previous next


PILL´EUS or PILL´EUM. The art of making felt by beating hair or flocks of wool into a compact mass seems to be at least as old as the art of weaving. It was practised in antiquity by the peoples of Greece and Italy, and in fact seems to have been known over the greater part of both Europe and Asia. No details of the processes of manufacture itself have come down to us, though the products are frequently mentioned by Greek and Roman writers from the earliest time. The art (ἡπιλητική, Plato, Polit. p. 280 C; ars coactilaria, Capitol. Pertin. 3, 3) was a recognised industry for a “maker of woollen felt” (lanarius coactilarius, Orelli, 4206 [I. R. N. 6848] lanarius coactor, Gruter, 648, 3) and is mentioned in Roman inscriptions.

Felt was put to a large number of different uses, such as to provide not only a covering for the sheds of military engines (Aen. Tact. 33), but also garments (cf. Plato, Polit. l.c.; Pliny, Plin. Nat. 8.191), as Caesar's soldiers did when they were in need of arrow-proof jerkins (B.C. 3.44). Boots or socks [UDONES] were also made from felt. By far the most important use of it, however, was to provide a covering for the head in the shape of hats and caps. Among the Greeks and Romans of the classical period it was most unfashionable to wear anything, except perhaps a helmet, when out-of-doors, at any rate in a town. Doubtless this was partly due to the prevailing custom of taking a siesta or remaining in the shade during the hottest time of the day, but the reason Lucian puts in the mouth of Solon seems still more plausible. Anacharsis had complained that, wishing not to appear a stranger at Athens, he had left his hat at home and was feeling the heat (de Gymn. 16, τὸν γὰρ πῖλόν μοι ἀφελεῖν ἔδοξεν, ὡς μὴ μόνος ἐν ὑμῖν ξενίζοιμι τῷ σχήματι), and Solon explains that it was their gymnastic training which enabled the Greeks to do without any head-gear.

The practice, however, of going bare-headed was, as we shall see, far from universal, and apparently characteristic of the well-to-do and leisured rather than of the labouring classes, who for the most part wore caps. Even the upper classes, when hunting or travelling, or otherwise exposed to rough weather, resorted to them, as did sickly or delicate folk. The general name for all such hats was τῖλος or κυνῆ, both words being applied not only to caps [p. 2.427]of felt and skin respectively, but even to helmets of metal.

In Homer πῖλος is used of the felt which lined the helmet (κυνέη) of hide which Odysseus wore. Elsewhere the κυνέη is of bronze, or, if nothing else, strengthened and protected with it (cf. Liddell and Scott, s. v.); but in the Odyssey we find Laertes wearing a κυνέη of goatskin while working on the farm (Od. 24.231). This was probably not far different from the τῖλος ἀσκητὸς which Hesiod recommends for rainy weather (Op. 546), and indeed peasants of every period wore caps of this kind often of skin, but also of felt. (Cf. Athen. 6.274: the Romans wore προβατέων δερμάτων πίλους δασεῖς).

They were like a fez, of a conical or sugarloaf shape, with a crown like the end of an egg, and were loose enough to be dragged over one's ears to keep off the cold or rain (Hesiod, l.c.). A sower in the painting of a cylix of Nicosthenes in the Berlin Museum (Catalogue, No. 1806; cf. Gerhard, Trinkschalen u. Gefäse, Taf. 1; Blümner, Leben u. Sitten, iii. fig. 48) is represented in a hat of this description. The celebrated cylix by Sosias in the same collection (Catalogue, No. 2278; Mon. d. I. 1.24, 25; Blümner, ib. iii. fig. 22) shows the wounded Patroclus, who has taken off his helmet, wearing a skull-cap of felt, which unmistakably acts as a lining, reminding one irresistibly of the πῖλος in the κυνέη of Odysseus.

This sugar-loaf or fez-like shape of felt cap seems to have been known as the πιλίδιον (= pilleolum), though modern archaeologists are in the habit of giving it the name πῖλος, which, when we consider the very general way in which this word is used, can scarcely be said to have classical warrant.

The cap itself was worn universally by artisans and sailors, along with the ἐξωμίς, and accordingly appears with it in art as their characteristic costume; and, in the case of

Odysseus offering wine to the Cyclops.

mythological persons, is worn by Hephaestus and Daedalus as craftsmen and by Charon and Odysseus as seafarers (cf. preceding cut from a statuette in Winckelmann's Mon. Ined. 2.154). In the case of Odysseus, we are told by Pliny that Nicomachus was the first to give him the πῖλος (H. N. 35.109, “Ulixi primus addidit pilleum” ); but Schöne maintains (Hermes, 6.125) that this was to represent him feigning to be mad, and not necessarily as a sailor. However this may be, it is difficult, with the evidence of vase-paintings of the perfect Attic style before us, to believe that there can have been any novelty in giving him a cap at such a late date.

