Byzantine silk

JUNE – 2024 20 MINS READ
Byzantine silk refers to the silk products woven in the Byzantine Empire (Byzantium) from the 4th century until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Byzantine capital of Constantinople became the first significant silk-weaving center in Europe, and its influence was extensive. Silk was a crucial commodity in the Byzantine economy, utilized by the state as a means of payment and diplomacy. Initially, raw silk was imported from China, and the textiles made from it were highly valued and traded at high prices worldwide. However, later on, silkworms were smuggled into the Byzantine Empire, allowing for self-sufficient silk production.
Silk Impact
The journey of silk from its origins in ancient China to the opulent courts and bustling markets of Europe is a tale of wonder, commerce, and cultural exchange. Silk, with its luxurious texture and shimmering appearance, captivated the imagination of many civilizations long before it reached the West. The Silk Road, a vast network of trade routes connecting the East and West, played a crucial role in the dissemination of silk. Established during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), this ancient highway facilitated not only the exchange of goods but also ideas, art, and technology. Merchants, travelers, and diplomats traversed deserts and mountains, bringing with them precious cargoes of silk that would eventually reach the Mediterranean and beyond.
In the early centuries of the Common Era, silk began to appear in the Roman Empire, where it was highly prized by the elite. Roman records from the 1st century CE mention silk as an expensive and exotic fabric, reserved for the wealthy and powerful. The Romans were so enamored with silk that they coined the term “Serica” for the land of silk, reflecting their fascination with this distant and mysterious source. By the Middle Ages, silk production had spread beyond China. The Byzantine Empire, recognizing the value of silk, smuggled silkworm eggs from China in the 6th century CE, establishing their own silk industry. Byzantine silk, adorned with intricate patterns and vibrant colors, became a symbol of imperial power and religious devotion, adorning churches and palaces across Europe.
the editio princeps of Historia Naturalis printed in 1469 in Venice by Johann of Speyer © WIKIPEDIA COMMONS
“Et alia horum origo. ex grandiore vermiculo gemina protendens sui generis cornua primum urica fit, dein quod vocatur bombylis, ex ea necydallus, ex hoc in sex mensibus bombyx. telas araneorum modo texunt ad vestem luxumque feminarum, quae bombycina appellatur.”
These creatures are also produced in another way. A specially large grub changes into a caterpillar with two projecting horns of a peculiar kind, and then into what is called a cocoon, and this turns into a chrysalis and this in six months into a silk-moth. They weave webs like spiders, producing a luxurious material for women’s dresses, called silk.
– Pliny the Elder, Natural History (AD77)



ー 出典 プラニー・エルダー『博物誌』(Naturalis Historia)第11巻26章の引用部分 AD77出版
The Chinese word 絲 (si) means silk and has played a crucial role since ancient times. Silk production began around 2700 BC in China, and according to legend, Lei Zu, the wife of the Yellow Emperor, discovered how to obtain silk from silkworm cocoons. This is considered the origin of the word 絲 (si). During the Shang and Zhou dynasties (1600 BC – 256 BC), silk production and use spread, and silk textiles have been found in archaeological sites. In the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), silk became an important trade commodity, used to pay taxes and as salaries for officials, and was actively exported to the West through the Silk Road. The Silk Road was a vital trade route connecting China to the West, and around the 2nd century BC, Emperor Wu of Han sent envoys to Central Asia, marking the opening of the Silk Road and the start of trade. Silk spread to Greece, Rome, and further west through this trade route. The Greek word “Serikos” and the Latin word “Sericum” were used to refer to silk brought from China, and these words eventually evolved into the English word “silk.” By the 1st century BC, silk had reached the Roman Empire, where historians like Plutarch and Tacitus recorded its popularity and high value among the Roman upper class. The Roman Empire became a major consumer of silk, and it became a symbol of wealth and power. Silk was not only a trade good but also a symbol of cultural exchange, facilitating the exchange of technologies, religions, ideas, and arts between the East and the West through the Silk Road. This led to the penetration of silk and related terms into various cultures.

The “Shuowen Jiezi” was compiled around 100 AD by Xu Shen, a scholar from the Later Han Dynasty in China. This dictionary is crucial in ancient Chinese philology as it explains the forms (pictograms), sounds (phonetic values), and meanings (semantic values) of Chinese characters.

In “Shuowen Jiezi,” it is explained as follows: “The thread spun by a silkworm is called ‘hu’ (忽). Ten ‘hu’ make a ‘si’ (絲). Five ‘hu’ make a ‘mi’ (糸).”

A single, thin thread spun by a silkworm was deemed the thinnest naturally observable unit by humans, and this was designated as the length unit “hu” (忽). Combining ten such threads made one “si” (絲), ten “si” made one “hao” (毫), and ten “hao” made one “li” (釐). Following this, the units continued as cun (寸), chi (尺), and zhang (丈), forming a system of length measurements. Originally, the thickness of five silkworm threads was called “mi” (糸), and ten threads formed a “si” (絲).

