Dress to Impress: Grades of clothing in the manifest of a 10th century Byzantine military expedition.

Peter Beatson - NVG Miklagard

1. Introduction

'The Expedition Against Crete', a manifest of resources gathered for droungarios (Admiral) Gongyles' unsuccessful 949 invasion of the Arab-held island, was incorporated into a dossier of adminstrative material known to us as the De ceremoniis ('Book of Ceremonies'), associated with Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennitos. [1]

Included are two lists of garments, described by type; quality; and number required. One group is to be supplied by the koitōn (Imperial bedchamber) and the other by the eidikon (Treasury). Their purpose is not specified here, but can be found in another of Constantine's works, 'On Imperial Expeditions': [2]

“... these items are brought along for distingushed refugees and for sending to distinguished and powerful foreigners” (C, 247-49) ;

and -

“... for the thematic tourmarchai and the remaining refugees and officers” (C, 254-55) . [3]
So this clothing could be used as gifts to obtain the support of notable inhabitants of Crete, as well as to reward soldiers on campaign. Clothing was not only intrinsically valuable but could also have had propaganda value to the Byzantines: by 'wearing their colours', recipients were marked out by a visible sign of allegiance.

2. Garments supplied by the koitōn [4]

The koitōn supplied a small number of precious outfits. That included -

“Six plain inner garments (himatia esōphoria) of high value; likewise 6 pairs of leggings (touvia); 6 undershirts and breeches (hypokamisovrakia); 6 purple-dyed hoods (epirrhiptaria ochea)” (II-45, 230-34).
Here himation is not the draped wrap of Classical Greece - when used in the plural, it can be a general term for clothing. [5]

Esōphorion, lit. “worn within” is another non-specific term, for an inner garment. Note that this does not mean undergarments [6], but rather the foundation layer of a ceremonial costume, in contrast to outer garments such as the chlamys (cloak). It could be that the 'inner garments of high value' referred to here are skaramangia, the basic apparel of the Emperor and his courtiers. [7] Six skaramangia “of various colours and patterns” had likewise been delegated to prōtospatharios Epiphanos for campaigning in Lombardy in 935. [8] Skaramangia are classed among the arrhaphiōn ('unseamed [cloths]') [9], the most precious garments issued as largesse to be included in 'On Imperial Expeditions':
“Skaramangia of different colours and patterns; all-white; all-yellow; and all-blue skaramangia, kolobia of high value, produced in the imperial workshops” (C, 225-26). [10]
As mentioned, this was the dress for nobles and court officials - the single-colour skaramangia included among gifts sent to Hugh of Provence (then King of Italy) to secure his intervention in the abovementioned Lombard campaign were intended for his high vassals. [11]

However, matching leggings were not provided (not required?) with skaramangia in any of these other cases, therefore possibly our himatia esōphoria bound for Crete are among the less-prized errhammenōn ('sewn together') [12] mentioned next in 'On Imperial Expeditions':
“Tailored garments with two vents and collars selected from skaramangia of varied colours and patterns, decorated with a double silk border” (C, 234-36).
These were made in the imperial workshops and issued with matching leggings of best quality, which have -
“... double borders of silk decorated with eagles and imperial symbols” (C, 234-36).
Double-bordered garments with imperial symbols were suitable for men of rank of stratēgos (general) from one of the border themes, or the next-lower rank (tourmarchēs) in a 'great Roman' (heartland) theme. [13]

Judging from a contemporary chronicle, the epirrhiptarion is an item of headwear. [14] From its literal meaning, something like “throwover”, it should most likely be a hood or cowl. Even though such headwear is rarely depicted as being worn by Byzantine men of any rank [15], a matching number of epirrhiptaria are included for every class of outfit listed in the Cretan accounts (see also below), and also appear in 'On Imperial Expeditions'. [16] Perhaps they are indicative of the preference of the Arabicized populations of Crete and Syria. [17] Or conceivably, a gift for the recipient's spouse?

There is no footwear or belt in the koitōn list, but likely some would have been provided.

3. Garments supplied by the eidikon [18]

The eidikon supplied garments in various qualities, but all apparently of lesser value than those mentioned above. There are 340 of each item of clothing, and (usually) three grades of quality of each item, listed best to least. By cross-referencing the quantities required (Table 1), it is possible to reconstruct 'outfits' which would have been given to each of three ranks of recipient:

Table 1 - Gifts of clothing from the eidikon, aligned according to number and quality (II-45, 236-54).

