Non-Elite Dress

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


Relatively little can be known about the dress of the working class and poor of the Byzantine Empire: their portraits were not painted, their outfits were not described by historians of the day, and the surviving Byzantine textiles in museum collections today were surely beyond their means. However, anonymous farmers, soldiers, beggars, and fishermen do appear in manuscript illuminations standing as a backdrop to more important figures and sometimes these figures adorn common pieces of pottery. Masses of people color the background of rebellion scenes, parades, and other subjects of historical importance. Byzantine writers occasionally describe the poor if only to point out the charity of an emperor or saintly figure, and we read brief descriptions of foot soldiers’ simple armor in the stories of the emperor’s brave acts. These representations and textual references allow us to reconstruct the Byzantine perception of the poor and working class while providing sketchy information on how they actually dressed.


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© Jennifer L. Ball 2005

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  • Jennifer L. Ball

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