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[image ALT: A woodcut of two men standing on either side of a geometrical figure. The man on the left is dressed in a long scarf covering most of the front of him, the man on the right in what the text assures us is a similar scarf, except covering only the back of him. It is an illustration of the ancient Greek chlamys.]

p275 Chlamys

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp275‑276 of

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

CHLAMYS (χλαμύς, dim. χλαμύδιον), a scarf. This term, being Greek, denoted an article of the Amictus, or outer raiment, which was in general characteristic of the Greeks, and of the Oriental races with which they were connected, although both in its form and in its application it approached very much to the Lacerna and Paludamentum of the Romans, and was itself to some extent adopted by the Romans under the emperors. It was for the most part woollen; and it differed from the ἱμάτιον, the usual amictus of the male sex, in these respects, that it was much smaller; also finer, thinner, more variegated in colour, and more susceptible of ornament. It moreover differed in being oblonga instead of square, its length being generally about twice its breadth. To the regular oblong a, b, c, d (see woodcut), goars were added, either in the form of a right-angled triangle a, e, f, producing the modification a, e, g, d, which is exemplified in the annexed figure of Mercury; or of an obtuse-angled triangle a, e, b, producing the modification a, e, b, c, g, d, which is exemplified in the figure of a youth from the Panathenaic frieze in the British Museum. These goars were called πτερύγες, wings, and the scarf with these additions was distinguished by the epithet of Thessalian or Macedonian (Etym. Mag.), and also by the name of Ἄλλιξ or Alicula. [Alicula]. Hence the ancient geographers compared the form of the inhabited earth (ἡ οἰκουμένη) to that of a chlamys (Strabo, II.5; Macrobius, De Somn. Scip. II).

The scarf does not appear to have been much worn by children, although one was given with its brooch to Tiberius Caesar in his infancy (Suet. Tib. 6). It was generally assumed on reaching adolescence, and was worn by the ephebi from about seventeen to twenty years of age (Philemon, p367, ed. Meineke; ephebica chlamyde, Apuleius, Met. X; Pollux, X.164). It was also worn by the military, especially of high rank, over their body-armour (Aelian, V. H. XIV.10; Plaut. Pseud. II.4.45, Epid. III.3.55), and by hunters and travellers, more particularly on horseback (Plaut. Poen. III.3.6, 31).

The scarfs worn by youths, by soldiers, and by hunters, differed in colour and fineness, according to their destination, and the age and rank of the wearer. The χλαμύς ἐφηβικὴ was probably yellow or saffron-coloured; and the χλαμύς στρατιωτικὴ, scarlet. On the other hand, the hunter commonly went out in a scarf of a dull unconspicuous colour, as best adapted to escape the notice of wild animals (Pollux, V.18). The more ornamental scarfs, being designed for females, were tastefully decorated with a border (limbus, Virg. Aen. IV.137; maeander, V.251); and those worn by Phoenicians, Trojans, Phrygians, and other Asiatics, were also embroidered, or interwoven with gold (Virg. ll. cc.; III.483, 484, XI.775; Ovid, Met. V.51; Val. Flaccus, VI.228). Actors had their chlamys ornamented with gold (Pollux, IV.116).

The usual mode of wearing the scarf was to pass one of its shorter sides (a, d) round the neck, and to fasten it by means of a brooch (fibula), either over the breast, in which case it hung down the back, reaching to the calves of the legs; or over the right shoulder, so as to cover the left arm, as is seen in the cut on p259, and in the well-known example of the Belvidere Apollo. In other instances it was made to depend gracefully from the left shoulder, of which the bronze Apollo in the British Museum (see the annexed woodcut) presents an example;

[image ALT: A woodcut of a painting, on the left, and a statue, on the right. Each one depicts a man wearing an ancient Greek chlamys, which here appears to be no more than a blanket casually draped over an arm or two, leaving almost the entire body unclothed.]

or it was thrown lightly behind the back, and passed over either one arm or shoulder, or over both (see the second figure in the last woodcut, taken from Hamilton's Vases, I.2); or, lastly, it was laid upon the throat, carried behind the neck, and crossed so as to hang down the back, as in the figure of Achilles (p196), and sometimes its extremities were again brought forward over the arms or shoulders. In short, the p276remains of ancient art of every description, show in how high a degree the scarf contributed, by its endless diversity of arrangement, to the display of the human form in its greatest beauty; and Ovid has told us how sensible the ephebi were of its advantages in the account of the care bestowed upon this part of his attire by Mercury (Met. II.735). The aptitude of the scarf to be turned in every possible form around the body, made it useful even for defence. The hunter used to wrap his chlamys about his left arm when pursuing wild animals, and preparing to fight with them (Pollux V.18; Xen. Cyneg. VI.17). Alcibiades died fighting with his scarf rolled round his left hand instead of a shield. The annexed woodcut exhibits a figure of Neptune armed with the trident in his right hand, and having a chlamys to protect the left. It is taken from a medal which was struck in commemoration of a naval victory obtained by Demetrius Poliorcetes, and was evidently designed to express his sense of Neptune's succour in the conflict. When Diana goes to the chase, as she does not require her scarf for purposes of defence, she draws it from behind over her shoulders, and twists it round her waist, so that the belt of her quiver passes across it, as shown in the statues of this goddess in the Vatican (see woodcut).

[image ALT: A woodcut of a naked man, on the left, raising his right arm grasping a trident and pointing it dead ahead of him, and holding his left arm parallel to the ground with a small scarf draped over it; and of a woman, on the right, primly dressed in a blouse and a sort of skirt or shorts. The woodcut is intended to depict different uses of the ancient Greek chlamys.]

It appears from the bas-reliefs on marble vases that dancers took hold of one another by the chlamys, as the modern Greeks still do by their scarfs or handkerchiefs, instead of taking one another's hands.

Among the Romans the scarf came more into use under the emperors. Caligula wore one enriched with gold (Suet. Calig. 19). Alexander Severus, when he was in the country or on an expedition, wore a scarf dyed with the coccus (chlamyde coccinea, Lamprid. Al. Sev. 40; compare Matt. xxvii.28, 31).

Thayer's Note:

a For a more careful treatment of the shape of the chlamys, partly disagreeing with this article, see Tarbell, CP:283‑289.

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Page updated: 1 Jul 13