Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian & Persian Costume [NOOK Book]


Clothing was hardly a practical necessity in North Africa and what is today the Middle East. Often a luxury item in these warm, humid climates, it became more essential as people's lives improved socially and economically. But even then, the drapery was light and tended to accent the body's shape rather than conceal it. The first part of this profusely illustrated and scrupulously researched text examines the evolution in apparel worn by Egyptian royalty, priests, musicians, manual workers, the military, and ...
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Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian & Persian Costume

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Clothing was hardly a practical necessity in North Africa and what is today the Middle East. Often a luxury item in these warm, humid climates, it became more essential as people's lives improved socially and economically. But even then, the drapery was light and tended to accent the body's shape rather than conceal it. The first part of this profusely illustrated and scrupulously researched text examines the evolution in apparel worn by Egyptian royalty, priests, musicians, manual workers, the military, and foreigners (as depicted by Egyptian artists). Two additional sections consider clothing worn in ancient Mesopotamia and Persia, focusing largely on Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian styles. Over 250 illustrations, drawn in the artistic style of the period, are accompanied by flat patterns showing the cut of the garment, thus enabling today's costumers to accurately reconstruct this apparel. A comprehensive archive that will not only be of immense value to fashion historians and students of costume design, this volume will also fascinate anyone interested in the development of artistic representation.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486142654
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 2/9/2012
  • Series: Dover Fashion and Costumes
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 208
  • File size: 17 MB
  • Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

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By Mary G. Houston

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14265-4



THE very simple costumes of the Old Kingdom consisted of a kilt of varying lengths for men, and for women a tight-fitting tunic reaching from breast to ankles and kept in place by braces passing over each shoulder. Both sexes are occasionally seen wearing a cloak of thick material.

Among the most ancient representations of Egyptian costume which are known to us is that of the figure of the pre-dynastic King Narmer (3407 B.C.). In Fig. 1 he is seen wearing the tall white crown of Upper Egypt (the "Het"), also a plain corselet held in place by one brace, and a short plain kilt with a belt from which ornamental pendants hang down in front. Each pendant has at the top a representation of the goddess Hathor's head, and this is shewn at the side of the figure to a larger scale. At the back of the belt is fastened the ceremonial animal's tail which persists as a part of the kings of Egypt until the end of their history. On the chin of Narmer we see the ceremonial artificial beard of a king, which is fastened by straps to his crown. The figure of this king is taken from that very ancient fragment decorated with figures in relief and called "The Palette of Narmer," a memorial tablet shewing the king in battle. The beards of gods, kings and noblemen were each different in shape, each symbolic of their wearers. This symbolism, so intricate in its character and so predominantly a feature of the dress of the Egyptian gods, is often transferred to the royal costumes; hence we see a king in the dress of a god, and frequently both gods and goddesses are represented as wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt (see Plate I).

In the present volume the costumes are considered mainly as being examples of period and silhouette, and also from the constructive or technical viewpoint; but in the bibliography appended on pp. 188 there are given the names of books dcaling specially with Ancient Egyptian symbolism, and perhaps one of the most informative in connection with this aspect of costume is The Gods of the Egyptians, by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge (1904), which has numerous plates in colour of the gods in their symbolic costumes. In Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians by Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson (ed. 1878) there is also special information on symbolic costume.

