The Sassanian Empire
My research involved parsing the inventory of Kale Pakouriane from her last will and testament, found at the Iviron Monastery atop the Holy Mountain of Athos in what is present day Greece. Those who attended my class at Pennsic got a pretty exuberant breakdown of the project, and I will be repeating it at Great Western War in October, but here’s some of the basics as best as I can cram into a blog post. Including my fancy pie charts. Everybody loves pie charts!
The biggest issue I had with the will was the vagueness. The two charts below compile different types of data: the types of bequests, and beneficiaries. The reason why Iviron isn’t including in the beneficiaries is because it was different to fully extrapolate the percentage of Kale’s inventory that was left to the monastery, since she wrote it separately. I still think these charts demonstrate the depths of her material wealth, and the diaspora of her goods across social classes.
By this point, I had completely thrown the idea that I was in this to just make pretty clothes aside, and focused on some intense data on her relationships with her family and household. For example, while most of her prized clothing and objects went to her family members and clergy, tangible cash (pounds of gold), and livestock went to her freedmen household staff, while bolts of cloth ranging from blue velvets to lengths of dyed cotton (!!) went to her manumitted slaves. From what I gathered, her slaves were already freed by the time she wrote her will. More than likely following the death of her husband, Symbatios, and when she took holy orders.
Kale herself had an interesting story from what I could extract from legal documents. She was born Kale Basilikaina, and married Symbatios Pakourianos in the 1080s. Symbatios inherited Kale’s father’s title of Kouropalates, basically imperial household manager, and Kale therefore took on the title of Kouropalatissa. It appeared that the couple were relatively close to Alexios I due to impressive gifts given by the emperor to them. (A whole estate in Macedonia? K. Sign me up.)
Symbatios died in 1091 from an illness, after which Kale took on holy orders, and changed her name to Maria. Her mother and one of her sisters did the same upon their own widowhood. They lived together in her home in Constantinople, living in a consorority of sorts, but surrounded by the luxuries of Byzantine aristocratic life, it seems. I will have to do more work on such confraternities/sororities in Constantinople to see if I can gain more insight into this sort of arrangement, but I needed to stay on track. Kale drafted her will on November 4th, 1098. I could find no record on when she died.
Symbatios was buried at the Iviron Monastery, and stipulated in his will that Kale was to be interred with him. Unfortunately, Mount Athos was, and still is, off limits to women. So Kale stated in her own will, that she was to be buried where she died. Most likely in Constantinople. They had no children, which Kale seemed to be devastated about. My heart broke for her and Symbatios.
I found out that being a hopeless romantic is one of the worst things in the world as a practicing historian. My advisor was wonderful, and understood me and the love I gained for the Pakourianoi completely, but said to be careful. So, I had to keep my heart out of the paper, but I can certain throw it on the table here for this blog, as us SCAdians are, as a whole, a romantic breed. Which is why we do what we do.
I cried for this woman and her husband. I’m sure stress certainly played a part (and in the burning of an ulcer in my stomach, graduate school is hell) but there were actual, physical tears when the puzzle pieces came together. I found a couple that did in fact love each other, Kale’s tone in some of her bequests really echoes this. They were married young, clearly an arranged marriage, but had found true love in each other. Her life was devastated by the loss of her husband, and by not bearing him any children. I’m not sure about any miscarriages or infant mortality, as these incidents were not recorded, but considering she was probably about 13 or 14 when they were married, Kale and Symbatios were probably anticipating a long life together, that was abruptly ended by whatever illness swept through at the time. Granted, my romantic viewpoint is entirely conjectural and a product of my own imagination, but that didn’t stop my soapy emotional attachment. I fell in love with a couple, who have nothing left in our modern world, but a few pieces of paper with words on it found in the archives of a monastery.
Kale’s will, from Actes d’Iviron Vol. II
Symbatios’ will, from Actes d’Iviron Vol II.
Agios Vasilios cell near Iviron monastery, Mount Athos, Halkidiki, Greece. This is where Symbatios’ may have been buried.
The project itself culminated in the re-creation of selected garments from Kale’s inventory, and as you could imagine, I was tickled that I could make something orange. I’ve copied and pasted this section directly from my paper into this blog, since this is what people really want, anyway, the shinies, and not my romanticized sappiness.
