Early Arthurian Britain – Clothing and Weapons

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1486

Because clothing is highly perishable, it is one of the least likely items to be found in archaeological digs. However, a few clues to Arthurian Age fabric and clothing styles have been dredged out of bogs. Descriptions have also been found in phrases of old Welsh poetry and Anglo-Saxon annals.

Men in the age of Arthur would have worn a simple tunic, long breeches and a cloak. The tunic reached the knees, had either long or short sleeves, and a plain round neck. Several could be worn for warmth. They were usually made of wool, but also were of furred pelts for outerwear. Leather belts were used around the waist. A small leather pouch, a pre-runner of the Scottish sporran, as well as a small sheathed dagger, were hung from the belt. A man of some means might wear a shirtlike undergarment (camisia) of linen. Breeches, similar to trousers, were called braccae by the Romans. They were tied at the waist and ankles with rawhide thongs. Like tunics, they were usually of wool, sometimes of skins and fur in cold seasons. Thongs served as cross-gartering, a crisscrossing from knee to ankle around the leg, and held the cloth to the legs. The cloak was a wide rectangular or circular garment that wrapped like a cape. Those made of wool would have been of two layers, the outer layer oiled with lanolin for waterproofing. Those of skins were usually fur-lined. The cloak was held in place with a metal brooch.

Women’s dress was as simple as the men’s. They wore an ankle-length tunic, long or short-sleeved, round-necked. A three-quarter length gown was worn over the tunic. A belt at the waist carried a small pouch for carrying items like combs. Cloaks for women were the same as for men. Depending on the temperature and the woman’s rank, she might also wear camisiae, linen undertunics. Clothing styles were simple, but Britons had a passion for bright colors and even striped or checked patterns were woven. They were worn by both sexes.

Shoes were the same for both men and women, made of a single piece of rawhide and pulled together over the top of the foot by gathering the edges with a thong. Roman-style sandals were also made. Both men and women wore their hair long, a source of great pride for Celtic people. Men favored long, flowing moustaches. Beards may have been in fashion in some locations. Hats were not used except in cold weather, and were usually a simple cap of wool or fur. Those of rank wore an open neck ring called a torc. The Celts, known for their beautiful metalwork, seemed to have lacked much jewelry in the early Arthurian period, probably due to the collapsed economy.

Weapons

Warriors in Arthur’s time would likely have dressed much as they would have at home, with a few additions. Leather leggings might have been worn over the breeches. Leather tunics would have been worn over the regular tunic, then a chain mail coat over that. Another leather belt was worn at the waist. Helmets were scarce, apparently unpopular except for cavalry. Swords were long-bladed, similar to the Roman spatha. A baldric was normally used to carry the sword at the hip, but some evidence suggests the weapon may have been carried across the back in some places. A shield, round or oval, was also carried. Other weapons might have included spears, axes and slings.