Tag Archives: sumptuary laws

Gold and jewellery. From earliest times? For females only?

One of the things that struck me on recent visits to museums in Crete and Santorini was the sheer amount of gold and jewellery on display. Much of it dated from millennia ago. And the workmanship was often exquisite, as you can see.

necklaces 1400-1300 BC from Archanes, Crete

necklaces 1400-1300 BC from Archanes, Crete

Gold necklaces, rings, bead, Heraklion Museum

Made me think about what that means in practice.

Imagine goldsmiths working in Crete in 1500  or 2000 BC. They would be working with the relatively soft Bronze-Age tools—no acetylene torches for them; no hard steel implements, because smelting of iron didn’t start till around 1300-1200 BC—and with only experience and handed-down skills to guide them in their manipulation of metal and fire. Continue reading

Women in Ancient Greece were Chattels. Or were they?

Greek temple at Paestum, Italy

Greek temple but not in Greece. This temple is in Paestum, Italy

Everything I’d read suggested that women in Ancient Greece were chattels. That their position was even worse than that of women in Ancient Rome. Neither could be citizens. First their fathers governed (owned?) them; then husbands and sometimes even grown-up sons. They should remain within the home, concentrating on children and weaving. (The distaff side that Sarah mentioned last week was much to the fore.)

gold ornaments from Machlos, Crete, 2600-1900 BC

gold ornaments, Machlos, Crete, 2600-1900 BC

You may recall that the law placed restrictions on what freeborn women in Ancient Greece could do (see my earlier blog on sumptuary laws). Our freeborn woman could not leave the city at night, nor could she wear gold jewellery or a  garment with a purple border, nor could she be attended by more than one slave. (There were exceptions, relating to being drunk or a courtesan or committing adultery. Yes, quite.)

Women in Crete were different?

Continue reading

The Hanseatic League (Hanse): zenith and decline

Hanseatic League stall with spices and exotic fruits

Replica of Hanseatic League (Hanse) stall selling spices and exotic fruits

Hanse trade was vast

In last week’s blog, I wrote about the rise of the Hanseatic League or Hanse. It became very powerful—and extremely rich—simply by working really hard and trading very cleverly. To give you an idea of how extensive Hanse trade was, take a look at this graphic from the Hansemuseum of all the items traded through Bruges (click to enlarge to read):

Hanseatic League imports and exports through Bruges Kontor

imports: cloth at the top, metals, foodstuffs, weapons, exotic animals, luxury goods and more 
Exports: jewels, pearls, carpets, parchment, sugar, weapons, furs, sponges, dyes and more

Clearly, if you were wealthy enough, you could buy practically anything known at the time. At the top of the blog, I’ve repeated last week’s image of a replica spice stall. But there are more. Continue reading

Silk, Silliness and Sumptuary Laws

Silliness and Sumptuary Laws

Greek temple at Paestum, ItalyTime: 7th century BCE. Place: an ancient city under Greek law. A fanciful tale by Joanna…

A free-born woman, drunk and reeking of wine, leaves the city accompanied by two female slaves. She is wearing a splendid gown with a purple border, and has gold jewellery in her ears and round her neck. Outside the gates, she meets a man wearing a Milesian-style cloak with a gold-studded ring on his finger.

What do you think might be going on in this silly tale of mine?

The answer was inspired by this first written record of sumptuary laws which made me gasp and then chuckle when I first read it.

gavel balance judgement integrityA free-born woman may not be accompanied by more than one female slave, unless she is drunk; she may not leave the city during the night, unless she is planning to commit adultery; she may not wear gold jewellery or a garment with a purple border, unless she is a courtesan; and a husband may not wear a gold-studded ring or a cloak of Milesian fashion unless he is bent upon prostitution or adultery.

In the light of the laws above, you have probably worked out what the man and woman are up to. But I’ve got them sticking to all the laws in the book while they’re at it 😉

Clearly, in those days, any wife would know what her man was planning when he went out wearing his Milesian cloak. Or even just his gold-studded ring. Continue reading