ASSESSING AND RECONSTRUCTING KALE’S GARMENTS
The culmination of this project is the reconstruction of a sample of Kale Pakouriane’s wardrobe, and thus this study has shifted from the historicity of Kale’s material culture, into an exercise of experimental archaeology where her words on parchment are revived into true physical pieces. The purpose of this study is not just to stitch a set of stunning Byzantine garments, but also to bring a woman long gone from the world back to life through her costume so that a portrait of the aristocratic Byzantine woman of the late eleventh century can be made.
For this study, I have chosen four pieces from within her will in order to create a complete outfit: her orange garment, her purple mantle with the pearls, her green girdle, and her turban with gold designs. I will assess each garment and demonstrate the choices I have made through careful analysis of contemporary artwork, and the opinions of other historians.
The “Orange Garment.”
Kale’s vague descriptions of her garments make it incredibly difficult to determine what specific cut or style her dresses are supposed to be. Within her will, she uses the term himation as the descriptor for nearly every article of clothing, which poses a problem for those attempting to understand the variety of Byzantine dress. Himation is as clear of a descriptor as somebody referring to every top as a “shirt.” On the other hand, it also provides readers with an idea of what could be everyday vernacular when it came to describing one’s attire, much like we do in modern society. Asking a friend or a spouse to hand you your “blue dress” is more succinct than providing a narrative on the cut and materials. For this, it can be assumed that Kale was aware that her beneficiaries would know which garment was what as long as the basic description of color or material was included.
Timothy Dawson makes a valid assumption in that Kale would have been wearing the delmatikion, or dalmatic, with the exaggerated long and wide sleeves popular in eleventh century women’s court wear. Being that Kale was the kouropalatissa, and had the income for luscious imported silks, this dramatic dress in a bright, citrusy color shot with gold threads would have been guaranteed to turn heads and show off the luxury that she was afforded.
Before continuing on the cut and structure of this gown, the issue of the translation of the color needs to be addressed. The Romanized transcription of the term within Kale’s will is kitrinon, which the King’s College translation attests to “of yellow.” This is not incorrect, as the modern Greek word remains the same. Dawson, on the other hand, translates the term into orange. It is possible that the word could have a double meaning, much like purpura in Latin which could mean any color on the spectrum from red to purple, so Dawson should receive the benefit of the doubt for his assumption that Kale’s dress may have been orange. Both colors could have been achieved using period dyestuffs, including murex, through the skilled use of light sensitivity and various mordants by an expert dyer. The assumption that the material was samite is based on the inclusion of the word hexamiton, the compound twill weave that would have resulted in a weft-faced structure creating intricate brocade patterns. For the sake of this exercise, an orange-yellow-gold silk brocade was used to create the garment.
Returning to the cut and fit of the delmatikion, the long, wide wristed sleeves have already been mentioned. Existing artwork from the eleventh and twelfth centuries show this style of gown to be full length, and not of a tailored fit. Contrasting colored bands of trim were commonly seen on the upper arm, sleeve openings, and bottom hem. Necklines could vary wildly, from extremely close and high-necked with no embellishment, such as in the donor portrait of Irene Gabras, to a heavily embellished v-neck as seen in a manuscript showing the Dance of Miriam. The latter is used heavily by Dawson in his support of a sailor-like collar on the v-neck and a flat placket falling on the upper back, which does not seem evident when I examine the manuscript, and compare it to others that show comparatively decorated yokes. It can be assumed that what is actually being shown is a decorative facing, rather than any sort of floating collar. The facing would not only serve as embellishment, but also as a way to conceal and protect raw edges at the neckline. A square or v-shaped facing would then be much easier to turn under and stitch down to secure the raw edges, versus the labor-intensive round facing, which was also popular. Dawson’s citation of the Smyrna Octateuch folio showing the virgin and the unicorn may give more insight into this sailor-collar idea, but it still comes across more as an open lapel, rather than the long flap across the back of the shoulder. Unfortunately, the Smyrna Octateuch has been lost, and all that remains are aging photographs. Either way, it does not appear to have been a popular look beyond a handful of images. Most artwork supports a tighter fitting neckline.
