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T. I, Vol. 2

Article by E. Saglio in

Daremberg & Saglio,
Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines,
Librairie Hachette et Cie., Paris, 1877‑1919.

translation and © William P. Thayer

[image ALT: A woodcut of a statue of a man standing on a small base. He is middle-aged, has long hair and wears a beard; he is raising his right hand and in his left he holds a cylindrical box-like object. He is wearing a sleeved robe that does not, however, reach to his knees; it is tied at the waist by a sash-type belt, and looks much like a Japanese hapi coat or a short bathrobe; it is decorated with four large Latin crosses. It is an illustration of the caracalla, an ancient Gaulish coat adopted by the Romans, discussed in the text of this webpage.]

Fig. 1181. — Gaulish caracalla.

Caracalla. — The name of an item of clothing of Gaulish origin, introduced to Rome by Bassianus the son of Septimius Severus, and to which he owes the by‑name of Caracalla by which he has remained known to history.​1 This emperor forbade any man of the people to appear at his receptions without this dress, and he made the soldiers wear it; it was, however, somewhat modified: he made it longer, and the distinction was thenceforth made between the caracalla antoniniana, the one of which he had imposed the fashion, which came down to the heels, and the older one, which was shorter. Both types (caracalla major and minor) are mentioned in Diocletian's price edict,​2 along with the birrus, the braccae and other articles of clothing made by braccarii, or tailors. It is mentioned one more time in the Edict,​3 in the chapter setting the prices of cloth apparel. Whether the material was heavy or light, we should see in this article of clothing a sort of overcoat of the same kind as the lacerna, also of Gaulish origin. Saint Jerome compares the ephod of the Hebrews (in Greek ἐπωμίς, ἐπένδυμα) to a small caracalla, but hoodless.​4 We know what the ephod looked like: it is the short fitted sleeved tunic, gathered at the waist by a belt, that was worn by the high priest of the Jews; the dress of Aaron in some Christian paintings of the first centuries, or that of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son.​5 Now a characteristic item of Gaulish dress​6 was precisely a sort of sleeved, slit waistcoat falling to the mid-thigh, which was for them what the tunic was for the Romans: over it they wore the sagum, which was their coat, or they attached the hood used by travelers, hunters, and generally all those who went out in bad weather [cucullus]. The Gaulish caracalla can be recognized in the dress of the rather numerous figurines in our collections (fig. 1181) representing a national god who has been assimilated to Jupiter, to Pluto or Silvanus.​7 It is this article of clothing which the Romans enlarged to make an overcoat, and to which a hood, as Saint Jerome says, was usually if not always added. Dio tells us​8 also that the caracalla was not woven of a single piece like most ancient tunics, but made of several pieces sewn together.

The Author's Notes:

1 Dio Cassius LXVIII.3; Aurel. Vict. Epit. 21; Spart. Carac. 9 and Salmasius' commentary.

2 C. VII.44 and 45.

3 C. XVII.80.

4 Epist. LXIV, ad Fabiol. 15: "palliolum, in modum caracallarum, sed absque cucullis."

5 Garrucci, Storia dell' arte cristiana, 1, Pitture; cf. Braun, De vest. sac. Hebr. II, 6, 4.

6 Strabo IV.4.3.

7 Montfaucon, Ant. expliq. II, 2d part, pl. CXCII.4; Revue celtique, t. I; J. Quicherat, Hist. du costume en France, p26; de Barthélemy, the god Taranis in the Musée archéol.II, 1877, p6. The example reproduced here is at Lyons: see Comarmond, Descr. des antiq. du Palais des arts, in Lyons, pl. VII, 3; others may be seen in the museums of the Louvre, of Saint-Germain, Lyons, Besançon, Moulins, etc.

8 Dio, l.c.: Κατακόπτων καὶ συῤῥάπτων ὲς μανδύης τρόπον. Gloss. Steph. l. 502: Καρακάλλιον, cuculla; Ducange, Gloss. s.v.

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Page updated: 8 Oct 19