  • Hu (忽): 0.00001 (1/10,000)
  • Si (絲): 0.0001 (1/10,000)
  • Mao (毛): 0.001 (1/1,000)
  • Hao (毫): 0.01 (1/100)
  • Li (釐): 0.1 (1/10)
  • Fen (分): 1 (1)
  • Yi (一): 10 (10)
  • Shi (十): 100 (100)
  • Bai (百): 100 (100)
  • Qian (千): 1,000 (1,000)
  • Wan (萬): 10,000 (10,000)
中国語の「絲 (si)」という言葉はシルクを意味し、古代から重要な役割を果たしてきました。シルクの生産は紀元前2700年ごろに中国で始まり、伝説によると、黄帝の妻である嫘祖が蚕の繭からシルクを得る方法を発見しました。これが「絲 (si)」という言葉の起源とされています。商・周時代(紀元前1600年 – 紀元前256年)には、シルクの生産と使用が広まり、考古学的遺跡からシルクの織物が発見されています。漢王朝(紀元前206年 – 紀元220年)では、シルクは重要な貿易商品となり、税金の支払いや官僚の給与として使用され、シルクロードを通じて西方へ積極的に輸出されました。シルクロードは中国と西方を結ぶ重要な貿易ルートであり、紀元前2世紀ごろに漢の武帝が使者を中央アジアに派遣したことをきっかけにシルクロードが開かれ、貿易が始まりました。シルクはこの貿易ルートを通じてギリシャ、ローマ、さらに西方へと広がりました。ギリシャ語の「セリコス (Serikos)」およびラテン語の「セリクム (Sericum)」は中国からもたらされたシルクを指す言葉であり、これらの言葉が最終的に英語の「シルク (silk)」に進化しました。紀元前1世紀までにシルクはローマ帝国に到達し、歴史家プルタルコスやタキトゥスによってその人気と高い価値が記録されました。ローマ帝国はシルクの主要な消費者となり、シルクは富と権力の象徴となりました。シルクは単なる貿易品だけでなく、文化交流の象徴でもあり、シルクロードを通じて東西の技術、宗教、思想、芸術の交換を促進しました。これにより、シルクや関連する用語がさまざまな文化に浸透することとなりました。




  • 忽(こつ): 0.00001(1万分の1)
  • 絲(し): 0.0001(1万分の10)
  • 毛(もう): 0.001(千分の1)
  • 毫(もう): 0.01(百分の1)
  • 厘(りん): 0.1(十分の1)
  • 分(ぶ): 1(1)
  • 一(いち): 10(10)
  • 十(じゅう): 100(百)
  • 百(ひゃく): 100(百)
  • 千(せん): 1000(千)
  • 万・萬(まん): 10,000(万)
Eastern Roman Empire
The Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire, Byzantine Empire, Greek Empire, or Greece Empire, refers to the eastern territories of the Roman Empire after it was divided into eastern and western regions. Although the division of the Roman Empire into East and West intermittently existed since the 3rd century, it generally refers to the territory ruled by the Eastern Roman emperors after 395 AD. The capital was primarily located in Constantinople (Constantinopolis). In the mid-5th century, historian Socrates of Constantinople wrote that Constantine “made that city equal to the imperial city of Rome, named it Constantinople, and established it as New Rome.” Historian Koichi Inoue commented that “Constantine created Constantinople as a city to rival Rome,” and by the end of the 5th century, it was clearly asserted that imperial authority had shifted from Rome to Constantinople. By the mid-6th century, the people of the region openly referred to themselves as “Romans.”
After the emergence of the Western Roman emperors in the 9th century, the term “Roman Emperor (Basileus of the Romans)” was consciously used. The people of the Eastern Roman Empire never referred to their country as the “Byzantine Empire” or “Byzantine Empire.” Officially, the name of the state was the “Roman Empire” (Latin: Res Publica Romana; Greek: Πολῑτείᾱ τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Politeia tōn Rhōmaiōn). In the Middle Ages, as the general populace increasingly spoke Greek, they referred to their country as “the land of the Romans (Ῥωμανία, Rhōmania),” and they called themselves “Romans (Ῥωμαίοι, Rhōmaioi)” until around the 12th century. In 476 AD, when the last Western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by the Germanic mercenary leader Odoacer, the imperial regalia were formally returned to Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno, symbolically reunifying the imperial authority of East and West. The empire once controlled extensive regions around the Mediterranean, but after the 8th century, it became a state centered on the Balkan Peninsula and Anatolia. As time passed, the empire underwent a process of Hellenization, leading Western Europe and the Rus to refer to it as the “Greek Empire,” and from the 13th century onwards, the inhabitants began to identify themselves as “Greeks.”
In its early period, the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire, maintained the political system and laws of the late Roman Empire while establishing Christianity (Orthodox Christianity) as the state religion. Externally, the empire maintained influence over the eastern regions and, during the reign of Justinian I, even reasserted control over former Western Roman territories, achieving a temporary re-establishment of the “Mare Nostrum” (Mediterranean Sea). However, following Justinian’s death, the empire was left with a bankrupt treasury, devastated lands from conquest and plague, and a lengthy border it could not sustain. The empire faced invasions from the Lombards, Sassanid Persians, Avars, Slavs, and the Islamic Caliphates. To counter these threats, a large portion of state expenditures was allocated to military costs, especially for the thematic troops, which consisted mainly of farmer-soldiers. While these troops were highly motivated, their increasing autonomy led to the Byzantine Empire resembling a federation of military provinces.  