The overall shape of the gown appeared to be A-line, which would naturally facilitate a greater range of movement, as well as require more fabric, which would then equate to more wealth. For this exercise, I have developed a simple pattern using the bolt width of the silk plus added gores to achieve the desired hem width. This is a technique seen in a contemporary extant garment from Palermo dated to the twelfth century. Bands of blue fabric with gold embroidery were used for the contrasting effect of the typical trim patterns shown in contemporary artwork, and the sleeves were lined with a light gold silk, also mimicking period trends. Beneath this, Kale would have worn a garment known as a khiton or kamision. Very little of this undergarment is shown in manuscripts aside from the occasional decorative cuff, which attests to a more fitted silhoulette. The kamision supporting this delmatikion is red linen, with silk and embroidered trim embellishments. It is based on the shape of tunic within the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The “Purple Mantle with the Pearls.”
This mantle is of considerably less controversial structure than the delmatikion, but the resulting garment is far more dramatic, much like the original must have been. The defining factor here is understanding the various terms for mantles and cloaks during the Byzantine period, and defining their differences. Kale lists this piece as a mandyas, rather than a sagion, or the previously mentioned veritably unique thalassa. Most importantly, it is not a khlamys, the semi-oval cloak that appeared to be strictly reserved for imperial wear only. The primary differences between a mandyas and sagion seem to be length, and possibly decoration.
The most convincing evidence I have found that shows a woman robed in the mandyas is the image of Saint Pelagia from the Menologion of Basil II, dated to the early eleventh century. Here, you can see that is it of an ornate material, with a band of trim running the entire front opening including behind the wearer’s neck, and clasped at the chest. This is achieved with a semi-circular or semi-oval shape similar to that of a khlamys, though the khlamys, aside from being worn only by the emperor and occasionally the empress, was fastened at the right shoulder, versus in the center of the chest.
For this project, Kale’s mandyas is constructed of a semi-oval cut of purple and red shot ecclesiastical vestment silk brocade, which mimics the rich silks that would have been exclusively produced by the imperial workshops in support of the hypothesis that this garment was a gift from Alexios I. The straight edge is embellished with a red and gold trim, and large freshwater pearls. Multiple smaller freshwater pearls dot the surface of the shell of the mantle to add to the decadence, and it is lined in a rich red dupioni silk to provide contrast, in addition to adding to the value of the garment by using another prohibitively expensive dye color that could be achieved by murex, or the kermes insect.
The “Green Girdle.”
Simple, but probably an essential piece of clothing should Kale have chosen to girt her gowns closer to her body. Again, vagueness takes its toll when she mentions nothing but a green zonarion in the same bequest to her sister as the purple mantle with the pearls. Very little evidence exists as to the appearance of belts and girdles during this period, other than the sashes worn by the women performing the Dance of Miriam, or the bunched waistline of Irene Gabras, both seen in the artwork used for the orange delmatikion. There is an elaborate fabric belt fragment currently in the collection of the British Museum, but it is dated over two hundred years after Kale’s life, and contains embroidery in Cyrillic text, which attests to a Slavic, rather than Greek provenance. It had to have been an impressive piece with considerable value for Kale to offer it as a bequest, therefore the interpretation needed to reflect this.
The zonarion for this exercise is composed of emerald green dupioni silk and made in a length similar to that shown in The Dance of Miriam. The outside has applied trim in golden peacocks, an animal motif that was exceptionally popular in Byzantium due to its association with paradise.
The “Turban with Gold Designs.”
Finally, we come to the one mention of head covering within the confines of Kale’s inventory, her fakiolion, or turban. She gives no color for the overall headdress, but does state that it has gold-work embroidery of letters or designs (grammata.) There is a great deal of pictorial evidence of both genders in Byzantium wearing turban-style head coverings, but women had a great deal of colors and embellishments. Kale’s fakiolion probably followed the common trend of being fringed, and having the loose ends of the wrap hanging on the side of the head. This would facilitate showing off the elaborate gold trim or other fine details that would enhance the overall richness of a completed outfit. The image of Saint Pelagia already mentioned has her as the center figure wearing this exact type of head wrap in blue fabric with rich gold decorations and what appears to be white fringe. Within the same manuscript, Saint Thessalonika wears a similar wrap with what appears to be sheer, fine fringe along the side of her face.
