Full Version: Cloaks through the ages
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At the local Renaissance Faire I was a part of, I bought a fairly simple cloak which I was immediately pleased with, because it was raining and it kept me (reasonably) dry. But since I am an ancient civilization buff more than a Renaissance fan, this got me thinking about how often cloaks were used.

The cloak I got is about knee-length on me(I am about 5'10") and is made of two layers of cloth(I think? Dunno the material) stitched together. There is a hood and it clasps together around the chest. Can this style of cloak be traced back fairly far? As I understand it, most cloaks built for function and not style were made of wool or some other strong material, but I am unsure as to the length of Roman or Greek cloaks, whether or not they had hoods, and where they were clasped together; I am familiar with a few styles of Greek cloaks, and the closest seems to be the chlamys, but even that is very different. Could someone shed some light on cloaks in the ancient times for me? Thanks.
I'll try to answer this as best I can, however your best bet would be to obtain a copy of Graham Sumner's "Roman Military Dress" - The section he has on cloaks isn't large, but it is well-researched and pretty expansive. I'm at work and don't have my copy at hand, but I can follow-up later if you like...

Depending on the period, there are numerous types of cloaks in use. Some are only known by reference in paper, while others can be seen on frescoes and statues. I believe Graham's book mentioned four or five styles (A few are similar), however the most common cloaks (At least for common milites) would be the sagum and the paenula. The sagum was typically a rectangle-shape, and larger than a blanket (Some re-enactors will adapt old wool Army blankets for this purpose). The paenula was circular or oval-shaped and was the only style with a hood if I recall correctly. They ARE made from wool, however I don't know of any off-hand that were described as two-layered. Remember that they were used as a bedroll, and thus were typically rolled up and carried with their kit. Therefore, their cloaks couldn't be too thick.

Traditionally the cloaks were of a yellow-brownish shade, though I've seen arguments for red as well. (Mine own is actually a darker brown...). They definietly still had a good deal of lanolin still in them for a water-repellant property, though if yours isn't it can be treated with a soak in some lanolin to bestow that quality. The sagum was typically pinned with fibulae, however research indicated the paenula was closed with a series of four sucessive toggles. Evidence was presented for both enamled metal toggles, as well as simpler wooden styles. As far as length of cloak, the sagum wasn't as long as you describe. The paenula would reach approximately 1 1/2 yards (The oval style, at any rate. You're looking at 3 yards of fabric 60" wide). Yours *sounds* like it may be close, but I'd post a picture if you're able - If nothing else, the members here are certainly sharp-eyed, and would better be able to assess it's accuracy. As I mentioned before, I don't have my copy of 'Roman Military Dress' at hand (I'm in the middle of a move to my first house). If I can get my copy I'll correct any mistakes i've mde thus far, or perhaps Graham can clear up anything I've mis-quoted... :-P

Also, here's a link to Legio XX's page on cloaks, which may give you a better idea of size measurements and what one actually looks like:

-Quintus C. Britannicus
The Late Roman Paenula was only half-length in the front. Can't remember where I read that though (might have been 1996 Late Roman Army by Pat Southern) so I will have to double check.

The Abolla was considered the "Poor man's military cloak" and is represented in statues, it dates from the 2nd BC to the 2nd AD roughly, re-emerging briefly in the 4th century AD. It was shorter and not as wide as a Sagum and pinned at the right shoulder with a Fibula.

The Chalmys was a Greek cloak that came into style in the 4th and 5th Centuries AD, and was worn in the same way as an Abolla, however it was an oval shape rather than a rectangle.

The Chalmys was replaced by the Byzantine Kandys in the 6th century, which was like a jacket crossed with a Sagum.

The Sagum itself still remained dominant in the 3rd through 6th centuries, but was changed so it was always either fringed, or decorated with rounded corners and orbiculi/segmentae