Clothing Styles of Women in Ancient Iran

Below are creations of the dresses of the ancient women of Iran from the Median, Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanian eras. The four reconstructions depicted here were made during the early 1970s and are posted in the Iran Matlab website article entitled “مدل لباس زنان در ایران باستان [Clothing of Women in Ancient Iran]”.

Iran Women-Dress-1-MedesMede era (c. 615-549 BCE) dress reconstruction based on the silver box discovered with the Oxus Treasure now housed at the British Museum (Source: Iran Matlab).

Iran Women-Dress-2a-AchaemenidReconstruction of  noblewoman based on the Achaemenid era (550-330 BCE) tapestry from Pazyryk housed at the Hermitage Museum at St. Petersburg (Source: Iran Matlab).

Iran Women-Dress-3-ParthianParthian era (c.247 BCE – 224 CE) dress from Hatra, based on the figurine housed at the Baghdad Museum (Source: Iran Matlab).

Iran Women-Dress-4-SassanianIranian queen from the Sassanian era (224-651 CE) based on  the silver plate housed at the Walter Art Gallery in Baltimore (Source: Iran Matlab).

Italian AGON Journal article: Ties of Greco-Roman civilization with ancient Iran

The AGON academic Journal of Italy (Università degli Studi di Messina; chief editors: Professor Massimo Lagana & Professor Salvatore Albanese) has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh which examines historical ties between Greco-Roman civilization and ancient Iran. The article can be downloaded in full from Academia.edu below:

Farrokh, K. (2016). An Overview of the Artistic, Architectural, Engineering and Culinary exchanges between Ancient Iran and the Greco-Roman World. AGON: Rivista Internazionale di Studi Culturali, Linguistici e Letterari, No.7, pp.64-124.

The article in AGON (Rivista Internazionale di Studi Culturali) begins as thus:

Apharban, the Persian ambassador representing Sassanian king Narses (r. 293-302 CE) during negotiations with the Roman general Galerius1 in the aftermath of his victory over Sassanian forces in 291-293 CE stated the following to his Roman hosts:

It is clear to all mankind that the Roman and Persian empires are like two lights, and like (two) eyes, the brilliance of one should make the other more beautiful and not continuously rage for their mutual destruction” [Peter the Patrician, fragment 13; translation made by Canepa (2010, p. 133)].

The article examines the process and history of the long-standing relations between the Greco-Roman and ancient Iranian civilizations, notably during the during the Achaemenid (559 BCE-333 BCE), Parthian (250 BCE-224 CE) and Sassanian dynasties (224-651 CE). Works of researchers such as Professor Nik Spatari, whose works examining East-West ties in the context of ancient Calabria in southern Italy are also cited:

Spatari-Assitite

Professor Nik Sparati (Left) and his book “L’ enigma delle arti Asittite della Calabria Ultra-Mediterranea” (Published by: MuSaBa: Santa Barbera Art Foundation & Iiriti Editore, 2002). Note that the book jacket features the superimposed images of Darius the Great and Persephone (also known as Kore), the Mediterranean Goddess: Spatari has discovered Achaemenid-Persian artistic influences upon the Persephone (Kore) image. Among other ancient Iran-Italy ties, Spatari and his team have also discovered strong parallels between Sassanian architecture and the Basilica di Massenzio.

Architecture is one of the areas examined in detail from the time of the Achaemenids to the end of the Sassanian era. As noted by Professors Curatola and Scarcia a common theory postulates that:

“…domed spaces in Christian buildings in Europe derive from the Armenian model, which, in turn, comes from Sassanian Persia: This can be attributed to geographic proximity and also to the fact that for long periods Armenia was contained within Eranshahr. “ (Curatola & Scarcia, 2007, p. 92).

Sarvistan-S-Paolo

The Sarvistan palace built in the 300s AD [1], floor plan of Sarvistan by Nik Spatari [2] reconstruction of Sarvistan by Oscar Reuther, “Sasanian Architecture,” in Survey of Persian Art, Figure 152). [3] the Basilica di S. Marco in Veneziana built in the time period of 1100-1300 AD [4] and floor plan of the Basilica di S. Marco (Pictures used in Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006.

Sassanian Iran was to leave a profound legacy on Romano-Byzantine architecture during its tenure in 224-651 CE. As noted in the paper however, architectural influences from ancient Iran can be traced back to the earlier Parthian and Achaemenid eras.