The empire’s influence over Western Europe steadily declined. By the late 8th century, conflicts over iconoclasm led to disputes with the Roman Papacy, and in 800 AD, Charlemagne’s coronation denied the Eastern Roman Emperor’s suzerainty. The Byzantine Empire’s structure transformed from that of the “ancient Roman Empire” as territorial and cultural influence waned. The population became predominantly Greek, and by 620 AD, the official language had shifted from Latin to Greek. As a result, some scholars describe the post-7th century Byzantine Empire as a “Christianized Greek Roman Empire.” The terms “Byzantine Empire” and “Byzantine” are often used to refer to the empire from this period onward.
In the 9th century, conflicts with the Abbasid Caliphate subsided, and fiscal reforms and commercial revitalization under Emperor Nikephoros I improved the economy. Efforts to reclaim power from thematic commanders succeeded, leading to a more centralized rule. By the early 11th century, Emperor Basil II had defeated the Bulgarians, regained territories in the Balkans, Anatolia, and southern Italy, and presided over a flourishing Eastern Mediterranean empire. Following Basil II’s death, the empire entered a period of decline. Succession disputes, internal strife, and the autonomy of the pronoia-holding nobility led to financial ruin. The Normans seized southern Italy, and the Seljuks captured eastern Anatolia.
In the 12th century, the Slavic peasants in the Balkans, such as Bulgarians and Serbs, aligned with rebellious nobles to gain independence. The Fourth Crusade in 1204 dealt a final blow, with the Latin Empire temporarily replacing the Byzantine throne and fragmenting the Byzantine world. After the Fourth Crusade, the Latin Empire also collapsed, and the Byzantine exiled states and Crusader states, along with the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, divided the former Byzantine territories. The Nicaean Empire, one of the exiled states, managed to recapture Constantinople, expelling the Crusaders but remained beset by Slavic invasions and internal strife. Despite a cultural resurgence known as the Palaeologan Renaissance, the empire’s territory steadily shrank, eventually falling under the protection of the neighboring Ottoman Empire. By the 15th century, the Byzantine Empire’s self-identification shifted from “Romans” to “Hellenes” (Greeks), the heirs of ancient Greek heritage. In 1453, without substantial aid from the West, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire.
東ローマ帝国(ひがしローマていこく)、ビザンツ帝国、ビザンティン帝国、ギリシア帝国、ギリシャ帝国などの名称で知られるこの国家は、ローマ帝国が東西に分割統治された後の東側の領域を指します。東西分割は3世紀以降断続的に存在しましたが、一般的には395年以降の東ローマ皇帝の統治領域を指します。首都は主にコンスタンティノープル(コンスタンティノポリス)に置かれました。 5世紀中頃の史家ソクラテスは、コンスタンティヌスが「その町を帝都ローマに等しくすると、コンスタンティノープルと名付け、新しいローマと定めた」と書いています。井上浩一氏は「コンスタンティヌスがローマに比肩する都市としてコンスタンティノープルを作った」とコメントしています。遅くとも6世紀中頃までには、現地の人々は自らを「ローマ人」と公然と称するようになりました。
9世紀以降、西ローマ皇帝の出現に伴い、「ローマ皇帝(ローマ人のバシレウス)」という称号が意識的に用いられるようになりました。彼らは自国を「ビザンツ帝国」や「ビザンティン帝国」とは呼ばず、正式には「ローマ帝国(ラテン語:Res Publica Romana、ギリシャ語:Πολῑτείᾱ τῶν Ῥωμαίων)」と称していました。中世になると帝国の一般民衆の多くはギリシア語話者となり、自国を「ローマ人の土地(Ῥωμανία)」と呼び、彼ら自身も12世紀頃まで「ギリシア人(Ἕλληνες)」ではなく「ローマ人(Ῥωμαίοι)」と称していました。476年に西ローマ皇帝ロムルス・アウグストゥスがゲルマン人の傭兵隊長オドアケルによって廃位された際、帝位は東ローマ皇帝ゼノンに返上され、東西の皇帝権が形式上再統一されました。帝国は一時期地中海の広範な地域を支配していましたが、8世紀以降はバルカン半島とアナトリア半島を中心とした国家となりました。また、時代が下るにつれて民族的・文化的にギリシア化が進み、同時代の西欧やルーシからは「ギリシア帝国」と呼ばれるようになり、13世紀以降には住民の自称も「ギリシア人」へと変化しました。
Originally founded in the 7th century BCE as the Greek colony of Byzantium, the city was strategically located on the Bosporus Strait, connecting the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea. Byzantium was founded around 667 BCE by King Byzas of Megara, who, following the oracle at Delphi’s advice, chose the site “opposite the land of the blind,” referring to the residents of Chalcedon who had not seen the strategic potential of the location. Byzantium thrived as a center of commerce and trade. 
