Tunics and trousers worn by two armed fighters in the Villa Armerina in Sicily, 4th century. Source: wikipedia

Dress and Personal Appearance in Late Antiquity

Even though clothes in Late Antiquity might be mended and remade until they were threadbare, they might still be embellished with cut out appliques of recycled tapestries.

Child's Tunic. From the Whitworth Art Gallery T 8549
Child’s Tunic. From the Whitworth Art Gallery T 8549. Source: Pinterest

There exists a great many smaller and larger fragments of extant articles from Southeastern Europe and the Middle East in Late Antiquity, more precisely the large cities around the central and Eastern Mediterranean. One reason is the dry climate in Egypt and the excellent conditions for preservation. There are also a great many murals, paintings, ivory carvings and mosaics, which yield information of how people dressed and what they looked like in the Eastern Empire. As well, there are numerous written texts telling us that even old and used garments were valuable artefacts, which might be pawned, gifted and sold.

Paring the written and pictorial information with the information from extant garments is however, not that easy. The present book publishes the results of a study undertaken by the archaeologist, Faith Pennick Morgan, as part of her Phd from the University of Kent in 2015. As part of this work, she examined more than 52 extant garments and fragments thereof in order to assess the ways in which they were made, embellished, cared for, mended, recycled and perhaps at some point discarded. One of the fascinating results of these detailed studies of extant garments is in fact the careful mending and obvious recycling, which the garments often underwent. She also undertook a careful recreation of a number of the extant garments to figure out how they were used. She found that many of the tunics, for instance, were extremely wide and long. Sometimes, they were wider than long, fitted with under-arm openings and tucked in at the waist. By exploring the different sources, the author is able to present a fascinating picture of the dress and personal appearance of members of the middle and lower classes during Late Antiquity. This archaeological evidence tells us of “a working population making do with often un-dyed woollen clothings, showing signs of heavy wear and tear”. If embellished, it was often done with appliqued tapestry taken from re-cycled garments.

By further assessing this information using different theoretical approaches including that of ‘object biography’, this thesis goes on to explore the ways in which cultural meaning is invested in clothing, and what this tells us both about the people who made, wore and used it, and about the society of which they were a part.

The book covers the period from the 3rd to the 8th century and thus the period, when tunics, trousers, leggings, capes and long hooded cloaks became steadily more widespread. In the Easter Empire, cotton and silk became steadily more prominent as did new techniques in the form of the drawloom.

Very valuable appendixes give us a list of references to clothing in Late Antiquity in both preserved papyri and in literature s well as a catalogue of tunics preserved in museums .


Faith Pennick Morgan, Ph.D. (2015), is Honorary Research Fellow of the Centre for Late Antique Archaeology, University of Kent.


Tunics and trousers worn by two armed fighters in the Villa Armerina in Sicily, 4th century. Source: wikipedia

Dress and Personal Appearance in Late Antiquity: The Clothing of the Middle and Lower Classes
By Faith Pennick Morgan
Series: Late Antique Archaeology (Supplementary Series)
Brill 2017








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