Byzantine Men's Tunica

By Indunna

Male costume line drawing

Men's costume in Byzantium didn't change too much over the centuries. It consisted of the tunica, the dalmatic, the cloak and shoes or boots.

The shapes of the garments were consistent throughout the classes, only the quality of the fabric and trimming distinguished them.



The tunica was the basic article of clothing in Byzantium. For the lower classes, it was the everyday working garment. For the upper classes, it was the underlayment for some of the richest clothing in history.

The tunica was a derivation of the ancient Roman tunica talaris, or tunic to the ankles. They were trim in the sleeve and mostly loose in the body. The more active wearer would gird it up to the shins or knees with a thin belt. The sleeve length would change according to the class of the wearer and the weather. The most well known tunic of this type is the coptic tunic. Some dock workers still seemed to be clad in a himation which is an ancient type of tunic made of rectangles pinned at the shoulders and belted at the waist. his was definately a lower class way of wearing your clothes.

The primary fabric for a tunica was undyed linen or undyed wool. Both would be in a plain weave. The wool was not the heavy scratchy stuff we know as wool. It was a finer, tropical weight with a smooth finish. Silk was also used for these types of garments. They are seen in a small assortment of colours; red, ochre, yellow and orange. There is an existing tunic made from what could only be termed as a linen terrycloth. An even rarer type of tunic was the resist dyed tunic. This resulted in an indigo tunic with the designs in the natural ground colour.

Coptic tunics were trimmed lavishly. Clavi (stripes) and segmentae (roundels and squares) were done in a tapestry weave and were the most common type of trim. Most examples are in the natural tunic/ purple trim scheme, but there are many examples of more colourful trims.

Most of the examples have the tapestry weaving as part of the garment. The tunics were woven individually, and much of the trim was doe on the loom. A large number of examples, though, show tapestry woven trim attached to a plain weave body. Cards for card weaving have also been discovered in Coptic areas and card weaving also gives a similar look as tapestry weaving.

Colours seen in existing trim are as follows: natural, tan, light and dark brown, yellow, gold, pink, red, maroon, light and dark blue, cobalt blue, aqua, light and dark green, yellow-green, orange, coral, purple and black.



Tunic fragments

Fragments of a linen tunic woven with a shoulder-square and short band in linen and brown wool. East Roman period, fourth-fifth

Segmentae ~ A roundel or square element at the end of a clavi.


Surviving Tunica Examples

Linen tunic

Linen tunic woven with short tapestry bands in linen and multicoloured wool, with a pattern of rosettes and eels.

Byzantine period, sixth-seventh century.


Child's wool tunic

Child's wool tunic woven with tapestry bands and squares in multicoloured wool, depicting birds, animals and human heads. Byzantine period, sixth-seventh century


Linen tunic

Linen tunic, woven with long tapestry bands and neck-panels, in linen and brown wool, depicting animals and armed men.

Byzantine period, fifth-sixth century.


Linen tunic

Linen tunic woven with long tapestry bands in linen and purple wool.

East Roman period, third-fourth century

Double ruled lines


The Photo examples of Byzantine clothing were obtained from the following website:
The Basics of Byzantine Dress c. 1000 A.D
Website written and maintained by Dawn Vukson - Van Beek

Further information on Roman and Byzantine Clothing was obtained from the following websites:

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This page was last updated on the 7 Nov 2008

Copyright © Stephen Francis Wyley & Jenny Baker 1999 - 2000

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