In 330 CE, Roman Emperor Constantine the Great rebuilt the city, renaming it “Constantinople” (City of Constantine) and designating it as the new capital of the Roman Empire. By moving the capital from Rome to Constantinople, Constantine sought to reorganize the empire’s administrative and military structures. This city was considered the “New Rome” and, after the empire’s division, became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire). Constantinople became the center of the Byzantine Empire’s economic, cultural, and political life. During the reign of Justinian I in the 6th century, the city flourished, and the construction of the Hagia Sophia marked a significant architectural achievement. The city’s formidable defensive walls, including those built by Theodosius II in the 5th century, protected it from invasions for centuries.
In 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, Constantinople was sacked and occupied by Crusaders, leading to the establishment of the Latin Empire. This period of turmoil ended in 1261 when the Byzantine Empire was restored. During this time, Constantinople remained a hub of Greek culture, contributing to the advancement of scholarship, art, and religion.
In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Mehmed II. The siege saw the use of new military tactics, including the deployment of large cannons to breach the city’s walls. The last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI, died in battle, and the city endured significant looting and destruction. With this conquest, the Byzantine Empire collapsed, and Constantinople was renamed Istanbul, becoming the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Under Ottoman rule, Istanbul developed into a political, economic, and cultural center, with the construction of grand mosques and public buildings.
Byzantine SILK
Byzantine silk refers to silk woven in the Byzantine Empire (Byzantium) from the 4th century until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Byzantine capital of Constantinople was the first significant silk-weaving center in Europe. Silk was a vital commodity in the Byzantine economy, used by the state as a means of payment and diplomacy. Initially, raw silk was imported from China and crafted into fine fabrics that commanded high prices worldwide. However, during Justinian I’s reign, silkworm eggs were smuggled into the empire by Nestorian Christian monks, diminishing the need for overland silk trade. Silk manufacturing and sales became an imperial monopoly, processed in state-controlled factories and sold to authorized buyers. Byzantine silks are renowned for their brilliant colors, use of gold thread, and intricate designs, often approaching the pictorial complexity of embroidery in loom-woven fabric. The Byzantine Empire dominated silk production in Europe throughout the Early Middle Ages, until the Italian silk-weaving industry emerged in the 12th century, and the Fourth Crusade in 1204 disrupted Byzantine silk production.
During the Roman Empire, silk reached the West via the Silk Road from Han China, passing through the Parthian and later the Sassanid Empire to trading centers in Syria. While imports of raw silk, silk yarn, and finished fabrics were common, the techniques of silk production remained a closely guarded Chinese secret until silkworm eggs were smuggled into the Byzantine Empire in 553-54 by monks, enabling the local production of silk. The Sogdians attempted to establish direct trade of Chinese silk with the Byzantine Empire. However, after forming an alliance with the Sasanian ruler Khosrow I, and being betrayed by the Sassanid king, they successfully established direct trade with the Byzantines by 568. Despite this, Chinese silk remained highly prized for its superior quality.
Looms and Weaving Techniques
During the Byzantine period, significant advancements were made in looms and weaving techniques. Standard weaves included plain-woven or tabby silks, patterned damask silks, weft-faced compound twills, and polychrome compound twills. By around 1000 AD, monochrome lampas weaves became fashionable in both Byzantine and Islamic weaving centers. In addition to these weaving techniques, Byzantine workshops were renowned for their woven tapestries and richly embroidered textiles. Notable examples include the 10th-century “Bamberger Gunthertuch,” a tapestry depicting an emperor. Embroidered religious scenes were commonly used for vestments and hangings, influencing Western ecclesiastical embroidery, such as the English Opus Anglicanum.
In 1147, Roger II of Sicily captured weavers and equipment from Corinth and Thebes, important Byzantine silk production centers, establishing his silkworks in Sicily. The capture of Constantinople in 1204 by the Fourth Crusade further contracted the Byzantine silk industry, passing leadership in European silk-weaving to Sicily and Italian cities like Lucca and Venice.
◾️ Early Byzantine Period (4th–6th centuries)
Major Events
  • Foundation of Constantinople (330 AD)
  • Utilization of the Silk Road
In the early Byzantine period, silk was primarily an imported luxury from China. It was highly prized and expensive, used mainly by the emperor and the nobility. Silk served as a significant diplomatic gift, symbolizing the wealth and power of the Byzantine Empire. The founding of Constantinople positioned the city as the endpoint of the Silk Road, facilitating trade and the flow of silk into the empire​.
