Roman Underwear

A neat set of “how-to” drawings crossed my FB feed this morning, so I thought… let’s chat about skivvies!

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Mosaic of women exercising (the so-called ‘Bikini Girls’), Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

Romans (both men and women) wore underwear beneath their outer garments. Sometimes. Donning underwear was not universal practice, but enough evidence survives to give us a fairly comprehensive idea of when Roman underwear was worn and how it was worn. The simple piece of cloth wrapped around the glorious bits like a nappie was called a subligaculum.  The drawings below give a reasonable accurate representation of how one wore the subligaculum. The cloth could be made from a variety of materials, most often wool or leather (for those special occasions).

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Translated best as either loincloth or shorts (short shorts), the subligaculum was often the only dress/costume for slaves, actors, and other ignoble members of Roman society. Free men and women might wear the subligaculum while exercising, as Gaius did during his sword practice in Dominus, Chapter 16.

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Interestingly enough, the loincloth was considered an old-fashioned garment and could be worn under the tunic and/or toga as a sign of adherence to traditional Roman values. There are references to certain religious officials wearing only the subligaculum during the performance of archaic sacrificial rites.

Well, time to go back into the writing cave. Time for Gaius to teasingly untie a loincloth or two… with his teeth. 😀

JPK

  6 comments for “Roman Underwear

  1. June 1, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    what an interesting insight. I like the step-by-step guide to wearing one! What about women covering their chests? Surely slave-girls didn’t walk around with their breasts out in the open? Or were they quite open-minded about these things… oh and I just bet Gaius is a bit of an expert and undoing these loincloths…how is Simon btw? Do day hi to him from your writer’s cave 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 1, 2015 at 7:07 pm

      Roman women often wore a band of fabric over their breasts known as a strophium (also known as fascia, fasciola, taenia, or mamillare). This band bra was for both support and compression. Of course, slave girls would wear (or not wear) whatever they were told.

      Gaius has his talents. 😀 At the moment, poor Simon is very surly and disappointed. Not to worry, I’ll take care of our floppy-haired brat. 😉

      Like

      • June 1, 2015 at 7:12 pm

        Ah so is that where the modern day usage of mamillary meaning breast in clinical terms came from? Oh I suppose calling it a mamillare was probably because thats what breasts were called in Latin. LOL I’m not very history-aware as you can probably tell.

        And I totes know why he’s surly and disappointed (I think) *giggle* big hug to him although he probably doesn’t much like being hugged by women…

        Like

      • June 1, 2015 at 7:25 pm

        Latin is a neat language, except when Tacitus writes it (his Latin is so damn complicated, cruel bugger). Charlie, our intrepid archaeologist, suffered through his fair share of Tacitus.

        I’ll be sure to give Simon a big hug from you, Vitzy! He’s one of my favorite characters and there’s much adventure (good and bad) ahead for him. 🙂

        Like

  2. June 1, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    Did you learn Latin? I literally only remember Dominus (LOL) and cerberus and circumspectat from my secondary school days…

    Like

    • June 1, 2015 at 8:14 pm

      I slogged through many years of dead languages. 😉

      Like

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