Farrokh Lecture-UBC-Tirgan-YSU

A lecture slide used in instruction for Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division (this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) (Slide is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh). The above slide discusses the parallels discovered by Professor Nik Spatari with respect to the “tri-chamber” design at Firuzabad and the Basilica di Massenzio. The floor plan of Ardashir’s palace and the “tri-chamber” (note yellow arrows) have been outlined by the Calabria research teams who noted of the parallels with the Basilica in Rome.

The ties of the Greco-Romans and ancient Iran are examined in a variety of other contexts besides architecture, notably the arts (Darius-Persephone motif, silverware, motifs such the Senmurv, etc.) and technology (communications, Qanat aqueducts, windmills, etc.).

Slide1

An example of technology exchanges: an old water wheel in Tehran (Image: Farda News) [at Left]; reconstructed water wheel based on the ancient Persian model from Cordoba, Spain (Image: Graham Beards in Public Domain). The Greco-Roman and ancient Iranian civilizations often engaged in the exchange of technologies in antiquity. The Persian water wheel spread from ancient Iran to Rome (which introduced this technology into Europe) as well as China in antiquity (Kurz, 1985, p.563)

The culinary arts (transmission of cooking styles, exchange of nuts, fruits, etc. ) are also examined. The pistachio plant for example, was first located in the Khorasan and Soghd regions; these were first cultivated in West Khorasan and were unknown by other peoples until the Achaemenid era.

Pistachio_macro_whitebackground_NS

The Achaemenids were the first to commercially grow the pistachio in ancient Iran and export this to neighboring countries more than 2500 years ago (Image: Public Domain). By the Sassanian Era the pistachio was considered a delicatessen (mostly used in baking and in cookies). Pahlavi texts dating to the Sassanian era mention the Gorgani pistachio as especially famous at the time. The Roman world not only adopted the pistachio (already known by Greco-Iranian contacts) and spread this to the European peoples.

The Unexpected origins of High Heel Shoes

The article below by William Kremer first appeared in the BBC News Magazine article “Why did men stop wearing high heels?” on 25 January 2013. Excepting two pictures, all other pictures/images are different from those featured in the the original BBC News Magazine report.

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For generations they have signified femininity and glamour – but a pair of high heels was once an essential accessory for men.

Beautiful, provocative, sexy – high heels may be all these things and more, but even their most ardent fans wouldn’t claim they were practical.

They’re no good for hiking or driving. They get stuck in things. Women in heels are advised to stay off the grass – and also ice, cobbled streets and posh floors.

And high heels don’t tend to be very comfortable. It is almost as though they just weren’t designed for walking in.

Originally, they weren’t.

The high heel was worn for centuries throughout the near east as a form of riding footwear,” says Elizabeth Semmelhack of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.

Good horsemanship was essential to the fighting styles of Persia – the historical name for modern-day Iran.

3-Safavid-mailed Cavalry

A Safavid mailed lancer (Source Iranian Army reconstruction, 1971)…for more Click here

When the soldier stood up in his stirrups, the heel helped him to secure his stance so that he could shoot his bow and arrow more effectively,” says Semmelhack.

At the end of the 16th Century, Persia’s Shah Abbas I had the largest cavalry in the world. He was keen to forge links with rulers in Western Europe to help him defeat his great enemy, the Ottoman Empire.

2-Safavid Mens ShoesA men’s 17th Century Persian shoe, covered in shagreen – horse-hide with pressed mustard seeds (Source: Bata Shoe Museum as shown in BBC News Magazine).

So in 1599, Abbas sent the first Persian diplomatic mission to Europe – it called on the courts of Russia, Germany and Spain.

A wave of interest in all things Persian passed through Western Europe. Persian style shoes were enthusiastically adopted by aristocrats, who sought to give their appearance a virile, masculine edge that, it suddenly seemed, only heeled shoes could supply.

pic61-shahabbasShah Abbas I (r. 1587-1629) as depicted in a European copper engraving made by Dominicus Custos citing him as“Schach Abas Persarum Rex” or “Shah Abbas the Great monarch of Persia”. Note how Custos makes a particular emphasis on linking Shah Abbas to the “Mnemona Cyrus” (the Memory of Cyrus the Great of Persia). Shah Abbas’ victories over the Ottomans weakened them against the Europeans to the West, and especially in the Balkans and Eastern Europe…For more click here

As the wearing of heels filtered into the lower ranks of society, the aristocracy responded by dramatically increasing the height of their shoes – and the high heel was born.