◾️ Justinian I’s Reign (527–565 AD)
Major Events
  • Codification of Justinian’s Law (529 AD)
  • Construction of Hagia Sophia (532 AD)
  • Introduction of silk production technology (circa 553 AD)
In the 6th century, during the reign of Justinian I, the Byzantine Empire acquired silk production technology. According to legend, Nestorian monks smuggled silkworm eggs from Central Asia, enabling the Byzantines to start their own silk production and reduce reliance on Silk Road trade. This development significantly enhanced the economic importance of silk within the empire​
◾️ Middle Byzantine Period (7th–12th centuries)
Major Events
  • Wars with the Islamic Empire (7th–8th centuries)
  • Introduction of the Theme System (7th century)
  • Iconoclasm (726–843 AD)
During the middle Byzantine period, silk production and trade were strictly controlled by the state. Silk products were primarily manufactured for the imperial court and the upper classes, with production limited to specific imperial workshops. Byzantine silk textiles were renowned for their vibrant colors, use of gold thread, and intricate designs. Diplomatically, silk remained a crucial gift to foreign rulers. The designs often reflected influences from Sassanian Persia and Islamic culture​
◾️ Late Byzantine Period (13th–15th centuries)
Major Events
  • Sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade (1204 AD)
  • Restoration of the Byzantine Empire (1261 AD)
  • Byzantine-Ottoman Wars (14th–15th centuries)
In the 13th century, the Fourth Crusade’s sack of Constantinople in 1204 temporarily disrupted silk production. However, after the Byzantine Empire was restored in 1261, silk production resumed. Despite the resurgence, the Byzantine silk industry faced increased competition from Western Europe and the Islamic world, diminishing its former influence​
◾️ Ottoman Empire Period
Major Events
  • Fall of Constantinople (1453 AD)
  • Establishment of the Ottoman Empire (1299 AD)
The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 marked the end of the Byzantine silk industry. Nonetheless, the Ottomans inherited and continued the silk production techniques and traditions of the Byzantines, with Istanbul becoming a major silk production center

ビザンチン帝国初期には、シルクは主に中国からの輸入品でした。この時期、シルクは非常に高価であり、主に皇帝や貴族によって使用されました。シルクは外交上の贈り物としても重要であり、ビザンチンの富と権力を示す象徴とされました。ビザンチン帝国の創設により、コンスタンティノープルはシルクロードの終点として繁栄しました​ ​。





Byzantine dress
Byzantine Dress
Byzantine dress underwent significant changes over the thousand-year history of the Empire, yet retained a conservative core. It stayed largely rooted in classical Greek traditions, with most stylistic evolutions occurring within the upper echelons of society. The Byzantines had a penchant for color and intricate patterns, producing and exporting richly decorated textiles, especially silk. For the upper classes, silk was woven and embroidered, while for the lower classes, resist-dyeing and printing were common. Garments often featured borders or trimmings and single stripes down the body or around the upper arm, indicating class or rank. The fashion preferences of the middle and upper classes were influenced by the latest trends at the Imperial Court. As in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, clothing was a significant expense for the poor, who likely wore the same clothes repeatedly until they were thoroughly worn out. For most women, clothing needed to accommodate the entire span of a pregnancy. Even among the wealthier classes, garments were “used until death and then reused,” with generous cuts to allow for this extended use.Byzantine dress not only served practical needs but also reflected social status, with the middle and upper classes following courtly fashion trends. The rich fabrics and elaborate designs of Byzantine textiles played a crucial role in the Empire’s economy and culture, symbolizing the wealth and sophistication of Byzantine society.
In the early stages of the Byzantine Empire, the traditional Roman toga was still used for very formal or official occasions. By the time of Justinian, this had been replaced by the tunica, or long chiton, worn by both sexes. The upper classes would wear additional garments over these, such as the dalmatica, a heavier and shorter type of tunica, also worn by both sexes but mainly by men, often with hems curving to a sharp point. The scaramangion, a Persian-origin riding coat opening down the front and usually reaching mid-thigh, was another notable garment, although emperors sometimes wore longer versions. Generally, except for military and riding attire, higher-status men and all women wore clothes that reached the ankles or nearly so. Wealthier women often wore a top layer of stola, made of luxurious brocade. All these garments, except the stola, could be belted or not. The terminology for these dresses is often confusing, and identifying specific items in historical records or images is rare, especially outside the court context.
Additionally, this is an image of authentic Byzantine clothing from the 5th to 7th century CE, housed in the collection of the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki.
The chlamys, a semicircular cloak fastened at the right shoulder, remained in use throughout the period. Its length varied from the hips to the ankles, much longer than the ancient Greek version, with the longer version also known as a paludamentum. Emperor Justinian, depicted in the Ravenna mosaics, wears a chlamys with a huge brooch. The senatorial class had a tablion, a lozenge-shaped colored panel across the chest or midriff, indicating rank through the color, type of embroidery, and jewels used. The position of the tablion rose over time, as seen in depictions from the late 4th and early 5th centuries. A paragauda or border of thick cloth, often with gold, was another rank indicator. Cloaks, especially for the military and ordinary people, were pinned on the right shoulder for ease of movement and access to a sword.

Leggings and hose were often worn but are not prominently depicted among the wealthy, being associated with barbarians, whether European or Persian. Basic clothing was surprisingly expensive for the poor. Some manual workers, probably slaves, continued wearing basic Roman slip costumes, essentially two rectangles sewn together at the shoulders and below the arm. Others tied up the sides of their tunics to the waist for ease of movement during activities.

