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Construction of early medieval tunics



Early medieval clothing is an extremely popular topic that has attracted attention for more than the last hundred years. The question of what the clothes of the Vikings, Franks, Byzantines, Great Moravians or even the Rus’ looked like is asked by many of the lay and professional public. European 5th-12th century clothing research, however, is accompanied by a number of limitations, among which we can name:

  • Organic finds, including textiles, are easily perishable. The finds available to us are random torsos, usually coming from elite graves or accidental discoveries from glaciers, peat bogs or bodies of water.
  • A number of excavations were carried out at a time when any organic material was considered waste or uninteresting, not an object of investigation. The amount of textiles discovered therefore suffered during excavations or insufficiently high-quality storage.
  • Research is decentralized and largely local. This means that there is little communication between the individual regions of Europe, which limits the possibilities of finding analogies and making general conclusions.
  • The research is usually on a theoretical level and is burdened by the fact that the authors usually do not attempt to physically reconstruct the clothes and subject them to experiments.

The unsatisfactory state of affairs has only improved in the last five decades: more rigorous procedures have been introduced in excavations and conservation, and professionals have emerged who focus only on the investigation of historical textiles. At this point, it is appropriate to mention several important authors who have devoted themselves or are still devoted to the problem of European early medieval textiles and cuts: Andersson (2003; 2005; Andersson Strand 2005; Andersson Strand – Demant 2023; Andersson Strand – Mannering 2017), Appelgren-Kivalo (1907), Arwidsson (1942; 1954; 1977), Ball (2005), Banck-Burgess (2000; 2003; 2007), Bartel (1998; 1999; 2003; 2005; 2007; Bartel – Knöchlein 1993; Bartel – Nadler 2005), Bauer (1998; 2004a-b), Brandenburgh (2010a-b; 2012; 2016), Braun (1907), Bravermanová (2000; 2006; et al. 2023), Březinová (2010; 2012; 2013; 2014; Březinová – Přichystalová 2014), Cardon (1992; 1993; 1996; 2007), Clauss (1976; 1976/1977), Coatsworth (2001; 2007; Coatsworth – Fitzgerland 2001; Coatsworth – Owen-Crocker 2007; 2018), Crowfoot (1983; 1990; et al. 2001; Crowfoot – Chadwick Hawkes 1967), Cybulska (Cybulska – Maik 2014; Cybulska et al. 2018), Davidan (1981; 1989), Dawson (2002; 2003; 2015), Desrosiers (2004; Desrosiers – Rast-Eicher 2012), Efimova (1966), Ewing (2006a-b), Falk (1919), Falke (1913; Lessing – Falke 1913), Farke (1990; 1998; 2001; Gabriel – Farke 2003), Fechner (1977; 1982; 1985; 1993; 1999), Fentz (1987; 1989; 1992; 1998), Fitzgerald (1997; 2000), Gabra-Sanders (1998; 1999; 2001), Garver (2009; 2010; 2013), Geijer (1938; 1979; 1980; 1983), G̦inters (1981), Gjessing (1938), Gorp (1986), Granger-Taylor (1989a-c; 1991; 1994a-b), Griciuvienė (2016), Grömer (2018; 2019; et al. 2017; Grömer – Müller 2008), Grupa (2004; 2008; 2009), Hägg (1967-1968; 1969; 1971; 1974; 1982; 1983; 1984a-c; 1986; 1988; 1991; 1999; 2000; 2002; 2003; 2015), Hald (1951; 1980), Harangi (2022; et al. 2023), Haas-Gebhard (2012; 2013; Haas-Gebhard – Nowak-Böck 2012), Hayeur Smith (2015a-b; 2020; et al. 2019), Heckett (2001; 2003; 2004; 2010; 2013; 2017), Hedeager Krag (1989; 1994; 1998; 1999; 2003; 2004; 2005; 2007; 2008; 2010; Hedeager Madsen 1990), Henry (1992; 2004), Hensellek (2020), Herget (2011), Hoffmann (1964; 1966), Hundt (1958; 1966; 1967; 1972; 1973; 1977; 1980; 1981; 1984a-b; 1985; 1987; 1992; 1994; Hundt – Hopf 1970), Chvoščinskaja (1984; 2004; Kvhoschchinskaia 1992), Ingstad (1979; 1980; 1982; 1988; 1999), Jakovčik (2017; 2018a-b), Jakunina (1940; 1947), Jerusalimskaja (1992; 2012; Ieruzalimskaja 1996), Jørgensen (1986; 1987; 1991; 2012; Jørgensen – Walton 1986), Kajitani (2001), Kania (2007; 2010), Kirjavainen (Hammarlund et al. 2008; Kirjavainen – Riikonen 2007), Kostelníková (1972; 1973; 1990), Krupičková (2022a-b; et al. 2019), Larsson (2003; 2007; 2020), Lehtosalo-Hilander (1984; 2000; 2001), Lester-Makin (2017; 2019; 2020), Linscheid (2016; 2017), Lukešová (2011; 2015; et al. 2017), Magoula (2008; 2018), Maik (1986; 1991; 2021), Malmius (1996; 1998; 2001; 2002; 2003; 2020), Mannering (2017; Mannering – Rimstad 2023; Berghe et al. 2023), Michailov (2005; 2010; Orfinskaja – Michailov 2013; 2020; Mikhailov 2008), Miller (2014a-c), Munksgaard (1984; 1988; 1989; 1991), Muthesius (1989; 1992; 1993; 1997; 2004; 2008; 2016), Müller (2003), Müller-Christensen (1955; 1960; Schuette – Müller-Christensen 1964), Nahlik (1964; 1965; 1971; Kamińska – Nahlik 1958), Niepold (2015; 2016; 2023; Codreanu-Windauer – Niepold 2019; Niepold – Röckelein 2013), Nockert (1982; 1991; Christensen – Nockert 2006; Nockert – Ræder Knudsen 1996), Nowak-Böck (2012; Nowak-Böck – Looz 2013; Nowak-Böck – Schneebauer-Meißner 2012), Orel (1964; 1965); Orfinskaja (2001; 2011; 2017; 2018; Kočkurkina – Orfinskaja 2014a-b; Orfinskaja – Michailov 2020; Orfinskaja – Nikitina 2014; Orfinskaya – Arzhantseva 2013; Orfinskaya – Pushkina 2011; Zubkova et al. 2010; Zubkova – Orfinskaja 2016), Owen-Crocker (1976; 2010; 2017; 2019; 2021; et al. 2012; Coatsworth – Owen-Crocker 2007; 2018), Papas (1965), Peek (2008; 2015; 2016; 2020a-b; et al. 2017; Peek – Nowak-Böck 2016; Peek – Walter 2008), Pertegato (2014; 2019), Pettersson (1968), Pīgozne (2018; 2020; Davidson – Pīgozne 2010), Pritchard (1980/84; 1984; 1992; 2017; 2021; et al. 2019), Püschel (et al. 2019), Rabiega (2019), Rast-Eicher (2003; 2004; 2005), Rimstad (1998; 2019; et al. 2021; Berghe et al. 2023; Rimstad – Ojantakanen 2015), Ræder Knudsen (1996; 2005; Hedeager Krag – Ræder Knudsen 1999), Saburova (1975; 1976; 1997; Saburova – Elkina 1991), Scherping (2001; 2005), Schlabow (1953; 1959; 1974; 1976), Schneebauer-Meißner (2012; 2015), Schrenk (2007; 2011; 2016; Schrenk – Reichert 2011), Siegmüller (2008; 2010; 2013; Peek – Siegmüller 2016; 2018a-b), Sikorski (1989/90; 2012; et al. 1998; 2005), Stepanova (2017; 2019), Thunmark-Nylén (2006), Tidow (1988; 1995; Tidow – Schmid 1979), Toplak (2010), Türk (Bollók et al. 2009; Türk et al. 2022), Urbanová (2009; Urbanová – Leite 2009; Urbanová – Pulpán 2016), Vahter (1928; 1934; 1945; 1952), Vajanto (2003; 2014; 2015; Kirkinen et al. 2022), Vedeler (2011; 2013; 2014ab; 2015a-b; 2019; 2021; et al. 2018; Łucejko et al. 2021; Vedeler Nilsen 1992), Walton Rogers (Walton 1988; 1989a-b; 1991; Jørgensen – Walton 1986; Walton Rogers 1997; 2007; 2014a-b; Walton Rogers – Thompson 2018), Zariņa (1960; 1970; 1988; 1990; 1994; 1999; 2006; Apala – Zariņa 1991), Žeiere (2005; 2008a-b; 2010; 2013; 2017), Žilina (2018). We can also mention important series that are devoted to the publication of textile finds in Europe: Ancient Textiles Series, Archaeological Textiles Newsletter (ATN) / Archaeological Textiles Review (ATR), Bulletin de Liaison du Centre International d’Etude des Textiles Anciens, Costume, Medieval Clothing and Textiles, North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles (NESAT) and Textile history.

