Christianity, History, History of hats

The Inception of the Phrygian Cap

A mysterious cap in the ancient world which used by many casts and cults from east to west. The origins of the Phrygian cap and its relation with other later caps are still in debate. In this article, we will see this beautiful and important cap through multiple views, but first of all, we should talk about the land of Phrygia and Phrygian people.

Ancient Phrygia is a district in northwest Anatolia name after the Phrygian people who dominated Anatolia after Hittites since 12th century BCE until being dominated by Lydia in the 7th century BCE.

Phrygians had a Thracian ethnicity and after the disintegration of the Hittite empire, they came from Thracia in northwestern Anatolia to the central parts and built the city of Gordium as their capital. Since the 7th century, Phrygia was always part of successor empires like Lydia and Persia.

During the Achaemenid period, Hellespontine Phrygia was one of the most important satrapies in the empire and the satrap was elected by the great king itself. So. Phrygia had a great role and impact both to its eastern neighbors and western neighbors.

Phrygian cap shows the meaning of sacredness, orientalism, brotherhood, and liberty through its long history and with its various forms.

The Three Magi, Byzantine mosaic c.  565, Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

Phrygian cap’s appearance

The Phrygian cap is a soft felt or wool conical headdress fitting closely around the head and characterized by a pointed crown that curls forward. It originated in the ancient Phrygia in Anatolia, not exactly known the dating, and is represented in ancient Greek art as the type of headdress worn not only by Phrygians but by all inhabitants of Anatolia and of nations farther east.

The Phrygian cap also turned into so many other forms including helmets and animal shape crowns. And spread all around the ancient world for centuries. The main problem is that the definition of the Phrygian cap is not fully known. It has a great verity and a vast spreading and a long period of existence. Also, the Phrygian cap resembles other caps like the Scythian cap, Tiara, and pileus.

It seems that the Phrygian cap can have a mystical and sacred aspect too. That’s the reason why the Phrygian cap has a significant presence in myths. The Persian god Mitra is always depicted with a Phrygian cap, as is Mithras, who may be equated with him and revered in the Roman Empire, and the Phrygian Attis. Other oriental deities that are often represented with her are the fertility god Sabazios, the Phrygian moon deity Men, and Iupiter Dolichenus, which is particularly popular with Roman soldiers. Other mythological figures who often wear a Phrygian cap are Orpheus, Adonis, Ganymede, and Paris. The only female deity with a Phrygian cap is Bendis, the Thracian goddess of the hunt, usually equated with Diana. Occasionally they are even worn by Odysseus returning from a foreign country, but mostly the round pilos of the sailors. Women who wear the hat are almost always amazons.

 And also in the Persian world, there are many results of magi’s wearing a Phrygian cap in the stone carvings and the Sassanid coins. All these results show that the Phrygian cap was mystical.

Phrygian cap in the western world

The ancient Greeks considered the Phrygian cap, just like trousers, to be typically barbaric clothing, and whenever the Greeks depicted Persians, Scythians, or members of other peoples they considered barbarians on vases, wall paintings, or mosaics, they depicted them with a Phrygian cap. Forms made of felt, fur, or leather with long ear and neck tabs that could be wrapped around the chin and neck like a scarf predominated, especially with the Scythians, Saks, and other ancient steppe nomads. These forms are known in the Eurasian steppes and the Caucasus under the name Baschlik. The bag could be plump (stuffed) and erect or lie flat like a tongue. The top was preferred to hit forward, but not always. Sometimes (especially with Persian satraps, but also with Amazons) the hat was wrapped with a headband or headband. Occasionally, stiffer shapes, more similar to the tiara or the “Homeric leather helmet”, have a cock-comb-like decoration. Later, simpler forms without tabs that left the ears uncovered became more common in the depictions. The natural color of the tanned leather was brown, but on several vase pictures and wall paintings, you can see hats colored in reddish tones. Sometimes the hats are decorated with dots, spirals, or flower and star patterns. The material of the hats (leather, felt, fabric) can usually not be identified in the pictures, nor is the nature of the decorations (painted, embroidered, baked).

The Macedonians (regarded by the Athenians as barbarians) adopted the Phrygian cap and the similarly shaped Phrygian helmet from the Thracians.

As we further mention the significance of the Phrygian cap to sailors and the importance of the Mithras cult for sailors and pirates. Probably Greek sailors made their cap pileus by the impact of Phrygian cap and this greek sailors cap become the main hat of roman slaves in the roman empire and also in the late roman empire period it becomes the main army cap of the Rome.

But the interesting thing is that even in the medieval centuries and in the renaissance period, the Phrygian cap finds its way into Corno Ducale and becomes the main headgear of the doges of Venice and genoa and also become a part of Neapolitan sailor’s costume.