The most common surviving images from the Byzantine period do not accurately represent the actual dress worn during that time. Figures such as Christ (often depicted even as a baby), the Apostles, Saint Joseph, Saint John the Baptist, and others are frequently shown in a stylized “pseudo-Biblical dress.” This attire typically includes a large himation, a rectangular mantle wrapped around the body (similar to a toga), worn over a chiton or loose-sleeved tunic reaching the ankles, with sandals on the feet. Such costumes are rarely seen in secular contexts, likely to avoid confusion between secular and divine subjects. The Theotokos (Virgin Mary) is usually depicted wearing a maphorion, a shaped mantle with a hood and sometimes a hole at the neck, which probably resembles typical dress for widows and married women in public. The Virgin’s underdress may be visible, particularly at the sleeves. Old Testament prophets and other Biblical figures also follow these conventions. Aside from Christ and the Virgin, iconographic dress is typically white or muted in color in murals, mosaics, and manuscripts, but more brightly colored in icons. Other figures in Biblical scenes, especially unnamed ones, are often depicted wearing contemporary Byzantine clothing.
“I will not pass without a special word of praise of the Greeks. For at least fifteen hundred years and more they have not altered the style of their dress; their clothes are of the same fashion now as they were in the time indicated”
Female Dress
In the Byzantine Empire, modesty was paramount, and most women wore loose, shapeless clothes that covered them almost entirely and could accommodate a full pregnancy. Early Empire garments typically reached the ankles, had high round collars, and tight sleeves extending to the wrists. The fringes and cuffs were often decorated with embroidery and sometimes had bands around the upper arms. By the 10th and 11th centuries, dresses with flared sleeves, which became very full at the wrist, gained popularity but eventually disappeared; working women often tied up their sleeves. Court ladies’ dresses sometimes featured a V-collar. Belts were commonly worn, possibly with hooks to support the skirt, and were made more often of cloth than leather, with some featuring tasselled sashes. Neck openings were probably buttoned, a necessity for breast-feeding, although this is difficult to see in art and not well-documented. Until the 10th century, plain linen undergarments were not designed to be visible, but later, a standing collar started to show above the main dress. Women’s hair was covered by various head-cloths and veils, which were likely removed inside the home. Sometimes caps were worn under the veil, or the cloth was tied in a turban style, especially while working. By the 11th century, circular wrapping of veils became common, possibly sewn into a fixed position, and head-cloths or veils grew longer in the 11th and 12th centuries.
Scholars have a better understanding of Byzantine footwear due to archaeological finds in the drier parts of the Empire. A variety of footwear was used, including sandals, slippers, and mid-calf boots, with many decorated in various ways. Red, reserved for imperial male footwear, was actually the most common color for women’s shoes. Purses were rarely visible and seemed to be made of textile matching the dress, or perhaps tucked into the sash. Dancers wore special dresses with short sleeves or sleeveless designs, possibly with lighter sleeves underneath. These dresses had tight, wide belts, and their skirts featured flared and differently colored elements designed to rise during dances. Anna Komnene’s remark about her mother suggests that exposing the arm above the wrist was a particular focus of Byzantine modesty. Although some claim the Byzantines invented the face-veil, Byzantine art does not depict women with veiled faces, although veiled hair is common. It is assumed that Byzantine women outside court circles dressed conservatively in public and had limited movement outside the home, rarely appearing in art. Literary sources are not clear enough to distinguish between head-veils and face-veils. Additionally, early 3rd-century Christian writer Tertullian described pagan Arab women veiling their faces except for the eyes, indicating that some Middle Eastern women used face-veils long before Islam.
In the Byzantine Empire, as in Graeco-Roman times, purple was reserved for the royal family, while other colors indicated class and clerical or government rank. Lower-class people wore simple tunics but favored bright colors found in all Byzantine fashions. The races in the Hippodrome featured four teams: red, white, blue, and green. Supporters of these teams became political factions, taking sides on major theological and political issues, such as Arianism, Nestorianism, and Monophysitism, as well as on Imperial claimants who took sides. Huge riots, resulting in thousands of deaths, took place between these factions, especially in Constantinople from the 4th to the 6th centuries, with participants dressing in their respective colors. Similar political factions existed in medieval France, known as chaperons.
Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos baptizes Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos in 906. 13th century © wikipedia commons
Imperial Costume
The distinctive garments of the Emperors and Empresses included the crown and the heavily jewelled Imperial loros or pallium, which evolved from the trabea triumphalis, a ceremonial colored version of the Roman toga worn by Consuls. During Justinian I’s reign, the Consulship became part of imperial status, and the Emperor and Empress wore the loros as a quasi-ecclesiastical garment. This garment was also worn by the twelve most important officials and the imperial bodyguard, and by Archangels in icons, representing divine bodyguards. Its main purpose was ideological, symbolizing the deification of the monarch and his role as the sole legislator and administrator of the commonwealth. In practice, it was typically worn only a few times a year, such as on Easter Sunday, but it was frequently depicted in art.The male loros was a long strip that dropped straight down the front to below the waist, with the portion behind pulled round to the front and hung gracefully over the left arm. The female loros was similar at the front end, but the back end was wider and tucked under a belt after being pulled through to the front again. Both male and female versions changed style during the middle Byzantine period, with the female version later reverting to the new male style. Apart from jewels and embroidery, small enamelled plaques were sewn into the clothes. The dress of Manuel I Comnenus was described as resembling a meadow covered with flowers. Generally, the sleeves were closely fitted to the arm, and the outer dress extended to the ankles. The sleeves of empresses became extremely wide in the later period.
