Toilette Of The Hebrew Lady by Thomas De Quincey

Story type: Essay




Sir,–Some years ago you published a translation of Bottiger’s ‘Sabina,’ a learned account of the Roman toilette. I here send you a companion to that work–not a direct translation, but a very minute abstract from a similar dissertation by Hartmann, (weeded of the wordiness which has made the original unreadable, and in consequence unread,) on the toilette and the wardrobe of the ladies of ancient Palestine. Hartmann was a respectable Oriental scholar, and he published his researches, which occupy three thick octavos, making in all one thousand four hundred and eighty-eight pages, under the title of Die Hebraerin am Putztische und als Braut, Amsterdam, 1809. (The Hebrew Woman at her Toilette, and in her Bridal character.) I understand that the poor man is now gone to Hades, where let us hope that it is considered no crime in a learned man to be exceedingly tedious, and to repeat the same thing ten times over, or even, upon occasion, fifteen times, provided that his own upright heart should incline him to think that course the most advisable. Certainly Mr. Hartmann has the most excellent gifts at verbal expansion, and at tautology, that ever came within my knowledge; and I found no particular difficulty in compressing every tittle of what relates to his subject, into a compass which, I imagine, will fill about twelve of your pages, or fifty, at the utmost, of the original work.

It was not to be expected, with the scanty materials before him, that an illustrator of the Hebrew costume should be as full and explicit as Bottiger, with the advantage of writing upon a theme more familiar to us Europeans of this day, than any parallel theme even in our own national archaeologies of two centuries back. United, however, with his great reading, this barrenness of the subject is so far an advantage for Hartmann, as it yields a strong presumption that he has exhausted it. The male costume of ancient Palestine is yet to be illustrated; but, for the female, it is probable that little could be added to what Hartmann has collected; [Footnote 1] and that any clever dress-maker would, with the indications here given, (especially if you could persuade Mr. Blackwood to adopt one or two of Mr. Hartmann’s seven outlines,) enable any lady at the next great masquerade in London, to support the part of one of the ancient daughters of Palestine, and to call back, after eighteen centuries of sleep, the buried pomps of Jerusalem. As to the talking, there would be no difficulty at all in that point; bishops, and other ‘sacred’ people, if they ever go a-masquing, for their own sakes will not be likely to betray themselves by putting impertinent questions in Hebrew; and for ‘profane’ people, who might like the impertinence, they would very much dislike the Hebrew; indeed, of uncircumcised Hebrews, barring always the clergy, it is not thought that any are extant. In other respects, and as a spectacle, the Hebrew masque would infallibly eclipse every other in the room. The upper and under chemise, if managed properly, (and either you or I, Mr. North, would be most proud to communicate our private advice on that subject,) would transcend, in gorgeous display, the coronation robes of queens; nose-pendants would cause the masque to be immediately and unerringly recognised; or if those were not thought advisable, the silver ankle-bells, with their melodious chimes–the sandals, with their jewelled net-work–and the golden diadem, binding the forehead, and dropping from each extremity of the polished temples a rouleau of pearls, which, after traversing the cheeks, unite below the chin–are all so unique and exclusively Hebraic–that each and all would have the same advantageous effect, proclaiming and notifying the character, without putting the fair supporter to any disagreeable expense of Hebrew or Chaldee. The silver bells alone would ‘bear the bell’ from every competitor in the room; and she might besides carry a cymbal–a dulcimer–or a timbrel in her hands.

In conclusion, my dear North, let me congratulate you that Mr. Hartmann is now in Hades (as I said before) rather than in Edinburgh; for, had he been in this latter place, he would have been the ruin of you. It was his intention, as I am well assured, just about the time that he took his flight for Hades, to have commenced regular contributor to your journal; so great was his admiration of you, and also of the terms which you offer to the literary world. As a learned Orientalist, you could not decorously have rejected him; and yet, once admitted, he would have beggared you before any means could have been discovered by the learned for putting a stop to him. [Greek Text: Aperantologia] was his forte; upon this he piqued himself, and most justly, since for covering the ground rapidly, and yet not advancing an inch, those, who knew and valued him as he deserved, would have backed him against the whole field of the gens de plume now in Europe. Had he lived, and fortunately for himself communicated his Hebrew Toilette to the world through you, instead of foundering (as he did) at Amsterdam, he would have flourished upon your exchequer; and you would not have heard the last of him or his Toilette, for the next twenty years. He dates, you see, from Amsterdam; and, had you been weak enough to take him on board, he would have proved that ‘Flying Dutchman’ that would infallibly have sunk your vessel.

