Costume, Oriental

Costume, Oriental The subject of the style of dress of the ancient Hebrews is involved in much obscurity and doubt. Sculptured monuments and coins afford us all needful information respecting the apparel of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans; and even the garb worn by the barbarous nations is perpetuated in the monuments of their antagonists and conquerors. But the ancient Hebrews have left no monuments, no figures of themselves; and the few figures which have been supposed to represent Jews in the monuments of Egypt and Persia are so uncertain that their authority remains to be established before we. can rely upon the information which they convey. There are, however, many allusions to dress in the Scriptures, and these form the only source of our positive information. They are often, indeed, obscure, and of uncertain interpretation, but they are invaluable in so far as they enable us to compare and verify the information derivable from other sources.

1. The range of inquiry into monunental costume is very limited. It is a common mistake to talk of "Oriental costume" as if it were a uniform thing, whereas, in fact, the costumes of the Asiatic nations differ far more from one another than do the costumes of the different nations of Europe. That this was also the case anciently is shown by the monuments, in which the costumes of Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Medes, Syrians, and Greeks differ as much from one another as do the costumes of the modern Syrians, Egyptians, Arabs, Turks, and Persians. It is therefore nearly useless to examine the monumental costume of any nation; remote from Palestine, for the purpose of ascertaining the costume of the ancient Hebrews. Syria, Arabia, Egypt, and, to some extent, Assyria, Persia, and Babylonia, are the only countries where monuments would be likely to afford any useful information; but Arabia has left no monumental figures, and Syria none of sufficiently ancient date, while those of Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia depict few scenes of social life; and it is left for Egypt to supply nearly all the information likely to be of use. But the Egyptians and the Hebrews were an exceedingly different people; and the climates which they inhabited were also so different as to necessitate a greater difference of food and dress than might be presupposed of countries so near to each other. It is true that the Jewish nation was cradled in Egypt; and this circumstance may have had some influence on ceremonial dresses and the ornaments of women; but we do not find that nations circumstanced as the Jews were readily adopt the costumes of other nations, especially when their residence in Egypt was always regarded by them as temporary, and when their raiment was of home manufacture — spun and woven by the women from the produce of their flocks (Ex 35:25). We find also that, immediately after leaving Egypt, the principal article of dress among the Hebrews was some ample woolen garment, fit to sleep in (Ex 22:27), to which nothing similar is to be seen among the costumes of Egypt.

2. With respect to the supposed representation of Jews in ancient monuments, if any authentic examples could be found, even of a single figure, in the ancient costume, it would afford much satisfaction, as tending to elucidate many passages of Scripture which cannot at present be with certainty explained. (See also under the article BRICK.)

(a.) A painting at Beni Hassan represents the arrival of some foreigners in Egypt, and is supposed to figure the arrival of Joseph's brethren in that country. The accessories of the scene, the physiognomies of the persons, and the time to which the picture relates, are certainly in unison with that event; but other circumstances are against the notion. Sir J. G. Wilkinson speaks hesitatingly on the subject; and, until some greater certainty is obtained, we may admit the possible correctness of the conjecture. The annexed cut shows the variety of costume which this scene displays. All the men wear sandals. Some of them are clad only in a short tunic or shirt, with close sleeves (fig. 3); others wear over this a kind of sleeveless plaid or mantle, thrown over the left shoulder, and passing under the right arm (fig. 2). It is of a striped and curiously figured pattern, and looks exceedingly like the fine grass woven cloth of the South Sea. Others have, instead of this, a fringed skirt of the same material (fig. 1). All the figures are bare- headed, and wear beards, which are circumstances favorable to the identification. The fringed skirt of fig. 1 is certainly a remarkable circumstance. Moses directed that the people should wear a fringe at the hem of their garments (Nu 15:38); and the probability is that this command merely perpetuated a more ancient usage.

(b.) This fringe reappears, much enlarged, in the other Egyptian sculpture in which Jews are supposed to be represented. These are in a tomb discovered by Belzoni, in: the valley of Bab el-Meluk, near Thebes. There are captives of different nations, and among them four figures, supposed to represent Jews. The scene is imagined to commemorate the triumphs of Pharaoh-Necho in that war in which the Jews were defeated at Megiddo, and their king Josiah slain (2Ch 35; 2Ch 36).

