion: Will I wear it again? Yes. I may even make another to add into my Pennsic/hot event rotation that has the waist seam. It will be good for waterbearing on the field, especially with the turban covering my head, and me avoiding the need for a floppy hat that usually just gets in the way. I also really want to try one of the super pleated long sleeved tunics with the waist seam. I figure I can easily sun-dry some pleats into wet linen on a hot enough day here in Trimaris, especially with how dry the summer is shaping up to be. Obviously, this technique would would better in Caid, but hey, we take what is given to us. Will I go for the full on crazy wrapped kalasiris look? Eh, that remains to be seen. I’m happy being Greek. 😉
I’ve already decided that my next stop on the Anna and Amenhotep’s Bronze Age Revue will be Hittite, but that will probably have to wait until after Pennsic once things cool down a smidge. Climate between Anatolia and Egypt were pretty different.
Next week at a Trimarian event called “Corsair’s Heart”, Mistress Mayken van der Alst is coordinating a Medieval Hike! I decided that this sounded more in my wheelhouse than an entry into the Birka Garb Challenge, so I chose to go full bore and see what I could come up with.
The short answer: A middle/working class Byzantine ensemble that would be comfortable for hiking in. The hilarious thing is that I don’t own anything lower class, or uh, casual.
But for real, in period, in persona, I would have been carried to Jerusalem in a litter, or rode in the back of a carriage. If I was “roughing it”, I would be on my own horse. Walking? Bah!
But that’s not the point of this exercise. The point is to walk, and wear and carry something that I could walk in, comfortably.
Better start at the bottom. Layer that is.
In my searching for *sigh* casual Byzantine, which, by the way, not that easy, I found a Cappadocian fresco that is contemporary to my period. Here, a midwife and Salome bathe the infant Jesus and his rippling man-pecks of the Divine.
Everything here seemed perfect. You have women working, wearing clothing indicative of an arid climate that would have been passed through to continue to the Holy Land. The colors are great, and my favorite part? The Midwife’s SLEEVES:
I determined it was either one of two things: A guard that was slung over the shoulders to allow her to pull her clothing back and away for midwifery duties, or, slits in a tunic designed to do this, again, for her profession. Both are plausible, of course, but I decided to test the theory on a tunic, as it’s also supported by some of the work Dr. Timothy Dawson has done with kavadion/gambesons whereas the underarm is open, and the padded long sleeve can be pinned back for more movement.
This is what I came up with.
The base pattern for the esoforion (undershirt), is the Manazan Caves Tunic, which I’ve used before for some shirts for the hubby here. The reasons I decided to go forward with one of these for myself were: A; The high collar is good for protecting against the elements. B: The extant tunic is contemporary to Cappadocia, but not in the same location. The Manazan Caves are in present day Karaman, Turkey, and the Dark Church is in present day Goreme. This is a distance of about 270km. That doesn’t mean that these settlements weren’t in contact, and it’s still close enough for approximation of Cappadocian fashion. C: The long gore construction of the Manazan find would work well with allowing a ton of ease and slack on the arms for slits in the sleeves.
So, with my pile of 3.5oz natural linen, I set off on an adventure. I determined that the sleeves would have to be longer to pull this off, but since that was a Persian trend that had trickled into Byzantine fashion and stayed, I had no qualms with some potentially droopy sleeves. I also ended up hand-sewing the entire collar, and all openings/hems. There are only 6 machine sewn seams in the whole thing, not bad. I do want to do an entirely hand-sewn one of these, and I have the fabric to do it, so I figured this would be good practice. Plus, as I mentioned in my previous blog post about this tunic, hand sewing the collar construction is a must, anyway. It just won’t work right with a machine. Good thing too, because after the couple days it took me to complete the collar setup, I returned to the machine, and promptly sewed a full stitch through my left index finger, INCLUDING THE NAIL. Typing hurts right now, but it’s healing. I guess that’s a sign I should keep on my hand work practice.
So much whipstitching, man. The Byzantines loved them some whipstitch.
Tacking down the inside facing.
Seeing the hand stitching on the outside.
Putting the placket over the front.
Attaching the band collar.
Finished handsewn collar.
Whipstitching the whole darn hem! I usually use a blind hem stitch, but it’s really not accurate.
I decided on the arm slit placement after basting the side seams together, and looking at fit. Each slit is 8″ out of the front seam that connects the gore. I then cut the basting, turned in a hem, and it was done. Zero fuss, and zero fabric waste or odd cuts into the garment.
The pictures speak for themselves. It works. The placement of the uber-long gore makes for a full range of movement, and as you can see, I can still create more slack to go over an outer tunic.