The more is your obligation to me, I think, for sweating him down to such slender dimensions. And, speaking seriously, both of us perhaps will rejoice that even with his talents for telling everything, he was obliged on this subject to leave many things untold. For, though it might be gratifying to a mere interest of curiosity, yet I believe that we should both be grieved if anything were to unsettle in our feelings the mysterious sanctities of Jerusalem, or to disturb that awful twilight which will for ever brood over Judea–by letting in upon it the ‘common light of day;’ and this effect would infallibly take place, if any one department of daily life, as it existed in Judea, were brought with all the degrading minutiae of its details within the petty finishing of a domestic portrait.

Farewell, my dear North, and believe me to be always your old friend and admirer,

[Greek Text: Cap Omega, Cap Phi]


I. That simple body-cloth framed of leaves, skins, flax, wool, etc. which modesty had first introduced, for many centuries perhaps sufficed as the common attire of both sexes amongst the Hebrew Bedouins. It extended downwards to the knees, and upwards to the hips, about which it was fastened. Such a dress is seen upon many of the figures in the sculptures of Persepolis; even in modern times, Niebuhr found it the ordinary costume of the lower Arabians in Hedsjas; and Shaw assures us, that from its commodious shape, it is still a favorite dishabille of the Arabian women when they are behind the curtains of the tent.

From this early rudiment was derived, by gradual elongation, that well-known under habiliment, which in Hebrew is called Ch’tonet, and in Greek and Latin by words of similar sound. [Footnote 2] In this stage of its progress, when extended to the neck and the shoulders, it represents pretty accurately the modern shirt, or chemise–except that the sleeves are wanting; and during the first period of Jewish history, it was probably worn as the sole under-garment by women of all ranks, both amongst the Bedouin Hebrews and those who lived in cities. A very little further extension to the elbows and the calves of the legs, and it takes a shape which survives even to this day in Asia. Now, as then, the female habiliment was distinguished from the corresponding male one by its greater length; and through all antiquity we find long clothes a subject of reproach to men, as an argument of effeminacy.

According to the rank or vanity of the wearer, this tunic was made of more or less costly materials; for wool and flax was often substituted the finest byssus, or other silky substance; and perhaps, in the latter periods, amongst families of distinction in Jerusalem, even silk itself. Splendor of coloring was not neglected; and the opening at the throat was eagerly turned to account as an occasion for displaying fringe or rich embroidery.

Bottiger remarks, that, even in the age of Augustus, the morning dress of Roman ladies when at home was nothing more than this very tunic; which, if it sate close, did not even require a girdle. The same remark applies to the Hebrew women, who, during the nomadic period of their history, had been accustomed to wear no night-chemises at all, but slept quite naked, or, at the utmost, with a cestus or zone: by way of bed-clothes, however, it must be observed, that they swathed their person in the folds of a robe or shawl. Up to the time of Solomon, this practice obtained through all ranks; and so long the universal household dress of a Hebrew lady in her harem, was the tunic as here described; and in this she dressed herself the very moment that she rose from bed. Indeed, so long as the Hebrew women were content with a single tunic, it flowed loose in liberal folds about the body; and was fastened by a belt or a clasp, just as we find it at this day amongst all Asiatic nations. But, when a second under-garment was introduced, the inner one fitted close to the shape, whilst the outer one remained full and free as before.

II. No fashion of the female toilette is of higher antiquity than that of dyeing the margin of the eyelids and the eyebrows with a black pigment. It is mentioned or alluded to, 2 Kings, ix. 30, Jerem. iv. 30, Ezek. xxiii. 40; to which may be added, Isaiah, iii. 16. The practice had its origin in a discovery made accidentally in Egypt. For it happens, that the substance used for this purpose in ancient times, is a powerful remedy in cases of ophthalmia and inflammation of the eyes;–complaints to which Egypt is, from local causes, peculiarly exposed. This endemic infirmity, in connection with the medical science for which Egypt was so distinguished, easily account for their discovering the uses of antimony, which is the principal ingredient in the pigments of this class. Egypt was famous for the fashion of painting the face from an early period: and in some remarkable curiosities illustrating the Egyptian toilette, which were discovered in the catacombs of Sahara in Middle Egypt, there was a single joint of a common reed containing an ounce or more of the coloring powder, and one of the needles for applying it. The entire process was as follows:–The mineral powder, finely prepared, was mixed up with a preparation of vinegar and gall-apples–sometimes with oil of almonds, or other oils–sometimes, by very luxurious women, with costly gums and balsams. [Footnote 3] And perhaps, as Sonnini describes the practice among the Mussulman women at present, the whole mass thus compounded was dried and again reduced to an impalpable powder, and consistency then given to it by the vapors of some odorous and unctuous substance. Thus prepared, the pigment was applied to the tip or pointed ferule of a little metallic pencil, called, in Hebrew, Makachol, and made of silver, gold, or ivory; the eyelids were then closed, and the little pencil, or probe, held horizontally, was inserted between them:–a process which is briefly and picturesquely described in the Bible. The effect of the black rim, which the pigment traced about the eyelid, was to throw a dark and majestic shadow over the eye; to give it a languishing and yet a lustrous expression; to increase its apparent size, and to apply the force of contrast to the white of the eye. Together with the eyelids, the Hebrew women colored the eyebrows, the point aimed at being twofold–to curve them into a beautiful arch of brilliant ebony–and, at the same time, to make the inner ends meet or flow into each other.

