An extract from Encyclopaedia Iranica with added links to illustrations & sources.

CLOTHING The Omayyad period (41-132/661-750).

Investigation of costume in the Omayyad period is hampered by the scarcity of surviving representations; furthermore, many of those that do survive are purely symbolic and do not reflect what was actually worn. For example, all the so-called “kings of the world” in a wall painting at Qoṣayr ʿAmra in Jordan, of the 2nd/8th century (Ettinghausen, 1972, p. 190 fig. 2), wear Byzantine robes. Similarly, the approximately contemporary stucco reliefs from Čāl Tarḵān-ʿEšqābād, near Ray, in which a king is depicted hunting boar in full Sasanian royal regalia (Thompson, pl. II/1-2), probably do not accurately record contemporary princely dress; more likely they express the wholesale adoption of Sasanian attributes of power.

Nevertheless, there is some evidence that styles of the late Sasanian period in Persia continued to be worn for some time after the Islamic conquest. For example, the costume worn by “Bahrām Gōr” in a relief from the same site probably reflects that of a contemporary man of high rank: It consists of a smooth, close-fitting tunic with a jeweled belt at the waist, a wide skirt with jeweled hem below the knee, and tight sleeves ending in rolled cuffs or bracelets at the wrists worn over smooth trousers ornamented with pearls (Thompson, pl. II/3-4). Deborah Thompson (p. 21) has compared this garb with that worn by Ḵosrow II Parvēz (r. 591-628) on the Investiture and Boar Hunt reliefs at Ṭāq-e Bostān (see iv, above); the absence of a central fastening in front is most closely paralleled in the robe in the investiture and those worn by the courtiers in the boar hunt (Fukai and Horiuchi, I, pl. V; Peck, 1969, pls. XV, XVI, XVII). Stiff, close-fitting decorated caftans (long, heavy, often richly decorated robes with long sleeves, worn belted) and smooth pantaloons appeared in Sasanian Persia only in the 7th century and continued into the post-Sasanian period, as attested on the reliefs at Ṭāq-e Bostān and on silver vessels attributed to the 1st-2nd/7-8th centuries (Fukai and Horiuchi, I, pls. XXXV, XXXIX; Harper, 1981, pls. 19, 21, 27, 33, 36; idem, 1978, pl. 25). The flat cap with beaded fillet worn by “Bahrām Gōr” is also paralleled in the Boar Hunt relief, where it is worn by the king and some of his courtiers (Fukai and Horiuchi, I, pls. XLVIII, LVII). As Prudence Harper has pointed out, this cap, which is not characteristic of Sasanian dress, may have been introduced by Ḵosrow II, for it was incorporated into the royal headdress in representations on his coins (Peck, 1969, p. 121).

The taste for richly decorated caftans seems to have spread through Omayyad domains. Remnants of a stucco figure known as the “standing caliph,” from the unfinished 2nd/8th-century palace at Ḵerbat al-Mafjar, north of Jericho, probably built during the reign of the caliph Hešām (r. 105-25/724-43), show a smooth, close-fitting garment with wide skirt and narrow sleeves, girt with a jeweled belt and worn over full trousers and soft boots (plate lxxxv; Hamilton, pl. LV/1). The central fastening recalls the king’s coat in the Boar Hunt relief at Ṭāq-e Bostān, which was also worn with ample pantaloons (Fukai and Horiuchi, I, pl. XLVIII). This type of heavy coat had a long history in Persia (see v, above). Although it was worn in the early Sasanian period (Herzfeld, 1941, p. 309 fig. 402), its form at Ḵerbat al-Mafjar is closest to that in the late Sasanian representations at Ṭāq-e Bostān, which are closely paralleled in turn by garments in wall paintings and sculpture of the 5-8th centuries at Central Asian and Afghan sites like Bāmīān, Qïzïl, Balalyk Tepe, Fondukistan (Fondoqestān) and Panjīkant (Panjīkaṯ; Rowland, pl. 57; T. T. Rice, figs. 83, 97, 157, 179; Belenitsky, 1968, fig. 143; see v, vi, above). Enough of the upper torso of the “standing caliph” has survived to suggest that the coat closed diagonally across the chest, from right to left. This type of closing recalls those on 4th or early 3rd-century b.c.e. tunics and jackets found at the Siberian site of Pazyryk, as well as rare Parthian and Sasanian examples (see iii, iv, above). The caftan worn by the standing caliph probably had lapels like those on the garments of smaller stucco figures from Ḵerbat al-Mafjar; (Hamilton, pl. XXXVI/6); this feature is also more closely linked with the caftans of Central Asia than with those represented at Ṭāq-e Bostān. The fastening, hem, and vertical slits on the sides of the skirt are edged with pearls, emphasizing the slightly pointed dip of the hem at the sides. The form of the skirt and the vents, suitable to a riding coat, are also known from late and post-Sasanian representations (Fukai and Horiuchi, I, pls. XXXV, XXXIX; Harper, 1981, pls. 19, 27, 36). The wide trousers, gathered at the ankles, hark back to Sasanian styles continued from Parthian and Kushan dress of the 2nd century c.e. (Kawami, pl. 31; Ghirshman, 1962, pp. 56 fig. 70, 155-56 fig. 197; Rosenfield, pls. 22, 120; Harper, 1981, pls. 10, 13, 16).

