Exploring Etruscan Clothing

Rauokinn Starradottir

Background

The Artist

I am a heavy fighter who likes to be creative through textile and other mediums. For most of the time I have played in the SCA, I have been focused on Viking-era clothing and culture; but I have always been fascinated by the Etruscan goldwork and art. The pandemic presented an opportunity for me to explore this area a bit more and try to figure out what the Etruscans would have worn and how to recreate it in a way for practical use at SCA events. This project also gave me the opportunity to shop and repurpose items into plausible accessories — and who doesn’t like to accessorize?

The materials and supplies I used for this project were mostly wool felt, wool fabric, linen fabric, silk fabric, metal findings, acrylic paint, silk and wool card woven trim, blockprinting stamps and various other odds and ends that i repurposed to accessorize.

Who were the Etruscans?

Etruscan civilization shown in greenish-yellow. Map wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org
/wiki/Etruscan_civilization

The Etruscans inhabited the modern day area of Tuscany, Italy from approximately the 7th century BC to the beginning of the Roman period. While we know them modernly as the etruscans, they called themselves “Rasenna.” The Etruscans are well known not only for their gold work, but also for the sometimes elaborate tombs they used to bury their dead. Some of the more elaborate tombs are richly decorated with frescoes that depict dancing, party scenes and Etruscan social life. These funerary paintings were what I initially used to get a sense of the aesthetic I was shooting for.

What did they wear?

A painting from an Etruscan tomb in Tarquinia showing a male wearing a tebenna in the uniquely Etruscan way with the rounded part in the front and the tails in the back. Photo by Mulan Nguyen (public domain)
Sven done
Etruscan male outfit made by me and modeled by Duke Sven. He is also wearing his tebenna in the characteristic Etruscan fashion of tails in the back.

The Etruscan clothing style has several distinctive characteristics — the mantle – called a tebenna — is often shown worn in a uniquely Etruscan way with the circular part in front and the tails in the back. Much of the Etruscan clothing had decorated borders, and the people wore pointed hats and pointed shoes. Fabrics used were mainly patterned wool (plaids and checks were popular) and linen. I chose to make outfits made of wool, linen and some silk accents so that they could be worn in the hot An Tir summer.

The male outfit I chose to create is composed of a pileus (hat), a tebenna (mantle), perizoma (long shorts or short pants), and an over and under tunic accessorized with a belt, bib necklace and pointed shoes. The female outfit I chose to create is also composed of a pileus, tebenna, a chiton and a peplos, accessorized with a belt, bib necklace, pointed shoes and a body chain. While many of the depictions of Etruscan clothing in the art from the era are of near naked humans, scholars believe that this was artistic license and symbolism and that everyday Etruscans did not run around with nothing but a tebenna on.

Etruscan tomb in Tarquinia: female dancer wearing tebenna. Photo: http://madeinatlantis.com/2016/04/all-about-the-etruscan-lifestyle/ (public domain)
Etruscan female outfit made by me and modeled by me. I am also wearing the tebenna with the tails in the back.

Because I had originally fallen in love with the Etruscan culture through the jewelry, it was important to me that the outfits be accessorized well in that regard. Many of the statues are depicted with bib necklaces, large disk earrings and cuff bracelets. I was able to find some “Etruscan revival” jewelry that was economical (i.e. not made out of gold), that worked really well in this regard. I additionally found some gold plated chains that looked Etruscan since both Sven and I are knights in the SCA and it is appropriate for us to wear fealty chains. While the chains are not depicted in the art a lot, the bib necklaces both of us have on, were a staple and are found throughout Etruscan art.

The “bermuda short” perizoma

While it is hard to see in the photos, the linen used to make the perizoma (shorts) Sven is wearing is white on white checked and I added a blue and yellow border of silk to the bottom. The Etruscans wore perizoma in various lengths and patterns from the shortest of the short that look like a speedo swimsuit, to longer lengths that resemble bermuda shorts.

Sven’s outfit also consists of an undertunic of white and gold brocaded linen/cotton edged in blue silk. The overtunic is made of a red linen, painted with a repeating/ diapered three dot pattern that is found in many of the funerary depictions. The red tunic includes a checked border decorated with metal findings.

A watercolour painting of the scene from the wall painting of the Francois Tomb at Vulci  4th century BCE, Vulci, Italy. (Painting by C.Ruspi, Vatican Museums, Rome)
A close up of Sven in his lion, gorgon and strawberry leaves tebenna.

The tebennas are really the star of the Etruscan outfit and I wanted Sven’s to be striking. It is made of a very thin blue wool assembled in a “u” shape, with a white linen twill border edged in red and checky silk bias tape. I then stamped the border with lions and gorgons based on Etruscan art. After stamping in acrylic paint, I handpainted the entire border so that it would be rich and detailed. In one of the Etruscan era frescoes, a man is depicted with a tebenna richly decorated with naked men and I wanted to emulate that on a more “G” rated level.

Rauokinn in progress
The women’s outfit in process. The tebenna is not decorated with the metal findings yet.

For the female outfit I am modeling, again I made the base layer chiton out of a brocaded linen/cotton and it is basically two squares of fabric edged in silk and connected at the top by buttons. the next layer is a short peplos made of green linen, block printed with octopus, edged in checky silk and decorated with metal findings along the collar. My tebenna is also u-shaped, constructed of an orange and pink shot linen stamped with gold lions and edged in green silk decorated with metal findings.