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III. Ear-rings of gold, silver, inferior metals, or even horn, were worn by the Hebrew women in all ages; and in the flourishing period of the Jewish kingdom, probably by men: and so essential an ornament were they deemed, that in the idolatrous times, even the images of their false gods were not considered becomingly attired without them. Their ear-rings were larger, according to the Asiatic taste; but whether quite large enough to admit the hand, is doubtful. In a later age, as we collect from the Thalmud, Part VI. 43, the Jewish ladies wore gold or silver pendants, of which the upper part was shaped like a lentil, and the lower hollowed like a little cup or pipkin. It is probable also, that, even in the oldest ages, it was a practice amongst them to suspend gold and silver rings, not merely from the lower, but also from the upper end of the ear, which was perforated like a sieve. The tinkling sound, with which, upon the slightest motion, two or three tiers of rings would be set a-dancing about the cheeks, was very agreeable to the baby taste of the Asiatics.

From a very early age, the ears of Hebrew women were prepared for this load of trinketry; for, according to the Thalmud, II. 23, they kept open the little holes, after they were pierced, by threads or slips of wood: a fact which may show the importance they attached to this ornament.

IV. Nose-rings, at an early period, became a universal ornament in Palestine. We learn, from Biblical and from Arabic authority, that it was a practice of Patriarchal descent amongst both the African and Asiatic Bedouins, to suspend rings of iron, wood, or braided hair, from the nostrils of camels, oxen, &c.–the; rope by which the animal was guided being attached to these rings. It is probable, therefore, that the early Hebrews who dwelt in tents, and who, in the barrenness of desert scenery, drew most of their hints for improving their personal embellishment from the objects immediately about them, were indebted for their nose-rings to this precedent of their camels. Sometimes a ring depended from both nostrils; and the size of it was equal to that of the ear-ring; so that, at times, its compass included both upper and under lip, as in the frame of a picture; and, in the age succeeding to Solomon’s reign, we hear of rings which were not less than three inches in diameter. Hebrew ladies of distinction had sometimes a cluster of nose-rings, as well for the tinkling sound which they were contrived to emit, as for the shining light which they threw off upon the face.

That the nose-ring possessed no unimportant place in the Jewish toilette, is evident, from its being ranked, during the nomadic state of the Israelites, as one of the most valuable presents that a young Hebrew woman could receive from her lover. Amongst the Midianites, who were enriched by the caravan commerce, even men adopted this ornament: and this appears to have been the case in the family to which Job belonged, [chap. xli. 2.] Under these circumstances, we should naturally presume that the Jewish courtezans, in the cities of Palestine, would not omit so conspicuous a trinket, with its glancing lights, and its tinkling sound: this we might presume, even without the authority of the Bible: but, in fact, both Isaiah and Ezekiel expressly mention it amongst their artifices of attraction.

Judith, when she appeared before the tent of Holofernes in the whole pomp of her charms, and appareled with the most elaborate attention to splendor of effect, for the purpose of captivating the hostile general, did not omit this ornament. Even the Jewish Proverbs show how highly it was valued; and that it continued to be valued in later times, appears from the ordinances of the Thalmud, II. 21, in respect to the parts of the female wardrobe which were allowed to be worn on the Sabbath.

