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p853 Paludamentum

Article by William Ramsay, M.A., Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow
on pp853‑854 of

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

PALUDAMENTUM, according to Varro (L. L. VII.37) and Festus, (s.v.), originally signified any military decoration; but the word is always used to denote the cloak worn by a Roman general commanding an army, his principal officers and personal attendants, in contradistinction to the sagum [Sagum] of the common soldiers and the toga or garb of peace. It was the practice for a Roman magistrate after he had received the imperium from the Comitia Curiata and offered up his vows in the Capitol, to march out of the city arrayed in the paludamentum (exire paludatus, Cic. ad Fam. VIII.10) attended by his lictors in similar attire (paludatis lictoribus, Liv. XLI.10, XLV.39), nor could he again enter the gates until he had formally divested himself of this emblem of military power, a ceremony considered so solemn and so indispensable that even the emperors observed it (Tac. Hist. II.89; compare Suet. Vitell. c11). Hence Cicero declared that Verres had sinned "contra auspicia, contra omne divinas et humanas religiones," because, after leaving the city in his paludamentum (cum paludatus exisset), he stole back in a litter to visit his mistress (In Verr. V.13).

The paludamentum was open in front, reached p854down to the knees or a little lower, and hung loosely over the shoulders, being fastened across the chest by a clasp. A foolish controversy has arisen among antiquaries with regard to the position of this clasp, some asserting that it rested on the right shoulder, others on the left, both parties appealing to ancient statues and sculptures in support of their several opinions. It is evident from the nature of the garment, as represented in the annexed illustrations, that the buckle must have shifted from place to place according to the movements of the wearer; accordingly, in the following cut [left], which contains two figures from Trajan's column, one representing an officer, the other the emperor with a tunic and fringed paludamentum, we observe the clasp on the right shoulder, and this would manifestly be its usual position when the cloak was not used for warmth, for thus the right hand and arm would be free and unembarrassed;


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but in the preceding cut [right], copied from the Raccolta Maffei, representing also a Roman emperor, we perceive that the clasp is on the left shoulder; while in the cut below, the noble head of a warrior from the great Mosaic of Pompeii, we see the paludamentum flying back in the charge, and the clasp nearly in front. It may be saida that the last is a Grecian figure; but this, if true, is of no importance, since the chlamys and the paludamentum were essentially, if not absolutely, the same. Nonius Marcellus considers the two terms synonymous, and Tacitus (Ann. XII.56) tells us how the splendid naumachia exhibited by Claudius was viewed by Agrippina dressed chlamyde aurata, while Pliny (H. N. XXXIII.3) and Dion Cassius (LX.33) in narrating the same story use respectively the expressions paludamento aurotextili, and χλαμύδι διαχρύσῶ.


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The colour of the paludamentum was commonly white or purple, and hence it was marked and remembered that Crassus on the morning of the fatal battle of Carrhae went forth in a dark-coloured mantle (Val. Max. I.6 §11; compare Plin. H. N. XXII.1; Hirtius, de Bello Africano, c57).


Thayer's Note:

a Smith's Dictionary is not at its best here; the writer seems aware of it. Today, the mosaic is pretty much universally taken to represent Alexander at the battle of Issus; on what grounds, I don't know. At any rate, the simple solution is to remark that the Pompeiian work of art is of the 1c A.D., 400 years later than Alexander; and that the artist probably depicted the dress of a contemporary general.


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Page updated: 17 Feb 13