Figs. 2 and 3.—The Princess Sedet and Prince Nereb are shewn to be wearing the typical dress of persons of distinction at the period of the Old Kingdom, 4th Dynasty (2789 B.C.–2715 B.C.). The figures are after Lepsius, who describes them as being from the Pyramid of Giseh. The tunic of the woman is red, her collar blue and white, her wig black and skin beige colour. The kilt of the man is white with the pleated part in gold, his wig is black and his skin is coloured reddish-brown. The early appearance of the characteristic ornamental-beaded collar in both figures is noteworthy, also the fact that wigs are worn even at this early period. The heads of the men were shaven or cut very close, probably for the sake of cleanliness and save in the case of persons of the lower social classes and the priesthood, wigs were worn. Among women, however, the custom of shaving the head was not universal. The hair was either allowed to grow or cut short, rather than shaved, though covered with a wig. At one period, indeed, during the 18th Dynasty, a fashion of shaving the heads of ladies does appear to have been the vogue for a short time. The well-known bust of Queen Nerfertiti and several other portraits shew shaven heads without wigs. The wigs of ladies of high rank were more elaborate and bulky than those of men, but with women mourners at funerals the natural hair, worn hanging simply down the back, was the rule.

Figs. 4 and 5 of the same period as Figs. 2 and 3 (also from Lepsius, Giseh) shew two other examples of the kilt, while Fig. 3 gives us one of the earliest pleated or gauffered types. Figs. 4 and 5 introduce us to the very ancient practice of stiffening these linen garments and with an evident striving after effect and silhouette which seems extraordinarily sophisticated at such a very remote era.

Fig. 6 is an example of the costume of the early kings of Egypt which was retained in later ages as the costume of the gods. It is after Lepsius, who entitles it "from a tomb of the 5th Dynasty at Wadi Maghara." Here we have the red crown (the "Teser") of Lower or Northern Egypt, a corselet held up by braces, a kilt with ornamental pendant in front and animal's tail at the back. The whole drawing is without detail, but one need only compare it with later examples to realize that the chief features of this costume remain identical in silhouette for more than three milleniums.


Figs. 7 and 8 (after Lepsius and from Giseh) shew a man and woman of the 4th Dynasty, carrying provisions. When comparing them with Figs. 2 and 3 we see that here the handsome-beaded collars of the princess and her husband are absent, and that the man's kilt is without ornament. Apart from the detail, however, the costumes are very similar. Figs. 9, 10 and 11, also after Lepsius, who describes Fig. 9 as being of the 6th Dynasty and from Sarriet-el-Meilin, as is also Fig. 10, while Fig. 11, that of a scribe taking notes on a tablet and with a pen behind his ear, Lepsius quotes as of the 5th Dynasty and from Giseh.


These head-dresses are comparatively simple in style when compared with those of the later dynasties. Typical examples are Figs. 12, 13 and 14, taken from early sculptures. Fig. 13 of the 4th Dynasty is from the statue of the Princess Nefert. The original statue is in the Cairo Museum where the princess is seen seated beside her husband, Prince Rahetep. Her natural hair shews on her forehead under her wig. The circlet on her head is decorated with rosettes alternating with flowers in profile. She has a cloak over her tunic, which garment, as has been said, was worn occasionally by both sexes at this period. This garment appears to have been of thick material, but it is represented in a manner so conventional that it is difficult to conjecture its construction or cut. We may, however, consider, that in harmony with the other garments worn at this time, it was of simple rectangular shape. In length these cloaks reached to the ankles. Figs. 12 and 14 are "Ti," a celebrated architect, and "Ranefer," a high priest, both of the 5th Dynasty and both from the original statues in the Cairo Museum. These two heads shew examples of the types of wig worn by men in the period of the Old Kingdom.


The jewellery of this era is not so profuse as is that of the Middle Kingdom and New Empire, but mention may be made of four very beautiful bracelets found in the grave of the queen of "King Ler" of the 1st Dynasty and illustrated, in colour, in the Journal of Egyptian Exploration. Three of these bracelets are of beads, varied and exquisite in design and consisting of gold, turquoise and amethyst beads alternating. The fourth bracelet is perhaps the most attractive of all. It consists of twenty-seven little plaques of turquoise and pure gold alternating. At the top of each plaque there is a tiny "hawk of Horus" perched upon a square plinth which simulates the doorway of a house and symbolizes the "Eternal Abode." Here, as in the bead bracelets, there is an originality and sense of proportion in the design which, in spite of great simplicity, has seldom been surpassed by the jewellery of any age.