In the muddy, rutted streets of 17th Century Europe, these new shoes had no utility value whatsoever – but that was the point.

One of the best ways that status can be conveyed is through impracticality,” says Semmelhack, adding that the upper classes have always used impractical, uncomfortable and luxurious clothing to announce their privileged status.

They aren’t in the fields working and they don’t have to walk far.”

When it comes to history’s most notable shoe collectors, the Imelda Marcos of his day was arguably Louis XIV of France. For a great king, he was rather diminutively proportioned at only 5ft 4in (1.63m).

2-Louis XIV GettyLouis XIV wearing his trademark heels in a 1701 portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud (Bata Shoe Museum as shown in the BBC News Magazine).

He supplemented his stature by a further 4in (10cm) with heels, often elaborately decorated with depictions of battle scenes.

The heels and soles were always red – the dye was expensive and carried a martial overtone. The fashion soon spread overseas – Charles II of England’s coronation portrait of 1661 features him wearing a pair of enormous red, French style heels – although he was over 6ft (1.85m) to begin with.

Coronation of Charles IICoronation portrait of England’s Charles II (r. 29 May 1660 –6 February 1685) by John Michael Wright made in c. 1661 (Source: Public Domain).

In the 1670s, Louis XIV issued an edict that only members of his court were allowed to wear red heels. In theory, all anyone in French society had to do to check whether someone was in favor with the king was to glance downwards. In practice, unauthorized, imitation heels were available.

Although Europeans were first attracted to heels because the Persian connection gave them a macho air, a craze in women’s fashion for adopting elements of men’s dress meant their use soon spread to women and children. As noted by Semmelhack:

In the 1630s you had women cutting their hair, adding epaulettes to their outfits…They would smoke pipes, they would wear hats that were very masculine. And this is why women adopted the heel – it was in an effort to masculinise their outfits.”

From that time, Europe’s upper classes followed a unisex shoe fashion until the end of the 17th Century, when things began to change again.

Helen Persson, a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London state:

You start seeing a change in the heel at this pointMen started to have a squarer, more robust, lower, stacky heel, while women’s heels became more slender, more curvaceous.”

The toes of women’s shoes were often tapered so that when the tips appeared from her skirts, the wearer’s feet appeared to be small and dainty.

Fast forward a few more years and the intellectual movement that came to be known as the Enlightenment brought with it a new respect for the rational and useful and an emphasis on education rather than privilege. Men’s fashion shifted towards more practical clothing. In England, aristocrats began to wear simplified clothes that were linked to their work managing country estates.

It was the beginning of what has been called the Great Male Renunciation, which would see men abandon the wearing of jewellery, bright colours and ostentatious fabrics in favour of a dark, more sober, and homogeneous look. Men’s clothing no longer operated so clearly as a signifier of social class, but while these boundaries were being blurred, the differences between the sexes became more pronounced. Semmelhack avers:

There begins a discussion about how men, regardless of station, of birth, if educated could become citizensWomen, in contrast, were seen as emotional, sentimental and uneducatable. Female desirability begins to be constructed in terms of irrational fashion and the high heel – once separated from its original function of horseback riding – becomes a primary example of impractical dress.

High heels were seen as foolish and effeminate. By 1740 men had stopped wearing them altogether.

But it was only 50 years before they disappeared from women’s feet too, falling out of favour after the French Revolution.

By the time the heel came back into fashion, in the mid-19th Century, photography was transforming the way that fashions – and the female self-image – were constructed.

Pornographers were amongst the first to embrace the new technology, taking pictures of naked women for dirty postcards, positioning models in poses that resembled classical nudes, but wearing modern-day high heels.

Semmelhack, author of Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe, believes that this association with pornography led to high heels being seen as an erotic adornment for women.

The 1960s saw a return of low heeled cowboy boots for men and some dandies strutted their stuff in platform shoes in the 1970s.

But the era of men walking around on their toes seems to be behind us. Could we ever return to an era of guys squeezing their big hairy feet into four-inch, shiny, brightly coloured high heels?

Absolutely,” says Semmelhack. There is no reason, she believes, why the high heel cannot continue to be ascribed new meanings – although we may have to wait for true gender equality first:

If it becomes a signifier of actual power, then men will be as willing to wear it as women.”