Dress of the Borderland Elite

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


Well-dressed citizens were found throughout the empire and not confined to Constantinople. The aristocracy of the provinces, who portrayed themselves in dedicatory images in regions such as Cappadocia and Kastoria, had the means to buy expensive clothes and to show themselves off in those clothes. Unlike the prescribed dress of courtiers, the Byzantine upper classes participated in fashion by desiring certain types of clothing and thereby driving the taste for those clothes. Dedicatory portraits, which comprise the majority of our evidence for the dress of the elite outside of the capital, present two paradigms of Middle Byzantine dress. First, these portraits found in borderland regions reflect the bordering culture rather than the Byzantine capital. Cappadocians had Georgian, Armenian, and Islamic neighbors. Kastoria bordered a large population of Armenian and Georgian refugees in Thrace; Bulgaria ruled Kastoria from the mid-ninth century until the early eleventh centuries; the Normans briefly occupied Kastoria beginning in 1083 and stayed long after Alexius’s reconquest in 1093.1 While some of these aristocratic citizens had ties to Constantinople and even held official titles, their dress demonstrates their participation in the borderland cultures in which they lived. Local fashions, and not those of the capital, dictated their clothing choices. This situation leads to a second paradigm for Middle Byzantine dress: taste for these borderland fashions often spread to the capital city from the outskirts, moving in the opposite direction from what modern fashion theorists are accustomed.2


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© Jennifer L. Ball 2005

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  • Jennifer L. Ball

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