Egyptian and Crete era: bifurcated garments within the Cretan culture

September 25, 2009

Egypt 3000 BC to 200 BC

The zeitgeist of Egypt was much different than that of the Assyrian culture. The Assyrians were physically more muscular and square, while the Egyptians were lean and graceful; the Assyrians were warriors and needed to constantly protect their territory, while the Egyptians lived in relative freedom from invasion.  The Egyptian culture was located on the Nile River and very much isolated from other cultures because of the Sahara Desert on the west side, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Red Sea to the East, and mountains to the south.  For 2500 years there were few cultural contacts and little change in the society. The Assyrian culture was in constant flux with changes in leadership, religions, and culture.

The Egyptian history is calculated according to Dynasties as well as years.  Dynasty I is dated 2920 BC,  pyramids were built during the III through VI Dynasties, Aknenaten (the first monotheist) and his wife Nefertiti ruled from 1378-1362 BC XVIII Dynasty, Tutankhamun also ruled in the XVIII Dynasty, Cleopatra VII ruled from 51-30 BC during the XXII Dynasty.  www.nefertiti.iwebland.com/dynasties.htm

The context of this course is not to divide the Egyptian culture into timeline  sections, but to see ancient Egypt as a whole.  Those interested in seeing the differences in garments as the culture moves from one Dynasty to another should consider focusing on that topic in your research paper.

The rulers, nobles and priestly classes maintained themselves as absolute power over the great masses of people.  They were a very ordered society relying on and having great respect for nature.  Egypt is located in a very warm atmosphere along the 600 mile run of the Nile River.  Most of the culture lives along this river and it plays a major role in their lives.  The Nile is neither calm nor violent, but it leaves its effect on the people.  From the overflow of the Nile rich soil is left from which the people can grow crops, if the overflow does not happen they exist in a famine period.  In many ways the Nile is Egypt:  it cares for them and provides them with food.  It is both mother and father to them.  In fact, the Egyptian Nile god, Hapi, is male but has female breasts.

Researchers have knowledge of the Egyptian culture due to the Rosetta Stone, a stone written in 196 B.C. that had two languages and three scripts (hieroglyphics, demotic, and Greek) written in it.  The Rosetta Stone was found by Napoleon’s army in 1803 but was confiscated by the British.  It took another 23 years for any one to decipher the hieroglyphics, Egyptian writing, on this stone.  See http://www.crystalinks.com/rosetta.html.

The Egyptians are a very calculating people, perhaps because they were forced to predict the Nile and had to foresee famines or periods of plenty.  They dealt with the every present contradiction of the Nile and desert.  The synthesized the old and new, never discarding but incorporating.  A good example is the pshent, the crown of upper and lower Egypt.  During the first and second dynasties, Menes united the kingdoms of upper and lower Egypt, and instead of discarding the crowns, united them.

Figure 2 depicts a statue wearing the crown of Lower Egypt and carrying a staff of authority.  Figure 3 is an illustration showing many common Egyptian motifs.  The three motifs in the upper right hand side show (from left to right) the crown of Lower Egypt, the crown of Upper Egypt, and the combined crown, the Pshent.

The Egyptians saw magic and nature in everything around them: life, animals, spirits, etc.  For example, birds were often thought of as the soul of men flying away.  Numerous animals were sacred, some regionally,(such as crockadiles were worshiped in Crockadopolis and some nationally, such as the scarab, the symbol of protection and often placed on the mummy’s head so during the last judgment he/she should not be found wanting.  In Figure 3 you should note the wasp symbol.

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Religion

They believed in life after death and that death would be a better continuation of the life on earth.  Therefore, they wanted to be prepared and take as much of what they had as possible.  Death was eternity and their tombs and pyramids were built to last a long time.  Houses, on the other hand, were temporary dwellings, made from unstable materials. However, they were spacious and beautiful.


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An interior in one of the late dynasty periods.  The architecture was very influenced by the Greeks by that time.  However the many details are decidedly Egyptian:  strong colors, papyrus and lotus motifs on the columns, statue of Isis wearing a white kalasaris, and a worker wearing a white schenti.

There were many gods and religious symbols which were based on images from nature:  Sun God, River God, vulture headdress, stylized beetle, cobra, etc.

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Textiles

Egyptians are known for their fine weaving.  As early as 2800BC tombs were found with linen fabrics with a count of 300 yarns per inch.  They wove rugs and fabrics, some embroidered and some woven in checkered patterns.  This was highly sophisticated.  According to some wall paintings there is evidence that they also printed some of their fabrics, but these patterns have not endured the environment although we see them on the tomb walls.  See Figure 10.

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The Egyptians did have the use of wool after the XVIII Dynasty, but it was considered unclean and not used widely.  In fact during some dynastic periods any animal fur was prohibited from being worn in the temples, but there is contradictory information that shows the priests and nobles using leopard skins within the temples.  (See Figure 36.)

Women’s clothing

The main garment for women was the kalasaris, a tubular garment extending under to breasts to the ground with one or two straps going from the top edge of the kalasaris over the shoulder.  The tightness would seemingly make this garment difficult to walk in, let alone do any work such as the woman carrying a basket

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During the later Dynasties, the women sometimes put a “second kalasaris” over the first one which was a fuller garment.  This was often worn alone and was called a gala gown.  It could be pleated as well, but was always made from finely woven linen.


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The Nile River is an important contributor to life (plentiful crops) and death (famine) as it provides the water for food.  The Egyptians revered the Nile as the giver of life, and in that same way appreciated the female as a giver of birth.  You will note in this depiction that the female body focuses on an extended tummy.

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The Egyptian people believed the body was beautiful and had no shame of nudity.  Therefore, their garments are revealing and no undergarments are mentioned. Often, the people wore no clothing at all, as in Figure 16 the children are nude. They bath frequently and are highly conscious of hygiene, cosmetics, and appearances.

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Men’s Clothing

The garment of most men was the loin cloth, a piece of cloth that wrapped around the lower body much like a diaper. (See Figure 23). However, the men also wore a schenti, which was fuller, extended to the knee and was often pleated in the front

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  • Upper row left side a man wearing a long schenti covered with an ureaus, a highly decorated piece of cloth that sits on top of the schenti.  In this case it is red and blue.
  • Egyptians did have chariots and horses, but these items were not common.
  • The archer in the second row is wearing a long printed tunic.  Contemporary costume historians do not know how they got into this garment since no knitted fabrics or references to knitting was known.  Generally tunics were short and are similar to the Assyrian kandys.
  • The bottom row of busts shows an assortment of headdresses.  Each is a symbol of a different status and/or occupation.
  • Note the postiche on two of the busts-extreme left on the bottom row and the top bust on the right hand side.  The postiche is the artificial beard.  You can see the straps that attach it to the ears.

A garment of mystery is the Triangular Extension, which was worn over the schenti and protruded out in the front, much like a pyramid.  It is uncertain how this garment was constructed or how it was held up.  It appears to be worn by men of rank.

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Hairstyles

Cleanliness and comfort were very important to the Egyptians.  It was common for both men and women to shave their heads and wear wigs that were designed to sit about ½ inch away from the head.  This allowed a cooling circulation of air to go over the scalp. See Figure 13 and note the very large black wig.  In addition, a shaved head was easier to clean.  While some of the wigs were made from human hair, other wigs were made from hemp and other fibers.  For people of weath, gold coverings or jewelry and beads might be added to the wigs.

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Some wigs contained a Horus lock, which was a section of hair that was longer than the other sections.  It was a religious symbol that indicated the loyalty of a son to his father, or loyal of children. See Figure 22.

The cloft, a piece of cloth, was used to cover the head.  This is what the famous sphinx is wearing.  It is also referred to as a Nemes Headdress

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The Egyptians believed in phrenology, the science of head shape reading (an actual course of study in 19th century European and American universities).  Therefore they (like some American Indian tribes, some European cultures, some African tribes) would often take pains to shape the head to the idealized shape.  See Figure  41.  Note the kohl and the pierced ears for those large earrings

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The Egyptian nobility, pharaohs, and gods wore fantastic headdresses that contained many of their religious symbols.

Vulture headdress

Winged globe

Ram’s horns

Facial hair was shaved as well.  However, men and women of importance and authority would wear a postiche, or false beard for state occasions.  The long, thin postiche was fitted to the chin and attached to the ears with straps. If the postiche was short and stubby it indicated men of royal rank, if long but straight and thick it indicated the pharaoh, and the gods or the “pharaoh as a god” wore the long postiche but curved at the end..  See Figures 39 and 40.

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Accessories

The broad neck collar is the most obvious accessory worn by both men and women.  It is a circular necklace made of faience (clay beads), shells, glass beads, semi-precious stones, hemp, and/or gold.  The materials of the broad collar vary widely, but the shape remains consistent.  It takes on a religious role in that it protects the neck from being separated from the body.  In the Egyptian religion, it was vital that a person be buried with all of their parts so that they could be reborn.  You could not be reborn without a head!

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The armbands were often worn on the upper arms, at the wrists, and at the ankles.  These were often inlayed as the knife handle below.

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The Egyptians were excellent craftspeople.  They were skilled in inlaying semi-precious stones and wood, woodworking, stone carving, pottery, clay, enamel, goldsmithing, alabaster.


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Some Religious Symbols

Feather – intellect, talent

Lotus – flower of upper Egypt, abundance  (See Figure

Papyrus – flower of lower Egypt, abundance (See Figure

Scarab – symbol of the Sun God, protector

Scroll – stylized Nile

Zig-zag – stylized Nile

Fly – military power (annoyance in the face of the enemy)

Emblem of Uraeus – four cobras, symbol of king’s power over life and death – www.shira.net/symbols.htm

Crook and Flayle – symbol of king’s right to impose justice (See Figure 3, second row 1st and 2nd images)

Asp, cobra, ureaus – royal power

Vulture headdress – power, authority

Anka, Key of life   www.touregypt.net/featurestories/ankh.htm (See Figure 3, second row, last image)

Eye of Ra and Eye of Thoth   www.tigtail.org/TIG/S_View/TVM/E/Ancient/Egypt/Egypt-info/egypt.gods_intro.html

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In art and life the Egyptians loved clarity of form retaining the long simple waist-cloth which did not obscure the natural lines of the body and preferring linen materials of fine texture.  Whereas the Assyrians loved pomp and luxury, clothing hid the body in heavy stuffs with rich patterns and elaborate fringes.  The zeitgeist of their culture dictated this moral body covering much more than did the Egyptian culture.

Discussion:

Men and women wore mostly wasp waists during the Cretan times, but tailored garments became part of their culture that displayed their body through the shape of the garments. Though women were not able to wear pants until the 20th century, I believe that this was the beginning era for pants. Only later on, the pants were more industrialized due to better technology.

As humans, we are born into this hegemonic view that the world consisted of dominant cultures wanting to control one person or one nation. When we were young, we grew up believing that pants are strictly made for men to wear and strictly skirts were meant for women to wear. This idea of bifurcated garments challenges this idea by making a garment look like a skirt and pants that both men and women can wear.

It is hard to identify whether these pictures seen in the book and lecture are really bifurcated garments because of not many resources. Bifurcated garments can be categorized in draped clothing, composite clothing, and tailored clothing. Draped clothing because from the pictures we can see that it is worn like a skirt or sarong like the Assryian culture. Composite clothing is shown through the one seam aspect down the middle of the garment. Tailor clothing because Cretans were very familiar with this method. Their skills were good and they knew how to sew a garment making the cloth fit the body very well. This idea probably arose due to working situations and conditions during labor, making it easier for everyone to move around and do work.

Here are some pictures I found depicting the idea of bifurcated garments

Religion

They believed in life after death and that death would be a better continuation of the life on earth.  Therefore, they wanted to be prepared and take as much of what they had as possible.  Death was eternity and their tombs and pyramids were built to last a long time.  Houses, on the other hand, were temporary dwellings, made from unstable materials. However, they were spacious and beautiful.

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