A Brief Mycenaean Background
From the 15th to the 13th century BCE, the Mycenaean people inhabited mainland Greece, as well as parts of the Aegean, Crete and the Cycladic Islands. This era of people were influenced largely by the Minoan civilization. A few important locations from this time period are Mycenae (the main site that the Mycenaeans were named after), Tiryns, Pylos, and Phylakopi. Within these locations, there was a distinct form of architecture, as well as specific types of pottery, frescoes, weaponry, jewellery and clothing.
(About Mycenae. source: youtube.com)
Mycenaean art survives in the form of pottery, frescoes, and jewellery. This period focused on less life-like representations, and geometric design was also very popular. Terracotta figurines of standing female figures were quite common as well, giving us a sense of how the women may have dressed in that period, and possibly their roles in society.
There is a contrast between their everyday wear, religious clothing/hairstyle choices, and the clothing, hair and jewellery depicted on goddesses.
(The above information was derived from the source Cartwright, 2013)
Depictions of women and their clothing began to appear before the Mycenaean time period. It is said that the Mycenaean clothing is the same, or very similar, to the clothing that the Minoans wore (Cristina, 2017). Clothing “served as a decoration and signaled the status of the wearer” (Life in Ancient Greece, 2017), and was heavily influenced by Cretan fashion in particular (Werlin, 2010).
In this time period, “garments were elaborately decorated, in Mycenae they could have gold sequins, shapes made from gold foil such as rosettes, silver, lead, and iron. Evidence also suggest that these clothes were highly colorful” (Werlin, 2010). Mycenaean clothing was known to have a lot of shape, and it also involved sewing and patterning. The clothes conformed to the body and emphasized the curves, and created a “geometric silhouette which will not be seen again until the sixteenth century” (Werlin, 2010). A geometric silhouette is a type of frame (such as a crinoline) placed underneath the garment to make it stand out in a specific way.
Clothing in the Mycenaean period varied depending on the occasion. As ritual ceremonies were important to this society, they had specific costumes to wear during the events and activities. Along with the clothes, the hairstyles, headdresses and jewellery would also be specific to these ceremonies. [Hsu, pg. 97].
Wool and leather became a common material to make clothing with. Women were the only ones involved in cloth production for the most part, and they ran the production locations, whether it be at a palace or at home. This being said, “Beadwork on cloth, woven or sewn on, was probably a sub-department of textiles and thus likely to have involved women” (Hughes-Brock, 1999; pg. 286).
A good example of the clothing worn is from the Hagia Triada sarcophagus of the Minoan period, seeing as they had a very similar clothing style to the Mycenaeans. On the Hagia Triada sarcophagus, two types of skirts are depicted; woven and animal hide. “The hide skirts have rounded hems, while the hems of the woven ones are straight” (Cristina, 2017). These types of skirts are what is thought to be the everyday wear of a Mycenaean woman.
To be a little more specific, “women wore a long sleeved vest, a girdle, and a flounced skirt” (Cristina, 2017). A popular style of dress at the time, said to be mostly reserved for goddesses/priestesses, consisted of a flounced skirt and the woman’s breasts were exposed.
Hairstyles and Headdresses
Hairstyles are a representation not only of fashion and beauty, but also of social class and age. Hairstyles in the Mycenaean period are very similar to those of the Minoan period, although they may not have the same meanings. The hairstyles depicted in this time period are connected heavily to ritual activities within society. The individual’s status or position within society is also shown through their hairstyle. [Hsu, pg. 93].
Hairstyles also differed when in a religious connotation. For Mycenaean processions, women usually wore their hair in a very elaborate way, having locks, tresses, buns, and curls all at the same time. [Hsu, pg. 98].
Hairstyle and the ornamentation of the hair are likely to represent age, status, or perhaps certain practices. Different stages of hair length represent different levels of maturity for the female; the longer it gets, the more mature the person is. [Debbo, 2000; pg. 100].
A prime example of hairstyle in the Mycenaean period is ‘The lady with a pyxis’ from Tiryns:
“Her hair is highly stylized with large curls as the front upper part of her hair and small curls as the bangs. A distinctive forehead lock is curled in a way that is more complicated than all those previously mentioned. Two side tresses fall on her shoulder and separate in two directions, the longer one towards the front and the shorter one towards the back. Some side tresses, which appear to be from the opposite side of her face, come down along her shoulder and breast and end up in several tresses. The depiction of the tresses on her shoulder and part of her back is intriguing; they seem to be bound by some kind of rings or loops. She has a bun and ponytail-like tresses on the back of her head. Her hair is decorated with a red band with white dots.” [Hsu, pg. 96]
Headdresses were also a large part of Mycenaean women’s attire. The Mycenaeans chose to wear a slightly different type of headdress, as they wore crown-like hats “which are tight around the forehead and wide at the top, often with tassels” (Hsu, pg. 98). Although they claim it to be unique to their time period, a similar variation of the hat was also seen on the White Goddess from Pylos, and is also found on women from the Hagia Triada sarcophagus. This crown-like hat is significant in Mycenaean religion.
