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Even in Roman times, fashion was a very important issue and an expression of social and personal identity. Roman statues and portraits of private individuals reveal that, regarding fashion, people oriented towards members of the Imperial family. This can be seen on images on tombstones, which show women wearing robes and with hairstyles emulating those of the empresses, and men wearing the toga, with their hair and beard styles following the fashions set by the emperors. Some provinces, however, retained their indigenous traditional costume, and this was the case in in Noricum and Pannonia.
In order to reconstruct the forms of the traditional costume, evidence from archaeological finds and from depictions is relied upon. In Austria, fortunately there are a lot of tombstones which show images of the deceased. Findings from graves show the appearance of traditional costume accessories (belts, brooches and jewellery), but not the way these were worn, since in the first and second centuries A.D., cremation predominated. Sometimes there are burials found, however, where one can see the components of traditional costume. These finds come mainly from Noricum, the ancient province most closely corresponding to modern Austria.
Here, the traditional costume will first be presented with the aid of representations from Roman tombstones. Subsequently, the individual components of the traditional costume which have been found at excavations will be explained.
Fashions for young girls were simplified forms of women’s fashion. Girls' traditional
costume is represented on tombstones that show female servants. It is possible
to distinguish between two types of traditional costumes.
The first type can be reconstructed from images of girls wearing a long undertunic which is worn under a tube-form dress fastened with a brooch on either shoulder. These brooches are generally the so-called „Flügelfibeln“ (wing fibula). Around the waist the dress was held together by a leather belt with metal fittings. The open end of the belt hung down the middle of the dress to the hem. In Pannonia the girls wore additional headpieces. A similar hat, this time with a veil, was a component of women’s traditional costume. Brooches, belts and bracelets were used as jewellery. Works of art show that necklaces were very rare..
The second type of the traditional costume worn by girls did not utilize brooches on either shoulder but instead used a thinner belt, which was not buckled. The dress seems to be sewn at the shoulders or was made of one piece of cloth, like ponchos today, and the belt was made of thin thongs or cords. The girls wearing this type of traditional costume did not wear any jewellery.
There are two different opinions regarding the dating of these works of art and
the use of these two types of traditional costume. Some scholars think that
the first type was used from the 1st century A.D. to the beginning of the 2nd
century A.D and was then replaced by the second type, which was worn until
the end of the 2nd century A.D. Others think that both types were worn at the
same time, from the 1st to the beginning of the 3rd century A.D.
Recently, E. Pochmarski has defined a third type of Norican girls' traditional costume, which is characterized by a long dress without a belt and a cape. The reliefs which show girls wearing this traditional costume are dated to the second half of the 2nd century A.D.
The appearance of the women’s traditional costume can be reconstructed for the upper part of the body, as most reliefs show half-length portraits. There are many similarities between girls' and women’s fashion and scholars are able to reconstruct women’s traditional costumes the same way. A tube-dress that was fastened with one brooch on each shoulder was worn over an undertunic. Brooches are comparable to safety pins and had functional and decorative characteristics.
Women also wore belts: most reliefs show large belts while a few reliefs show the thinner belts which are also found on the girls’ reliefs. The large belts were made of leather and had metal fittings which have been found in excavations. At the edge of the dress the open end of the belt hangs down.
The brooches which fastened the dress on the shoulders are shown on the reliefs. There are the so-called „Flügelfibeln“ and „Doppelknopfibeln“ (double button fibulae) which are characteristic for the territory of Noricum and Pannonia. The women also wore necklaces, bracelets, rings and small brooches. Additionally they wore jewellery which was composed of chains, rings and pendants; these were worn around the neck or fixed onto the shoulder brooches. Sometimes the brooches were hidden by a cape.
A distinctive feature on the reliefs are the headpieces. The so-called „Norican hat“ was typical for Noricum. This is a rectangular headscarf which was folded in half diagonally and had a folded bulge. Due to the differing widths of the bulge it is possible to distinguish between several types of hats from the 1st to the 3rd century A.D.
The so-called „modius-cap“ was a little bit less widespread in
Noricum. It was fashionable in the 1st century A.D. and was made of leather,
felt or fur and had a cylindrical shape. As a rule a veil was worn over the
In Pannonia the „veil-cap“ was widespread. This cap is similar to the „Norican hat“, but has a wider bulge and in the 1st century A.D. was combined with a veil. In the 2nd century the bulge became smaller and the hat took on a turban-like character.
the area between the Danube River and ‘Neusiedlersee’ one often finds pictures
of women wearing so-called „fur-caps“ at tombstones. These „fur-caps“ are
characteristically boat shaped.
The hair was mostly parted in the middle and rolled inwards. Because the women are shown frontally, it is not possible to see the formation of the hairstyle at the back of the head.
Generally the reliefs do not show the whole body, and so we rarely have information about the footwear that belonged to the traditional costume. The shoes were made of organic materials for the most part, as we just find nails from nailed shoes at excavations.
The traditional costume was fashionable in the 1st and 2nd century AD. In the 2nd century, Roman influence increased which is evident, for example, with the disappearance of the hats. (Roman women did not wear hats.) Nevertheless it does seem that the traditional costume was even worn into the 3rd century AD.
We are much less well informed concerning the primary men’s traditional costume
in Noricum and Pannonia, because there is a lack of archaeological finds
and the funerary art only shows men’s costume very indistinctly. Usually
men wore a tunic-like cloth and a cloak (sagum), which was held together
with a brooch on the right shoulder. A hood (cucullus) was used
Mostly men proclaimed their social status with depictions on sepulcral buildings: some are depicted in the toga. This is a reference to the possession of Roman civil rights, as only individuals who possessed Roman civil rights were allowed to wear it. Others are shown as soldiers. They wear a tunic with sleeves and a cloak (sagum). A very important attribute is the sword, which is either worn in a strap or the knob is visible inside the elbow.
The calceus ´shoe` was worn with the toga. Different colours and forms of straps reveal the social standing of the wearer. The soldiers wore the so-called calligae, the characteristic military footwear.
The men’s hair- and beard styles followed the portraits of the emperors, enabling scholars to date the reliefs quite closely.
As mentioned above a dress held together by two brooches was characteristic
for the traditional women’s costume in Noricum and Pannonia.
There are two types of brooches closely linked with the traditional costume – the „Flügelfibeln“ and the „Doppelknopffibeln“. Because of their widespread use in Noricum and Pannonia they are called norican-pannonian brooches.
In addition to the brooches and the belts, there were other objects which belonged to the traditional costume in specific ways.
Hairpins are frequently found in graves and settlements. They were made of different
materials, for example of metal or bones. They were used to pin the hair
or to attach the headgear.
Necklaces and bead necklaces made of glass have also been found at excavations. The lunula-pendant, which is a pendant in the form of the moon, is characteristic for Noricum. Depicted jewellery is seldom found at excavations. One example was discovered at the Magdalensberg in Carinthia.
Bracelets and rings have also been found in graves and settlements, but they do not display regional characteristics.
In conclusion, it is possible to say that only characteristics of girls' and
women’s traditional costume have been found in Noricum and Pannonia. Men’s
traditional costume seems to be have been replaced with the Roman fashion
immediately after the Roman occupation.
In contrast to the 1st century A.D., the number of finds of elements of traditional costume and also the number of types decrease later, although women did continue to wear their regional traditional costume. It seems that local costume was definitely replaced by Roman fashions in the 3rd century A.D.
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