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p213 Bracae

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p213 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

BRACAE or BRACCAE (ἀναχυρίδες), trowsers, pantaloons. These, as well as various other articles of armour and of dress [Acinaces, Arcus, Armilla], were common to all the nations which encircled the Greek and Roman population, extending from the Indian to the Atlantic ocean. Hence Aristagoras, king of Miletus, in his interview with Cleomenes, king of Sparta, described the attire of a large portion of them in these terms:— "They carry bows and a short spear, and go to battle in trowsers and with hats upon their heads." (Herod. V.49). Hence also the phrase Braccati militis arcus, signifying that those who wore trowsers were in general armed with the bow (Propert. III.3.17). In particular, we are informed of the use of trowsers or pantaloons among the following nations:— the Medes and Persians; the Parthians; the Phrygians; the Sacae; the Sarmatae; the Dacians and Getae; the Teutones; the Belgae; the Britons; and the Gauls.

The Latin word braccae is the same as the Scottish "breeks" and the English "breeches." Corresponding terms are used in all the northern languages. Also the Cossack and Persian trowsers of the present day different in no material respect from those which were anciently worn in the same countries. In ancient monuments we find the above-mentioned people constantly exhibited in trowsers, thus clearly distinguishing them from Greeks and Romans. An example is seen in the annexed group of Sarmatians, taken from the column of Trajan.


[image ALT: An engraving of three standing men, all wearing baggy trousers gathered at the ankles; they are bare-chested but also wear loose cloaks. Two of them wear neat conical caps like the modern Turkish fez, the third wears something much like a bathing-cap. The engraving depicts a scene, representing Sarmatians, on Trajan's Column in Rome.]

Trowsers were principally woollen; but Agathias states (Hist. II.5) that in Europe they were also made of linen and of leather; probably the Asiatics made them of cotton and of silk. Sometimes they were striped (virgatae, Propert. IV.11.43), and ornamented with a woof of various colours (ποικίλαι, Xen. Anab. I.5 §8). The Greeks seem never to have worn them. They were also unknown at Rome during the republican period; and in A.D. 69 Caecina gave great offence on his march into Italy, because he wore braccae, which were regarded as tegmen barbarum (Tac. Hist. II.20). In the next century, however, they gradually came into use at Rome; but they would appear never to have been generally worn. It is recorded of Alexander Severus that he wore white braccae, and not crimson ones (coccineae), as had been the custom with preceding emperors (Lamprid. Alex. Sever. 40). The use of them in the city was forbidden by Honorius.


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Page updated: 14 Dec 08