Colors of Roman Clothing

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History, Facts and Information about Colors of Roman Clothing
The content of this article provides interesting history, facts and information about Colors of Roman Clothing. The range of colors used for producing expensive Roman clothes were produced by complicated dyeing processes. Expensive fabrics were imported from abroad and the dyes used for coloring these clothes were equally as expensive.

The red dye used to produce deep crimson or bright scarlet came from a insect found in the areas of the Mediterranean. The brightest or darkest colours were more expensive to produce and therefore limited to higher status clothing. All of the dye used for coloring fabrics in the Roman period were produced from natural sources such as plants and insects.

Colors of Roman Clothing - Roman Sumptuary Laws
Roman Sumptuary Laws were imposed by the rulers of Ancient Rome to curb the expenditure of the people. The word sumptuary comes from the Latin word which means expenditure. Such laws applied to various items including clothing. The Roman Sumptuary Laws ensured that clothing colors provided information about the status of the person wearing them. The Roman Emperors are identified with the color purple - it was an extremely expensive dye color to produce - but it is not common knowledge that wearing the color purple was actually banned by anyone but the emperor via the Roman Sumptuary Laws. 

Range of available Colors of Roman Clothing
The range of colors available for dyeing the materials and fabrics used for Roman clothing increased as the Romans came into contact with and conquered many of the nations in the western world. The Romans were great traders and even opened trade routes to China from where they obtained luxury materials such as silk. As with all other aspects the Romans 'borrowed' and then enhanced the ideas and produce from other countries.

Variety of Colors of Roman Clothing
To produce varying colors the material was heated with the dye and occasionally additional elements. Other items were added to the dyes to produce a variety of different colors. These included wine, salts, shells, mosses, sheep urine, lentils, fungus, vinegar, wild cucumbers, walnuts, insects, barley malt, plants, bark, roots, berries and flowers. The main colors of Roman clothing were produced by using the cheapest dyes, made from cheap and plentiful sources, which were available to the Romans from their provinces in the Roma Empire.

Main Colors of Roman Clothing
Shades of colors were produced by adding various elements as detailed above and combination colors such as orange were also produced. The main Colors of Roman Clothing include the following colors :

  • White
  • Purple
  • Blue
  • Red
  • Scarlet
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Brown
  • Black

Colors of Roman Clothing - Purple
The color of purple and its association with the Roman Emperors is due to vast expense of producing clothing made of such a color. The purple color was produced from an extremely expensive dye called Tyrian purple which originated in Tyre in Lebanon. The Phoenicians owned the monopoly on this purple dye which was was made by crushing thousands of sea shells - Mediterranean Murex. It took 10,000 Murex mollusks to make dye just one toga! This purple dye was worth more than its weight in gold and came to symbolise both the wealth and the power of the Roman Emperors.

Colors of Roman Clothing - Saffron Yellow
The rich, colorfast, color of yellow was produced by using an expensive dye used for Roman clothing. The yellow saffron dye comes from the bright red stigmas of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) which was found in areas of the Mediterranean including Spain and Greece . The Crocus sativus stigmas are the female part of the flower and saffron dye was produced by drying these and boiling with other plants then drying to produce the vibrant yellow colors.

Colors of Roman Clothing - Indigo
The color of indigo was produced by using an expensive dye. Indigo dye held colors fast and this rich color was worn by the wealthy and should not to be confused with the color blue which was produced by using cheap blue dye obtained from plants such as woad. The source was the indigo plants ( Indigofera tinctoria of India )and the dye was imported from India at great expense. Indigo dye and its rich colors were produced by a process of fermentation, filtering and finally drying into cakes of dye.

Colors of Roman Clothing - Crimson
The color of crimson was produced by using another expensive dye for Roman clothing. The Kermes ( Crimson ) Dye was obtained from the dried bodies of the female insects ( Kermes vermilio Planchon and Kermes ilicis ) which were found in southern Europe on the small evergreen kermes oak ( Quercus coccifera )The history of the Kermes dye dates back to the ancient Egyptians and the Romans. Kermes dye was produced by a process of drying the bodies of the insects and then fermentation.

Colors of Roman Clothing - Yellow
The common colors of yellow were produced by using a cheap dye used for Roman clothing. The cheaper colors of yellow were produced from Weld. Weld was a European plant (Reseda luteola) cultivated as a source of cheap yellow dye. Used to produce Roman clothing dyed in various colors and shades of yellow.

Colors of Roman Clothing - Green
The common colors of green were produced by using a cheap dye used for Roman clothing. The green colors were produduced by using Lichen. Lichen was a plant of the division Lichenes which occur as crusty patches or bushy growths on tree trunks or rocks or bare ground. Used to produce Roman clothing dyed in various colors and shades of green.

Colors of Roman Clothing - Reds, Pinks, Browns and Orange Colors
The common color of red was produced by using a cheap dye used for Roman clothing. The cheaper colors of red were produced from Madder . Madder was a European herb (Rubia tinctorum) the root of which was used in dyeing cultivated as a source of red dye colors. Used to produce cloth dyed in various shades of red based colors including orange, russet, pink, coral, light red, dark red, russet and brown. Used to produce Roman clothing cloth dyed in various colors and shades of red.

Colors of Roman Clothing - Blue
The common color of blue was produced by using a cheap dye used for Roman clothing. The cheapers colors of yellow were produced from Woad. Woad was a European herb (Isatis tinctoria) of the mustard family grown for the blue dyestuff yielded by its leaves - cultivated as a source of blue dye. The leaves were dried, crushed and composted with manure. The dye was produced through fermentation over several weeks. Used to produce Roman clothing cloth dyed in various colors and shades of blue.

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