Online Review: Book

The Brauron Clothing Catalogues: Text, Analysis, Glossary and Translation

By Liza Cleland (BAR-IS 1428). Pp. xvi + 173. John and Erica Hedges Ltd., Oxford 2005. £39. ISBN 1-84171-719-3 (paper).


Liza Cleland is one of the foremost authorities on ancient Greek clothing, having, among other studies, co-edited two superb volumes: Colour in the Ancient Mediterranean World (with K. Stears [Oxford 2004]) and The Clothed Body in The Ancient World (with M. Harlow and L. Llewellyn-Jones [Oxford 2005]). In these volumes, problems related to the history of dress and its cultural importance in antiquity receive an interdisciplinary treatment by prominent scholars on the topic. Cleland’s study of the Brauron clothing inventories is a by-product of her 2003 doctoral dissertation entitled Color in Ancient Greek Dress: A Methodological Approach, the publication of which is eagerly awaited. Its original goal was to bridge the gap between the epigraphic texts on cultic clothing regulations, intimately connected to the discussion of color in clothing, and the literary sources for color and dress in general. Its separate publication supplements the IG edition of the duplicate stelae that were set up on the Acropolis, fragments of which have been known for more than a century (T. Linders, Studies in the Treasure Records of Artemis Brauronia Found in Athens [Stockholm 1972]). The publication of the Brauron originals is still pending. Cleland’s new slim volume is a valuable reference work on the clothing catalogues that represent a practice associated with a cult of great importance to women, briefly mentioned by Euripides in his Iphigeneia in Tauris (1446–67).

The documents in question, spanning the period from 349/8 to 336/5 B.C., furnish significant direct evidence for Greek dress in the Classical period. They are approached in several ways, from the epigraphical (focusing on the reconstruction and annotation of the inscribed texts) to the “archaeological” (dealing with the objects themselves, patterns of dedication, and variation). The texts are highly interesting from a linguistic point of view as well, as they provide information on the terminology used for dress. But to date they have been regarded by scholars mostly as a curiosity for their hapax legomena. Yet, they represent a kaleidoscope of diverse garments that can still be milked for more information, and Cleland makes a convincing case for their importance in gender studies, while she addresses issues related to their lexical and epigraphic complexity, rare technical nature, and significance. As is the case with many ancient inventory lists, attempts at translating them are direly needed, and Cleland’s work serves as a starting point for constructive scholarly debate.

Aware of the difficulties in coming up with the right format for a catalogue that would list the contents of the Brauron inventories while avoiding unnecessary repetitions, Cleland resorts to presenting them first as part of a virtual collection (ch. 1). Following the manner of publishing temple inventories in Athens and on Delos, the sanctuary establishment at Brauron produced annual inscribed texts in which readers could theoretically follow the life of the votive dresses from the time they entered the sanctuary until they disappeared. Rather than reproducing all texts when no further restoration is necessary, Cleland constructs a composite edited long list of items that is made up from the 13 extant inventories and includes minimal comments and clarifications in the footnotes. The complexity of the material becomes abundantly clear, setting the scene for the next four chapters that provide perspectives.

Chapter 2 provides a tabulation of the descriptions according to type, decoration, color, colored decoration, fabric, and form where available. Cleland plausibly concludes that these lists do not pretend to describe every aspect of the physical nature of the actual garments. Rather, they single out certain aspects of them and overlook others, and they opt for a minimum, simple bureaucratic description that would allow officials to immediately recognize the distinctive decorative, social, and culturally relevant features that distinguish them from one another.

Chapter 3 summarizes the tabulated information in relation to garment type, and it appears that terms generally refer to groups of clothing with specific characteristics. Subsidiary features such as color and decoration are also emphasized. Cleland argues convincingly that there is substantial benefit in analyzing the various categories of descriptive terms in relation to one another, an important issue that is discussed in chapter 4, “The Semiosis of Description,” which could also have borne the subtitle “In Quest of a Vestimentary Code.” Here, Cleland applies the analysis of description relying upon three basic ideas: (a) the relationship between the real and “written” garment is one of equivalence rather than of identity; (b) the meaning of descriptions is not reducible to the terminological meaning of the words it contains; and (c) in describing those garments, the record-keepers of Brauron did not deem it necessary to address every aspect but rather reported those that varied meaningfully in relation to the purpose of the description. In this respect, Barthes’ seminal work, The Fashion System (New York 1967), in which he defines and explores the concept of “written” garment, is of particular value to Cleland in distinguishing the subtleties that are applicable to her study of dress through the Brauron inventories. She agrees with Barthes that garment type, decoration, and colored decoration are variants of identity. Color expresses identity with the particular subtext of “mark,” while fabric deals with variants of substance. One of Cleland’s most important conclusions here is that, on a superficial level, our interpretation of different terms found in the Brauron clothing inventories as synonymous is not based on real similarities but rather on deficiencies in our understanding.

Chapter 5 considers each tabulated category in light of the ideas expressed in the previous section. It also details the rationale behind Cleland’s choices in her translation (presented at the end of the work in a glossary). Apparent homonymy or redundancy of terms is interpreted as belonging to the lexical plane rather than as reflecting vestimentary function. The analysis of the terminology contributes to our understanding of classification, underlies the process of describing clothing, and reveals some of the taxonomy of Greek dress. At the same time, the author is aware of our limitations in understanding verbal depictions of garments and of their social significance.

Chapter 6 concludes by presenting Cleland’s tentative conclusions on how the different variables of clothing as evidenced in the Brauron inventories were combined to produce an intelligible garment.

Two appendices present us with a glossary of terms and the translation of Cleland’s composite text of the inventories, while a third presents us with a bipartite index of names that are classified first according to inscription and then alphabetically.

Cleland should be congratulated for this well-written, important book, which, despite her modest assertions, will not be easily surpassed. Rather, it will be a fundamental work on ancient terminology and gender studies, as well as the basis for any future discussion of clothing and inventorying in antiquity. Beyond our own world of classical studies, this book will be of great value to historians of costume.

Elizabeth Kosmetatou
Department of Classical and Jewish Studies
210C Jones Hall
Tulane University
New Orleans, Louisiana 70118

Book Review of The Brauron Clothing Catalogues: Text, Analysis, Glossary and Translation, by Liza Cleland

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kosmetatou

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 110, No. 4 (October 2006)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1104.Kosmetatou

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