Clothes Make the Person?
Vestis Virum Facit—clothes make the man. While this quote has been (wrongly) attributed to Roman educator Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, its dubious authenticity doesn’t make it any less true. Whether we intend them to or not, clothes say something about who we are. This is no less true now than it was centuries ago.
Using Ebla, a city in Syria, as an example BAR author Alfonso Archi discusses what men, women and even deities wore in the ancient city. Archi uses both archaeological finds and textual sources to present the fashion choices of kings, priests, and everyday people.
During the Early Bronze Age (3000–2000 B.C.), the state of Ebla was organized as a redistributive system: the central administration collected goods from its own estates and from villages. The goods collected then provided for the elite and for employees of the state. Archaeologists have studied the textual records from these transactions, which describe the types of goods collected and how many.
The type of garment worn by men or woman varied, depending on rank. A traditional outfit for men of higher status consisted of a robe or cloak, a skirt, and a multicolored kilt folded three times. Men of lower status wore a kind of kilt made of lower-quality cloth (this type of kilt would actually be worn as underwear by the he king, with a type of prominent belt reserved only for the upper classes).
A woman of high rank would typically wear an outer dress that covered the whole body from the shoulders to the feet. Women of lower rank wore a long robe fixed in place with a toggle pin. They also wore a stole.
While the type of garment varied, as did color and fabrics, the men and women of Ebla would have paid close attention to what they wore. As Archi explains:
Dress qualified a person. In the same way that jewels and weapons decorated with gold conveyed wealth and status, particular articles of clothing were considered prestige goods. Elaborate garments were presented as gifts—in some cases along with weapons and jewels—to kings, foreign diplomats and guests, leaders who came back from victorious military campaigns, and to messengers who brought important news. They were also given for births, marriages, and funerary ceremonies.
To learn more about Bronze Age Fashion in Syria, including the names and descriptions of garments worn by deities and priests, read “Bronze Age Fashion in Syria” by Alfonso Archi, published in the Spring 2021 of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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From Ebla to Damascus: The Archaeology of Ancient Syria
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