I made each of us two different hats — one that sits more atop the head like the men in the sculptural relief below, and another that is fitted more to the head, like the picture below of the woman in the frescoe. Practically, the pileus that perches on the top of the head is not easy to keep on and does not do much in the way of shading the face or keeping the head warm. The pointed pileus and/or tutulus (a conical twisted hat women wore and also the name of an Etruscan hairstyle — confusing!) were not the only type of hat worn by the Etruscan people. Throughout the centuries, Etruscans also wore a wide brimmed pestasos, which look a lot like a modern day cowboy hat or sombrero, feather crowns thought to be made of ostrich feather plumes, diadems and wreaths. I have a diadem to wear with my outfit as an alternative.

Etruscan-era tablet woven edge of tebenna recently discovered in Verucchio
http://tabletweaving.dk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/11-chapt-11.pdf

Details and Embellishment

There is historical evidence for the use of cardwoven trim, embroidery and decorative plaques as embellishment. Recently, a curved mantle with a cardwoven edge was discovered in a tomb in Verucchio. I used several cardwoven bands (2 of which I wove and one that was gifted to me and woven by Countess Saxa) to decorate the pileus’. I chose to paint some of the embellishment on the tebennas and tunics due to the massive amount of time embroidering would have taken. There are very few surviving textiles from the Etruscan period and while there is no direct evidence that they would have used decorative painting on their clothes, it was an acceptable compromise for me.

I used checked borders on both the male and female outer tunics, as well as the male tebenna, and additionally decorated the borders with metal plaques and contrasting colors. The intent was to make the garments look rich and give them depth with lots of pattern and texture like those depicted from the art of the time period.


What would I do differently?

I love a lot of things about these outfits. However, on my next set, I will likely use a different shape for the tebenna — there are more than a dozen shapes thought to be used for the Etruscan tebenna — I used a “u-shape” to really accentuate the “u shape” worn low on the chest and the distinct tails worn on the back like those that are depicted in the funerary paintings. While the u-shape is plausible and is mentioned in Bonaparte’s book, I think the tebennas would be a bit more versatile as crescents (also listed in Bonaparte’s book). I also would look into perhaps using more cardwoven trim. To see process photos of the outfits, you can go to my facebook photo album, “Etruscan” —https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10221826673029602&type=3 . To see more inspiration photos, you can visit my Etruscan board on pinterest — https://www.pinterest.com/rauokinn/etruscan/ .

In any event, this was a fun project and it was really interesting to look into the clothing of a culture that is not often portrayed in the SCA. I am really looking forward to having events again, so we can try the outfits out in the heat of summer.

Citations

  • https://www.wmf.org/project/etruscan-painted-tombs-tarquinia#:~:text=These%20tombs%20in%20Tarquinia%20represent,bring%20Etruscan%20civilization%20to%20life.
  • http://www.mysteriousetruscans.com/lifestyle.html#Fashion
  • Featured Image: Wall Painting from the Etruscan Tomb of the Lionesses at Tarquinia (530-520 BCE). Photo by Yann Forget – January 2017 – in the public domain. (https://www.worldhistory.org/image/6262/musicians-wall-painting-tarquinia/)
  • https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1018/etruscan-clothing/ (accessed 05/04/2021)
  • Turfa, Jean MacIntoish and Gleba, Margarita, 2005, A critique of Etruscan Dress Updated (https://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2005/2005.04.60/ (accessed 05/04/2021))
  • Nagy, Helen, October 2006, A review of Etruscan Dress Updated Edition,” American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 110, No. 4 (https://www.ajaonline.org/book-review/469 (accessed 05/04/2021))
  • https://www.tabletweaving.dk/research/reconstructions/verucchio/ (accessed 05/04/2021)
  • Gleba, Margarita and Mannering, Ulla, “Textiles and Textile Production in Europe form Prehistory to AD 400,” 2012 Oxbow books, at pps. 254 – 263 (http://tabletweaving.dk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/11-chapt-11.pdf)
  • Bonfante, Larissa, 2003, Etruscan Dress, Updated Edition, The Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Verri, Giovanni; Gleba, Margarita, et al., “Etruscan women’s clothing and its decoration: the polychrome gypsum statute from the ‘Isis Tomb’ at Vulci,” 2014, The British Museum Technical Research Bulletin, Vol.8, pps. 59 – 71

3 Replies to “Exploring Etruscan Clothing”

  1. Because I did not actually make any of the jewelry accessories (i just repurposed things), I did not focus on them in the photos. If you are interested in Etruscan goldwork (and who wouldn’t be?), you should check out:

    https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/256976

    https://collections.dma.org/search/etruscan

    among other museums. I do think I will likely make myself a couple of more outfits and will continue to repurpose costume jewelry into the etruscan aesthetic; I have never really thought about learning metalwork myself, but that could change.

    And thank you for info on the block printing connections.

  2. This is amazing and I loved how you were able to re-create these clothing items that have never seen. I agree accessories tend to be the best part especially Jewelry. I would have loved to have seen a few more examples of the original jewelry, but this gives me a good excuse to search more museums for examples.

    If you are looking for more information on if printing was used Aveline de Ceresbroch from the Harpy and the Hag continues to do research on fabric printing and may be able to help point you in a direction.

    Are you planning on making more clothing and jewelry from this culture?

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