(c.) On the face of a rock at Behistun (q.v.), on the Median border of the ancient Assyria, there is a remarkable sculpture representing a number of captives strung together by the neck, brought before the king and conqueror, who seems to be pronouncing sentence upon them. The venerable antiquity of this sculpture is unquestionable; and Sir R. K. Porter was led to fancy that the sculpture commemorates the subjugation and deportation of the ten tribes by Shalmaneser; king of Assyria (2Ki 17:6). The reasons which he assigns (Travels in Persia, 2:159 sq.) for this conclusion are of little weight, and not worth examination. But the single fact that the figures are arrayed in a costume similar to the ancient and present garb of the people of Syria and Lebanon inclines us to think that the figures really do represent the costume of nations west of the Euphrates, including, probably, that of the Jews and their near neighbors. The dress here shown is a shirt or tunic confined around the waist by a strap or girdle; while others have a longer and larger robe, furnished with a spacious cape or hood, and, probably, worn over the other.

There is no reason to think that the dress of the Jews was in any important respect different. from that of the other inhabitants of the same and immediately bordering countries. It would therefore be satisfactory, and would enable us to judge better of the figures which have been noticed, if we had representations of Canaanites, Phoenicians, Syrians, Moabites, etc., by the Egyptian artists, who were so exact in discriminating, even to caricature, the peculiarities of nations. Under the article. ARMOR SEE ARMOR there is a supposed figure of a Canaanite warrior from this source. The dress, being military, does not afford much room for comparison in the present instance; but we at once recognize in it most of the articles which formed the military dress of the Hebrews. The annexed figures, however, convey more information, as they appear to represent inhabitants of Samaria and Lebanon. The evidence for the last (fig. 2) is as conclusive as can be obtained, for not only is there the name "Lemanon" (m being constantly interchanged with b), but the persons thus attired are represented as inhabiting a mountainous country, and felling fir trees to impede the chariots of the Egyptian invaders. The dresses are similar to each other, and this similarity strengthens the probability that the dress of the Jews was not very different; and it is also observable that it is similar to the full dress of some of the figures in the sculpture at Behistun: the figures are bearded, and the cap, or head-dress, is bound round with a fillet. The figures are arrayed in a long gown reaching to the ankles, and confined around the waist by a girdle; and the shoulders are covered by a cape, which appears to have been common to several nations of Asia. At first view it would seem that this dress is different from those already figured. But, in all probability, this more spacious robe is merely an outer garment, covering the inner dress which is shown in the figures that seem more scantily arrayed. (See the ingenious papers by a lady on the costumes of the ancient Canaanites in the Jour. of Sac. Lit., Jan. 1853, p. 291 sq., and the cuts in the No. for April, 1854.) SEE CANAANITE; SEE LEBANON.

3. The information on this subject to be obtained from tradition is embodied —

(1.) In the dresses of monks and pilgrims, which may be traced to an ancient date, and which are an intended imitation of the dresses supposed to have been worn by the first disciples and apostles of Christ.

(2.) The garb conventionally assigned by painters to scriptural characters, which were equally intended to embody the dress of the apostolical period, and is corrected in some degree by the notions of Oriental costume which were collected during the Crusades.

To judge of the value of these costumes, we must compare them, first; with the scanty materials already produced, and then with the modern costumes of Syria and Arabia. The result of this examination will probably be that these traditional garbs are by no means bad reminiscences of Hebrew costume; and that the dresses which the painters have introduced into scriptural subjects are far more near to correctness than it has latterly been the fashion to suppose. It is perhaps as nearly as possible a just medium between the ecclesiastical tradition and the practical observation. No dress more suitable to the dignity of the subjects could possibly be devised; and, sanctioned as it has been by long use, and rendered venerable by scriptural associations, we should be reluctant to see it exchanged for the existing Oriental costumes, which the French artists have begun to prefer. But this is only with regard to pictorial associations and effects; for, in an inquiry into the costume actually worn by the Israelites, modern sources of information must be by no means overlooked.