Of course, these changes also brought about rare efforts to reconstruct textiles and clothing in an academic environment. The most prominent ones were published by Bau (1981), Ejstrud (et al. 2011), Fentz (1994), Jørgensen (1994), Kania (2007), Mannering (Mannering et al. 2023; Mannering – Rimstad 2023), Pasanen (Karisto – Pasanen 2021; Pasanen – Sahramaa 2021), Urbanová (Urbanová – Leite 2009; Urbanová – Pulpán 2016), Wåhlander (et al. 2023) and Žeiere (2017). The reenactor community, with its detailed focus on overlooked aspects of clothing and its practical capabilities, offers an unprecedented complementary source of data that, over the past twenty years, has re-evaluated the view of early medieval clothing as a whole. The main agents in this field so far have been researchers Peter Beatson, Susanna Broomé, Nille Glæsel, Mervi Pasanen, Hilde Thunem and Roland Warzecha.

In the following article, we will use all these available sources to try to grasp the main logic behind the production of tunics and similar garments in the early middle ages. The article is dedicated to academics, reenactors and the wider public who are interested in the topic of historical clothing. If you are a reenactor or manufacturer, you can skip to final implications and notes for reenactors.

Tento obrázek nemá vyplněný atribut alt; název souboru je archetyp-1024x636.jpg.

The archetypal clothing of men and women in the early middle ages in much of Europe.
Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Junius 11, f. 45.

Choice of material

In the European Early Middle Ages, the following materials come into consideration:

  • Plant-based fibres. The most common was undoubtedly flax, but hemp and nettle also appear (Březinová 1997: 125). In exceptional cases, we record imported cotton (Cardon 1996).

  • Animal-based fibres. A typical representative of this category is sheep’s wool, while horse hair, human hair, mohair, and animal fur are less well known (Březinová 1997: 125-7). The most luxurious material of this group is silk.

At the same time, we see two ways of dealing with these materials in different regions:

  • Seaside and mountain circuit of western, northern and partly central Europe. In the clothing industry, both types of materials are used, typically in such a way that plant-based fabrics and silk were used to make light, airy clothes used indoors, for example underwear and shirts, while animal-based fabrics are suitable for outerwear used outdoors. An illustration is provided by the Old Norse family sagas, where linen textiles are directly associated with the domestic environment and woolen clothing with movement outside the farm.

  • The steppe region of eastern, southeastern and partly central Europe. Animal-based fabrics other than silk are almost never used in the clothing industry. Clothes are predominantly made of linen or silk, which are lined with fur. Men’s tunics are basically not produced in this cultural circle.

Clothing textiles made of plant fibers are, with exceptions, made in plain weave (for examples of exceptions, see Hundt 1980: 157; Lukešová et al. 2017: 283; Walton 1989b: 346). In contrast, clothing woolen fabrics are rarely woven in a plain weave and are usually in twill weaves. A typical weave used to make woolen garments is 2/2 twill. The main advantage of twill weaves is their flexibility, which contributes to a better appearance and longer life.

The question of the weight of original textiles is extremely complex and basically impossible to determine. Textiles are often found in destroyed states that do not allow weighing, so the issue of weight is never part of archaeological publications. One of the few published values is the yarn thickness, which in the case of woolen yarns is divided into very fine (<0.5 mm), fine (0.5-0.75 mm), coarse (0.75-1.5 mm) and very coarse (>1.5 mm) (Brandenburgh 2010a: 52). The matter is also complicated because the yarns within one garment may not be balanced and may move at both extremes of the scale (Vedeler – Hammarlund 2017: 30). One of the ways to roughly outline the weights of original fabrics is by comparing the density of modern and historical fabrics. For example, we see that in historical textiles, four-ply twill usually has 13-44 fibers per square cm, while modern wools woven in the same weave at about 18 fibers per cm reach a weight of 400 g/m and at about 40 fibers a weight of about 185 g/m. This would imply that historical 2/2 twills could have weights of around 180-450 g/m. The weight of Great Moravian woolen textiles was set at 230-540 g/m (Orel 1964: 21). This corresponds well with today’s clothing industry, where light wool fabrics are in the range of 200-300 g/m, while heavier ones are around 500-600 g/m. In any case, it is well shown that for the production of lower quality and winter clothing, including cloaks, heavier fabrics were used, while more expensive clothes worn directly on the body were made of better quality and flowing fabrics of a lower weight.

Tento obrázek nemá vyplněný atribut alt; název souboru je ctyrvazny-1024x487.jpg.

Schemes of four-shed twills – the most common weaves of woolen textiles of the Early Middle Ages. Source: Schlabow 1976: Abb. 155-6.

The width of the fabric

The gateway to the study of early medieval European clothing is a discussion of the width of period fabrics and the consequences that width affects. An essential work in this regard is the overlooked book Cut my Cote, published by Dorothy Burnham in 1973. Burnham has shown convincingly that the construction of clothing is directly dependent on the width of the looms: cultures that developed wide looms and that produced wide cloth tended to make wide clothing from a single piece of cloth. In contrast, those cultures that used narrow looms produced narrow fabrics that had to be cut and sewn together. Due to the small width of the fabric, the main logic when cutting was to make as straight lines as possible so that there was minimal or no waste. As a result, garments made from narrow width fabric tend to be fitting much closer to the body.

This observation brilliantly reflects the dominant trend in early medieval Europe, as far as we can judge from the meager physical evidence and iconography. European men’s clothes, if we leave aside the clothes of children and high secular and church officials, are made of narrow, home-made fabrics 45-90 cm wide (e.g. Fentz 1987; Zariņa 1999: 149-150) and copy the body shapes quite well. The important thing to know is that basically every tunic is different in detail and no two tunics are perfectly identical, even when two tunics are found together. This means that the manufacturers did not strictly adhere to certain cuts, but followed other goals: trying to maintain a fashionable silhouette by using a cut during which there is no or minimal waste. We see the same logic in clothing until the modern era (e.g. Gjessing – Gjessing 1940; Nockert 1997; Østergård 2004). Behind this we must perceive the effort to use material that was considered so expensive that it cannot be wasted in a very purposeful way. We can mention that textiles were treated as an investment material in the early middle ages, which sometimes had a quality, width and value given by law (Hayeur Smith 2015a). The experimental production of the tunic from Viborg showed that the entire process from growing flax to weaving to bleaching and sewing takes an incredible 300-400 hours (Ejstrud 2011: 79). The experimental production of the woolen tunic from Lendbreen was calculated for a similar time (Vedeler – Hammarlund 2017: 30). Therefore, it is not surprising that clothes became gifts and rewards (e.g. Melnikova 2011: 90).

The issue of zero-waste production has influenced several authors to the extent that they have included diagrams in their works showing how the parts were obtained from narrow-width textile. In addition to Burnham, these are Fentz (1998), Orfinskaja (2017; Orfinskaya – Arzhantseva 2013; Orfinskaya – Pushkina 2011) and Schlabow (1976). Orfinskaja created elaborate schemes for caftans, proving that this phenomenon is not unique to tunics, but also to open Caucasian clothing. The following diagram is our design, which presents seven tunic constructions from different length strips of fabric, with minimal or no excess material.


