Sackcloth (שִׂק, sak, from its net-like or sieve-like structure; a word which has descended pure in the Greek σάκκος and modern languages) is the name of a coarse material, apparently made of goat's or camel's hair (Re 6:12), and resembling the cilicium of the Romans (Ge 37:34; 1Ki 20:31; 2Ki 19:1 sq.; Mt 11:21; Lu 10:13; comp. Josephus, Ant. 7, 1, 6; Porphyr. Abstin. 4, 15; Plutarch, Superst. c. 7). It was probably dark brown or black in color (Isa 1:3; Re 6:12; comp. the black dresses of the Greeks: Eurip. Alc. 440; Orest. 458; Helen, 1088; and Romans, Ovid, Metam. 6, 568; Tacit. Annal. 3, 2; Becker, Gallus, 2, 289; see Josephus, Life, 28). It was used for the following purposes:
(1.) For making sacks for grain, the same word describing both the material and the article (Ge 42:25; Le 11:32; Jos 9:4). Sacks are usually made of hair in the East; whence we may understand that where sackcloth is mentioned haircloth is intended.
(2.) This material was certainly employed for making the rough garments used by mourners (Es 4:17), which were in extreme cases worn next the skin (1Ki 21:27; 2Ki 6:30; Job 16:15; Isa 32:11), and this even by females (Joe 1:8; Joe 2 Macc. 3:19), but at other times were worn over the coat or kethoneth (Ton. 3, 6) in lieu of the outer garment. The robe probably resembled a sack in shape, thus fitting closer to the person than the usual flowing garments of the Orientals (Niebuhr, Beschreib. p. 340), as we may infer from the application of the term חָגִר,
to bind, to the process of putting it on (2Sa 3:31; Ezr 7:18, etc.). It was confined by a girdle of similar material (Isa 3:24). Sometimes it was not laid aside even at night (1Ki 21:27). Prophets and ascetics wore it over the underclothing, to signify the sincerity of their calling (Isa 20:2; Mt 3:4; see Wetstein, N.T. 1, 384 sq.). The Apocrypha intimates that this habit of sackcloth was that in which good people clothed themselves when they went to prayers (Baruch 4:20). The use of haircloth as a penitential dress was retained by the early Oriental monks, hermits, and pilgrims, and was adopted by the Roman Church, which still retains it for the same purposes. Haircloth was, indeed, called "sackcloth" by the early Greek and Latin fathers. It does not appear that sackcloth is now much used in token of grief in the East; but ornaments are relinquished, the usual dress is neglected, or it is laid aside, and one coarse or old assumed in its place (comp. Liske, De Sacco et Cinere [Vitemb. 1693]). SEE MOURNING.