To conclude: the costumes of the Old Kingdom are the foundation of Egyptian dress until the Roman Era, and again all the changes which take place during the Middle Kingdom and the New Empire are in the nature of additions —the old survive alongside the new.



THOUGH there is little change in the types of costume worn by the men and women of the period of the Middle Kingdom when compared with that of the former age, in it the arts of Egypt reached what is said by experts to be their apogee of delicacy and taste during the Central Period, namely, that of the 12th Dynasty (2111 B.C.–1898 B.C.). The jewellery was specially fine. Fig. 15 is perhaps the most beautiful example, and is a royal diadem which was found at Illahoun. This diadem was part of the jewellery of the "Princess Sat-hathor-ant," wife of Amenemhat III. It consists of a flat circlet of gold rather more than an inch wide, and encrusted with fifteen small golden rosettes with cloisonné inlays and jewels. In front, set into a little slot, there is a golden uraeus, beautifully modelled in the round, with eyes of garnet set in a lapis-lazuli head, its body inlaid with cloisonné of carnelian and lapis. At the back of the circlet rise two tall golden feathers of gold plate, so thin that they must have quivered and flashed with every movement of the wearer. At the back and also at either side hang down thin golden streamers, in pairs, which are attached to the circlet by loose rings so as to give with each turn of the head. The original of this diadem is in the Cairo Museum, but there is a wonderful reproduction of it in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, and this has been set upon a reconstructed wig of the period, which has thin plaits of hair hanging down all round, each ending in a tiny curl. At close intervals all round the wig hang down strings of tubular gold beads of the same length as the plaits and each string of beads enclosing a strand of hair which ends, like the plaits, in a little curl.

Fig. 16 is a detail from another 12th Dynasty treasure in the Cairo Museum which is known as "the diadem of the Princess Khnumit," which was found at Daschow. This is a circlet in pierced gold work and is composed of front and side views of conventionalized flowers alternating, from which rise vertically other flowers in profile. The whole is set with precious stones, and in the centre front two of the repeats are bridged over by a hovering falcon. This circlet is not a royal crown, but merely a diadem for personal adornment.

For comparison of such diadems in wear with the actual examples at Figs. 15 and 16, seeFigs. 17 and 18, after Prisse d'Avennes, who describes Fig. 17 as of the 6th Dynasty and Fig. 18 of the 12th Dynasty. Another interesting comparison is that of the design of this circlet, Fig. 16, with the design of the simple example shewn in wear at Fig. 13. There can be little doubt that the design of the later circlet is founded on the same model as Fig. 13.

Besides that deep jewelled or beaded collar, which was the most characteristic, ornamental feature of all in Egyptian costume, the pendant or pectoral hanging over the breast from a chain round the neck and kept in position by a counterweight at the back is of most frequent occurrence. Fig 19 is a 12th Dynasty pectoral, found at Illahoun. It is part of the jewellery of the "Princess Sit-hathor-ant." In the middle of the top of this ornament is the cartouche or nameplate of Senusert II and on either side a uraeus, the tail of which passes through the ring of an "ankh" and then encompasses a circle of carnelian. Below is a kneeling figure, holding palm branches, from whose right arm is suspended a tadpole. On either side again, are two hawks, each with a claw pressed against the palm branches. The whole is in pierced gold work with inlays of carnelian and lapis lazuli. The eyes of the hawks are of garnet. The reverse side of the pectoral is of plain gold, but beautifully engraved and chased. The chain of beads which suspend the pectoral are of drop-shaped carnelian, felspar and lapis lazuli alternating and separated by small spherical beads of gold and turquoise alternating. The whole design is a motto which reads "The Sun-God gives many hundreds and thousands of years to Senusert II."

This type of pectoral occurs frequently as an ornament subsequent to the 12th Dynasty, but the execution and design of the later jewellery did not reach such a high standard.

Figs. 20 and 21 are after Lepsius, who describes them as of the 12th Dynasty from the rock-tombs at Berscheh. They are examples of unusual costumes, and of interest as shewing a short cape and enveloping shawl of thick striped material in wear, also in Fig. 20 a long robe of transparent linen worn over a short kilt of thicker stuff. Fig. 22 again shews two similar kilts in wear and Fig. 23 shews a short kilt with small apron pendant. Both Figs. 22 and 23 are after Lepsius, who assigns them to the 12th Dynasty and from a tomb at Beni Hassan.

Fig. 24 is after Prisse d'Avennes who describes the costume as being that of a native of Punt (Somaliland) and of the 17th Dynasty. The man here depicted is in the act of driving a laden ass. This figure would belong to the period between the Hyksos kings and the revival under the 18th Dynasty. The tailpiece to this chapter, Fig. 25, is after Lepsius, who describes it as of the 12th Dynasty and from Beni Hassan. The figures of the women dancers are in two groups—each a miming ballet—that on the left representing the Pharaoh about to slay his captive, whom, in typical attitude, he holds by the hair. The three figures on the right are supposed to represent "the wind." The hair of each of the dancers is tied up in the shape of a certain type of royal crown and they wear the short kilts of men.



AT this period we are conscious of a greater elaboration in Egyptian costume. Asiatic influences coming into the country with the Hyksos had introduced or at least made popular two very voluminous new garments, which may be described as the Robe and the Shawl: The Robe, which is still in wear in present-day Egypt, is identical in cut with the "Royal Robe of Persia," but it must have been introduced into Eastern Asia and from thence to Egypt at a date far anterior to the Persian conquests. The long narrow Shawl, which was draped round the body in various ways, was worn chiefly by women and seems to have come from India, or at least from "the Land of Elam" on the eastern side of the Persian Gulf, for we find it there as early as 2000 B.C. (Figs. 96, 97, 98, p.93, Elamite Lady). There was nothing of the primitive in the Egyptian weaving of the New Empire. Petrie tells us that the looms could, on occasion, manufacture a cloth of five feet in width, and the finest linens were wellnigh transparent. The almost universal fashion of gauffering or pleating, which from this time onwards seems to have been applied to the fine linen costumes now worn, gives them their most distinctive note, though this pleating was used to some small extent from the earliest ages. Besides these new and important-looking garments the wigs and head-dresses of this period began to exhibit the greatest elaboration and variety, so that a considerable volume might be filled with the details of the costume alone.

Another innovation of the period was that of armour in the form of coats or hauberks of mail, which was chiefly an Asiatic introduction.

In addition to the costume of the native Egyptians of the New Empire we have most interesting and accurate representations of the dress of foreigners who were either of tributary nations or captives taken in battle by the Egyptians. Some again are representations of mercenary soldiers, fighting for the Pharaohs and among these are the helmeted "Shordana," others are enemies such as were the pig-tailed Hittites.

In the 18th Dynasty, besides those new garments introduced from Asia and the consequent elaboration of dress, there is a certain patriotic renaissance of the simpler 12th Dynasty style in the arts generally, including that of costume, which is characteristic of the beginning of this era. The 12th Dynasty influences soon disappeared, however, and in the dynasties immediately following the 18th, increasing elaboration was the rule. The examples given to illustrate this period and others throughout this volume have not been chosen because of any historic interest in the person of the wearers of the costumes, but rather have been selected to illustrate the introduction of new and varied styles of dress. It would indeed be a lengthy task to give a costume portrait of the immensely long list of Egyptian monarchs and their consorts, and one which would lead to wearisome repetitions of almost identical costumes in many cases.


Excerpted from ANCIENT EGYPTIAN, MESOPOTAMIAN & PERSIAN COSTUME by Mary G. Houston. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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