• Jennifer L. Ball
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In the Middle Byzantine court of Constantine Porphyrogennetos (r. 913–59), a courtier participating in a single day’s festivities, processing to the Great Church and back, changed his outfit five times.1 This same courtier was paid throughout the year with textiles, garments, and accessories, in addition to money. Entire prescriptive volumes were written to help him and others in the palace know what to wear for what occasion. Byzantine scholars have long been interested in the official regalia of their subject, especially as it relates to court ceremony. However, the dress of the imperial entourage and other courtiers is largely seen, within and outside of Byzantine scholarship, as a vestige from the Roman Empire and strictly prescribed like a uniform. This book argues that while Byzantine dress necessarily followed long-established traditions at court, the Byzantines when left to their own devices were extremely interested in creating, borrowing, and wearing fashionable dress.


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  1. 2.
    For example at Charlemagne’s court, Anna Muthesius. “The Impact of the Meditteranean Silk Trade on Western Europe before 1200 AD,” in Studies in Byzantine and Islamic Silk Weaving, ed. A. Muthesius (London: The Pindar Press, 1995), p. 209.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1984), p. 17.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    A. Dmitrievskii, Opisanie Liturgitseskich Rukopisej Typika, vol. 1 (Kiev, 1895), p. 682. Trans. Deno John Geanokoplos in Byzantium: Church, Society and Civilization Seen Through Contemporary Eyes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 314–15.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    St. Theodora of Thessalonike is just one example among dozens, Alice-Mary Talbot, ed., Holy Women of Byzantium (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1996), p. 324.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    A.A. Vasiliev, “Harun Ibn Yahya and his Description of Constantinople,” Seminarium Kondakovianum 5 (1932): 155.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    It should be noted that Phaidonos Koukoules covered dress in his book, Vyzantinon Vios kai Politismos, Vol. 2 part 2 (Athens: Eortai kai Panagirismoi Erta Eupopas Epaggelmata kai midroemporion Koukoules, 1948), pp. 5–59. However, this study presents no historical framework for the clothing and merely discusses terminology, much of which is problematic. Elisabeth Piltz has written several studies on dress, but each deals with a small subset of dress— a type of garment or wearer in a specific period: Elisabeth Piltz, Trois Sakkoi Byzantines (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell International, 1976); Kamelaukion and Mitra (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell International, 1977); Le Costume Officiel des Dignitaires Byzantins a L’Epoque Paleologue (Uppsala: S. Academie Upsaliensis, 1994); “Middle Byzantine Court Costume,” in Byzantine Court Culture from 829–1204, ed. H. Maguire (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1997). Nancy Sevcenko and Alexander Kazdhan writing in the The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, have done some of the best and in some cases only scholarly research on certain items of dress despite it being a reference book rather than a comprehensive study.Google Scholar
  7. Alexander P. Kazhdan, ed., Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. 3 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Fred Davis, Fashion, Culture, and Identity (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 5–7.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Anne Hollander, Seeing Through Clothes (New York: Viking Press, 1978), p. 363.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    For example, this is seen in: Speros Vryonis Jr., “The Will of a Provincial Magnate, Eustathius Boilas,” in Byzantium: Its Internal History and Relations to the Muslim World, ed. S.V. Jr. (London: Variorium Reprints, 1971).Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    For example, the term dress was used at the 1992 Conference on Dress and Gender published in Ruth Barnes and Joanne B. Eicher, eds., Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    A look at the literature on dress in the Byzantine field alone finds this term in common use even in very recent texts. For example the entry for dress in the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium is listed under “Costume,” Kazhdan, The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. The only survey book on Byzantine dress is: Mary Houston, Ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine Costume and Decoration (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1959).Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    Anna Muthesius, Byzantine Silk Weaving AD 400 to AD 1200 (Vienna: Verlag Fassbaender, 1997).Google Scholar
  14. 19.
    Marielle Martiniani-Reber, Textiles et mode Sassanides (Paris: Musee du Louvre, 1997) and Lyon Musee Historique des tissus de Lyon: Soieries (Lyons: Musee Historiques des Tissus, 1986).Google Scholar
  15. See also her contributions to Jannic Durand et al., eds., Byzance: L’art byzantin dans les collections publiques françaises (Paris: Bibliotheque Nationale, 1992).Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    The most notable examples are: D. Jacoby, “Silk in Western Byzantium before the Fourth Crusade,” Byzantine Zeitschrift 84–85 (1991–92): 452–500Google Scholar
  17. and George C. Maniatis, “Organization, Market Structure, and Modus Operandi of the Private Silk Industry in Tenth-Century Byzantium,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 53 (1999): 263–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Other works on the subject include Lydre Hadermann-Misguiche, “Tissus de Pouvoir et Prestige sous Les Macedonians et Commenians,” DchAH 17 (1993–94): 121–28.Google Scholar
  19. Anna A. Ierusalimskaja and Birgitt Borkopp, Von China Nach Byzanz (Munich: Herausgegeben vom Bayerischen Nationalmuseum und der Staatlichen Ermitage, 1996).Google Scholar
  20. Muthesius, Impact of the Meditteranean Silk Trade and Michael Hendy, Studies in the Byzantine Monetary Economy 300–1450 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) includes several discussions on textiles.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    See, e.g., their latest work, Desirée Koslin and Janet E.Snyder, Encountering Medieval Textiles and Dress (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Maria Parani, Reconstructing the Reality of Images: Byzantine Material Culture and Religious Iconography (11th-15th Centuries) (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2003).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Warren Woodfin, Late Byzantine Ecclesiastical Vestments and the Iconography of Sarcedotal Power (Doctoral thesis, Art History Department, University of Illionois, Urbana-Champagne, 2002).Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Robert S. Nelson, “Heavenly Allies at the Chora,” GESTA 43:1 (2004): 31–40;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Joyce Kubiski, “Orientalizing Costume in Early Fifteenth-Century French Manuscript Painting (Cite des Dames Master, Limbourg Brothers, Boucicaut Master, and Bedford Master),” GESTA 40:2 (2001): 161–80;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Catherine Jolivet-Levy, “Note sur la representation des archanges en costume imperial dans l’iconographie Byzantine,” Cahiers Archeologiques 46 (1998): 121–28.Google Scholar
  27. 26.
    See, e.g., Jenna Weismann Joselit, A Pefect Fit: Clothes, Character and the Promise of America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001), which proposes that new immigrants to America used dress to assimilate; fashions were newly available to them via the first off-the-rack markets and second-hand stores.Google Scholar

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© Jennifer L. Ball 2005

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