Sailors with πιλίδιον. (From a vase-painting.)

The πιλίδιον or fez-shaped πῖλος was frequently worn with a band, which made it fit tighter on the head. Below the band there is naturally a piece of the edge left free, and by a perfectly natural process this becomes a brim. As a result we see on the monuments hats with brims of every conceivable width, from those that are little more than a fez, with a band tied round, to the broadest of wide-awakes.

Those with the incipient brim are frequently seen on the monuments as worn by warriors, but it is in most cases difficult to say if it was really of felt and not of bronze. Both were worn, for we hear of πῖλοι Λακωνικοὶ Ἀρκαδικοί, which were doubtless of felt, as were the πῖλοι, which protected the Spartans at Pylos so badly from the Athenian arrows (Thuc. 4.34, 3: cf. Iwan Müller, Handbuch, iv. p. 254); while,. on the other hand, a πῖλος χαλκοῦς is mentioned in Aristophanes (Aristoph. Lys. 562). A good instance of a πῖλος worn by a warrior which might possibly be felt is the relief from a tomb in Bullet. de Corr. Hell. pt. 7 (cf. Blümner, ib. i. fig. 6), while

Warrior in πῖλος and ἐξωμίς, from a relief. (Blümner.)

brazen πῖλοιο are worn by the soldiers on the frieze from Xanthus in the British Museum (Nos. 32 and 37). [p. 2.428]

The wide-awake was known by the distinctive name of πέτασος, and the fashion of wearing it came from Thessaly along with the χλαμύς, which it accompanies almost as invariably as the ἐξωμὶς does the πιλίδιον, the two forming the characteristic costume of the Athenian youth when serving in the cavalry. Many of the ἔφηβοι in the Panathenaic procession on the Parthenon frieze wear this dress, which is also one of the commonest in Greek vase-paintings of the perfect style, a figure from one of which is given in the accompanying cut.

πέτασος and χλαμύς. (From a vase.)

From the earliest time the πέτασος was the constant attribute of Hermes in art, though frequently its brim is so narrow that it scarcely deserves its name. In Greek art of the later part of the fifth century Hermes' hat is occasionally winged, in later times more frequently and in Roman art invariably so. In early art it is only the κυνέη αἵδου worn by Perseus that is winged. From a passage in the Oedipus Coloneus of Sophocles, where Ismene wears a θετταλὶς κυνῆ, which can only mean a πέτασος, it would seem as if women occasionally wore it when travelling.

The πέτασος, as worn by travellers and hunters, had not only a band which fastened it tightly round the head, but a strap which passed under the chin, and enabled the wearer, who, not being accustomed to it, naturally felt its weight, to let it hang down his back. This is very frequent in works of art, often doubtless because it enables the artist to show the outline of the head more sharply. The Hermes on the celebrated drum of a column from the temple of Artemis at Ephesus is a familiar instance of the fashion.


The brim of the πέτασος was usually not even all round, but cut into various convenient or fantastical shapes, of which examples from ancient vase-paintings are here given, after Blümner, the most common being one of quatrefoil shape, in which the two side leaves, if one may use the term, could be used as lappets tied over the ears by a chin strap. The brim could also be turned up behind, at one or both sides, giving it quite as many picturesque forms as a sombrero or other modern felt hat.


In Hellenistic times a Macedonian variety of the πέτασος, called καυσία, was worn, but chiefly as an emblem of power [CAUSIA].

The pilleus, which was practically identical with the conical πῖλος, was worn by the Etruscans, and frequently appears both on men and women on their monuments. (Cf. for this and other detailed information, Helbig in Sitzungsberichte der phil. Classe der Münchener Akad., 1880, pp. 487-554.)

