levantia title



Female dress

The Empress

A senior court lady

Traditional dress

Affluent casual

“Ethnic” style

Theatre costume

“Ethnic” style

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Her headdress is a type related to the turban, but wrapped in a distinctive manner, which can be seen by pointing your mouse at the headdress. It was called ’isaba in Arabic and Persian, sharpash in Armenian, and probably savanion in Greek. This particular one is ikat cloth, that is, made from yarn tie&150;dyed prior to weaving. ikat cloths of the period were made of cotton rather than the more recent silk, and were most associated with Yemen at the time and traded widely throughout the region.1 The style of this headdress indicates that this woman is probably Armenian or Persian, for in Roman use plain colours were more usual, and the method of wrapping fully concealed the head, as can be seen on the more typical outfit on another page. (Click on the headdress to see the wrapping method.)

Her coat, or kavadion in Greek,2 kaftan in Persian,3 and qaba in Arabic,4 is a style that the Romans regarded as being in the Persian fashion on account of the prominent decoration down the front opening. In this case, the decoration is a band of pearled roundels. (Click on the women’s chest to get the detail of the trimming.)

Plain sashes like this were less favoured by women in Rômania than other nationalities in the region. More common for Rômiai were leather belts, narrow throughout the period, but with broader ones, often with metal ornaments, gaining popularity for the more affluent in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

For discussion of women’s clothing in Rômania and its pictorial and literary sources see the author’s article, ‘Propriety, Practicality and Pleasure: the parameters of women’s dress 1000—1204’, in Lynda Garland (ed) Byzantine Women: Varieties of Experience 800–1200, Ashgate, 2006, pp. 41—75, and book, By the Emperor’s Hand: Court Regalia and Military Dress in the Eastern Roman Empire, Frontline Books, Barnsley 2015.

Outfit made by Timothy Dawson


  1. Ernst Kuhnel and Louisa Bellinger, Textile Museum Catalogue of Dated Tiraz Fabrics, Washington, 1952, pp. 88, 89, 91. Back
  2. Digenes Akrites, ed. John Mavrogordato, Oxford, 1963, p. 130. Back
  3. F. J. Steingass, Persian-English Dictionary, London, 1977, p. 1037. Back
  4. Reuben Levy, ‘Notes on costume from Arabic sources’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1935, pp. 319-338. back