4. The value of the modern Oriental costumes for the purposes of scriptural illustration arises from the fact that the dress, like the usages, of the people is understood to be the same, or nearly the same, as that used in very ancient times. But this must be understood with some limitations. The dress of the Turks is distinctive and peculiar to themselves, and has no connection with the aboriginal costumes of Western Asia. The dress of the Persians has also been changed almost within the memory of man, that of the ruling Tartar tribe having been almost invariably adopted; so that the present costume is altogether different from that which is figured by Sir Thomas Herbert, Chardin, Le Bruyn, Niebuhr, and other travelers of the 17th and 18th centuries. But with the exceptions of the foreign Turkish costume and its modifications, and with certain local exceptions, chiefly in mountainous regions, it may be said that there is one prevailing costume in all the countries of Asia between the Tigris and Mediterranean, and throughout Northern Africa, from the Nile to Morocco and the banks of the Senegal. This costume is essentially Arabian, and owes its extension to the wide conquests under the first caliphs; and it is through the Arabians- the least changed of ancient nations, and almost the only one which has remained as a nation from ancient times that the antiquity of this costume may be proved. This is undoubtedly the most ancient costume of Western Asia; and while one set of proofs would carry it up to scriptural times, another set of strong probabilities and satisfactory analogies will take it back to the most remote periods of scriptural history, and will suggest that the dress of the Jews themselves was very similar, without being strictly identical.

We may here remark,

(1.) That the usages of the Arabians in Syria and Palestine are more in agreement with those of Scripture than those of any other inhabitants of those countries.

(2.) That their costume throws more light on the scriptural intimations than any other now existing, while it agrees more than any other with the materials supplied by antiquity and by tradition.

(3.) That the dress which the Arabian garbs gradually superseded in Syria and Palestine was lot the same as that of scriptural times, excepting, perhaps, among the peasantry, whose dress appears to have then differed little from that of the Arabian conquerors. The Jews had for above five centuries ceased to be inhabitants of Palestine; and it is certain that during the intermediate period the dress of the upper classes — the military and the townspeople — had become assimilated to that of the Greeks of the Eastern empire. Arabia had meanwhile been subjected to no such influences, and the dress which it brought into Syria may be regarded as a restoration of the more ancient costume, rather than (as it was in many countries) the introduction of one previously unknown.

It is to be observed, however, that there are two very different sorts of dresses among the Arabians. One is that of the Bedouin tribes, and the other that of the inhabitants of towns. The distinction between these is seldom clearly understood or correctly stated, but is of the utmost importance for the purpose of the present notice. Instead, therefore, of speaking of the Arabian costume as one thing, we must regard it as two things — the desert costume and the town costume. If, then, our views of Hebrew costume were based on the actual costume of the Arabians, we should be led to conclude that the desert costume represented that which was worn during the patriarchal period, and until the Israelites had been some time settled in Canaan; and the town costume that which was adopted from their neighbors when they became a settled people.

(a) The annexed cut represents, in fig. 2, a Bedouin, or desert Arab, in the dress usually worn in Asia; and fig. 1 represents a townsman in a cloak of the same kind, adopted from the Arabs, and worn very extensively as an outermost covering in all the countries from the Oxus (for even the Persians use it) to the Mediterranean. The distinctive head-dress of the - Bedouin, and which has not been adopted by any other nation, or even by the Arabian townsmen, is a kerchief (keffeh) folded triangularly, and thrown over the head so as to fall down over the neck and shoulders, and bound to the head by a band of twisted wool or camel's hair. The cloak is called an abba. It is made of wool and hair, and of various degrees of fineness. It is sometimes entirely black, or entirely white, but is more usually marked with broad stripes, the colors of which (never more than two, one of which is always white) are distinctive of the tribe by which it is worn. The cloak is altogether shapeless, being like a square sack, with an opening in front, and with slits at the sides to let out the arms. The Arab who wears it by day, sleeps in it by night, as does often the peasant by whom it has been adopted; and in all probability this was the garment similarly used by the ancient Hebrews, and which a benevolent law, delivered while Israel was still in the desert, forbade to be kept in pledge beyond the day, that the poor might not be without a covering at night (Ex 22:27). This article of dress appears to have been little known to Biblical illustrators, although it is the principal and most common outermost garment in Western Asia. This singular neglect has arisen from their information being chiefly derived from Shaw and others, who describe the costume of the Arab tribes or Moors of Northern Africa, where the outer garment is more generally the bournoos (fig. 3), a woolen cloak, not unlike the abba, but furnished with a hood, and which is sometimes strangely confounded, even by well-informed persons, with a totally different outer garment worn in the same regions, usually called the hyke, but which is also, according to its materials, quality, or color, distinguished by various other names; and writers have produced some confusion by not observing that these names refer to an article of raiment which under all these names is essentially the same. Regardless of these minute distinctions, this part of dress may be described as a large woolen blanket, either white or brown, and in summer a cotton sheet (usually blue or white, or both colors together). Putting one corner before over the left shoulder, the wearer brings it behind, and then under the right arm, and so over the body, throwing it behind over. the left shoulder, and leaving the right arm free for action. This very picturesque mode of wearing the hyke is shown in fig. 2 of the accompanying cut. Another mode of wearing it is shown in fig. 3. It is sometimes thrown over the head as a protection from the sun or wind (fig. 1), and calls to mind the various passages of Scripture in which persons are described as covering their heads with their mantles (2Sa 15:30; 1Ki 19:13; Es 6:12). This article of dress originally borrowed from the nomades, is known in Arabia, and extends westward to the shores of the Atlantic, being most extensively used by all classes of the population. The seat of this dress, and of the abba respectively, is indicated by the direction of their importation into Egypt. The hykes are imported from the west (i.e. from North Africa), and the abbas from Syria. The close resemblance of the above group of real costume to those in which the traditionary ecclesiastical aid traditionary artistical costumes are displayed, must be obvious to the most cursory observer. It may also be noticed that the hyke is not without some resemblance, as to the manner in which it was worn, to the outer garment of one of the figures in the Egyptian family, supposed to represent the arrival of Joseph's brethren in Egypt.

(b) We now turn to the costumes which are seen in the towns and villages of south-western Asia.

In the Scriptures drawers are only mentioned in the injunction that the high-priest should wear them (Ex 28:42), which seems to show that they were not generally in use; nor have we any evidence that they ever became common. Drawers descending to the middle of the thighs were worn by the ancient Egyptians, and workmen often laid aside all the rest of their dress when occupied in their labors. As far as this part of dress was used at all by the Hebrews, it was doubtless either like this, or similar to those which are now worn in Western Asia by all, except some among the poorer peasantry, and by many of the Bedouin Arabs. They are of linen or cotton, of ample breadth, tied around the body by a running string, or band, and always worn next the skin, not over the shirt, as in Europe.

It will be asked, when the poor Israelite had pawned his outer garment "wherein he slept," what dress was left to him? The answer is probably supplied by the annexed engraving, which represents slightly different garments of cotton, or woollen frocks or shirts, which often, in warm weather, form the sole dress of the Bedouin peasants, and the lower class of townspeople. To this the abba or hyke is the proper outer robe (as in fig. 1, second cut preceding); but is usually, in summer, dispensed with in the daytime, and in the ordinary pursuits and occupations of life. It is sometimes (as in the foregoing cut, fig. 2) worn without, but more usually with a girdle and it will be seen that the shorter specimens are not unlike the dress of one of the figures (fig. 3) in the earliest of the Egyptian subjects which have been produced. The shirt worn by the superior classes is of the same shape, but of finer materials. This is shown in the accompanying figure, which represents a gentleman as just risen from bed. If we call this a shirt, the Hebrews doubtless had it — the sole dress (excepting the cloak) of the poor, and the inner robe of the rich. Such, probably, were the "sheets" (translated "shirts" in some versions), of which Samson despoiled thirty Philistines to pay the forfeit of his riddle (Jg 14:11,19). It is shown from the Talmud, indeed, that the Hebrews of later days had a shirt called חָלוּק, chaluk', which, it would appear, was often of wool (Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. on Lu 9:3), and which is described as the ordinary inner garment, the outer being the cloak or mantle. This shows that the shirt or frock was, as in modern usage, the ordinary dress of the Jews, to which a mantle (abba, hyke, or bournoos) was the outer covering.

The Talmud enumerates eighteen several garments which formed the clothing of the Jews from head to foot (Talm. Hieros. Sabb. fol. 15; Talm. Bab. Sabb. fol. 120), mentioning, however, two sandals, two buskins, etc. This shows, at least, one thing, that they were not more sparingly clad than the modern Orientals. This being the case, we may be sure that although persons of the humbler classes were content with the shirt and the mantle, the wealthier people had other robes between these two, and forming a complete dress without the mantle, which with them was probably confined to out-of-door wear, or ceremonial use. It is, of course, impossible to discriminate these precisely, but in this matter we cannot be far wrong in trusting to the analogy of existing usages.

In all the annexed figures, representing persons of the superior class, we observe the shirt covered by a striped (sometimes figured) gown or caftan of mingled silk and cotton. It descends to the ankles, with long sleeves, extending a few inches beyond the fingers' ends, but divided from a point a little above the wrist, so that the hand is generally exposed, though it may be concealed by the sleeve when necessary; for it is customary to cover the hands in the presence of a person of high rank. It is very common, especially in winter, for persons to sleep without removing this gown, but only unloosing the girdle by which it is bound. It is not unusual within doors to see persons without any article of dress outside this; but it is considered decidedly as an undress, and no respectable person is beheld out of doors, or receives or pays visits, without an outer covering. Hence persons clad in this alone are said to be "naked" in Scripture — that is, not in the usual complete dress; for there can be no manner of doubt that this, or something like this, is the כּתוֹנֶת, ketho'neth, of Scripture (Ex 28:40; Job 30:18; Isa 22:21, etc.). A similar robe is worn by the women, as was also the case among the Israelites (2Sa 13:18-19; Song 5:3). It is in the bosom of this robe that various articles are carried. SEE BOSOM.

The girdle worn over this, around the waist, is usually a colored shawl, or long piece of figured white muslin. The girdle of the poorer classes is of coarse stuff, and often of leather, with clasps. This leathern girdle is also much used by the Arabs, and by persons of condition when equipped for a journey. it is sometimes ornamented with workings in colored worsted, or silk, or with metal studs, shells, beads, etc. Both kinds of girdles were certainly in use among the Hebrews (2Ki 1:8; Mt 3:4; Mr 1:6; comp. Jer 13:1). SEE GIRDLE. It seems from 2Sa 20:8 (comp. fig. 1 above), that it was usual to wear a knife or poniard in the girdle. This custom is still general, and denotes not any deadly disposition, but the want of clasp-knives. Men of literary vocations replace it by an ink-horn, as was also the case among the Israelites (Eze 9:2).

Over the gown is worn either the short-sleeved gibbeh (fig. 3), which is a long coat of woolen cloth, or the long-sleeved benish (fig. 2), which is also of woolen cloth, and may be worn either over or instead of the other. The benish is, by reason of its long sleeves (with which the hands may be covered), the robe of ceremony, and is worn in the presence of superiors and persons of rank. Over one or both of these robes may be worn the abba, bournoos, or hyke, in any of the modes already indicated. Aged persons often wrap up the head and shoulders with the latter, in the manner shown in fig. 4.

This same hyke or wrapper is usually taken by pert sons going on a journey, for the purpose of being used in the same manner as a protection from the sun or wind. This is shown in the annexed cut, representing a group of persons equipped for travel. The robe is here more succinct and compact, and the firm manner in which the whole dress is girded up about the loins calls to mind the passages of Scripture in which the action of "girding up the loins" for a journey is mentioned.

From this it is also seen that travelers usually wear a sword, and the manner in which it is worn is correctly shown. It would also appear that the Jews had swords for such occasional uses (Mt 26:51; Lu 22:36).

The necessity of baring the arm for any kind of exertion must be evident from the manner in which it is encumbered in all the dresses we have produced. This action is often mentioned in Scripture, which alone proves that the arm was in ordinary circumstances similarly encumbered by the dress. For ordinary purposes a hasty tucking up of the sleeve of the right arm suffices; but for a continued action special contrivances are necessary. These are curious. The full sleeves of the shirt are sometimes drawn up by means of cords, which pass round each shoulder, and cross behind, where they are tied in a knot. This custom is particularly affected by servants and workmen, who have constant occasion for baring the arm; but others, whose occisions are more incidental, and who are, therefore, unprovided with the necessary cords, draw up the sleeves and tie them together behind between the shoulders (fig. 2).

For the dress of females, see the article WOMAN. Certain parts of dress, also, admit of separate consideration, such as the head-dress or turban (q.v.), and the dress of the feet or sandals (q.v.). See "The Book of Costume," ancient and modern, by a Lady, Lond. 1847; Prisse and St. John's Oriental Album, London, 1847; Costumes of Turkey, London, 1802; Lane, Arabian Nights, cuts; Perkins, Residence in Persia, plates; Ramboux, Erinner and Pilgerfahrt nach Jerusalem, Coln, 1854). Compare the article SEE DRESS.

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