Knowing the above, we can proceed to a detailed analysis of the tunic finds and their individual structural features. To simplify, we can divide the tunic into four areas, namely:

  • Feature 1: body structure
  • Feature 2: skirt structure
  • Feature 3: neck solutions
  • Feature 4: sleeve and armhole solutions

Tento obrázek nemá vyplněný atribut alt; název souboru je 12-1024x903.png.

Now we will gradually focus on these individual features or areas. We attach an extensive comment to each feature, which covers basic data and specific forms. The variants known from the finds as well as those predicted are visualized, while for a better understanding we show the relevant part with red lines.

Feature 1

The basic and usually the largest part of the tunic is the rectangular strip representing the torso of the garment. It is more often made in the basic width of the fabric, but sometimes it is made up of several parts. This strip is usually straight, unfitted, with good body fit achieved by sleeves and underarm gores, although there are exceptions (e.g. Burnham 1973: 11; Coatsworth – Owen-Crocker 2018: 216). Unlike caftans or coats, the tunic is characterized by the fact that it is not open at the front.

At this advanced point we must mention an important fact which relates to the manner of wearing tunics. It is clear from iconography across the continent that men’s tunics were deliberately worn to cover the belt (e.g. London, BL, MS Arundel 60, 4r; Paris, BNF, Lat. 1, 423r; London, BL, MS Stowe 944, 6r; Praha, Národní knihovna, XIV.A.13, 29v; Paris, BNF, Latin 1141, f. 14). In Western and Central European iconography, the belt is hidden in the folds of the tunic until the 12th century (e.g. London, BL, Harley 2802, f. 190). For that reason, the tunic had to be a few centimeters longer and wrapped around the belt in the waist area. It has been experimentally proven that with an average belt width of 2 cm, the tunic needs to be lengthened by about 6 cm (example of reconstruction here). We can only guess the reasons for this wearing, but the experiment showed that the reason may be of a practical nature: since the torso is excessively or uncomfortably fitted, due to pulling up the skirt and wrapping the tunic around the belt, a certain looseness is created in the chest area. The loosening does not disturb the fit and at the same time makes wearing the tunic more comfortable. Another practical reason can be a better form of insulation against cold air blowing from under the skirt.

The following diagram tells how the basic part of the tunic is constructed and whether the torso and skirt are made from one piece or not.

The first picture (1) shows a tunic whose body and skirt are not divided and which do not have a shoulder seam. For example, the two tunics from Guddal (Vedeler Nilsen 1992: 29, 34), the two tunics from Skjoldehamn (Gjessing 1938: 39) or the tunic from Kragelund (Østergård 2004: Fig. 89) correspond to this scheme. The variant with a shoulder seam is shown in the second picture (2). This method is best illustrated by the tunic from Moselund (Østergård 2004: Fig. 95) or the tunic from Thorsberg (Schlabow 1976: Abb. 140). We can also include tunics in the list, whose body and skirt are not divided and do not have a shoulder seam, but are divided by vertical seams (3). It can thus be divided into clothes with one central seam (3a), known for example from Asia (see Kato 2002: 99), and clothes divided into three parts (3b), which are represented by pieces from Sens (Muthesius 1997: Pl. 59a) and Castel Sant’Elia (Braun 1907: Bild 28-32). The fourth image (4) represents a tunic with a split torso and a skirt that does not have a shoulder seam. An example of the first variant (4a) is the construction of a dress from Salaspils Laukskola (Zariņa 1999: 48. att.). The tunic from Viborg (Fentz 1992), which does not have a split skirt, but has a double torso, visually resembles this variant. The second variant (4b), represented by the dalmatic of Rudolf of Schleswig (Scherping 2005: Abb. 35), has the torso and skirt separated by a separate rectangular piece. The following is a variant of the same tunic with a shoulder seam (5), for which we have no physical evidence and are adding it for completeness. The last and very interesting form of tunic is a garment composed of many small scraps, the so-called patchwork tunic (6). The best-known specimen is the tunic from Bernuthsfeld (Schlabow 1976: Abb. 149). It can be seen from this list that tunics with a shoulder seam form a minority in the find corpus.

Variants that have been marked with an asterisk (*) in the diagram may have a torso assembled from multiple parts, as shown in the following diagram.

Tento obrázek nemá vyplněný atribut alt; název souboru je 02-1024x774.png.

In the case of the first variant (1), the torso is made of two layers that are stitched together. Only the tunic from Viborg has this very unusual construction (Fentz 1992). The second variant is a group of clothes whose torso is created or co-created by sleeves. This group includes garments whose body consists of two separate sleeves with a vertically placed seam in the middle (2a). It is a popular form of women’s dresses in Africa (e.g. Borla – Oliva 2015), America (e.g. Hald 1980: 356), Asia (e.g. Orfinskaya – Lantratova 2010: 52) and Europe (Lehtosalo-Hilander 2001: 24) from from the Bronze Age to the Modern Age. The tunic from the site of Högom shows similar features (Nockert 1991: 32). The second form (2b) is tunics with sleeves made of one piece and not divided by a vertical seam. This solution appears in some dalmatics (e.g. Scherping 2005: Abb. 48) and children’s tunics from Egypt (Kwaspen – Verhecken-Lammers 2015: 153).

The third and last group (3) covers tunics, the body of which is composed of a different number of strips. The first mentioned form has a body formed from two identical halves, with the seam located in the middle (3a). In Europe, we can associate the back of the dress from Salaspils Laukskola with this method (Zariņa 1999: 48. att.). Furthermore, at least one garment is known, the body of which is divided into 3 parts (3b), namely the dalmatic of Rudolf of Schleswig (Scherping 2005: Abb. 35). The existence of multi-part body is also assumed (3c). One find of a princess-like cut was found in Haithabu (fragment H18; Hägg 1984b: 43, see reconstruction). A falconer’s clothing on a silver circle from Uherské Hradiště also has a visually similar solution (Klanica 1970: Obr. 4; Mlíkovský 2005: Obr. 1). The last variant (3d) is the torso with split shoulder parts, which we know from women’s dresses from Gnězdovo (Orfinskaja 2018: 430).

Feature 2

Another point concerns the variants of skirt solutions. The most important point to make here is to understand that tunics are garments that are at least thigh-length and often knee-length (after the tunic is shortened to tuck behind a belt). For that reason, they limit mobility (step length). If the movement is not to be restricted or the skirt to be shortened to hip level, this problem can be solved in three main ways:

  • the skirt is equipped with side slits
  • the skirt is equipped with gores, or gores with slits
  • the garment is left very loose at the expense of a large amount of used fabric

The results can be the variants presented below.

Tento obrázek nemá vyplněný atribut alt; název souboru je 03-1022x1024.png.

The first variant (1) represents a skirt that does not have any gores or slits. We find this variant on large and airy clothes, specifically continental dalmatics (e.g. Coatsworth – Owen-Crocker 2018: 216; Scherping 2005: Abb. 48) and children’s tunics and women’s dresses from early medieval Egypt (Kwaspen – Verhecken-Lammers 2015: 153). The second variant (2) is a skirt with side slits. This is a relatively popular solution, recognizable in tunics from Bernuthsfeld (Schlabow 1976: Abb. 149), Guddal (Vedeler Nilsen 1992: 29), Viborg (Fentz 1992), Zalachtovje (Chvoščinskaja 1984: 41) and tunics depicted in iconography (e.g. St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 22, f. 2, f. 59). It is a variant suggested for Baltic tunics (Apala – Zariņa 1991: 17; Zariņa 1999: 40. att.). The sides of the tunic from Thorsberg have strings that are interpreted as lacing, which allowed the wearer to regulate the opening / closing of the garment (Schlabow 1976: 70, Abb. 137).

The following is a group of variants (3), where the skirts are equipped with side gores. A very common solution is side gores that reach to the waist (3a). A variant can be found, for example, in tunics from Speyer (Herget 2011: 84), Skjoldehamn (Løvlid 2009: Fig. 30), the tunic of Raimond of Toulouse (Cardon 1996: Fig. 112), in the group of continental tunics of the 12th-13th centuries (e.g. Braun 1907: Bild 26, Bild 27, Bild 28-32, Bild 35; Fillitz 1954), in early medieval tunics from Egypt and Syria (Dawson 2002: Fig. 2, Fig. 3, Fig. 4) and also in iconography (Owen-Crocker 2017: 4-6). An alternative is gores reaching the sleeve (3b), which are less common and are found in several Egyptian tunics (Dawson 2002: Fig. 5), nomadic garments (e.g. Pearson et al. 2019: 58), the tunic from Manazan (Dawson 2002: Fig. 1) and at least three continental tunics of the 12th-13th century (Braun 1907: Bild 28-32). It is a popular form of women’s dress from the Bronze Age to the Modern Age (Lehtosalo-Hilander 2001: 24). The most unusual variant is a garment with a princess-like cut, where the gore reaches the shoulders (3c). One of the few finds with this method comes from Halabiya, Syria (Dawson 2002: Fig. 4), although at least one European dalmatic also appears to have a similar construction (Muthesius 1997: Pl. 59a).

A variation of the previous group are skirts with low side and central gores (4), which are present in tunics from Kragelund (Østergård 2004: Fig. 89), Moselund (Østergård 2004: Fig. 95), Skjoldehamn (Løvlid 2009: Fig. 12) and which survived into the Middle Ages, as evidenced by finds from Bocksten (Nockert 1997: Fig. 39) and Greenland (Østergård 2004). A piece of clothing from the Abbey of Saint Maurice d’Agaune may belong to this group (Muthesius 1997: Pl. 103b). It is true that central gores are usually used together with side gores (exceptions are e.g. Anderlini 2015: 57, 73). The final group is tunics with skirts formed from strips (5). The first variant is a skirt made of combined strips and gores (5a), which can accompany a torso made in a similar way. The gores from Haithabu (fragment H55A) may derive from the skirt of this variant (Hägg 1984b: 46). Between the individual parts of this fragment, there is a 6 cm long unstitched opening, which is interpreted as a possible pocket, which is a completely unique solution that has no parallels (Hägg 1984b: 42-5; tentative reconstruction here). However, it is also possible that this is an unintentional opening caused by wear. We can probably find a variant of this in three pictorial sources – Bayeux tapestry (tituli 7), a silver circle with a falconer from Uherské Hradiště (Klanica 1970: Obr. 4; Mlíkovský 2005: Obr. 1) and at the strap end from Moravský Ján (Klanica 1970: 425, Obr. 5). A possible skirt identical to the clothing of a falconer from Moravský Ján is a Volga region find from the Ruseničinskij cemetery (Orfinskaja – Nikitina 2014: 74). The second variant is made of two strips (5b) and is basically just a variation of the slitless and goreless variant (1). In the early middle ages, it is assumed for women’s dresses from Salaspils Laukskola (Zariņa 1999: 48. att.), however, it can be documented for women’s clothing since the prehistory (Lehtosalo-Hilander 2001: 24).

Variants that have been marked with an asterisk (*) in the diagram are equipped with gores, which deserve a short separate comment. Skirt gores are among the extremely variable details in each garment. If we can talk about any regularities at all, it seems that there are two basic variants: simple gores (1) and compound gores (2), selected examples of which are presented below.

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Gores are not always treated symmetrically within a single garment (Løvlid 2009: Fig. 12), therefore gores are not guided by aesthetics, but rather by practicality in production and use. There are no rules in shapes. Usually, gores become isosceles and right-angled triangles and trapezoids, but there are also less regular shapes that exceptionally include convex and concave curves. The upper limit of the number of gores per side of a garment is 8 (Braun 1907: Bild 28-32). A remarkable phenomenon is the use of gores with slits in the middle (see Østergård 2004: Fig. 89; Vedeler Nilsen 1992: 29). In the case of the slits in the middle of the skirt, this is a feature that began to be used only in the last quarter of the 10th century (see Paris, BNF, Latin 9448, f. 69v) and gained great popularity in the 11th century (Owen-Crocker 2017: 7-9) and which made riding a horse significantly easier. The upper part of the gore is often gathered so that the gore has folds (e.g. Braun 1907: Bild 27, Bild 35; Østergård 2004: Fig. 89; Fig. 95), which we must understand partly as a structural effect, partly as an important aesthetic element of the period clothing, which is also evident in the iconography (e.g. London, BL, Cotton MS Tiberius C VI, 8v).

In the iconography, we also find a situation where the skirt is hitched-up in such a way that the thighs peek out in two places on the front of the tunic. These are situations where the wearer is wading through water (Bayeux tapestry, tituli 6), warming himself by a fire (London, BL, Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, f. 8r), working in the field (London, BL, Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, f. 6v) or even engages in a duel (Paris, BNF, Latin 9448, f. 70r). It appears as a possibility that the skirt is turned inside out in the area of the side gores and tucked behind the belt. Hitched-up and fixed skirts are potentially also mentioned in Old Norse written sources (Ewing 2006a: 91-2). Apart from royal tunics and dalmatics (e.g. Schulze-Dörrlamm 1992: Taf. 3), the skirt of the tunic never reaches below the knees before the 12th century, thus offering great freedom of movement and allowing, for example, running (e.g. Los Angeles, J. P. Getty Mus., 85.MS.79.1.recto).

Feature 3

We can state that the main logic of most neckholes (if we leave out children’s tunics) is the greatest possible fit to the neck. Neckholes are therefore quite small and are often equipped with slits, thanks to which the head can be inserted into the garment. These slits are then closed using closing mechanisms. The slits were of different lengths in men’s and women’s clothing, and Laxdæla saga (chap. 34) even states that an excessively long slit in a man’s tunic can be grounds for divorce by a woman because the wearer does not appear masculine enough (Ewing 2006a: 55-6). Long slits are created for easier breastfeeding (Vlasatý 2023).

Closing mechanisms can be of metal or organic nature. The group of metal fasteners is represented by various types of brooches, pins, hooked tags and buttons (for example, Carlsson 1988 or Krupičková 2022b), while organic fasteners could be pins (Heckett 2001: 93; Schwarz-Mackensen 1976), textile buttons (e.g. Brenker 2015: Abb. 8; Hensellek 2020: Fig. 4.7b; Kajitani 2001: 97) and strings (Ewing 2006a: colour table 13; Fentz 1992; Jurčević 2016: 169; Nothdurfter 2002: 48; Zubkova et al. 2010: 296). Buttons were attached to clothes using loops or were directly sewn onto the textile without using a loop (Zubkova – Orfinskaja 2016: 380). If several pieces of buttons were used, they could be strung on a cord that was fixed separately (Orfinskaja 2018: 433). Textile loops are either sewn into the middle of the fabric or to the very edge of the garment: specific forms are simple loops fastened at one point (Bartel 1999: 21; Jerusalimskaja 2012: 207; Krupičková et al. 2019: Obr. 2; Løvlid 2009: Fig. 41; Zubkova – Orfinskaja 2016: 378) or a long and continuously attached loop (e.g. Hensellek 2020: Fig. 4.7c; Orfinskaja 2018: 434; Orfinskaja – Michailov 2020: 43; Zubkova – Orfinskaja 2016: 380). The fasteners were usually fixed with counterparts in the form of textile loops, but we also have preserved woven or sewn holes in the middle of the fabric (Kostelníková 1973: Obr. 7.2; Möller-Wiering 2011: 43-4; Schlabow 1976: Abb. 137) and exceptionally also metal counterparts with opening for fastening (Kainov 2012: 104; Malmius 2001: 79).