One hundred and forty men received garments of better quality, of whom a subgroup of 40 got the choicest selection. That included himatia esōphoria with matching leggings, which were presumably not so fine as those given by the koitōn - but still, with a valuation of 7 to 10 nomismata (gold coins), each costs about the annual wage of the average Byzantine soldier or citizen. [19] A tailored garment valued at 10 nomismata was suitable for a merarchēs (commander of 1,000) from one of the border themes [20], however it seems more likely that these particular items were not intended for Gongyles' officers, but rather as gifts for the Cretans, as they were tailored in 'Saracen style'. [21] Oddly, it appears that only these best forty outfits came with belts - perhaps the list only specified belts of significant value [22], or the other types of garments destined for the lower orders were normally worn ungirdled?

The next-ranked 100 got tailored garments with leggings, both in striped Egyptian cloth. [23] According to 'On Imperial Expeditions' these would be imports, bought on the open market [24], as would the silken clothes of the 100 second-grade outfits, which were domestic products (though not from the imperial workshops). [25] As even the second-quality outfits are silk, so presumably all the better grade of garments were also, though no doubt improving on them in both delicacy of fabric and decoration. [26] Either better or second grade could be presented to foreigners, or to those attending the Emperor. [27]

The third grade of common garments and their leggings are of cotton (vamvakiou). By the tenth century cotton was cultivated throughout the entire Islamic world [28], and presumably also in suitable areas of Byzantium, as it is required in all the military manuals of the era except the earliest (Leo VI's Taktika, c.905AD). [29] In 'On Imperial Expeditions', the eidikon supplies green- and purple-dyed cotton garments among the clothing bought at market. [30]

Even though flax cultivation for fibre and oil is well attested in Byzantine sources [31], linen (linon, linarion) is rarely mentioned in these manuals. Sets of underwear (hypokamisovrakia) were produced in two grades for the Cretan expedition, but of unspecified materials - presumably they were of linen, at least for the lower grade. The better grade may have been distinguished by using a finer quality or an imported linen, though silk is not out of the question. Interestingly, no underwear was supplied with the third-quality cotton outfits.

Three qualities of hoods are provided, but our sources are not informative about their particulars. [32]

Hypodēmata can mean footwear in general, but is used in another military manual when clearly describing boots and distinguishing them from other shoes (sandalia). [33] Again three grades are specified but no details are provided. In 'On Imperial Expeditions', 'various' (sized?) boots are called for, the better sort being hypodēmata adēmina, which seems to mean made of a particular tanned leather - the same is used for a portable sauna so it may be notably water-resistant. [34]

4. Conclusions

As the Emperor was not present on this Cretan expedition, the rituals described in 'On Imperial Expeditions' for distributing garments to his military commanders and royal attendants were probably not performed.

In 'On Imperial Expeditions', there is a difference in that Byzantine subjects were usually presented with just a single garment, whereas foreigners were given complete outfits. [
35] So it seems likely that all of the clothing sent to Crete, which was packaged as complete outfits, was intended as gifts to win over the locals. This could also explain what may be some allowances for Muslim taste, such as 'Saracenic tailoring'; Egyptian striped fabrics; and headdress.

Nonetheless, we are given a contemporary Byzantine view of what garments constituted a complete male wardrobe; and how heirarchy affected the quality of that wardrobe; as well as some details, such as their preference for matching leggings to body garments (in fabric as well as decoration).

5. Texts

Constantine VII, Emperor (945-59AD)

'Expedition Against Crete': Ē kata tēs nēsoy Krētēs genomenē ekstrateia kai echoplisis tōn te ploimōn kai kavallarikōn epi Kōnstantinou kai Rōmanou tōn Porphurogennētōn en Christō pistōn Vasileōn eis ind. l'.
('The expedition which took place against Crete, and the equipping of the naval and cavalry forces, in the 7th indiction in the time of Constantine and Romanos, purple-born and faithful Emperors in Christ.')

Text and translation, in: Haldon (2000), p.218-35.

'On Imperial Expeditions': Osa dei ginesthai tou megalou kai upsēlou Vasileōs tōn Rhōmaiōn mellontos phossateusai.
('What should be observed when the great and high Emperor of the Romans goes on campaign.')
Text and translation in: Haldon (1990), p.94-151.