It must have been used in very early times at Rome, for it was the characteristic headgear of the Pontifices, Flamines, and Salii on solemn occasions. It is, however, even better known as the symbol of Liberty, occurring as such on many coins, but especially on the denarius of Brutus and L. Plaetorius Cestianus, where it is


represented on the reverse standing between two daggers, s with the inscription EID. MAR. below (cf. D. C. 47.25). This use must not be con founded with the pair of pilei surmounted by twin stars which also appear on coins, but as the attributes of Castor and Pollux (pilleati fratres, Catullus, 37, 2). The symbol is doubtless derived from the fact that it was the garb of slaves who had been freed, on leaving the temple (cf. Serv. ad Aen. 8.564: “(Feronia) etiam libertorum dea est in cuius templo capite raso pilleum accipiunt” ). Hence pilleum capere (Plautus, Amph. 462) means to gain freedom. Saturninus raised a pilleum in modum vexilli (V. Max. 8.6, 2) as a signal for the slaves to take up arms, and vocare ad pilleum (Liv. 24.34, 9; Sen. Ep. 47; Suet. Tib. 4) was a recognised expression for raising a revolt. Gladiators on being discharged were given the pilleus, two years after they had received the rudis (Ulpian, Coil. leg. mos. tit. 11, leg. 7). It was in fact so well understood to be a symbol of recovered liberty that foreign kings like Prusias (Liv. 45.44), who wished to display themselves as liberti of the Roman people, appeared in public with shaven head wearing the pilleus (cf. Plut. de Alex. fort. 2, 3). So too, after the death of Nero, the whole plebs wore it (Suet. Nero 57), just as they were accustomed to, during the Saturnalia (Mart. 11.6, 4; 14.1, 2). Among other customs connected with the pilleus is the curious one of selling slaves whom the master did not wish to warrant with it on (Gel. 7.4, 1).

The meaning of pilleus was a very general one, like πῖλος, not confined to felt caps alone. Thus, Suetonius (op. Serv. ad Aen. 2.683) says that the apex tutulus and galerus worn by the [p. 2.429]priests were all pillei. Pilleolum, however, like πιλίδιον, was the specific name for ordinary caps. [APEX] As to caps of skin, apart from the galerus, Vegetius tells us that soldiers, when not using their helmets, wore pillei pannonici of skin (Milit. 1.20), and Polybius (v. supra loc. cit.) mentions the same. Caps of cloth made from old cloaks (Statius, Stat. Silv. 4.9, 13, “usque adeone defuerunt caesis pillea suta de lacernis” ) seem to have been the pillei worn at the Saturnalia; and Martial sends a friend one as a present, with the jocular regret that he cannot afford to give away the whole cloak (xivr. 132).

The Romans, like the Greeks, seldom wore any covering on the head, though this is truer of the upper than the lower classes. Horace, for instance, speaks of a tribesman carrying his slippers along with his cap on the way to a feast ( “ut cum pilleolo soleas conviva tribulis,” Ep. 1.13, 15); and Nero used to wear one as a disguise at night (Suet. Nero 26). In Imperial times the custom of using hats became much more common; and Augustus in his later life never went out of doors without a petasus (Suet. Aug. 82), and Caligula allowed them to be worn in the theatre as a protection against the sun (D. C. 59.7). Even in Cicero's time messengers wore the Greek petasus (ad Farm. 15.17, 1), which, as well as the causia, is mentioned in Plautus, so that the Greek forms must have been well known, even if not worn, at Rome.

There does not seem to be anything to show that the pilleus differed in shape from the πιλίδιον, except the fact that those shown on Etruscan monuments are longer and more peaked than the Greek forms. The varieties seen on coins with the virga and chin-straps are the ceremonial caps of priests, rather than those worn in every-day life. [APEX]

(Becker-Göll, Charikles, 3.262, and Gallus, iii. p. 224; Hermann-Blümner, Privatalterth. p. 180; Marquardt, Privatleben, p. 554; Iwan Müller, Handbuch, iv. pp. 405, 805, 879, and 929; Daremberg and Saglio, arts. Causia and Cilicium; Helbig in Sitzungsberichte d. Bayr. Akad. d. Wissensch., Hist. phil. Klasse, 1880, iv. p. 487; Blümner, Technologie, i. p. 211 f.; Yates, Textrinum Antiquorum, pp. 388-411; Blümner in Baunmeister, Benkmäler, art. κοπφβεδεξκυνγ.


hide References (22 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (22):
    • Aristophanes, Lysistrata, 562
    • Homer, Odyssey, 24.231
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.3
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.34
    • Catullus, Poems, 2
    • Catullus, Poems, 37
    • Suetonius, Nero, 26
    • Suetonius, Nero, 57
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 82
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 4
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 45, 44
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 9
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 34
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 7.1
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 7.4
    • Statius, Silvae, 4.9
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 11.4
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 11.6
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.1
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.2
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 8.2
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 8.6
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: