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p1224 Zona

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp1224‑1225 of

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

ZONA, dim. ZONULA, also called CINGULUM (ζώνη, ζῶμα, ζωστῆρ, Herod. I.215, IV.9; μίτρα), a girdle or zone, worn about the loins by both sexes. As in the case of some other articles of dress, the distinction between the male and female girdle was denoted by the use of distinctive, ζώνη or ζωστῆρ being more properly a man's, ζώνιον a woman's girdle (Moeris Att. s.v.). The finer kinds of girdles were made by netting, whence the manufacturer of them was called ζωνιοπλόκος (Th. Magister, p413, ed. Oudendorp; Zonarius).

The chief use of this article of dress was to hold up the tunic (ζώννυσθαι, Callim. Dian. 12), which was more especially requisite to be done when persons were at work, on a journey, or engaged in hunting. Hence we see the loins girded in the woodcuts of the boatman at p512, of the shipbuilders at pp98, 141, of the goat-herd at p886, of the hunters at p989, and of Diana at p276. The ζώνη or ζωστῆρ is also represented in many ancient statues and pictures of men in armour as worn round the cuirass. Among the Romans the Magister Equitum wore a girdle of red leather, embroidered with needlework, and having its two extremities joined by a very splendid and elaborate gold buckle [Fibula] (Lydus, de Mag. II.13). The girdle, mentioned by Homer (Il. IV.135, V.539, X.77, XI.236), seems to have been a constituent part of the cuirass, serving to fasten it by means of a buckle, and also affording an additional protection to the body, and having a short kind of petticoat attached to it, as is shown in the figure of the Greek warrior in p712. In consequence of the use of the girdle in fastening on the armour, ζώννυσθαι or ζώσασθαι meant to arm one's-self (Hom. Il. XI.15), and from this circumstance Athene was worshipped under the character Ζωστηρία (Paus. IX.17 §2). The woodcuts at pp712, 854 show that the ancient cuirass did not descend low enough to secure that part of the body, which was covered by the ornamental kilt or petticoat. To supply this defect was the design of the mitra (μίτρα), a brazen belt lined probably on the inside with leather and stuffed with wool, which was worn next to the body (Hom. Il. IV.137, 187, V.707, 857; Schol. in Il. IV.187), so as to cover the lower part of the abdomen. The annexed woodcut shows the outside and inside of the bronze plate of a mitra, one foot long, which was obtained by Bröndsted (Bronzes of Siris, p42) in the island of Euboea, and is now preserved in the Royal Library at Paris. We observe at one end two holes for fastening the strap which went behind the body, and at the other end a hook fitted probably to a ring, which was attached to the strap. A portion of a similar bronze plate is engraved by Caylus (Rec. d'Ant. V. pl. 96 fig. 1).


[image ALT: An engraving of a wide strap pierced with decorative groups of holes. It is a depiction of an ancient Roman zona or belt.]

Men used their girdles to hold money instead of a purse (Plaut. Merc. V.2.84; Gellius, XV.12; Sueton. Vitell. 16).a The wallet [Pera] was p1225fastened to the girdle; and still more frequently the fold of the tunic, formed by tucking it up, and called sinus, was used as a pocket to carry whatever was necessary.


[image ALT: An engraving of a statue of a woman wearing a robe. It illustrates an ancient Roman zona or belt.]
As the girdle was worn to hold up the garments for the sake of business or of work requiring despatch, so it was loosened and the tunic was allowed to fall down to the feet to indicate the opposite condition, and more especially in preparing to perform a sacrifice (veste recincta, Virg. Aen. IV.518; Ovid, Met. VII.182), or funeral rites (discincti, Sueton. Aug. 100; incinctae, Tibull. III.2.18).

A girdle was worn by young women, even when their tunic was not girt up, and removed on the day of marriage, and therefore called ζώνη παρθενική (Jacobs, Anthol. II p873; παρθένον μίτρην, Brunck, Anal. III.299; Sen. Oed. II.3.17; Hom. Od. V.231; Longus, I.2; Ovid. Epist. Her. II.116, IX.66, Festus, s.v. Cingulum; Catull. II.13, LXIV.28). The Flora in the museum at Naples (see the annexed woodcut) shows the appearance of the girdle as worn by young women.

A horse's girth, used to fasten on the saddle [Ephippium], was called by the same names, and was sometimes made of rich materials, and embroidered in the most elaborate manner (Ovid. Rem. Am. 236; Claud. Epig. 34, 36). These terms, zona and cingulum, were all used to signify the five zones as understood by geographers and astronomers (Virg. Georg. I.233; Plin. H. N. II.68; Macrob. Som. Scip. II).


Thayer's Note:

a Money-belts seem to have been regularly in use, for example, among soldiers, at least by the end of the fourth century: Hist. Aug., Alex. 52.3, Pesc. Nig. 10.7.


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