previous next


VITTA or plural VITTAE, a ribbon or fillet, is to be considered (1) as an ordinary portion of female dress; (2) as a decoration of sacred persons and sacred things.

1. When considered as an ordinary portion of female dress, it was simply a band encircling the head. and serving to confine the tresses (crinales vittae); the ends, when long (longae taenia vittae), hanging down behind (Verg. A. 7.351, 403; Ovid, Ov. Met. 2.413, 4.6; Isidor. 19.31.6). It was worn (1) by maidens (Verg. A. 2.168; Prop. 4.11, 34; V. Fl. 8.6; Serv. ad Verg. A. 2.133); (2) by married women also, the vitta assumed on the nuptial day being of a different form from that used by virgins (Ovid, Ov. Tr. 2.252; Prop. 5.3, 15, and 11, 34; Plaut. Mil. Gl. 3.1, 194; V. Max. 5.2.1). From the word altera in Prop. 5.11, 34, Marquardt is probably right in deducing that the vitta of married women was a double band, whereas the fillet of maidens was single (Marquardt, Privatleben, 46; cf. Becker-Göll, Gallus, 2.31: for the wearing of ταίνιαι by Greek brides, see Becker-Göll, Charikles, 3.375;--Stephani, Compte Rendu, 1872, p. 192; 1874, p. 140).

The vitta was not worn by libertinae even of fair character (Tib. 1.6, 67), much less by meretrices; hence it was looked upon as an insigne pudoris, and, together with the stola and instita, served to point out at first sight the freeborn matron (Ovid, A. A. 1.31; R. A. 386; Trist. 2.247; Ep. ex Pont. 3.3, 51).

The colour was probably a matter of choice: white and purple are both mentioned (Ovid, Ov. Met. 2.413; Ciris, 511;--Stat. Achill. 1.611). One of those represented in the cuts below is ornamented with embroidery, and they were in some cases set with pearls (vittae margaritarum, Dig. 34, 2, 25.2).

The following woodcuts represent back and front views of the heads of statues from Herculaneum, on which we perceive the vitta (Bronzi d'Ercolano, vol. ii. tav. 72, 75).


A full discussion of the dressing of the Lair and further illustration will be found under COMA

For ταίνιαι and vittae in Greek and Roman funerals as used for the decoration of the dead body and of the bier, see FUNUS Vol. 1. pp. 886, 890 (woodcut), and compare Becker-Göll, Charikles, p. 122.

2. When employed for sacred purposes, it was usually twisted round the infula [INFULA], holding together the loose flocks of wool, and depending in streamers (Verg. G. 3.487, Aen. 10.537; Isidor. 19.30.4; Serv. ad Verg. A. 10.538; Lucan 5.142). Under this form it was employed as an ornament for (1) priests, and those who offered sacrifice (Verg. A. 2.221, 10.537; Tac. Ann. 1.57); (2) priestesses, especially those of Vesta, and hence vittata sacerdos for a Vestal, κατ᾽ ἐξοχήν (Verg. A. 7.418; Ovid, Ov. Fast. 3.30, 6.457; Juv. 4.9, 6.50; VESTALES); (3) prophets and poets, who may be regarded as priests, and in this' case the vittae were frequently intertwined with chaplets of olive or laurel (Verg. A. 3.81, 7.665;--Stat. Silv. 2.1, 26; Achill. 1.11; Theb. 3.466); (4) statues of deities (Verg. A. 2.168, 296; compare Stat. Silv. 3.3, 3); (5) victims decked for sacrifice (Verg. G. 3.487, Aen. 2.133, 156, 5.366; Ovid, Ep. ex Pont. 3.2, 74; Stat. Achill. 2.301); (6) altars (Verg. Ecl. 8.64, Aen. 3.64; ARA Vol. I. p. 158 a); (7) temples (Prop. 5.9, 27; compare Tac. Hist. 4.53); (8) the ἱκετηρία of suppliants (Verg. A. 7.237; 8.128). Here the vittae seem to have served to bind the festoons of wool upon the branches which were borne in the hand (Verg. A. 7.237, 8.128; Hom. Il. 1.14; Plut. Thes. 18; Soph. O. T. 3).

The sacred vittae, as well as the infulae, were made of wool, and hence the epithets lanea (Ovid, Ov. Fast. 3.30) and mollis (Verg. Ecl. viii. [p. 2.976]64). They were white (niveae, Verg. G. 3.487; Ovid, Ov. Met. 13.643; Stat. Theb. 3.466), or purple (puniceae, Prop. 5.9, 27), or azure (caeruleae) when wreathed round an altar to the manes (Verg. A. 3.64).

[W.R] [G.E.M]

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: