Imperial Dress

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


The portrait of the Empress Eudokia, wife of Basil I (r. 867–86), with her sons, Leo and Alexander, in the Homilies of Gregory Nazianzus (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France MS Gr. 510, fol. Br) (see plate 1), presents two interesting problems of interpreting the imperial dress in which all three are shown.1 Each figure wears a loros that crosses down over the shoulders and chest, while the back panel winds around the hip, to the front of the body, and hangs over the arm. Under this jewel-studded loros each wears a divetesion, a long, silk, ceremonial tunic. An identical semi-spherical stemma sits on each of their heads and each wears pointed, silk slippers studded with pearls called tzangia. This portrait, and many others like it, would have us believe that this garb was standard dress for the Middle Byzantine emperor. However, contemporary literary sources, such as The Book of Ceremonies, tell us that this outfit was worn only on Easter and that, despite surviving portraits, official dress usually consisted of a chlamys in place of the loros. When and where the loros was worn has much to do with interpreting its meaning. A second important issue raised by this exemplary image is that the empress is depicted in the same dress as the two young emperors, despite gender differences. This is unusual because Byzantine courtiers and noblemen and women typically display gender differentiation in their dress. Indeed no other royal couple in the Middle Ages assumed a unisex manner of dress.


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© Jennifer L. Ball 2005

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  • Jennifer L. Ball

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