14

I must admit I have no expertise in history. My question is inspired by "Rome" TV series (the authors claim that everyday life was shown with relative historical accuracy) and it's about Roman panties.

The wikipedia article says:

it is unclear whether Greek women wore undergarments

It also says that, if they did, it would be a loincloth:

A mosaic from the Piazza Armerina in Sicily

A scene from the first episode:

weird undergarment

Could women from ancient Rome really wear an undergarment such as this?

  • 10
    The first phrase every grade-school Latin student learns is "semper ubi sub ubi" – T.E.D. Nov 1 '16 at 18:26
  • 3
    Why couldn't they wear such an undergarment, if they chose? Also, 'Roman' is a pretty long span of time ~500 years of the Republic, followed by ~450 years of the Western Empire - during which fashions and available materials would have changed, just as they do today. Then there's geography and wealth to be considered... – jamesqf Nov 1 '16 at 18:55
  • 6
    @T.E.D.: After three years of grade-school Latin, I never heard that phrase before. – Pieter Geerkens Nov 2 '16 at 1:39
  • 9
    @PieterGeerkens - Appalling it is, the level to which our classics instruction has fallen. – T.E.D. Nov 2 '16 at 13:55
  • 3
    @T.E.D.did Master Yoda phrase that one for you? :P – bigbadmouse Apr 16 at 16:41
23

The commonest form of underwear was the subligaculum, a basic loincloth worn by men and women.

Most people wore the subligaculum under other garments. For example, men wore the garment under the tunica (shirt) or the toga, and women wore it under the stola, a long gown. But others wore the subligaculum alone. Common workers often labored wearing only a subligaculum, and Roman gladiators, warriors who fought for entertainment in Rome, usually fought wearing just a subligaculum.

Source: S. & T. Pendergast and S. Hermsen, Fashion, Costume and Culture, vol. 1: The Ancient World

As shown in the picture in your question,

Women also wear loincloths (and sometimes breast bands) and tunics. Two-piece garments resembling a bikini are popular when taking exercise at the baths.

Source: N. Bancroft Hunt (ed), Living in Ancient Rome

Underpants were not worn (these were a much later invention) and there is literary evidence (e.g. the poet Martial d.102/4 AD) that sometimes women didn't wear anything under a toga around the loins. Also,

There is no literary evidence stating or even implying that a Roman woman wore underdrawers.

Source: Kelly Olson, 'Roman Underwear Revisited' (The Classical World, Vol. 96, No. 2 (Winter, 2003)

enter image description here

"Mosaic from a bedroom at the Villa Romana del Casale, outside Piazza Armerina, Sicily (4th c. CE)." Image & text source: History From Below

A band of soft leather, called a mamillare, was sometimes used to provide support under or over the breasts.

mamillāre

Source: http://www.forumromanum.org/life/johnston_7.html

Wikipedia notes that,

Since the Romans regarded large breasts as comical, or characteristic of aging or unattractive women, young girls wore breast bands (fascia) secured tightly in the belief that doing so would prevent overly large, sagging breasts.

One should also include the tunica interior as an undergarment as this was often worn under the stola (tunica exterior) by married women. The tunica interior

was sometimes supplied with sleeves, and as it reached only to the knee did not require a belt to keep it from interfering with the free use of the limbs. A soft sash-like band of leather (strophium), however, was sometimes worn over it, close under the breasts, but merely to support them

tunica interior with strophium

Tunica interior with strophium. Source: http://www.forumromanum.org/life/johnston_7.html

Clothes, including underwear, were usually made of either wool or linen, but the elite would have been able to afford cotton (imported from India) and silk (from the Far East). Evidence for leather lower undergarments has also been found. Lots of sewing in garments was rare as it was difficult to do (needles were made of bone and hard to use).

One final point: what was underwear for a wealthy Roman was often all that a slave wore (subligaculum) while a poor Roman (or a young girl) would probably wear subligaculum and a simple tunic with no stola.

Other source

Aquincum Museum (Budapest) (Description of Gravestone of Pattevilla and his family)

6

This shows Roman woman exercising in a form of "bikini". Whether they wore these under everyday clothes I don't know.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.