Monthly Archives: August 2019


I wouldn’t want this one to go wholly missing.

It emerged catty-cornering from a thread on Irish population in the Viking era. I’d become intrigued by the possibility of  Malthusian population controls through the nature and limits of Irish agriculture.

That lead me to the thought that the pre-modern Archipelago depended on draught animals (castrated bullocks as oxen, and horses). Grassland was as essential as arable. Cattle and sheep also provided meat, leather, wool, the tallow for candlelight, dung for the arable land. In the absence of paper, also parchment and vellum — so those early Irish manuscripts usually on calfskin, not parchment from sheepskin might tell us something.

From there to Giraldus Cambrensis ( Gerald de Barri, so of the same rootstock as Tom and Kevin) reckoning Ireland, at the end of the twelfth century, was ‘more grass than grain’ and ‘its pastures were more productive than its ploughed fields. No great change there, then.

In 1397 Raimon de Perelhos betook himself on pilgrimage to St Patrick’s Purgatory. Being a useful chap from the Pyrenees he was taken aback by what he saw: a warrior society, close to absolute impoverishment, co-habiting with their cattle and horses. The diet was beef, not bread. The drink was milk, beef tea, or water. Dress was no more than a knee-length smock, shoeless and unbreeched, so both sexes had it all hanging out, ‘all they had and with as little shame as showing their faces’.

Enter, stage right, another contributor, one Barroso:

IIRC, Ibn Batuta said much the same about the Tatars he met on his travels to all Muslim lands maybe half a century earlier. I have also read that in N. Mediterranean lands underwear was not worn – by women at least – in or around the same period; however, women’s dresses may have been longer there.

That was catnip to puss (as one might say).

By a commodious vicus of recirculation I was prompted that Suetonius had a problem (chapter 82) with the assassination of Julius Caesar. The dying dictator, Suetonius says, made the effort to wrap his toga around his legs that he might fall more decently with the lower part of his body covered.  In the circumstances, as one well might.

Elsewhere said C. Suetonius Tranquillus tells us about feminalia which he equates with the braccae of the Gauls — braccae are none too far distant from Old English bréc, the plural of bróc, which hints at the transition from a single breech-clout to a proper pair of knickers. If they were feminalia, that implies a gender dress distinction. Elsewhere femoralia would be the thigh-highs (cf: femur) and tibilalia the full-length jobs. Compare, too, Virgil in Aeneid XI:

Chloreus, once a priest of Cybele (say no more!) wore a robe o’erwrought with feathery scales of bronze and gold; […] his skirts and tunics gay were broidered, and the oriental garb swathed his whole leg.

Obviously punch-ups between Greeks and Trojans were even more exotic than credible.


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