The dress of the “standing caliph,” which seems clearly to have been inspired by Sasanian and Central Asian models, is paralleled by a fur-lined green-silk caftan decorated with a pattern of sīmorḡs (legendary creatures generally represented in the art of this period as having the front quarters of quadrupeds combined with wings and peacocks’ tails) in roundels from a burial of the late 2nd/8th or early 3rd/9th century at Moshchevaya Balka in the northwest Caucasus and now in the Hermitage, Leningrad (Jeroussalimskaja, pls. I, XIII). It was probably worn belted over a lighter tunic, trousers, and soft leather shoes (Jeroussalimskaja, p. 186). This find provides evidence not only on the construction of early caftans but also on how they were fastened. The closing of the caftan, which was vertical, rather than diagonal, was from right to left in the Persian manner, as at Ḵerbat al-Mafjar, with small lapels (Figure 62); A. Jeroussalimskaja (p. 205) has noted that Chinese garments were wrapped in the opposite direction and that the Chinese considered a closing to the left characteristic of barbarians. The coat was fastened symmetrically by three or four pairs of tabs fastened to the right panel with covered buttons and containing buttonholes for a matching set of buttons on the left panel. A hidden button secured the waist, but the wide skirt, constructed of several panels of material, was unfastened in front, and the sides were slit for freedom of movement. Jeroussalimskaja (pp. 203-06) related the form and decoration of this garment to those of the royal caftan represented on the Boar Hunt relief at Ṭāq-e Bostān and to Central Asian examples. Only the wide sleeves, made separately and stitched to armholes, differ. Better-preserved men’s garments from Moshchevaya Balka suggest that the sleeves were generally longer than the wearers’ arms; though identical in cut to the sīmorḡ caftan, they are made of humbler materials, linen with silk borders or sackcloth.

The persistence of Sasanian styles of dress during the Omayyad caliphate is further exemplified by a stucco relief of a ruler from the palace at Qaṣr al-Ḥayr al-Ḡarbī in Syria, probably also dating from the time of Hešām. A tunic, decorated down the front and around the hem with a pearl band and at the knees with rosettes, is worn over ample trousers with jeweled bands down the front (Schlumberger [Seyrig], 1939, pl. XLV/3). The hem of the tunic is pulled up on the sides, probably by straps, which are represented as borders on the sides of the garment (Schlumberger [Seyrig], 1939, p. 353). This detail recalls the apron-like skirts of Sasanian Persia, which appeared first in the 4th-century reliefs at Ṭāq-e Bostān and were depicted on Persian metalwork into the 2nd/8th century (Fukai and Horiuchi, II, pls. LXVI, LXVIII, LXX; Harper, 1981, pls. 16, 19, 24, 29, 36). The Sasanian fashion, ultimately derived from Parthian dress, must have been adopted so that the long tunic could be worn for riding (see iv, above). The jeweled pantaloons were also adopted by the Sasanians from styles in vogue in Parthia and Palmyra (Ghirshman, 1962, pp. 47 fig. 60, 56 fig. 70, 79 fig. 91; Harper, 1981, pls. 13, 14, 16, 38). The headdress of the stucco figure at Qaṣr al-Ḥayr al-Ḡarbī was described by Daniel Schlumberger [Seyrig] (1939, p. 328) as a flat cap with metallic fillet supporting a central jewel flanked by a pair of wings. The form recalls the caps depicted in the Boar Hunt relief at Ṭāq-e Bostān and in the “Bahrām Gōr” relief at Čāl Tārḵān-ʿEšqābād, but the wings were borrowed from Sasanian royal crowns.

Few depictions of nonroyal male figures have survived from the Omayyad period, but the late 2nd/8th-century finds from Moshchevaya Balka in the northwestern Caucasus provide evidence that men of lower social status probably wore garments similar at least in form to those worn by their rulers (Jeroussalimskaja, p. 203). In other stucco reliefs from Ḵerbat al-Mafjar riders of lesser rank wear stiff tunics over full pantaloons tucked into boots, a costume quite close to that of the “standing caliph” (Hamilton, pl. VII/2, 3, 7). Simple boots are most characteristic of Omayyad representations, though at Čāl Tārḵān-ʿEšqābād there is one example of boots with upturned toes (Thompson, p. 44, pl. IX/1). Figures of low social status are represented in the paintings of Qoṣayr ʿAmra with bare feet and legs and wearing simple short tunics with long or short sleeves (Almagro et al., pp. 182-86, pls. XXXIV-XXXVIII [53-58]). This tunic was ultimately derived from the Greek chiton, which was secured by a belt and then pulled up and folded over it, and recalls tunics worn by servants in the Boar Hunt relief at Ṭāq-e Bostān, which in turn must hark back to depictions of servants’ garments on Palmyrene reliefs (Fukai and Horiuchi, I, pl. LXXIV; Peck, pp. 104, 105). Male figures depicted either hunting on horseback or butchering onagers are clad in longer robes with wide sleeves, the hems tucked up for greater freedom of movement (Almagro et al., pp. 133, 178, 180, pls. XXX, XXXII [49, 50]). Such clothing worn with neither shoes nor boots seems to echo Hellenistic traditions of dress, rather than those of Sasanian Persia. More elaborate male outfits are worn by two fan bearers flanking the enthroned caliph (Almagro et al., pp. 158, 159, pls. Xb, XI [94]); they wear soft shoes, long robes with beaded collars, and mantles with elaborately patterned linings.

This costume is quite similar to that of a flute player depicted in a painting on the floor of a stairwell at Qaṣr al-Ḥayr al-Ḡarbī (Schlumberger, 1946-48, p. 89 fig. 4, pl. B), though the latter wears full trousers tucked into boots under his long belted caftan in violet cloth, with tight sleeves. The red of a tunic worn beneath shows at the cuffs and collar, and a long, transparent red cloak is worn over the whole. Flying ribbons and a jeweled scarf complete the costume (Schlumberger, 1946-48, p. 89 fig. 4, pl. B). Schlumberger (1946-48, p. 96) believed that this dress reflected Sasanian styles depicted on the reliefs at Ṭāq-e Bostān and on silver vessels, though in Sasanian art only royal or divine personages were shown wearing cloaks (see iv, above). The elaborate garments worn by the fan bearers at Qoṣayr ʿAmra and the flute player at Qaṣr al-Ḥayr al-Ḡarbī probably spread among both men and women of lower rank after the fall of the Sasanian dynasty.

In the main register of the same floor painting from Qaṣr al-Ḥayr al-Ḡarbī a hunter is shown wearing a close-fitting tunic with long sleeves similar to that in the “Bahrām Gōr” relief, though open below the waist to reveal trousers tucked into low boots (Schlumberger, 1946-48, p. 91 fig. 5, pl. B). The form of the robe is of Sasanian type, as are the knotted flying ribbons at the back of the head and the jeweled scarf fluttering from what is probably a leather belt (Schlumberger, 1946-48, p. 90, pl. B; Harper, 1981, pls. 10, 13, 15); as hunting was a royal pursuit, it is possible that a royal personage was being depicted.

Depictions of female dress surviving from the Omayyad period are even fewer than those of male dress. In a stucco relief of “Bahrām Gōr and Āzāda” from Čāl Tārḵān-ʿEšqābād the slave girl is shown in a close-fitting tunic with necklace, bracelets or rolled cuffs, full trousers, and small slippers. The dress falls in rippling folds, suggesting soft or transparent cloth, in contrast to the stiff textile of Bahrām Gōr’s caftan. Certainly the taste for close-fitting, diaphanous robes was already familiar in Sasanian times, reflected in representations of queens and goddesses on rock reliefs and of dancing girls on silver vessels (Ghirshman, 1962, pp. 173 fig. 215, 178 fig. 218, 215 fig. 256; Harper, 1978, pp. 60 fig. 18, 77 fig. 26). Trousers are not known to have been worn by women in the Sasanian period, however; they must have been introduced in imitation of male costume in the early Islamic period. Women wearing trousers are depicted on post-Sasanian silver plates (e.g., Survey of Persian Art IV, pls. 229A, 230B).

