Riding dress

Founded 26-Jul-2008
Last update 26-Jul-2008

J. K. Anderson, Ancient Greek Horsemanship


Turning now from the horse to the rider, we note the absence of any definite riding dress – that is, of any dress functionally adapted to riding and worn only by horsemen.22 Greece is hot enough for most of the year to make trousers or breeches in any form unnecessary.23 The Greeks knew of them from their barbarian neighbours, and frequently represented them in their art; young men of fashion may occasionally have worn them, in the same way that they sometimes wore gaily patterned Thracian cloaks or hats or boots, and since the rich young men, at Athens and elsewhere, owned horses and served in the cavalry, these foreign clothes were worn for riding, when they were worn at all. But they were not generally adopted. Nor do I consider that, by refusing to wear trousers, the Greek horsemen placed themselves at a disadvantage, except perhaps in the matter of protection in battle. Had they dressed in long trailing robes they would of course have found themselves in difficulties (and indeed it was probably because feminine modesty required such robes that horsewomen were practically unknown), but they normally wore short tunics, girded at the waist and pinned over the shoulders, which came down only to the middle of the thighs. So the rider could seat himself with the bare skin of his legs in direct contact with the horse’s bare back, and this, as I have verified when swimming horses, gives a much better grip than trousers or breeches. [...]

Over the tunic (chiton) might be worn a short cloak (chlamys), pinned over one shoulder, or both, by a large brooch. A soft, shallow-crowned, wide-brimmed sun hat was worn on the head, or pushed back to hang by the chin strap over the back of the shoulders. Boots of various sorts were worn to protect the lower leg; the vase paintings show two kinds, either narrow thongs closely wound round feet and shins, or high boots, lacing up the front, with elegant scalloped tops. Shepherds, hunters, and other countrymen often wear the first; the second, which is of Thracian origin, is more often worn by horsemen, but not confined to them. Both sorts are flat-soled, heels being unnecessary before the invention of stirrups.

Not only the boots, but the whole costume – chiton, chlamys, and hat – was commonly worn by hunters, shepherds, travellers, or anybody else whose occupation called him to vigorous outdoor activity. It was in no sense a uniform, though worn by the young men of the Athenian cavalry.25 In its developed form it seems to be no older than the late sixth century; seventh- and sixth-century vases generally show an apparently closer-fitting chiton and no chlamys.

Many naked riders are represented in sculpture and painting. Certainly many young men did ride naked, especially when racing their horses or schooling them in the training grounds, but for ordinary purposes some sort of dress was needed, if only as a protection against the sun and the weather.

J. K. Anderson, Ancient Greek Horsemanship, pp. 85-87
(University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1961)


22 “Riding dress” is in fact mentioned by Aristophanes (Ecclesiazusae 846) but we would naturally assume that the ancients changed their clothes for outdoor exercise, and the monuments do not suggest that those worn for riding (apart from the foreign garments occasionally assumed by fashionable young men, as mentioned below) were in fact different from those worn for other open-air activities. In Herodotus, i 80, the reference is to “cavalry equipment” rather than dress, and, besides, the passage describes barbarians.

23 North of the Black Sea it was different matter; cf. Dio Chrysostom, xxxvi 7.

25 I cannot accept Michaelis’s theory (Keil, Anonymous Argentinensis, p. 141 n. 1; Zimmern, Greek Commonwealth 4th ed., p. 176 n. 1) that the varying dresses of the riders on the parthenon frieze are the different uniforms of different squadrons.


Keil, B.:Anonymous Argentinensis. K. J. Trübner, Strassburg, 1902.
Zimmern, A. E.:The Greek Commonwealth. 4th ed. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1924.



Anderson’s book is mainly concerned with horsemanship in archaic and classical Greece. References to plates are omitted and the first paragraph is shortened. The original numbering of the footnotes is preserved. Only sources cited in the excerpt are listed in the bibliography.