Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Byzantine Medical Garb

Well, since I posted about the Byzantine Blue faction garb, I might as well post on this too. Clothing tended to be very indicative of status, rank, and profession in Byzantium and doctors were no different. This 14th century illustration (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, gr. 2243, folio 10v) gives us an interesting view of this.

(image source: http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/mackinney&CISOPTR=2587&CISOBOX=1&REC=1´

Here is an interesting description: "The miniature in Paris. gr. 2243 offers additional information which no doubt applies to all hospital personnel, not just those assigned to the outpatient clinics. In the illustration each person on the hospital staff has a distinctive gown and conical hat. The physician wears a blue-green gown, a color traditionally assigned to doctors since late antiquity. Over the gown he has a red mantle which matches his red half-boots. his conical hat is violet. The hypourgos [male medical assistant] wears a violet tunic, red half-boots, and a pale yellow conical hat with a red vertical stripe. The pharmacist wears a variegated red and blue tunic, yellow half-boots, and a red conical hat with a vertical whipe stripe. The colors of the tunics, boots, and hats clearly denote rank and function [...] From other sources describing medical men, however, one can verify the significance of only the blue gown as the prescribed uniform of physicians."

Text source: Miller, Timothy."The Birth of the Hospital in the Byzantine Empire". Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1997. Pp.155-6

Another, later image shows a different hat, but the blue robe stays the same:

Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria gr. 3632, folio 134v. "Physician Isaac holds Urine flask", 15th c.

(text source: http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/mackinney&CISOPTR=2465&CISOBOX=1&REC=4 )

Another 15th century illustration (showing the difference of dress between doctor and assistant, but still none of the hats in the first illustration) is this:

Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria gr. 3632, folio 255v. Serapion with medicine jar (left); assistant with mortar and pestle (center); Praxagoras (right); 15th c.

(source: http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/mackinney&CISOPTR=2512&CISOBOX=1&REC=12)

The same site provides (inter alia) two depictions of physicians (Oribasius and Philo Judeaus) wearing large yellow over-robes. Oribasius has a red undertunic while Philo wears blue, and, despite the color difference, their outfits are basically identical. Since both of these physicians were alive in late antiquity, this may be an anachronistic depiction, especially since the images I posted here all illustrate relative contemporaries (at least they all fall in the mid-late Byzantine period).

Friday, June 12, 2009

Food in Byzantine Dream Symbology

The main primary source for Byzantine dream symbology is the Oneirokritika, a 2nd century book written by Artemidoros, but read and loved throughout the Byzantine medieval period. It covered all types of dream symbols, and I've always found the ones relating to food fantastic, so here they are:

  • Seeing oneself drink water was a sign of comfort if it was cold, but a sign of sickness if it was hot
  • If one was drinking wine, this was a very good sign for the future, providing the glass was small and one was not drunk
  • Drinking hydromel, cider or myrtle wine had two meanings depending on the class of the dreamer: if one was rich it fortold good luck. If one was poor, however, as the poor only drank these if they were ill, it fortold sickness to come
  • If one drank from a horn cup, this was a very good omen, but a glass cup (which is fragile and transparent) prophecied the undesirable revealing of secrets
  • If a sailor dreamed of a glass breaking, this foretold shipwreck. For others, however, it showed a relief from worry and sorrow, especially if the glass had a small opening.


  • Citron, a sour fruit from a thorny bush, foretold the unemployement of whomever was eating it
  • Beets, mallow, and srrel were all very good signs for debtors. These vegetables upset the intestines, and intestines symbolized creditors.
  • Carrots, which are pulled up by the roots prophecied bad times for landowners
  • Lettuce and squash were very bad omens if a sick person dreamed of eathing them, and meant surgery or amputation
  • Melons were thought to promote laziness, and for this reason were a good sign for friendship, but a bad omen for one's work or livlihood
  • Onions and garlic were a bad omen if one saw oneself eating them, but good if one was holding them. If one was crowned with a wreath of onions, this was a sign of fortune for the wearer, but bad fortune for those around them in the dream
  • Celery was the prize at ancient funerary games. If one was ill and dreamed of wearing a wreath of celery, it meant death
  • Legumes were generally an omen of misfortune. Crushed broadbeans fortold discord, lentils foretold mourning, and millet foretold poverty
  • Sesame seeds, while a good sign for doctors, was a sign of misfortune for those around them. Crushed sesame, especially in sweets, showed relief from troubles with the law
  • Grapes prophecied advantages and favors, peaches and cherries foretold pleasure, but pomegranates were a sign of injury to come
  • Eating winter apples was a sign of worry, and sour apples foretold disagreements
  • Eating white figs was an omen of good weather, just as black figs predicted bad weather
  • Almonds and walnuts were signs of rowdiness and noise
  • Eating lamb in a dream foretold a period of mourning, pork and goat were good signs if cooked, poultry showed the success in gaining a lady's' favor.
  • Whips were made of bull leather, so eating beef foretold mistreatment and torture if dreamed about by a slave, but was a sign of small jobs for the rich
  • Any raw meat was seen as bad (so eating raw poultry showed favors from an undesirable lady)
  • Any salt preserved fish or meat showed delays and postponements of family matters