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We record three large groups of neckhole shapes. The first of them (1) are simple shapes without additional slits, which take the shape of an oval/rectangle (1a) and a circle (1b). Oval or rectangle (1a) appears in Germanic tunics (e.g. Schlabow 1976: Abb. 157), continental dalmatics (e.g. Herget 2011: 84; Scherping 2005: Abb. 48) and children’s tunics from early medieval Egypt (Kwaspen – Verhecken-Lammers 2015: 153). Circular neckholes (1b) are present in continental dalmatics and tunics (e.g. Scherping 2005: Abb. 35) and we often see them in iconography, where it may be a form of distortion. Another solution is the triangular neckhole (1c), which Dawson suggests for an early medieval tunic from Egypt (Dawson 2002: Fig. 3; 2015: Chart 1.2). A similar triangular neckhole, but with a slit, is known from a miniature dress from Astana (Orfinskaya – Pushkina 2011: Fig. 10). The enumeration of the group is completed by a semicircular neckhole (1d), known from the dalmatic of Pope Clement II. (Müller-Christensen 1960: Taf. 27-8). Square neck shapes without additional slits are not known from the finds.

The second group (2) is the most numerous and represents various shapes that work with the use of a single slit that can be closed with a fastener. The shape of the keyhole (2a) is relatively common, which we know from tunics from Moselund (Østergård 2004: Fig. 95), Manazan (Dawson 2002: Fig. 1), Baltic tunics from Priekulu Gugeri and Zvirgzdenes Isnauda (Apala – Zariņa 1991: 17; Žeiere 2017: 52-3), Caucasian clothing (Orfinskaja 2001: 225), a 13th century tunic (e.g. Anderlini 2015: 73), Egyptian tunics (Dawson 2002: Fig. 5) and iconography (e.g. Jacobsen – Moltke 1941: 271; Owen-Crocker 2017: 10). It is also assumed in tunics and dresses from the upper Volga region (Stepanova 2017: Fig. 106, 183, 185) and is well indicated by small circular brooches located at the neck (Hägg 1974: 19). The more open variant in the shape of an inverted drop (2b) is one of the most widespread shapes of neckholes and can be noted in the tunic from Skjoldehamn (Løvlid 2009: Fig. 20), in Baltofinnic shirts from Pļaviņu Radzes (Zariņa 1999: 40. att.), Salaspils Laukskola (Zariņa 1999: 48. att.) and Zalachtovje (Chvoščinskaja 1984: 41), in Caucasian clothes (Orfinskaja 2001: 225) and in the later Middle Ages (e.g. Anderlini 2015: 57). A circular or semicircular neckhole with one side slit reaching the shoulder (2c) is known from early medieval tunics from Egypt (Burnham 1973: 11; Kwaspen – Verhecken-Lammers 2015: 153) and Syria (Pfister 1951: Pl. I). Other shapes include circular and square neckholes with one side slit facing the chest (2d). Circular variants with a slit are known in the tunic from Bernuthsfeld (Schlabow 1976: Abb. 149–150), in Caucasian clothing (Orfinskaja 2001: 225), in a series of tunics from the 12th-13th century from the sites of Assisi (Braun 1907: Bild 35), Castel Sant’Elia (Braun 1907: Bild 28-32), Sens (Braun 1907: Bild 27) a Utrecht (Braun 1907: Bild 26) and the coronation tunics of William II. and Roger II. (Brenker 2015: Abb. 5-6; Fillitz 1954). It also occurs exceptionally in iconography (Brenker 2015: Abb. 7). The square variant is not so widespread and is known only from Suzdal (Saburova – Elkina 1991) and Viborg (Fentz 1992). The last representative of this group are the square neckholes with central slits (2e), which are known from Anglo-Saxon and French manuscripts of the period 975-1075 (e.g. Ewing 2006a: colour table 13, see the article Square Neck Tunics).

The third group (3) is represented by neckholes that are equipped with two slits. The first variant (3a) is a modification of the keyhole neckhole (2a), which is also equipped with a slit facing the back. We find this variant on the tunic from Kragelund (Østergård 2004: Fig. 89). The shape of the inverted drop follows, which is supplemented with a side slit (3b); we know this shape from the tunic of Henry II. (Brenker 2015: Abb. 1-2), as well as from two manuscripts from the turn of the 9th and 10th centuries – St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 22, f. 2 and Angers, BM, Ms. 24, f. 7v. A circular neckhole with one slit directed to the chest and one slit directed to the shoulders (3c) is represented by a single find from the North Caucasus (Orfinskaja 2001: 307). An extension of a circular or semi-circular neckhole with one side slit extending to the shoulder (2c) is a neckhole with two slits located on the shoulders (3d). We find this variant both in children’s tunics from early medieval Egypt (Kwaspen – Verhecken-Lammers 2015: 153; Linscheid 2016: Taf. 6) and in at least four continental garments of the 7th-13th centuries: the shirt of Queen Balthilda (Laporte 2012: 136), the tunic of Bishop Bernard de Lacarre (, the tunic of St. Stephen of Muret ( and blue dalmatic from Sens (Muthesius 1997: Pl. 59a). Our enumeration of shapes ends with a circular neckhole with two slits facing the chest (3e), which we know from the Guddal tunic (Vedeler Nilsen 1992: 34).

Since the pleating of the material at the edges of the neckline is recorded only in women’s dresses (Orfinskaja 2018: 430; Zubkova et al. 2010: 296) and not in tunics, we can proceed further. Variants that have been marked with an asterisk (*) in the diagram are in some cases combined with a flap that covers the slit or the entire chest area. The main function of the flap is the possibility of heat regulation and better breathability/insulation of the clothing. In women’s clothing, the flaps are used to cover long slits useful for breastfeeding. We present four following variants.

The first variant (1) is a square-like flap which is sewn to the garment on two sides and which has a loop that can be fastened with a button. The variant is known from the tunic from Skjoldehamn (Løvlid 2009: Fig. 39) and the tunic from Manazan (Sudár – Petkes 2014: 146). The second variant (2) is not based on any textile find and is only assumed (see reconstruction). It vaguely resembles the squares applied to the chest area on the mails in the 1st-3rd quarter of 11th century, which are thought to be hanging mouth protection (Embleton 2000: 8; Stephenson 2007: 87). The method enables complete hanging or half-opening of the neck. The third variant (3) operates with the fact that a large rectangle with its own neckhole is sewn onto the entire neck area, which can be partially uncovered and fixed with a fastener – this method is suitable for covering long slits designed for breastfeeding and is known from two finds from the northern Caucasus (Jerusalimskaja 2012: Il. 124; Orfinskaja 2001: 307). The last shown variant (4) presents a double flap that provides a practical and elegant fastening with buttons placed symmetrically at the neck. We typically see this method in the Central Asian Turkic tradition (e.g. Kubarev 2000; 2002), in Arabic (e.g. al-Mughira pyxis, chest from Leyre) and Byzantine iconography (e.g. frescoes of the church in Pancarlik, Menologion of Basil II), where the feature appears in both tunics and caftans. Unbuttoned flaps of a strikingly similar type can be seen on the falconer’s clothing on the strap end from Moravský Ján (Klanica 1970: 425, Obr. 5). Finding fixed flaps is difficult in iconography, as unbuttoned flaps are the easiest to identify. A similar way of the neck solution can be found on the Viborg tunic that applies a single cord instead of buttons (Fentz 1992). We encounter a slightly modified form in Western European iconography until the 13th century (Krabath 2001: 214).

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Let’s move on to the final point of discussion of the neck area. Much of the tunic lacks a collar and is left plain (1). Some tunics and dresses were equipped with a standing collar (2), which is sometimes reinforced with embroidery (e.g. Rabiega 2019: 142) or an organic insert made of leather or birch bark (Jakovčik 2018b; Stepanova 2017: 308-9). Collars are known from tunics from Skjoldehamn (Løvlid 2009: Fig. 39), Mammen (Østergård 1991: 134) and Manazan (Sudár – Petkes 2014: 146) and from women’s dresses from Moščevaja Balka (Jerusalimskaja 2012: Il. 124). Standing collars seem to be popular in Old Rus’ (Jakovčik 2018b; Orfinskaya – Pushkina 2011: Fig. 3; Saburova 1976). A third and relatively extraordinary variant is the hood (3), which appears on the tunic from Bernuthsfeld (Hahne 1925). Comparable finds from Europe are missing, but they exist in Asia (Kato 2002: 69). Landnámabók and Bandamanna saga mention a garment called a kápa, which they define as a raincoat-like garment with a hood and one sleeve (Ewing 2006a: 105). Similar raincoats without sleeves (e.g. Mayr-Harting 1999: Tab. XIV) and with sleeves (e.g. Hague, KB, 76 F 13, f. 3v) can be found in iconography. The use of a hood in the early middle ages definitely meant outdoor use and protection from the rain.