This garment is more than practical for just midwifery. While on pilgrimage, it would be beneficial to cover your skin for sun protection, and the long sleeves still allow for this. But, if I get too hot, or need to cook/set camp/do dirty work, I can tie my sleeves back and be comfortable doing so. Genius.
I’m going to use a tie on the front of the collar this time, versus a button and loop as I did for Gieffrei, because I feel it will allow me to adjust fit and function better during the hike. I can inkle weave a small band easy enough in an hour on my little loom.
Of course, the outer garment is next after that. I’m following through with the color scheme of the fresco, especially the look that Salome is wearing on the right. I have a block printed cotton I will be using for the turban to match the Cappadocian look, as well.
My final touches will be a shoulder bag, and a relic bag for my belt. If I can find out more, I want to research into accurate ankle support as well, only because I’m a chronic sprainer and could use the, uh, help. These will all be completed over the course of the next week, and I’m looking forward to pulling it all together for the hike!
I field more emails and more online questions about the Varangian Guard than I do actual Byzantine personae. I lifted most of the information below from my Byzantine Personal Basics page above, but I’ve included a bibliography to hopefully help those on the path find what they’re looking for.
I’m going to preface this by saying that I have nothing against Varangian personae, but I’m about to be very blunt: Varangians are not Byzantine.
The Romans viewed them as barbarians and outsiders, and despite the fun tales from the Norse Sagas, chances are, they weren’t well liked in the City. The truth of the matter is that there are currently more Varangians in the SCA than there ever was serving an emperor at one point in time due to the fact that it gives Norse personae an excuse to wear lamellar when it’s hot (which is fine, we don’t need anybody dropping dead at war, please). Not everybody could show up at the Blachernae Palace steps from somewhere up North and demand they be admitted into service to the Purple. It was a bit more complicated than that, and each emperor had different requirements. Not to mention, Varangians were only predominantly Norse for a short period of time in the mid 11th Century if we assume what the Sagas say is true.
The first Varangian Guard was not established until the late 10th Century (around 980) when Basil II was given thousands of Kievan soldiers in exchange for marriage of a Byzantine princess to the Prince of Kiev in order to defeat the Bulgarians. The Kievan Rus were not Norse, they were Slavic, potentially with Norse ancestry, but the term “Viking” itself is a particular Norse occupation. The “Viking Age” was pretty much over at this time. We do have record of plenty of Norse travelers coming to Constantinople prior to this, but the “Viking raid” in 860 was actually Rus that had come down into the Black Sea from what is now Ukraine.
To further screw things up, the term “Varangian” itself was used by both the Romans and the Rus to refer to Norse Vikings prior to the 10th Century. So, if this is the route you desire to go, determining if you’re just a Norse traveler from early period, or an actual member of the Emperor’s elite guard is important.
If you do decide to go Varangian GUARD, here is a list of “waves” of ethnicities that served at specific times. This is by no means set in stone, but it provides a guide for those that want to pinpoint a specific time period that suits their goals:
988 – 1020ish: Kievan Rus
1020-1070ish: Scandinavian (Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish) Bolli Bollason and Harald Hardrada served at this time.
1070-1204ish: Danish and English (Anglo-Saxon). The term “Danes” comes up in Byzantine literature often to describe the Varangians, and the English were escaping Norman rule in England at this time. This is documented in the saga of Edward the Confessor. Siward Barn served at this time. Normans were NOT permitted to be apart of the Varangian Guard, but some may have served as mercenaries in other capacities.
The Fourth Crusade has probably some of the best documented accounts of the Varangian Guard in action protecting Constantinople. After the retaking of Constantinople and re-establishing the empire, however, there didn’t appear to be as formal of a guard unit, and those that were a part of it, had fully assimilated into the Roman culture. It is unclear if the Varangian Guard really remained a thing until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.
There are a lot of myths surrounded what they actually wore, especially in the SCA. The “red is for the Emperor’s service” and “green is for the Empress’s service” is totally a SCAdianism as far as I’ve found. It looks like the on-duty color for the guard was blue or red, while off-duty, you see them in nothing more than plain tunics and slim-fitting trousers or hose, which was typical for men’s casual wear throughout the empire. Earlier travelers would have continued to wear the clothing of their culture, versus picking up stuff along the way. Clothing was expensive and difficult to carry and launder, so the other SCAdianism of having a diverse wardrobe boasting the latest fashions of every exotic port of call you visited is also inaccurate. They would, however, assimilate over time if they decided to stay put in an area. This does not include trade goods, but items that were exchanged in business were not necessarily the same as the clothes you wore on your back.
