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: )

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

No comments:

Post a Comment