The origin and significance of Byzantine dress in the secular world

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The origin and significance of Byzantine dress in the secular world

Type: Master thesis
Title: The origin and significance of Byzantine dress in the secular world
Author: Ouwerkerk, Leonie
Issue Date: 2012-08-31
Keywords: Byzantine
byzantine dress
historical dress
Abstract: In the last fifty years the subject of Byzantium has received more attention by scholars. However one aspect of the Byzantine Empire has still been largely ignored: the lavish garments worn by both the emperor and his people. Dress can say much about a people: how were women seen, were they dressed similar to the men and did they have power? How was the imperial family dressed, and could an empresses power be visible from her garments? Was a sort of fashion already present at this early time or did clothing styles not change at all? And how were the children dressed? Were the imperial children dressed differently from the elite, and were the elite dressed like their parents? From images it is clear that both emperor and empress wore the same lavish garments that were exclusive to the imperial family and which carried great meaning. At least from the eighth to the eleventh century women dressed exactly like their husbands, even in the world of the elite. Variations did occur, just like garments that were only worn by women such as the veil. Only in the early and late Byzantine Empire differences in dress appeared between men and women, possible due to the pressure from barbarians invading the country. The men had to show a more military styled garb in these periods. Even though many fashion historians claim that fashion only started in the middle of the fourteenth century it is certain that some basic form of fashion was already in place in the middle Byzantine Empire. New styles of dress were often adopted from the outskirts of the Empire and these new fashions were later also seen in the center. In this way turbans and western styled dresses traveled from the Islamic world and the west through the borderlands towards the capital. From historical sources it is also known that people were obsessed with looking good and fashionable, the clearest indication one would wish for an early notion of fashion. Children of the imperial family were dressed exactly like their mother and father in the beautiful royal garments. Brothers to the heir were not discriminated (even though girls were sometimes omitted from family portraits). Clearly all of the imperial children were cherished, not only the heir. Girls were important tools in order to gain alliances with important families and were cherished. Elite children, like imperial children, were dressed like their parents, at least on official occasions and holidays. On not so formal occasions they were likely dressed in special garments for children which gave them more room to move and play. It is also possible that these garments were owned by the less fortunate who were not able to afford the expensive luxurious clothes of the most important families.
Supervisor: Bintliff, John
Faculty: Faculty of Archaeology
Department: Archaeology (Master)
Specialisation: Classical, Heritage management
ECTS Credits: 20

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