'Items Sent to the King of Italy': Ta apostalenta ton rhēga Italias epi Rōmanou despotou, ...
('The items sent to the King of Italy under the Lord Romanos, ...').
Text and translation in: Haldon (2000), p.214.


Dawson, T. (2006). Oriental costumes at the Byzantine court: a reassessment. Byzantion 76, p.97-114.

'Dream Book' = Drexl, F. [Achmetis] Oneirocriticon. Teubner: Leipzig 1925.

Haldon, J.F. Three treatises on imperial military expeditions (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae, 28). Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften: Vienna 1990.

Haldon, J.F. (2000). Theory and practise in tenth-century military administration: Chapters II, 44 and 45 of the Book of Ceremonies. Travaux et Mémoires, 13, p.201-352.

McGeer, E. Sowing the Dragon's Teeth: Byzantine Warfare in the Tenth Century (Dumbarton Oaks Studies, 33). Dumbarton Oaks: Washington DC 1995.

Migne, J.P. (ed.) (1853). Liutprandus Cremonensus Episcopus: Relatio de legatione Constantinopolitana. Patrologia Latina, 136, cols. 909-938.

Morrison, C. and Cheynet, J. Prices and wages in the Byzantine world, in A.E. Laiou (ed.) The Economic History of Byzantium, Dumbarton Oaks: Washington DC 2002, p.815-878.

Oberhelman, S.M. The Oneirocritic Literature of the Late Roman and Byzantine Eras of Greece (Ph.D. thesis). University of Minnesota, 1981.

ODB = Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. A. P. Kazhdan (ed.), Oxford University: New York, Oxford 1991.

Parani, M.G. Reconstructing the Reality of Images: Byzantine Material Culture and Religious Iconography (11th-15th Centuries) (The Medieval Mediterranean, 41). Brill: Leiden 2003.

Sophocles, E.A. Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods (from BC146 to AD1100). Charles Scribner's Sons: New York 1900.

Watson, A.M. The rise and spread of Old World cotton, in V. Gervers (ed.) Studies in Textile History in Memory of Harold Burnham. Royal Ontario Museum: Toronto 1977, p.355-68.


CAVEAT: Gentle reader, these sources have been available to scholars for a very long time. I haven't conducted an exhaustive search of the literature (much is not in English). It could well that someone else has already attempted this analysis and published similar conclusions - in which case lack of acknowledgements does not equal plagarism, only ignorance (and I offer the same defense for how I transcribe Greek!). PB.

[1] Properly, de ceremoniis aulae byzantinae, the original Greek title is not known, if it ever had one. The Cretan expedition of 949 is covered in chapter 45 of Book II. The text plus translation of chapter 45 have been published by Haldon (2000, p.218-235), line numbers prefaced 'II-45' refer to Haldon's text. (back)

[2] So-called, Peri tōn Vasilikōn taxeidiōn, three associated short works prefacing de Ceremoniis proper. The third was written by Constantine to his young son Romanos, and is a detailed prescription for an imperially-led campaign to Syria. Text and translation have been published by Haldon (1990), line numbers prefaced 'C' refer to Haldon's text. (back)

[3] Thema, a military district. Tourmarchēs, leader of 1,000 men, ie. regional commanders, subordinate to the local general (stratēgos). (back)

[4] 'Expedition Against Crete', II-45, 228-33. (back)

[5] 'Himation', ODB, p.932. (back)

[6] Indeed, the undergarments are itemised separately: hypokamisovrakia = hypokamison 'undershirt' + vrakia 'breeches'. (back)

[7] Dawson 2006, p.98-101. The skaramangion was a Persian coat adopted by the Byzantine court about a century prior (Parani 2003, p.61 n.38). A long, vented and collared gown gathered at the waist, made of colorful silk brocade (Haldon 1990, p.216), characteristically having overlong sleeves (Dawson 2006, 103-107). “Achmet” ?10th c. ('Dream Book', §156, also §266) conflates it with the kavadion (caftan): “the kavadion, called the silken skaramangion”, Oberhelman p.334, 475. See also note 9. (back)

[8] 'Items Sent to the King of Italy', II-44, 180-185 (Haldon, 2000). (back)