The royal daily robe was a simpler and more idealized regalia of various Hellenistic kings, depicted in frescoes and miniatures. This featured the emperor in a simple “chiton” robe, a “chlamys” of various sizes, a royal diadem, and the imperial boots Tzangion. Elaborate examples are evidenced in imperial works such as the Paris Psalter or the David Plates, idealizing the concept of philanthropy and beneficence as the main roles of the perfect Hellenistic and Byzantine monarch.The superhumeral, worn throughout Byzantine history, was the imperial decorative collar, often part of the loros. It was copied by upper-class women and made of cloth of gold or similar material, studded with gems and heavily embroidered. The decoration was generally divided into compartments by vertical lines on the collar, with edges done in pearls of varying sizes in up to three rows. Occasionally, drop pearls were placed at intervals to add richness. The collar came over the collarbone to cover a portion of the upper chest.
The Imperial Regalia of the Holy Roman Emperors, kept in the Schatzkammer in Vienna, contains a full set of outer garments made in the 12th century in essentially Byzantine style at the Byzantine-founded workshops in Palermo. These garments give a good idea of the lavishness of Imperial ceremonial clothing, including a cloak, “alb”, dalmatic, stockings, slippers, and gloves. The loros is Italian and later. Each element of the design on the cloak is outlined in pearls and embroidered in gold. Especially in the early and later periods (before 600 and after 1000), Emperors may be depicted in military dress, with gold breastplates, red boots, and a crown. Crowns had pendilia and became closed on top during the 12th century.
c958 Replica of a miniature of Emperor Basil II in triumphal garb, exemplifying the Imperial Crown handed down by Angels. Replica of the Psalter of Basil II (Psalter of Venice), BNM, Ms. gr. 17, fol. 3r © wikipedia commons
Manuscript illumination of Emperor Nicephorus III Botaniates (1078-81) flanked by St John Chrysostomos and the Archangel Michael © wikipedia commons
Miniature of the sebastokrator Constantine Palaiologos and his wife Irene, from the so-called Lincoln Typicon, c. 1350 © wikipedia commons
Manuel II Palaiologos, Byzantine Emperor from 1391 until his death in 1425. © wikipedia commons
In the Byzantine Empire, large Imperial workshops, much like those in China, were dedicated to the production of textiles and other arts like mosaics. These workshops, primarily based in Constantinople, were pivotal in setting fashion and technical trends. Their products were often used as diplomatic gifts and distributed to favored Byzantines. For instance, in the late 10th century, the Emperor sent gold and fabrics to a Russian ruler to prevent an attack on the Empire. Most surviving examples of Byzantine textiles are not clothing but large woven or embroidered pieces. Before the Byzantine Iconoclasm, these often featured religious scenes, such as the Annunciation, in multiple panels across large pieces of cloth. During the Iconoclasm, figural scenes were mostly replaced by patterns and animal designs, except in church vestments. Some examples show large designs used for clothing, like the enormous embroidered lions on the Coronation cloak of Roger II in Vienna, produced in Palermo around 1134.Saint Asterius of Amasia, in a 5th-century sermon, provides details of the imagery on the clothes of the rich, which he strongly condemned. He described garments adorned with images of lions, leopards, bears, bulls, dogs, nature scenes, and even gospel stories.Both Christian and pagan examples, mostly embroidered panels sewn into simpler cloth, have been preserved in Egyptian graves, although they are mostly iconic portraits rather than the narrative scenes described by Asterius. The portrait of Caesar Constantius Gallus in the Chronography of 354 shows several figurative panels on his clothes.
Early decorated cloth was mostly embroidered in wool on a linen base. Linen was more common than cotton throughout the period. Raw silk yarn was initially imported from China. The timing and place of the first weaving of silk in the Near Eastern world is debated, with Egypt, Persia, Syria, and Constantinople all proposed for dates in the 4th and 5th centuries. Byzantine textile decoration shows significant Persian influence and little direct Chinese influence. According to legend, agents of Justinian I bribed two Buddhist monks from Khotan around 552 to learn the secret of cultivating silk, although much silk continued to be imported from China. Resist dyeing was common from the late Roman period for those outside the court. Woodblock printing dates to at least the 6th century, possibly earlier, functioning as a cheaper alternative to woven and embroidered materials. Apart from Egyptian burial cloths, fewer cheap fabrics have survived compared to expensive ones. Depicting patterned fabric in paint or mosaic is a difficult task, often impossible in small miniatures, so the artistic record probably under-reports the use of patterned cloth.