A good secondary source on this, if you want more, is "Ti Etrogan I Byzantini" by Christos Motsias, Kaktos, 1998.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Day at the Circus: the Birth of the Mullet

Another one of my great interests is the Roman and Byzantine Circus, which, thankfully, had to do with chariot races rather than clowns. Imagine the scene after a Manchester United game, replace football fans with chariot racing fans, and you pretty much have an idea of what the Circus factions were like. They were divided into 4 colors, although only the blues and greens attained any lasting prominence. Emperor Justinian made the mistake of openly supporting one side, which, in part, almost lost him his empire. The fans rioted, smashed windows, beat each other up, graffitied, robbed, and were arrested. But what makes me love them even more is their love of the mullet. Yes, I said mullet! In the 6th century, during Justinian's time, Procopius writes of the particular dress of the Blues:

"First the rebels revolutionized the style of wearing their hair. For they had it cut differently from the rest of the Romans: not molesting the mustache or beard, which they allowed to keep on growing as long as it would, as the Persians do, but clipping the hair short on the front of the head down to the temples, and letting it hang down in great length and disorder in the back, as the Massageti do. This weird combination they called the Hun haircut.
Next they decided to wear the purple stripe on their togas, and swaggered about in a dress indicating a rank above their station: for it was only by ill-gotten money they were able to buy this finery. And the sleeves of their tunics were cut tight about the wrists, while from there to the shoulders they were of an ineffable fullness; thus, whenever they moved their hands, as when applauding at the theater or encouraging a driver in the hippodrome, these immense sleeves fluttered conspicuously, displaying to the simple public what beautiful and well-developed physiques were these that required such large garments to cover them. They did not consider that by the exaggeration of this dress the meagerness of their stunted bodies appeared all the more noticeable. Their cloaks, trousers, and boots were also different: and these too were called the Hun style, which they imitated.
Almost all of them carried steel openly from the first, while by day they concealed their two-edged daggers along the thigh under their cloaks. Collecting in gangs as soon as dusk fell, they robbed their betters in the open Forum and in the narrow alleys, snatching from passersby their mantles, belts, gold brooches, and whatever they had in their hands. Some they killed after robbing them, so they could not inform anyone of the assault.
These outrages brought the enmity of everybody on them, especially that of the Blue partisans who had not taken active part in the discord. When even the latter were molested, they began to wear brass belts and brooches and cheaper cloaks than most of them were privileged to display, lest their elegance should lead to their deaths;" --Procopius of Caesaria, Secret History (you can read his whole work at the medieval sourcebook here: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/procop-anec.HTML )

There really is nothing new on this earth, is there!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Handsewing Challenge

Hey all, this is just a bit of publicity for my apprentice's new Handsewing challenge. If you've never sewn anything completely by hand before, and would like to, this is a great opportunity! The challenge is based in Drachenwald, but is open to anyone in the SCA. There's more info on the blog, here: http://first-timehandsewingchallenge.blogspot.com/

you can email either of us to be added as an author to the blog!

See you there!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Proud to be a Merkin

Ok everyone, so I need some help. I've been looking for documentation for merkin use in the Middle Ages, and have hit a wall. The OED places it's use as a word to 1617, but it's actual use, as far as I can tell, dates to 1450. Unfortunately, the only reliable source I've found is the Guardian, and alot of websites copying the info in it:

A short and curly history of the merkin

The Oxford Companion To The Body traces the merkin back to 1450, a time when the bidet was a distant prospect and personal hygiene fell well short of the mark. Pubic lice were common - so some women, fed up with the constant itching, just shaved the lot off and then covered their modesty with a merkin.
Prostitutes, too, were frequent wearers. In the days before penicillin, it didn't take long to become infected with sexually transmitted diseases. They knew it was no work, no pay, and didn't want to scare the customers off with their syphilitic pustules and gonorrhoeal warts. So the merkin was used as a prosthesis to cover up a litany of horrors.
The Oxford Companion recounts an amusing tale of one gentleman who procured the disease-riddled merkin of a prostitute, dried it, gave it a good comb and then presented it to a cardinal, telling him he had brought him St Peter's beard. [...]

Gareth Francis

I'd dearly love to find some primary sources or scholarly references to make this a bit more credible! Anyone got some?