[9] 'On Imperial Expeditions', C, 223-32. 'Unseamed' may mean garments that were purpose-woven to shape rather than sewn together from several pieces. Why would untailored garments be considered more valuable than tailored ones? Weaving garments in one piece is a venerable Mediterranean tradition which requires a very large loom, and (as the vast corpus of surviving Coptic tunics shows, albeit in humbler materials) results in unique textile objets d'art rather than a manufactured item. Instead of applying strips woven on a band-loom or cut from broadcloth, decorative bands and edgings were integrally woven into the base fabric in a highly manual process.
Indeed, a skaramangion seems more defined by the wholeness and richness of its fabric than by being a garment of a form distinct from other caftans (kavadia). Skaramangia were hung in the streets as 'bunting' when celebrating a returning emperor's military triumph ('On Imperial Expeditions', C, 739-40) - a very large, basically rectangular piece of cloth perfect for a flag or drape is obtainable from a single-piece garment by the simple and reversible expedient of unpicking the side seams. Being unfitted, single-piece garments would necessarily be roomy, therefore they could be gifted or passed on to new owners easily. They were also 'repurposed' - used as a source of material to be cut up and sewn into the tailored gaments - see
note 12. (back)

[10] A sleeveless or short-sleeved tunic, often ornamented. Haldon 1990, p.217. (back)

[11] 'Items Sent to the King of Italy', II-44, 172-175. Titles mentioned are counts, bishops and marquises. (back)

[12] 'On Imperial Expeditions', C, 233-49. Possibly these 'sewn together' garments are kavadia (kaftans). Judging by surviving examples from Northern Caucasus held in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, these were tailored from numerous pieces and could be made entirely from silk, or merely decorated with strips of it at collar, cuffs and vents. PB. (back)

[13] 'On Imperial Expeditions', C, 503-04; 506-08. (back)

[14] (Anon.) Theophanes Continuatis, compiled mid-10th c. In 913 the invading Bulgarian tsar Symeon was “coronated” by Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos. The Patriarch's own epirrhiptarion was placed on his head instead of the hoped-for stemma (crown). See excerpt - http://www.paulstephenson.info/trans/theocont1.html (back)

[15] This would however accord with the venomous account of Liutprand, Bishop of Cremora (of his embassy of 968AD), which implies that, like women, Greek men go 'hooded and veiled' tiaratæ et teristrastæ, in contrast to caps (pilea) as worn by Italians. Relatio de legatione Constantinopolitana (Migne), §37. (back)

[16] Which also confirms that hoods from the imperial workshops were purple-dyed: C, 243-44, 258-59. (back)

[17] This is what distinguishes Arab and Byzantine forces in the miniatures of the 'Madrid Skylitzes' (Biblioteca Nacionale, Madrid, Vitr. 26-2). (back)

[18] 'Expedition Against Crete', II-45, 234-54. (back)

[19] Morrison and Cheynet, 2002. (back)

[20] On Imperial Expeditions', C, 509-11. Merarchēs and tourmarchēs are equivalent terms. (back)

[21] Also the number of troops in the task force was only 21,000 (Haldon 2000, p.306), so probably no more than 20 or so tourmarchai or equivalent were present. (back)

[22] Perhaps those dyed with purple or false-purple mentioned in 'On Imperial Expeditions', which could cost 1 nomisma or slightly more each: C, 244-46. (back)

[23] The same description is used in 'On Imperial Expeditions', C, 290-94, which also confirms that the 'striped Egyptian cloth' is silk. (back)

[24] 'On Imperial Expeditions', C, 292. (back)

[25] 'On Imperial Expeditions', C, 291-92. (back)

[26] 'Dream Book', §157: 'garments that are thin and smooth and of light texture befit kings and nobles', Oberhelman, p.337. (back)

[27] 'On Imperial Expeditions', C, 288-89; 291-92. (back)

[28] Watson, 1977. (back)

[29] Apart from clothing, it was used to make cloth armour for the infantry, and (raw) cotton was one of the essentials to be stockpiled in beseiged cities. PB. (back)

[30] C, 294-95. (back)

[31] 'Linen', ODB, p.1231. (back)

[32] 'On Imperial Expeditions' is not helpful here either- “... of varying values and qualities”: C, 297. (back)

[33] So-called Praecepta militaria, attributed to Emperor Nicephoros II Phokas (c. 965AD), ch.1, §3. McGeer, p.12-13. (back)

[34] C, 246 and C, 180-81. (back)

[35] 'On Imperial Expeditions', C, 501-11. (back)

‘Dress to Impress: Grades of clothing in the manifest of a 10th century Byzantine military expedition’, written and webbed by Peter Beatson.

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