The civilizations that developed in Mesopotamia near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers between 3000 and 300 b.c.e. developed impressive skills for fashioning clothing. The evidence of these civilizations' clothing remains on sculptures, pottery, and in writings left on tablets and royal tombs. It indicates that a thriving textile or fabric industry existed in the early civilizations of Mesopotamia, which included the Sumerians (3000–2000 b.c.e.), the Akkadians (2350–2218 b.c.e.), the Babylonians (1894–1595 b.c.e.), the Assyrians (1380–612 b.c.e.), and the Persians (550–330 b.c.e.). Textiles were used for trade purposes and were also given as gifts to kings and queens.
Although the earliest civilizations used animal skins to protect themselves from the environment, people soon learned how to pound wool and goat hair into felt or weave it into cloth. Wool was the most common fabric used to make clothing in Mesopotamia and was used for practically every type of garment from cloaks to shoes. Looms for weaving fabric were in use as early as 3000 b.c.e. The skill of early weavers is extraordinary. Some fragments of linen discovered in royal tombs are almost as finely woven as modern-day linen fabric. Linen was a more luxurious fabric and was woven for the clothing of the wealthy, priests, and to adorn statues of gods. Other finely woven fabrics also became available for the wealthiest in Mesopotamia. Soft cotton was introduced in Assyria around 700 b.c.e., and silk became available later.
The surviving evidence does not show the colors of clothing made in Mesopotamia, but archeologists, scientists who study past civilizations, have discovered letters that describe how dyes, appliqués, embroidery, and beads were used to beautify garments. As early as 1200 b.c.e. a type of shell known as Maoris produced a highly-prized dye called Tyrian purple. Artifacts found in royal tombs provide evidence of fitted sewn garments, gold appliqués, and elaborately decorated clothes.
What they wore
The earliest evidence of civilization in Mesopotamia is identified as Sumerian. Early Sumerian men typically wore waist strings or small loincloths that provided barely any coverage. However, later the wraparound skirt was introduced, which hung to the knee or lower and was held up by a thick, rounded belt that tied in the back. These skirts were typically decorated with fringe or pieces of fabric cut in a petal shape. All classes of men seem to have worn these skirts. Early Sumerian women seem to have worn only a shawl wrapped around their bodies. These shawls were often decorated with simple border patterns or allover patterns. Later Sumerian women typically wore sewn outfits covered with tiers of fringe. These included skirts much like those worn by men and shawls or tops that were also fringed. By the end of Sumerian rule around 2000 b.c.e. both men and women wore skirts and shawls.
There is less evidence about what men and women wore during Babylonian rule from 1894 to 1595 b.c.e. The scant evidence available suggests that Babylonians wore skirts and shawls very similar to the Sumerians, although some men during Babylonian rule did wear loin skirts with a hemline that slanted from the upper knee in the front to the calf in the back. Evidence does suggest that the fringe on garments became more elaborate during this time. One painting discovered shows a king wearing a skirt with tiered fringe that is alternately colored red, gray, gold, and white. No evidence of female attire exists except for what was depicted in renditions of goddesses. Goddesses were shown wearing sleeved dresses with fitted bodices, V necks, and straight skirts.
The Assyrians, who ruled from 1380 to 612 b.c.e., continued to wear fringed garments. Both men and women wrapped fringed shawls over their shoulders and around their waists to cover themselves from their shoulders to nearly their ankles. These were held in place by belts. Around 1000 b.c.e. Assyrian men began wearing belted knee-length tunics with short sleeves. Men of high status, such as kings and military officers, also wore woolen cloaks dyed blue, red, purple, or white. After the Assyrians were conquered in 612 b.c.e., the Persian Empire began to prosper and people in Mesopotamia adopted Persian trousers into their wardrobes.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea. Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.
Payne, Blanche. History of Costume: From the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.Fringe