Feature 4

The fourth point of discussion concerns the sleeves. At the outset, it should be noted that the typical sleeves of the vast majority of early medieval clothing are long and reach the wrists when worn. Although there are clothes with short sleeves (e.g. Muthesius 1997: Pl. 59a) or sleeveless clothes (e.g. Hägg 2015: 57; Kwaspen – Verhecken-Lammers 2015: 153; Laporte 2012: 136), these were either children’s clothes or were worn over another bottom layer, which are the reasons why sleeveless garments are relatively loose. Undoubtedly, the dominant trend in sleeve design is for sleeves to closely follow the wearer’s arm. Grettis saga (ch. 17) mentions an extreme case where a woman sews the protagonist’s sleeves every morning after dressing, suggesting very narrow sleeves.

Moving on to the issue of fitting the sleeves to the torso of the tunic, there are several variations as illustrated in the following diagram.

The first group (1) corresponds to the sleeves, which are placed directly on the main part of the torso. This group is by far the most numerous method that we can record for tunics. We can talk about two variants. The first variant (1a) has a straight armhole and is a typical solution in the early middle ages (e.g. Braun 1907: Bild 27, Bild 28-32; Dawson 2002: Fig. 1; Fentz 1992; Gjessing 1938: 39). The second and less common alternative is a shaped armhole (1b). We can find it, for example, on the tunic from Moselund (Østergård 2004: Fig. 95); finely shaped armholes can be found on tunics from Guddal (Vedeler Nilsen 1992: 29) and Viborg, where the sleeve is placed on a narrow rectangular band (Fentz 1992).

The most unusual variant is a garment with a princess-like cut, where the gore reaches the shoulders and the sleeve is set on this gore (2). The armhole is straight. The only find with this method comes from Halabiya, Syria (Dawson 2002: Fig. 4). The third group (3) are tunics, where the sleeves are made up of the same part as the body. This group has already been described above. The first variant (3a) consists of two separate sleeves with a vertically placed seam in the middle of the torso, which correspond to the modern definition of a kimono sleeve. It is a popular form of women’s dress on many continents from the Bronze Age to the Modern Age (e.g. Borla – Oliva 2015; Hald 1980: 356; Lehtosalo-Hilander 2001: 24; Orfinskaya – Lantratova 2010: 52; Stein 2012: Obr. 107). The tunic from the site of Högom shows similar features (Nockert 1991: 32). The second variant (3b) represents tunics whose sleeves are made of one piece and are not divided by a vertical seam. This solution appears in some dalmatics (e.g. Scherping 2005: Abb. 48) and children’s tunics from Egypt (Kwaspen – Verhecken-Lammers 2015: 153).

The shapes of the sleeves correspond significantly to the shapes of the armholes, which in general are not advanced, especially compared to the following centuries of the Middle Ages. The upper edge of the sleeve is most often straight, unshaped, which well copies a straight or slightly shaped armhole, a so-called drop-shoulder sleeve style. Less common is the shaped edge, which corresponds to the shaped armhole, a so-called set-in sleeve style. One of the few examples is the sleeve of the tunic from Moselund (Østergård 2004: Fig. 95), the sleeve from Haithabu is also similar (Hägg 1984b: 59). A suitable comparison of Asian early medieval sleeve material and a comparison with today’s sleeves is offered by Kato (2002: 100), who shows that archaic sleeves do not lean towards a highly profiled edge of the sleeve. A possible explanation is that early medieval tailors simply resisted the high consumption of textiles and tried to work in the most economical way possible.

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Depending on the number of parts, we can distinguish between one-piece (1) or multi-piece (2) sleeves. In addition to children’s Egyptian tunics (e.g. Kwaspen – Verhecken-Lammers 2015: 15) and continental dalmatics (e.g. Braun 1907: Bild 26, Bild 27, Bild 28-32, Bild 35; Fillitz 1954), one-piece sleeves can be found in tunics from Bernuthsfeld (Schlabow 1976: Abb. 149), Guddal (Vedeler Nilsen 1992: 29), Manazan (Dawson 2002: Fig. 1), Moselund (Østergård 2004: Fig. 95) and Skjoldehamn (Løvlid 2009: Fig. 12). Sleeves are relatively space-consuming parts, and therefore it is not uncommon for them to be made up of smaller parts with different triangular or quadrangular shapes. Good examples are tunics from Guddal (Vedeler Nilsen 1992: 34), Kragelund (Østergård 2004: Fig. 89) and Viborg (Fentz 1992). The same logic is shown by the sleeve from Haithabu (Hägg 1984b: 59) and the sleeves of other garments (e.g. Orfinskaya – Lantratova 2010: 52; Orfinskaya – Pushkina 2011: Fig. 3).

A very important aspect of period sleeves is the tapering towards the ends. Apparently the only garments lacking this feature are church dalmatics (e.g. Muthesius 1997: Pl. 59a; Scherping 2005: Abb. 48) and some Egyptian tunics (e.g. Dawson 2002: Fig. 5). The dominant shape is a smoothly tapered trapezoid, less common are significantly tapered sleeves similar to kimono sleeves (e.g. Braun 1907: Bild 28-32; Nockert 1991: 32 or bat sleeves (Fillitz 1954), which are typical for women’s clothing and male ceremonial clothing.

How the sleeves were cut from the base material can only be guessed, as extant finds are rarely well analysed. Logically, we could assume that the orientation in the direction of the warp dominated, but this assumption may not be correct for all specimens: for example, the sleeves of the tunic from Thorsberg were cut oriented in the direction of the weft (Schlabow 1976: Abb. 140). All that remains is to state that the manufacturers chose both methods depending on the fact that they worked as efficiently as possible with the available material, as shown by the proposed schemes of Caucasian early medieval clothing (see Orfinskaja 2017).

Pleats, which are known from the sleeves of women’s dresses (Hägg 1974: 17), do not appear in tunics. A significant feature that appears in iconography across Europe is the gathering, which is most prominent in the forearm area (e.g. London, BL, Cotton MS Tiberius C VI, 8v). The only way to achieve a similar effect is to lengthen the sleeves in the space from the elbows towards the ends; when wearing, it is then necessary to fix the sleeves against slipping, which is best done by wrapping the sleeve around the forearm (example of reconstruction). In iconography, the original length of sleeves without gathering appears only in mourning scenes that depict the wearer with an unkempt appearance (e.g. Mount Athos, Dionysiou Cod. 587, f. 44). We may not notice this slight extension at all on physical finds. A similar extension of the sleeves is also typical for caftans.

A number of sleeves are wedged with underarm gores, the purpose of which is twofold: they allow the manufacturer to save on material and offer greater freedom of movement. If gores are not used, the sleeves can be shaped to replace their function. Gores appear in several variants.

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The first variant (1) represents gores made of squares that are folded across. Gores of this shape are known from a tunic from Viborg (Fentz 1992), tunics from the 12th-13th centuries (Braun 1907: Bild 27, Bild 28-32) and are assumed for Baltic tunics (Apala – Zariņa 1991: 17; Chvoščinskaja 1984: 41; Zariņa 1999: 40. att.). The modification is two triangular gores (2), which are possibly used in the tunic from Skjoldehamn (Gjessing 1938: 39) and in the medieval tunic from Bocksten (Nockert 1997: Fig. 39). The third form is elongated gores (3), slightly rounded on the sides, which together form the sleeve for at least half of its length. It is a shape known from the dalmatic of St. Ulrich (Coatsworth – Owen-Crocker 2018: 216) and from Egyptian tunics (Burnham 1973: 11; Dawson 2002: Fig. 3). The fourth variant is a gore in the form of a right-angled triangle (4), known from a tunic from the site of Högom (Nockert 1991: 32). The last case is the elongated side gores of the skirt that reach the sleeves (5); as noted above, this method is known on several Egyptian tunics (Dawson 2002: Fig. 5), the Manazan tunic (Dawson 2002: Fig. 1), at least three continental 12th-13th century tunics (Braun 1907: Bild 28-32) and is a popular form of women’s dress from the Bronze Age to the Modern Age (Lehtosalo-Hilander 2001: 24).

The last item on our list concerns the cuffs on the sleeves. The sleeve is relatively stressed at the narrowest point, so it is not surprising that this part can be reinforced by doubling the material, by sewing a band (e.g. Løvlid 2009: Fig. 23; Østergård 1991: 133) or by sewing an insert made of organic material, for example birch bark (Griciuvienė 2016: 20-21) or leather (Stepanova 2017: 309). We register two main variants of cuffs.

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The first variant (1), which seems to be more common, encircles the entire wrist without interruption. We find it in well-preserved tunics and dalmatics (e.g. Braun 1907: Bild 26, Bild 27, Bild 28-32, Bild 35; Fentz 1992; Fillitz 1954; Schlabow 1976: Abb. 149), caftans (e.g. Hensellek 2020; Jerusalimskaja 2012; Kajitani 2001; Orfinskaya – Pushkina 2011) and women’s dresses (e.g. Jerusalimskaja 2012: Il. 124; Zubkova et al. 2010: 292). In some cases it is detectable only on the basis of the metal decorations of the sleeves (Nockert 1982: Fig. 39). It is a variant dominantly depicted in the iconography of the period.

The second (2) and less common variant is the cuff, which does not encircle the entire wrist, but creates a small slit on one side of the sleeve (see example of reconstruction). The main reason for such a solution is, as with modern shirts, more comfortable wearing of the sleeve and a very tight fit around the forearm. This method is almost exclusively recognizable by means of metal remains – metal fittings and cufflinks (eg Nockert 1991: Fig. 21-22). We record the golden age of the use of these metal accessories in the period of 3th-6th century in Great Britain and Scandinavia (Hines 1993; Nockert 1991: 37-65; Kristoffersen 2000; Ræder Knudsen – Mannering 2007; Vedeler et al. 2018), as evidenced by the tunic from Thorsberg (Schlabow 1976: Abb. 137), but they are also known in the period of 8th-9th century Curonia (Griciuvienė 2016: 20-21). A tiny slit is suggested in the case of the sleeve from Haithabu (Hägg 1984b: 59). A rolled-up sleeve with a slit seems to be depicted in the Stuttgart Psalter (Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Bibl. fol. 23, f. 9r). Finally, slits with a similar function were also used on trousers (Løvlid 2009: Fig. 47) and stockings (Müller-Christensen 1960: Taf. 34-37). We do not record lacing on the sleeves during the monitored period.

Comment on decorations

If we put together all the information obtained, we will find that this analysis represents a difficult-to-exhaust number of theoretical combinations in the construction of tunics, which certainly number hundreds of possibilities. However, the real number of combinations used was certainly less, for at least two reasons:

  • Some combinations of elements would lead to excessive use of material or significant waste. At the same time, we know from the opening chapter that the manufacturers actually tried to manage the textile in an efficient way, which generated a minimum of waste.
  • Due to the cultural specificity that dictates fashion, there is a natural tendency to use a certain set of constructions and materials in a given space and time. This fact can be compared to folk costumes of the modern era.

We have now reached the point where a few words must be said about decorations. Generally speaking, the value of clothing in the pre-industrial world can be measured based on several parameters, among which the most important are:

  • fabric width and fabric quantity
  • fabric quality
  • fabric colour and colour tone
  • sewing quality
  • fitting to a specific wearer
  • additional decorations

This fact has significant consequences. First of all, the fact that the owner undoubtedly tried to keep all parameters at a roughly balanced quality level of execution, so that, for example, it was out of the question for fabrics with a low number of fibers per square centimeter to be dyed with a disproportionately more expensive dye. Equally important for the following chapter is the fact that clothing did not necessarily have to be decorated with embroidery and other applications in order to be considered valuable and high quality. A certain part of the above-mentioned tunics do not bear any form of decoration, for example the aforementioned tunic from Viborg, the production of which took several hundred hours.

Due to the natural decay of organic material, there is only a limited amount of evidence of decorations that lack a metal component. If we try to calculate the possible organic decorations, we can name first the use of fabric that is decorated by the nature of its production – it can be fabric with woven stripes (e.g. Kiersnowski – Kiersnowska 1965: 104; Vedeler Nilsen 1992: 29), checks (e.g. Brøgger 1921: 25-9; Hägg 1991: 241-2, 212), medallions or other ornaments (e.g. Coatsworth – Owen-Crocker 2018: 216) or printed fabric (e.g. Jakunina 1940). Applications of other textiles, especially silk in the form of edging (e.g. Zubkova et al. 2010), is also known. The sewing of various bands and cords seems to be just as widespread: lucet and similar cords and bands woven on tablets and combs (e.g. Løvlid 2009: Fig. 47). Non-metallic embroideries are generally rare finds, but were undoubtedly used (e.g. Østergård 1991: 126).

Finds of inorganic nature are among the better preserved. A large group consists of decorations made of silver and gold wire: tablet-woven bands with threads wrapped in wire (e.g. Geijer 1938: Taf. 17-25; Jakovčik 2018b), edge stitching (e.g. Geijer 1938: Taf. 31-2; reconstruction here), appliques for example in the form of posaments (e.g. Geijer 1938: Taf. 26-30; reconstruction here) and embroidery (e.g. Geijer 1938: Taf. 25). A special category are rings made of copper alloy, which are woven into Baltic and Finnish textiles (e.g. Žeiere 2017: 53). If we do not count metal fasteners among the decorations, we can mention glass plates (Lamm 1984: 214), silver and golden coins (e.g. Revész 1966: 188), pearls and precious stones (e.g. Miller 2014a: 156; Wamers 2005: 40-41) among the more unusual inorganic clothing decorations. It can be assumed that the inorganic forms of decoration come from the most prestigious class of aristocratic clothing, which were made of extremely high-quality and valuable fabrics, especially silk.

If we focus on the distribution of decorations within the tunics, we find several concentrations which are well illustrated by the following selection scheme.

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The amount of combinations actually used was undoubtedly much larger. In both the physical finds and the tunics depicted in the iconography, the most frequently decorated part is the neck area. Another commonly decorated part is the cuffs on the sleeves. Third in order is the hem around the bottom edge of the garment. Ceremonial and especially ecclesiastical garments in some cases also show vertical bands that go from the neck and shoulders to the bottom edge. Horizontal bands, which are located at the waist or skirt level, are not very common. Equally unusual are the decorations on the upper parts of the side gores and the bands running vertically down the middle of the sleeves. The use of bands to edging the bottom line of the sleeves is rare. Putting all the variants together reveals which positions are decorated little or not at all: the sleeves in the area of the forearms, the hips and the upper part of the skirt. The back parts of clothes can be decorated in the same way as the front (eg Chvoščinskaja 1984: 41).

While some variants and positions certainly fulfill only a decorative role, others can also have a significant practical dimension. It is a decoration that cleans up the stitching and strengthens the stressed parts of the garment around the neck, arms and skirt slits, thereby extending their life. It can be well imagined that these parts are imperfectly curved after cutting, and applying hem or embroidery would solve this problem elegantly and additionally strengthen the given parts. Some sewn bands and cords are undoubtedly chosen in order to mask and reinforce the stitches in places other than those described, basically in all positions where there is a connection of two parts – for example in the place of horizontal seams of the torso parts (Muthesius 1997: Pl. 59a), in the place of the gore seams (Hägg 1984b: 39; Muthesius 1997: Pl. 103b) and in the place where the skirt is connected to the torso (e.g. Lubova 2010: 58; Orfinskaja – Michailov 2013: 82). We know the same logic for period hats (Brandenburgh 2012: 44), gloves (Orfinskaja – Michailov 2020: 180) or even pillows (Østergård 1991: 136).