As far as religion goes, during the period of the active guard, most serving were already Christian, or converted to Orthodoxy from a later, heavily modified and somewhat hodgepodged version of Arian Christianity which was more common in Eastern Europe and the Scandinavian countries very early before the Western Church started coming in with missions. Please, remember that Arianism IS NOT THE SAME THING as Aryanism. Mind your i’s and y’s! Either way, the idea of your persona dripping in lovely Asatru regalia would be incorrect as a guardsman, but as a very early Norse traveler to Constantinople, still possible.
This is both an abridged version of my Master’s Thesis and an expansion of sorts. It focuses solely on Kale’s garments and her inventory as such demonstrating her changing identity from noblewoman to nun. The Powerpoint has photos of my attempt at ecclesiastical dress and some dramatic poses for fun.
You know, that head roll that SCAdians think is so Byzantine? You can buy them at Ren Fairs, they show up in commercial paper patterns. It basically looks like something you get at a medical supply store for bum cushioning.
I know this sounds mean, but there is -zero- evidence that such a thing existed. Artwork from the early Byzantine period (300-899) shows -something-, and that something is called a fakiolion. It’s a turban, and it continues to be worn through the middle period, when art becomes more refined post-iconoclasm.
I’m far from innocent, of course. Here I am, 10 years ago and 50lbs lighter, wearing my hair donut in a photoshoot. This was my first attempt at Byzantine garb, which over all wasn’t bad, but if I could go back and beat myself with a hammer for the donut, I would. It was a waste of fabric and pillow fill that makes zero sense in the case of medieval construction.
Here is the cut from Theodora’s procession at San Vitale. I know you see the stripes, and think that it has to be ribbons and spangles and fancy things wrapped around a roll to get that effect. The fact is, that the same effect can be made with a turban with the right designs on it.
Then of course, there is the bust of the Byzantine Woman from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, believed to be Julia Amicia, Theodora’s zoste patrikia, shown as the third woman from the left above, you know, the one actually looking at us with her elegantly draped palla over her fakiolion. The front of this sure makes it confusing. Even I haven’t been able to completely figure out what that pucker is, but, thanks to my skills at museum yoga, I was able to get pictures of behind her head. As you can see, it’s definitely not a donut. It almost reminds me of how a St. Birgitte’s Cap gathers in the back of the head. I wonder if this piece was polychromatic at one point, and, if the Met plans on having it investigated for color residue. I feel any trace of color on the hairpiece would probably make it easier to interpret.
The use of a turban rather than a head roll provides multiple benefits. One, it doesn’t use up fabric and filling that could have been better served in other capacities. Two, it keeps the hair out of the face, and most importantly, CLEAN. The use of silk on the hair also helps protect set styles, and women still use silk wraps today to wear over their rollers and other curling implements to bed in order to control frizz and damage. It was not uncommon for a Byzantine woman to leave her hair uncovered, even as a married woman, and noblewomen would have had the option of affording hair services such as ornate braids and temporary “perms” made with gum arabic. The fakiolion would have helped keep these styles in place and relatively clean, versus having to constantly re-set the hair on a daily basis. A head roll would have been useless in any of these applications. While Byzantines were known for conspicuous consumption, even that seems off the mark.
Here is my Byzan-bestie, Konstantia, showing her interpretation from the same period. Note that the stripes in scarf used to create the turban gives the same effect as you see above from the mosaic. It looks so much more elegant than the donut, don’t you think? You can read her blog post pertaining to Byzantine headwear, here: https://kaloethina.wordpress.com/2016/10/01/headgear/
The trick, is to make sure that your fakiolion has the right grammata on it, or geometric designs. The Last Will and Testament of Kale Pakouriane describes these designs as being done in goldwork, and some scholars believe that grammata had pseudo-kufic script embroidered in, which was a popular design feature. Typically, you want the design to run parallel along the edges of the length of your turban fabric. Both Konstantia and I have found that commercially available hijabs do this nicely. And, since they’re designed to be worn on the head, they tend to not be stifling materials, and stay put.
Here’s a similar scarf to what Konstantia is wearing above, only worn by me, in the most flattering selfie imaginable, that just happens to have the best shot of my turban style. It also gives a nice railing for coronets to perch without the pinching or headaches associated with some heavy head jewelry. Konstantia rocks the look complete with a maforion, or veil over top of it, which was common for the early period, versus the middle period, when I’m supposed to be living. She used a pashima here, for added thickness and warmth.
And here I am in some 11th Century, emulating looks from The Menologion of Basil II as seen in my master’s thesis and Compleat Anachronist.
It was requested that I do a video tutorial of my preferred turban wrapping, so, here it is:
I know the phrase goes, “All good things must come to an end”, but in short, that head roll was never good. It’s an early Faire/SCAbomination of garb based on Italian and Spanish Renaissance fashions that don’t fit in this culture, has seen its day, and needs to be retired for a more accurate solution. Consider the fakiolion for your next event, and put your donut out to garb pasture for good.