Jewellery was a key aspect to a Mycenaean woman’s daily outfit. It was also found in mass quantities within graves. Their jewellery varied from necklaces and bracelets to anklets, brooches, and diadems (Vermeule, 1967; pg. 19). Based on what has been found in graves, women wore very impressive jewellery that gave a strong insight to her social class (Chalkos, 1999-2000). The color of preference for most of their jewellery was a rich dark blue, as it represented a very rare and expensive stone called the lapis lazuli (Vermeule, 1967; pg. 21). Some Mycenaean frescoes show women holding their jewellery (especially necklaces), rather than wearing it. This is said to draw attention to its value (Hughes-Brock, 1999; pg. 290). It can also signify a ceremony or an offering (Debbo, 2000; pg. 112).
Beads were very popular in the Mycenaean period, and they were found in various locations, including: “foundation deposits, religious places and buried hoards, on workshop sites and as stray finds in settlements, but by far the richest sources are of course graves” (Hughes-Brock, 1999; pg. 277). Beads were most commonly used to make necklaces and bracelets, and they were made mostly at home, usually by women and children. “No beads have a specifically masculine motif” (Hughes-Brock, 1999; pg. 287), meaning that most jewellery in the Mycenaean period, especially beads, were worn only by females.
Personal jewellery was dedicated to goddesses by human women, usually during a turning point in their lives such as childbirth or marriage. The Ladies in Blue painting and the Mycenaean ivory statuette are also depicted with necklaces, but it is too difficult to tell whether they are a dedication or not. As with clothing and hairstyle, jewellery also showed signs of status among women. It is believed that “most jewellery, especially the beaded necklaces and bracelets and the blue hair bands referred to the high social station and wealth of the wearers” (Younger; Debbo, 2000; pg. 113). It is also believed that items such as an anklet, an arm-ring, and the torque signify someone of lower status, or a slave.
Another piece of jewellery that may state the status of the wearer are earrings. Although the earring was not in style for long, and found mostly on Theran frescoes, they were thought to be worn by younger women of a higher status. Jewellery not only helps identify status, but it also helps to identify individual people. Some people may wear a unique pendant on their necklace, such as a dragonfly, and that will help to identify them as a specific person. [Debbo, 2000; pg. 119].
Example from Antiquity
An example from antiquity displaying Mycenaean clothing, hair, and jewellery is “The Mykenaia”. She is one of the most well preserved frescoes found at Mycenae to date, consisting of mainly her upper body. Her hair is detailed with white lines and her bangs form spirals. She also has a long lock of hair coming down around her face, and the remaining hair is in an elongated hair bun that is bound into a loop. The band in her hair is “a red-white-red band that matches the bands of her short-sleeved, saffron-yellow bodice. The cut of her outer bodice exposes her breasts, which are covered with a V-shaped diaphanous garment of the same saffron yellow” (Hsu, pg. 95)
There is also jewellery shown on this woman. She is holding a necklace as well as wearing one, and she also has bracelets on her arms. It is hard to tell with this fresco whether she was receiving the necklace she is holding, or if she was giving a gift during a procession (Debbo, 2000). “The Mykenaia” closely resembles women depicted within the Minoan period, and therefore the conclusion is made that she is most likely an adult goddess. The locks of her hair, though, have a different meaning than they would have in the Minoan period. In the Minoan period, they represent youth, but in the Mycenaean period, they usually represent a procession.
(The majority of the information in the above section is derived from Hsu, pages 95 and 96)
To sum it all up…
The Mycenaeans and the Minoans had very similar clothing, hair, and jewellery styles, but the Mycenaeans held different values and meanings for them. Without the figurines and frescoes for us to interpret today, there would be minimal to no understanding of how clothing, hairstyles, and jewellery affected the Mycenaean woman’s life, or how she was seen within society.
Cartwright, M. (2013, May 24). Mycenaean Civilization. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from http://www.ancient.eu/Mycenaean_Civilization/
Chalkos, V. (1999-2000). Mycenaean Greece-Society. Retrieved March 02, 2017, from http://www.fhw.gr/chronos/02/mainland/en/mg/society/dresses/index.html
Cristina. (2017). Clothing and Dress for Women in the Art of Ancient Greece. Retrieved March 02, 2017, from http://www.rwaag.org/cloth2
Debbo, N. J. (2000). The role of the women in the frescoes from Akrotiri: an examination of the iconography of dress, hairstyle and jewellery. Ottawa: National Library of Canada = Bibliothèque nationale du Canada.
Hsu, F. (n.d.). Ritual Significance in Mycenaean Hairstyles. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from https://www.academia.edu/28514585/Ritual_Significance_in_Mycenaean_Hairstyles
Hughes-Brock, H. (1999). Mycenaean Beads: Gender and Social Contexts. Oxford Journal of Archaeology,18 (3), 277-296. doi:10.1111/1468-0092.00084
Life in Ancient Greece. (2017). Retrieved March 02, 2017, from http://www.fashionencyclopedia.com/fashion_costume_culture/The-Ancient-World- Greece/Life-in-Ancient-Greece.html
Vermeule, E. (1967). A Mycenaean Jeweler’s Mold. Boston Museum Bulletin, 65(339), 19-31. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4171467
Werlin, K. (2010). The First Shaped Garments. Retrieved March 02, 2017, from http://www.thefashionhistorian.com/2011/03/first-shaped-garments.html