We would like to support the analysis of archaeological finds with a gallery of tunics depicted in European iconography from 8th to 11th century. As iconography does not usually contribute to a better identification of constructions (seams are not shown), silhouette-relevant aspects, ways of wearing and different viewpoints can be considered in particular. We therefore present a selection that illustrates views of the arms raised above the head, arms bent at the elbows, the back of the tunic, the tunic in forward and backward bends, and a profile view of the side of the tunic.

It is true that tunics of similar shapes are worn by both monarchs and working people. The most fundamental difference visible in the iconography is decoration. Colors are used arbitrarily in manuscripts, so people working in the field have coloured tunics, which we can call an author’s license. It can be assumed that there was a difference in materials between the tunics. However, we are usually not able to recognize this difference from the manuscripts other than the fact that the tunics of the monarchs are provided with the cintamani (three dots) motif, which seems to indicate silk.

Arms raised above head.
Left: Praha, Národní knihovna, XIV.A.13, f. 29v. Right: Bayeux tapestry, tituli 17.

Arms raised above head.
Left: Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. lat. 1719, f. 12v.
Right: Lyon, Bibliotheque du Palais des Arts, Ms. 22, f. 14v.

Arms bent at the elbow.
Left: London, BL, Cotton Cleopatra C VIII, 27v. Right: St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 22, f. 75

Arms bent at the elbow.
Left: Valenciennes, BM, MS 0412, f. 1. Right: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Junius 11, f. 49.

View of the body from the profile.
Left: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Junius 11, f. 49. Right: Paris, BNF, Latin 7903, f. 36v.

View of the back.
London, BL, Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, f. 6v.

View of the back.
Left: front page of the Golden Codex of Echternach. Right: Tournai, Bibl. du Séminaire, 001, f. 131v.

View of the tunic in a forward bend.
Nürnberg, GNM, Hs. 156142, f. 76v.

View of the tunic in a backward bend.
Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Ms. theol. lat. fol. 561.

Rolled-up sleeves and pleated skirt.
Left: Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Bibl. fol. 23, f. 9r.

Right: Bruxelles, Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, Ms. 10066-77, f. 133r.

Hitched-up skirt.
Left: Paris, BNF, Latin 9448, f. 70r. Vpravo: Bayeux tapestry, tituli 6.

Integrated hood.
Hague, KB, 76 F 13, f. 3v.

Summary for reenactors

In the current reenactment, the trend is to copy certain cuts of tunics found archeologically and to make their reconstructions from fabrics with a width of around 150 cm. The presented article shows that in early medieval Europe, tunics were made from narrow fabrics of around 45-90 cm, which had to be cut and sewn together. In the case of woolen tunics, in the Early Middle Ages, a material that would correspond to today’s weight of 180-300 g/m was probably used, while today reenactors also use wool with a weight of 300-700 g/m. As textiles were a valuable material to be spared, clothing production focused on minimizing waste. This logic behind production was more important than standardized cuts, so each product was slightly different. In addition to minimal waste, an important criterion during production was the achievement of an aesthetic silhouette, which primarily included:

  • mid-thigh or knee length length of the garment
  • tight fitting of the garment to the torso
  • covering the belt in the folds of the tunic
  • long narrow sleeves that are gathered in the forearm area
  • the use of gores and/or slits on the skirt
  • neckhole closely follows the neck

Therefore, following specific cuts is not the most appropriately chosen way of reconstructing tunics in the early middle ages. The simplest correct way is to make it from a material with a width of 50-100 cm (in which we take into account the fact that modern people are on average taller and have a larger volume) so that no or little textile waste arise during production and that the resulting product complies with the above-mentioned requirements for a contemporary silhouette. Thus, the tunics will necessarily be assembled from many parts, which will not please the modern eye, but a greater agreement with the available finds will be achieved (e.g. Pearson et al. 2019: 58).

The last chapter of the article talks about decorating methods. For reenactors, the most important message in this regard is that not only decorated clothing was considered valuable, but at the same time the use of decoration predetermines high quality in other parameters as well – for example, from a historical point of view, it is impossible to equip the tunics that are created with complex embroidery or extensive silk panels from an undyed fabric with a low weave density.

If you are interested in women’s dress, please read our article Notes on Early Medieval Women’s Dress (Vlasatý 2023).

Tento obrázek nemá vyplněný atribut alt; název souboru je manevr-1024x667.jpg.

Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek Bamberg, Msc. Bibl. 140, 49v.


This article would not have been possible without the help of a number of people who have helped us navigate the field of clothing over the years and provided us with the necessary literature. We therefore express our thanks to Monika Baráková, Heather English, Eliška Chudomelová, Kristián Jócsik, János Mestellér, Anna Staňková, Eva Svobodová, Szymon Szymala and Hilde Thunem. At the same time, we are very grateful to Diego Cartes, who selflessly provided this article with illustrative diagrams. We would like to thank Pavel Alekseychik (Medieval Advisor) who provided us with a database of period iconography that served as the basis for the selection gallery.

We hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact us or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support our work, please, fund our project on PatreonBuymeacoffee or Paypal.


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3 responses

  1. Hey,

    Great article as always. Just a question. Jesse Boyck in his book about Iceland specifically mentions that a standard vathmal (inaccurate transcription – don’t have the special letters) was 2 ells, which makes almost 100 cm… if you add some % for larger people, shouldn’t you be dealing with wider fabric (wee bit above the 100 you refer to)? One downside was that as far as I know, vathmal was not dyed, so unless you somehow dye it in Iceland, you are walking in a white tunic.

  2. Thank you for the very thorough article. I really appreciate your rigorous style instead of the usual “they must have done…” and reenactors copying eachother that I see around me far too often.

    This is a very nice overview of the material, but I think it would be interesting to narrow down the differences based on location, time, and type of cloth. I have attempted to do this with a far smaller dataset centered around Scandinavia from the late iron age to the early middle age. I could only find 9 clear ones with cutting diagrams that weren’t just created speculatively. While it makes sense to not have everyone copying the same surviving examples, I would think certain features correspond to the local fashion at specific times and places.

    It seems like there’s a tendency for wool tunics and linen shirts to become longer with more complex tailoring over time. Earlier tunics appear to be thigh length with side slits, while later ones are often knee length with several gores in the skirt. I speculate, that different constructions might also have been used for woolen tunics and linen shirts. It seems like linen shirts have less complex tailoring in general and the few ones I’ve seen were folded over without shoulder seams. Assuming most people wore linen undershirts for washability and comfort reasons, some aspects like length and the size of neckhole can also be speculated considering the shirts are often not visible. But the surviving examples of linen are far lower than of wool, so it’s hard to make any definitive conclusions on the differences between them based on the limited samples. On a far more speculative note, it also seems like linen shirts have generally been less tailored and fitted compared to wool outerwear throughout history until recently, since they were seen as underwear and therefore rarely shown off. The last point is also made in the King’s Mirror text from mid 13th century Norway, although I believe the Icelandic Sagas mention linen clothing being shown in public.

    We often see neckholes with slits in iconography that appear closed. However, they rarely shows clasps or anything else holding them together. In my experience, a slit will naturally spread out if nothing is holding it together. Sometimes reenactors use brooches, but I don’t see a widespread support for that in the archaeological material or the manuscripts.

    The hypothesis about the reason for lifting the top of the tunic with a belt is to gain more room in the chest is very interesting. I have found that I need a far looser fit to have full mobility in historical tunics compared to modern clothing. Because the simple constructions means that the torso will be loose if there’s enough room for the shoulders. My attempt at a historical linen shirt is about 25% larger than my chest circumference, whereas my modern shirts are only around 10% larger. But that still places them in the narrowest third of the historical range of fabric widths, and I’m probably larger than the average back then.

    And while the iconography clearly shows that the belts were usually covered in the fabric, I can’t help but wonder why buckles and fittings were decorated then – especially considering that the belts were so short that the strapends would often be covered too.

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