ビザンツ帝国の初期段階では、伝統的なローマのトガが非常に正式な場や公式の場でまだ使用されていました。ユスティニアヌスの時代になると、これは長いキトン(チュニカ)に取って代わられ、男女ともに着用されました。上流階級はこれらの上にダルマティカのような他の衣服を着ていました。ダルマティカはより重く短いタイプのチュニカで、これも男女ともに着用されましたが、主に男性が着用し、裾は鋭い点に向かってカーブすることがよくありました。スカラマンギオンはペルシャ起源の乗馬用コートで、前が開いていて通常は太ももの中ほどまでの長さでしたが、皇帝が着用する場合にはより長いものになることもありました。一般的に、高位の男性やすべての女性は足首まで、またはそれに近い長さの服を着ていました。裕福な女性はしばしば豪華なブロケードで作られたストラをトップレイヤーとして着用しました。これらの衣服はすべて、ストラを除いて、ベルトで締めることもありました。これらの衣服の用語はしばしば混乱を招き、特に宮廷外では、歴史的記録や画像で特定のアイテムを識別することはまれです。 クロミスは、右肩に留められた半円形のマントで、この時代を通じて使用され続けました。その長さは腰から足首までさまざまで、古代ギリシャで一般的に着用されたバージョンよりもはるかに長く、長いバージョンはパルダメントゥムとも呼ばれました。ラヴェンナのモザイク画に描かれたユスティニアヌス皇帝は、大きなブローチでクロミスを留めています。元老院階級の男性は、胸部または腹部にタブリオンという菱形のカラーパネルを持ち、色や刺繍の種類、宝石を使用して着用者の階級を示しました。4世紀後半から5世紀初頭の描写では、タブリオンの位置が徐々に高くなっていることがわかります。厚手の布でできた縁取り、しばしば金を含むパラガウダも階級の指標でした。軍人や一般市民は特に、動きやすさと剣へのアクセスのために、右肩にマントを留めました。 レギンスやホース(ストッキング)はしばしば着用されましたが、富裕層の描写にはあまり見られず、ヨーロッパやペルシャの野蛮人と関連づけられていました。基本的な衣服は貧しい人々にとって驚くほど高価でした。一部の手動労働者、おそらく奴隷は、少なくとも夏には、肩と腕の下で縫い合わされた二つの長方形の基本的なローマのスリップコスチュームを着続けました。他の労働者は、活動中に動きやすさのためにチュニックの両側を腰まで縛っていることが描かれています。


ビザンツ帝国では、中国と同様に、大規模な帝国の工房が織物やモザイクなどの他の芸術に専念していました。これらの工房は主にコンスタンティノープルに拠点を置き、ファッションと技術のトレンドを設定する上で重要な役割を果たしました。これらの製品はしばしば外交の贈り物として使用され、ビザンツの有力者に配布されました。例えば、10世紀後半には、皇帝が金と織物をロシアの統治者に送り、帝国への攻撃を防ごうとしました。 現存するビザンツの織物の多くは衣服ではなく、大規模な織物や刺繍作品です。ビザンツのイコン崇拝破壊運動(アイコノクラスム)以前は、受胎告知などの宗教的な場面を描いたものが多く、大きな布に複数のパネルで表現されていました。アイコノクラスムの時期には、図像的な場面は主にパターンや動物のデザインに置き換えられ、教会の祭服を除いてほとんど再現されませんでした。一部の例では、1134年頃にパレルモで製作されたロジャー2世の戴冠マントに見られるような、大きな刺繍のデザインが衣服に使用されていました。5世紀末のアマシアのアステリウス聖人の説教には、富裕層の衣服に描かれたイメージの詳細が記されています。彼は、ライオン、ヒョウ、クマ、ウシ、イヌ、自然の風景、さらには福音書の物語が描かれた衣服を批判しました。キリスト教徒と異教徒の両方の例は、主に刺繍されたパネルがシンプルな布に縫い付けられたものであり、エジプトの墓で保存されていますが、アステリウスが述べたような物語の場面ではなく、主にアイコン的なポートレートです。354年の『年代記』に描かれたカエサル・コンスタンティウス・ガルスの肖像には、彼の衣服にいくつかの図像パネルが描かれています。


Silk is a type of natural protein fiber that can be used to create textiles. This fiber is primarily made up of fibroin and is produced by certain insect larvae to create cocoons. The most well-known source of silk is obtained from the cocoons of mulberry silkworm larvae, which are commonly raised in captivity.The striking iridescent appearance of silk can be attributed to the prism-like shape of the silk fiber. This shape causes incoming light to refract at different angles, which produces the various colors we associate with silk fabric. 


The history of the dress shirt is closely linked to the evolution of human clothing over thousands of years. In ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome, simple tunics and robes, which can be considered the prototypes of modern shirts, were standard attire for men. These garments were primarily made of linen and flax, emphasizing comfort and functionality.In medieval Europe, shirts were mainly worn as undergarments, serving the purpose of protecting the skin. The shirts of this era were simple, often made of linen, with long sleeves and a loose fit. During the 16th and 17th centuries, shirts began to feature more decoration, including embroidery and lace. During this period, shirts started to serve as status symbols for the upper classes.From the late 18th century to the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution brought significant changes to shirt manufacturing. With the advent of machine weaving, shirts became more affordable and could be produced in large quantities, making them accessible to a broader range of social classes. By the 19th century, the dress shirt as we know it today began to take shape, with particular refinement in the design of collars and cuffs. During this period, the shirt became an essential element of one’s appearance, integral to the suit.