An Examination of the Textile Evidence

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


The purpose of this chapter is to look at another small but very important body of evidence for Middle Byzantine secular dress: the surviving textile fragments. Surprisingly little of our evidence for secular dress of the Middle Byzantine period consists of textiles. Few textiles survive due to the fragile nature of cloth, let alone entire garments, of which there are none from the period studied here. Not only is cloth fragile but also important textile storehouses, such as the imperial treasury, were pillaged over the years. Much of the dispersal of the imperial collection in particular took place during the looting by the Crusaders at the beginning of the thirteenth century.1 Jean de Villehardouin describes the stealing of the expected gold, silver, and gems in his account of the Crusades but also lists “satin and silk,” in addition to furs, mentioned before, as being removed from Constantinople’s imperial storage.2 Finally, the Byzantines themselves are partly to blame for the lack of surviving garments. Clothing was worn again and again, passed down to family members, or given to the local church or monastery until worn out. Ecclesiastical vestments, some of which do survive from the Middle Byzantine period, are an exception.3 Ecclesiastical garments were worn only for certain liturgical occasions and stored away so the wear and tear on these items was considerably less than for secular clothing.4


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© Jennifer L. Ball 2005

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  • Jennifer L. Ball

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