For this project, a fine linen and silk blend scarf was used. As artistic record dictates, these turbans were typically colored, rather than just being plain white, so the scarf acquired is orange, to match the delmatikion as what seemed to be popular at least in the depictions of the Menologion of Basil II. Rather than embroidery, gold openwork trim was applied at the ends, and along the long end of the scarf where the wrap would touch the forehead as shown on both Pelagia and Thessalonika.
A Note on Materials Used
Materials available today are vastly different than what would have been on the market during Kale’s lifetime, but some similarities remain. In order to complete this work, fabrics still had to be acquired from “The Silk Road”. The materials for the mantle and gown were purchased from a mill in India that manufactures sari silks, the scarf for the turban was woven by a specialty fabric seller in the Czech Republic, and the linings and belt materials were purchased from sellers within the United States that source from international manufacturers. So despite the fact that the silk merchants and guilds of Constantinople are long gone, the collection of garments is still worldly and imported. Kale may have found this exotic and luxurious, but the truth is that due to the size of her estates and amassed wealth, as well as rank and received gifts from the Emperor, Kale would have flaunted the finest domestic materials available.
It should be noted that the dupioni silks used in this exercise would have not been used. Aside from the weave being considerably modern, the slubbed texture would have made it quite inferior and unattractive for aristocratic wear. It was chosen for this project due to cost effectiveness, and variety of colors and effects available for the modern consumer. Shot silk, that is, fabric woven with a different color warp and weft to create an iridescent effect, was available.
The trims used are modern sari trims, available through a variety of craft sellers. Appliqued trim was extremely common, dating as early as the Coptic garments of Byzantine-controlled Egypt, though they were typically tapestry or inkle woven bands. These modern trims provide a convenience and a reasonable substitute for labor-exhaustive gold work spangles and embroidery. The same can be said for the gold ribbons applied to the turban. Kale’s will does not dictate whether these grammata were embroidered or applied, but this modern alternative feigns the look for the concept of creating the image, which is what the exercise was truly about.
Despite shortcomings in the authenticity of modern supplies and technology, this exercise successfully transformed vague inventory listings into plausible garments that were once a part of Kale Pakouriane’s wardrobe. Through these garments a snapshot of a life is created, and a glimpse of the opulent life of Kale can be visualized.
 Timothy Dawson, By the Emperor’s Hand: Military Dress and Court Regalia in the Later Roman-Byzantine Empire. (Yorkshire: Frontline. 2015.): 87
 Lefort, 179.27 for the original text, http://db.pbw.kcl.ac.uk/jsp/narrativeunit.jsp?NarrativeUnitID=23680 for the Narrative Unit from the Prosopography of the Byzantine World, run by King’s College in London.
 Dawson, “Women’s Dress in Byzantium,” 51.
 Muthesius, “Essential Processes.” 159.
 Susan Landry, “On the Possibility of Byzantine Velvets.” (2003.) Accessed March 28, 2016. https://veloutiere.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/byz-velvet-full.pdf..” 8.
 Appendix A, Figure 1.
 Appendix A, Figure 2.
 Dawson, By the Emperor’s Hand, Plate 17.
 Ibid.131 note 130.
 Appendix A, Figure 3.
 Dawson, By the Emperor’s Hand, 19, quoting Constantine Porphyrogennetos’ De Cerimoniis.
 Appendix A, Figure 8.
 Parani, 17-18. Parani discusses briefly in her chapter on the Imperial Costume that the empress was invested in the chlamys, but probably did not wear it otherwise.
 Ibid. 73.
 Appendix A, Figure 4.
 Appendix A, Figure 5, Here is Empress Theophanu from the Menologion of Basil II, wearing the khlamys in comparison to Pelagia’s mandyas from the same manuscript.
 Appendix A, Figure 6, a contrast lining is shown here on Anna Radene’s mandyas, only the solid color is on the exterior, while the ornate brocade is seen as the lining.
 Lefort, 179.22-23
 “The Branko Belt.” British Museum number 1990,1201.1.
 ODB, 1611.
 Lefort, 2.179.23. Parani 78. n.104.
 Appendix A, Figure 4.
 Appendx A, Figure 6, Parani 77 n.103. Parani also cites two other depictions of the fakiolion on Eudokia in Cappadocian churches, but I have been unsuccessful at locating photographs of the exact frescoes. Also, Appendix A, Figure 7.
 Dawson, “Women’s Dress in Byzantium,” 49, when he discusses possible definitions for the thalassa mantle.