Assyrian Education Network

Clothing in Ancient Assyria

Posted: Wednesday, March 07, 2001 at 03:26 PM CT

The Assyrian artist applied conventional terms in his representation of clothing. Simplicity was always resorted to in depicting fashion details, so that we tend to believe that the original costumes were more complex than displayed by the sculptor. The artist took great pains in portraying the decorative patterns, which ornamented garments, but left to us a host of queries as regards fashion. It is difficult to know with exactitude what articles of clothing were worn in addition to outer garments—particularly those, which covered the shoulders, the limbs and the breast. Another feature overlooked by the Assyrian artist was the depiction of folds on dress. But there is no doubt that the Assyrian costumes represent a development from those of Babylonia.


The knee-length and full-length tunics with short sleeves are the commonest dresses worn to different types of headdress. And we can say that practically there were only two types of garment generally found in the representations of ancient Assyrian costume: 1. The shawl, and
2. The tunic.
These vary in size and proportion, and are worn either alone, but more generally in combination.


Except in earliest examples, decoration is lavish in Assyrian costume, in fact, the costume of a king when at its richest may be said to be absolutely covered with ornament. Jewelry, woven and embroidered patterns, and fringes are used in the utmost profusion. See the illustrations of the most characteristic ornamental details of this style.


The most common material for clothing was wool, although linen had been known from an early period and was often used for better-quality garments. Cotton did not become available until Sennacherib introduced it into Assyria in about 700 BC, from which time it was used for the making of cloth. Other materials sometimes used were leather and papyrus. The skins and furs of animals and metal were also in use, but chiefly for military and hunting costume.


The earliest type of costume here is a rather elaborate shawl drapery worn without any tunic underneath. Later comes the tunic with various-fringed shawl draperies worn in addition, and some of the latest types have the tunic worn alone without the shawl draperies. The dates given for the costumes illustrated in this style have been verified at the British Museum. It should be remembered, as in the case of ancient Egyptians costume, that the dresses changed very slowly indeed, and most styles of this era were worn literally for hundreds of years.


The representations of costume which Assyrian art has left us are almost entirely those of men’s dress. Two examples of women’s dresses are shown here. The first wears a plain ungirded tunic and a simply draped shawl covering the figure partially. The second is a dress of a Queen, and has the tunic almost entirely covered with a voluminous shawl. The wide belt with narrow belt over it seems to be confined to the men’s costume, as also the tighter and scantier shawl draperies, which exist in singular variety.


Though we do not possess the actual specimens of these costumes, still we can infer from the lavish ornament and, from references in the Old Testament writings that rich coloring prevailed. The dyes were probably similar to those of ancient Egypt, and this table will suggest the particular hue of each color:

  • Blue: Usually rather dark indigo, sometimes paler.
  • Red: Much like the color known as Indian red.
  • Yellow: Similar to yellow ochre.
  • Green: Much like the paint known as green bice, but rather more dull.
  • Purple: Dark, and quite a brownish hue of purple.

All these colors could be used as embroideries on a white or natural colored ground of linen, the embroideries being of wool. In other cases the whole garment might be colored throughout.


Some of the Assyrian Characteristics may include:

  • The sacred tree
  • Repeated patterns and borders on costumes
  • Various types of rosettes much used in Assyrian decorations

These would be either woven or embroidered.


Assyrian decorations is rich and may include:

  • Bracelets
  • Ear-rings
  • Various forms of Tassels
  • Winged globe
  • Palm tree
  • Lappet (king’s tiara)
  • Vessels
  • Sword handles
  • Foot-wear

Assyrians generally wore sandals. However, high boots were introduced during the Sargonid period, and in the time of Sannacherib bushkins were known.


H. W. F. Saggs, “The Might That Was Assyria”
M. G. Houston & F. S. Hornblower, “Ancient Egyptian, Assyrian & Persian Costumes”
Dr. Isa Salman, Director General of Antiquities – Baghdad, Iraq, “Assyrian Costumes”

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