Connection of Phrygian cap with east

The oldest pictures of the Phrygian cap are from the east and reached to us by Achaemenian art in forms of stone carving, coin pictures, metalwork, and painting and from the historical accounts. But due to the major destruction of historical evidence in the middle east and lack of proper and sufficient researches, these pieces of evidence are less known than the westerns. In this part of the article, we show and explain these samples in a chronological flow from the oldest to the newest one.

The most important and relative cap to the Phrygian cap should be the important cap in ancient Persia which was called Tiara. In antiquity, Tiara was used by all oriental rulers and also people. Its origin should be median, but we have exact and firm evidence of the vast usage of Tiara from the Achaemenid period. In some publications, Tiara is also used as a name for the Persian crown Kidaris, also Kitaris.

According to Herodotus, the king could only wear the cap in an upright position; all others, including satraps and high-ranking military men, wore the tip folded forward, and wearing the specific type of Tiara which was used by the great king could be considered as rebellion.

John H. Young in a survey of nemrud dag, categorize the Tiara caps in two main categories:

–       First the Persian Tiara: which has a forward folded crown or tip which resembles Phrygian Cap.

–       Second is the Armenian Tiara which has five tips.

–       Pointed Tiara which is similar to Persian Tiara but with a pointed tip.

–       Satrapal Tiara which its tip hangs flat forward to over the diadem.

Along with the nemrud dag, we have older evidence of Tiaras from the Persian empire since 550 BCE, two of these pieces of evidence are the stone carvings of Darius the great’s tomb in naghsh-e Rostam and the eastern steps of Apadana Palace in Persepolis which they show many nations of the empire using a verity of Tiaras, like Scythians, Sogdians, Choresmians, Cappadocians, Armenians, and Thracians.

Also we have Tiaras or Phrygian caps in the Satrapal coins of Hellespont Phrygia from Pharnabazos and Artabazos.

After defeating of the Achaemenid empire by Alexander, we also have artworks that show a verity of tiaras and Phrygian caps, in Hellenistic art of the alexander successors or the art of independent oriental kingdoms like fratarakas of Pars and Kingdome of Pontus.

Also defeating of seleucid by Parthians didn’t disturb the role of the Phrygian cap. Parthians also used these caps and a more important point it’s that one of the helmets of Parthian cataphracts was a Phrygian cap shape helmet known as Kidaris. In Arch of Septimius Severus, we can see captivate Parthians with Phrygian caps too.

We can see kidaris hats in the Sassanid period too. And on the Sassanid coins and stone carvings. These pieces of evidence maybe change the whole concept of the Phrygian cap and may introduce Tiara as a greater and holistic name for this type of caps in antiquity which was a common heritage of oriental people from Sogdiana in middle Asia to Phrygia in Asia minor.

Tiara was used by oriental people even till the end of antiquity and in some points, it is under usage even today by the mysticism cults in Iran and the middle east for example by qalandari dervishes, and in Persian poetry, we will see the terms like کلاه شکسته (folded cap).

Phrygian cap and Mithraism

As we mentioned before, Mithraism, as an ancient cult has a great impact on both western and oriental cultures, and the Phrygian cap is one of its signs because the god Mithras always showed with Persian trousers and Phrygian cap, along with his helpers, Cautes and Cautopates.

Franz Cumont was one of the scholars who describe Mithraism as a cult with origins in ancient Iran. However, his conclusions become debatable after sometimes and along with it, the theory of David Ulansey become important.

But considering both of these theories will help us about the role of the Phrygian cap in Mithraism. Whether the Phrygian cap comes from ancient Iran and be a verity of Tiara or it was from Asia minor. It was an oriental feature.

A statue of the Mithras Slaying the cow – British Museum Collection

According to Ulansey’s theory, if Mithraism came from Tarsus and a sailor culture, it will be understood that why pileus and other later related caps in Europe were kind of related to sailing and sailors. However we have a sacred usage for Phrygian caps too, in the cult of Mithra, every man in the circle of the believers who were reaching a certain position in the brotherhood received a Phrygian cap. In the cult of Mithras, the Phrygian cap was not only the headgear of the revered God himself but also the highest in the cult secrets initiated mystics. Only they were allowed to understand the primordial bull sacrifice of God, which symbolized the renewal of life, the rebirth of the believer. Women were not allowed to participate in this cult, which was particularly widespread among Roman soldiers. The “legionnaire god” Jupiter Dolichenus was also often depicted in the pose of an emperor, standing on the back of a bull.

In the few female figures who were depicted with Phrygian caps, the headgear with the bull’s bag is also an expression of a power that was perceived as particularly “masculine”. As a goddess, Bendis also has her power of procreation (similar to how the “many-breasted” Artemis is perhaps dressed in a garment made from the testicles of the bulls sacrificed to her). The Amazons are independent of men and equal to them in war.

We also can see the later sacredness of the Phrygian cap, even after Mithraism and in Christianity. for example, the three magi who came from the east to see baby Jesus, in early times, usually showed by red Phrygian caps.

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