Put A Pin In It

Edit: Some fantastic conversations have lead me to add a few clarifications to this piece, because Greek is already confusing enough!

I told my husband today that I needed to order new linen and wool because I’ve been doing it all wrong. The more you research, the more you realize that what is presented most commonly may not be accurate at all. I wrote this piece about how the Greeks girded their clothing, and the part I want to emphasize is that the shoulder harness seems to be used with the long-sleeved (aka Ionian) chiton only. It does not seem to be correct to wear with a peplos or a “tank top” (aka Doric) chiton. Sorry, I’ve done that, too.

Something that has been bothering me for awhile is this story by Herodotus in The Histories book 5 chapter 87 about why the Athenians adopted the Ionian dress. Only one Athenian male had survived an attack on Aegina and returned to Athens.

It would seem that he made his way to Athens and told of the mishap. When the wives of the men who had gone to attack Aegina heard this, they were very angry that he alone should be safe. They gathered round him and stabbed him with the brooch-pins of their garments, each asking him where her husband was. This is how this man met his end, and the Athenians found the action of their women to be more dreadful than their own misfortune. They could find, it is said, no other way to punish the women than changing their dress to the Ionian fashion. Until then the Athenian women (Ἀθηναίων γυναῖκες) had worn Dorian dress (ἐσθῆτα Δωρίδα), which is very like the Corinthian. It was changed, therefore, to the linen tunic (λίνεον κιθῶνα), so that they might have no brooch-pins (περόνῃσι) to use.

Silver, 4th century BCE, Greek, South Italian, Met Museum
Silver, 5th-4th century BCE, (Northern) Greek, Met Museum

Perone (περόνη singular, περόνῃσι plural) is the Greek word used here for brooch-pin and it means “to pierce.” Fibula is Latin. Most of us wear fibulae with our Greek garments and never think twice about it, and of course, there are Greek safety pins, but the way they are constructed would make it impossible to stab someone to death. So, what we gather from all of this is that these pins are not (or may not be) what held together “the Dorian dress” which is different from “the linen tunic.” It’s possible that a Doric chiton was made of linen, but it’s also possible it was made of wool, and we know that the peplos was frequently wool. Pictures of Doric chitons show the back coming up and over the front at the shoulder, much the way the peplos is attached. The book Body, Dress, and Identity in Ancient Greece also talks about these dangerous straight pins and uses this passage from the Iliad Book 5.375. In it, Aphrodite is wounded by Tydeus’ spear and Athena mocks her, saying she cut herself on an Achaean woman’s perone.

 [375] To her then made answer laughter-loving Aphrodite: “Tydeus’ son, Diomedes high of heart, wounded me, for that I was bearing forth from out the war my dear son Aeneas, who is in my eyes far the dearest of all men…[420] And among them the goddess flashing-eyed Athene was first to speak: “Father Zeus, wilt thou anywise be wroth with me for the word that I shall say? Of a surety now Cypris has been urging some one of the women of Achaea to follow after the Trojans, whom now she so wondrously loveth; and while stroking such a one of the fair-robed women of Achaea, [425] she hath scratched upon her golden brooch her delicate hand.”

This image of the “François-Vase,” also referenced by Body, Dress, and Identity in Ancient Greece, shows the pin fastening the shoulder of the peplos. (It is from this article, which is not related, but also fantastic.)Franois-Vase_Spinning-Fates.png

From this, I believe that the early peplos – the one that Athenians abandoned – and possibly the Doric chiton were pinned with longer pins, the kind you could stab someone with.

(Clarification: there is debate over what is a peplos and if the archaic peplos and the later peplos is even the same garment. I do not have a good answer for this at present, but I can direct the interested reader to The Fashion of the Elgin Kore. It would be most explicit to say we are talking about the Archaic peplos. The book Body, Dress, and Identity in Ancient Greece discusses the reemergence of the peplos in the Classical era as being fastened with buttons. I have no evidence for this at present, so that is simply being said to make it clear that the peplos we are talking about here has a later period version that this all might not apply to!)

These are examples of the kinds of pins that would have fastened a peplos and maybe a Doric chiton. The description of the first says it is broken on both ends, but the shaft is largely intact, so we can estimate that the length is roughly correct. It states it is missing a disc which is shown on the second example. The ball and disc style of ornamentation shows up from 8th century to 2nd. Others may have been in the form of a woman, frequently attributed to Aphrodite.

 86-009-1.jpgBronze, 7th-6th century BCE, Greece, .4″ diameter, 5.3″ long, RD Milnes Antiquities Museum 86-011.jpgBronze, 7th-6th century BCE, Greece, .35″ diameter, 3.3″ long, RD Milnes Antiquities Museum
 AN00268488_001_l.jpgGold, , 200-100 BCE, Syria, 5″ long, British Museum  AN01079195_001_l.jpgBronze, 8th-7th century BCE, 8.7″ long, British Museum
 AN00358878_001_l.jpgSilver, 7th century BCE, Greece?, 4.6″ long, British Museum  AN00034738_001_l.jpgGold plated bronzed, 2nd century BCE, Cyprus, 7″ long, British Museum

What is shocking is that it’s there, right in the description of the first example, “bronze dress pins were used to join together at the shoulders the two sides of the peplos, a garment made from a single length of woollen material,” and yet none of the articles I’ve read about how to dress like an Ancient Greek (intended for an SCA audience) make any mention about straight pins. So, these are my two take-away points:

  1. A peplos should probably be fastened at the shoulders with a straight pin. A Doric chiton should probably/maybe be fastened at the shoulders with a straight pin. An Ionian chiton should probably be sewn and made of linen.
  2. Much of the information out there is bad, and fashion myths are perpetuated when we read interpretations without questioning the primary source evidence.

(Edit: the origins of the Greek safety pin has lead me into another rabbit hole, so I’ve removed my comment on that until I have more substantial evidence to offer.)

4 thoughts on “Put A Pin In It

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