A more complex garment of approximately contemporary date is represented in the figure of a female lute player on the floor painting from Qaṣr al-Ḥayr al-Ḡarbī. A long white robe with narrow sleeves and a short overskirt is worn over an even longer green tunic. A violet mantle and soft shoes complete the attire (Schlumberger, 1946-48, p. 89 fig. 4, pls. B, XXV). The basic dress is reminiscent of Sasanian examples (Peck, 1969, pls. X, XI; Ghirshman, 1962, p. 218 fig. 259). The long cloak and multiple skirts were new fashions, worn also by female musicians on a post-Sasanian plate in the Hermitage (Survey of Persian Art IV, pl. 208A).

A woman’s headdress depicted on another fresco fragment from Qaṣr al-Ḥayr al-Ḡarbī consists of a low, cloth turban wound with a length of material surrounding the face, which could serve as a veil when necessary (Weiss, p. 433 no. 258 [257]). It is difficult to find earlier parallels for this turban, as few representations of Sasanian women other than queens and goddesses survive. Two harpists on the Boar Hunt relief seem to wear soft turbans, though damage to the surface has obliterated the details (Peck, 1969, pls. IXb, X; see iv, above, plates lxx, lxxi). The wound turban or ʿemāma (see ʿamāma) became the characteristic headdress of men in the Islamic world, and there is evidence that it was aready in use early in the Omayyad period (Masʿūdī, Morūj, ed. Pellat, IV, pp. 6-7; Ettinghausen, 1972, p. 30; Serjeant, p. 67).

In the wall paintings at Qoṣayr ʿAmra female figures appear in various styles of dress and undress. A flute player wears a long-sleeved garment patterned with floral roundels, diamonds, and flower sprigs (Almagro et al., p. 154, pl. VIb), reflecting the tradition of elaborately decorated female garments in the late and post-Sasanian periods (Fukai and Horiuchi, I, pls. LIX, LXIX, LXX; Ghirshman, 1962, pp. 215 fig. 256, 218 fig. 259). Dancers are shown either elaborately bejeweled but nude (Almagro et al., p. 175, pl. XXVIIc) or wearing draped blouses or sleeveless belted gowns with short overskirts, both costumes echoing classical attire (Almagro et al., pp. 154, 190, pls. V, XLIIc). The figure of Fortuna is also dressed in Hellenistic style, a draped robe with a veil drawn over her head (Almagro et al., p. 157, pl. IXb), whereas a “bacchante” is portrayed nude to the waist but adorned with collars, belts, and bracelets (Almagro et al., p. 157, pl. IXa). This alluring outfit is repeated on other Omayyad representations of courtesans and dancers: Stucco figures at the palaces of Qaṣr al-Ḥayr al-Ḡarbī and Ḵerbat al-Mafjar are shown nude to the waist and wearing elaborate torques with pendants, bracelets, anklets, and hair rosettes. Skirts, belted at the hips with twisted cords, are elaborately patterned; they are either pleated or wrapped like sarongs (Schlumberger, 1939, p. 354 fig. 25; Hamilton, pl. LVI/6-9). Although no such depictions survive in contemporary Persian sculpture, Schlumberger (1939, p. 354) compared them to representations on Sasanian and post-Sasanian silver objects. Certainly they call to mind the bejeweled dancers represented nude or in transparent, clinging robes on some vessels (Ghirshman, 1962, pp. 215-17 figs. 256-58; Grabar, pls. 19-23), but the style of the skirts is not known from Sasanian representations and seems peculiar to Omayyad and early ʿAbbasid art. In later times dancers were more discreetly clothed, with rare exceptions, for example, a drawing of a nude dancer (from Fatimid Egypt, probably 6th/12th century; Guest and Ettinghausen, pl. 12/43).

During the Omayyad caliphate dress for both men and women thus seems to have been derived in large part from the fashions of Sasanian and post-Sasanian Persia and Central Asia, though new elements had already appeared, for example, trousers and a complex arrangement of skirts worn by women. The clothing worn by rulers in sculptures from Qaṣr al-Ḥayr and Ḵerbat al-Mafjar suggests deliberate adoption of the attributes of power and authority associated with the vanquished empire.


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(Elsie H. Peck)




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