V. The Hebrew women of high rank, in the flourishing period of their state, wore NECKLACES composed of multiple rows of pearls. The thread on which the pearls were strung, was of flax or woollen,–and sometimes colored, as we learn from the Thalmud, VI. 43; and the different rows were not exactly concentric; but whilst some invested the throat, others descended to the bosom; and in many cases, even to the zone. On this part of the dress was lavished the greatest expense; and the Roman reproach was sometimes true of a Hebrew family, that its whole estate was locked up in a necklace. Tertullian complains heavily of a particular pearl necklace, which had cost about ten thousand pounds of English money–as of an enormity of extravagance. But, after making every allowance for greater proximity to the pearl fisheries, and for other advantages enjoyed by the people of Palestine, there is reason to believe that some Hebrew ladies possessed single pearls which had cost at least five times that sum. [Footnote 4] So much may be affirmed, without meaning to compare the most lavish of the ladies of Jerusalem with those of Rome, where it is recorded of some elegantes, that they actually slept with little bags of pearls suspended from their necks, that even when sleeping, they might have mementos of their pomp.

But the Hebrew necklaces were not always composed of pearls, or of pearls only–sometimes it was the custom to interchange the pearls with little golden bulbs or berries: sometimes they were blended with the precious stones; and at other times, the pearls were strung two and two, and their beautiful whiteness relieved by the interposition of red coral.

VI. Next came the BRACELETS of gold or ivory, and fitted up at the open side with a buckle or enamelled clasp of elaborate workmanship. These bracelets were also occasionally composed of gold or silver thread; and it was not unusual for a series of them to ascend from the wrist to the elbow. From the clasp, or other fastening of the bracelet, depended a delicate chain-work or netting of gold; and in some instances, miniature festoons of pearls. Sometimes the gold chain-work was exchanged for little silver bells, which could be used, upon occasion, as signals of warning or invitation to a lover.

VII. This bijouterie for the arms, naturally reminded the Hebrew lady of the ANKLE-BELLS, and other similar ornaments for the feet and legs. These ornaments consisted partly in golden belts, or rings, which, descending from above the ankle, compressed the foot in various parts, and partly in shells and little jingling chains, which depended so as to strike against clappers fixed into the metallic belts. The pleasant tinkle of the golden belts in collision, the chains rattling, and the melodious chime of little silver ankle-bells, keeping time with the motions of the foot, made an accompaniment so agreeable to female vanity, that the stately daughters of Jerusalem, with their sweeping trains flowing after them, appear to have adopted a sort of measured tread, by way of impressing a regular cadence upon the music of their feet. The chains of gold were exchanged, as luxury advanced, for strings of pearls and jewels, which swept in snaky folds about the feet and ankles.

This, like many other peculiarities in the Hebrew dress, had its origin in a circumstance of their early nomadic life. It is usual with the Bedouins to lead the camel, when disposed to be restive, by a rope or a belt fastened to one of the fore feet, sometimes to both; and it is also a familiar practice to soothe and to cheer the long-suffering animal with the sound of little bells, attached either to the neck or to one of the fore legs. Girls are commonly employed to lead the camels to water; and it naturally happened, that, with their lively fancies, some Hebrew or Arabian girl should be prompted to repeat, on her own person, what had so often been connected with an agreeable impression in her mule companions to the well.

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It is probable, however, that afterwards, having once been introduced, this fashion was supported and extended by Oriental jealousy. For it rendered all clandestine movements very difficult in women; and by giving notice of their approach, it had the effect of preparing men for their presence, and keeping the road free from all spectacles that could be offensive to female delicacy.

From the Hebrew Bedouins, this custom passed to all the nations of Asia; Medes, Persians, Lydians, Arabs, etc., and is dwelt on with peculiar delight by the elder Arabic poets. That it had spread to the westernmost parts of Africa, early in the Christian times, we learn from Tertullian, who cannot suppress his astonishment, that the foolish women of his time should bear to inflict such compression upon their tender feet. Even as early as the times of Herodotus, we find, from his account of a Lybian nation, that the women and girls universally wore copper rings about their ankles. And at an after period, these ornaments were so much cherished by the Egyptian ladies, that, sooner than, appear in public without their tinkling ankle-chimes, they preferred to bury themselves in the loneliest apartments of the harem.

Finally, the fashion spread partially into Europe; to Greece even, and to polished Rome, in so far as regarded the ankle-belts, and the other ornamental appendages, with the single exception of the silver bells; these were too entirely in the barbaresque taste, to support themselves under the frown of European culture.

VIII. The first rude sketch of the Hebrew SANDAL may be traced in that little tablet of undrest hide which the Arabs are in the habit of tying beneath the feet of their camels. This primitive form, after all the modifications and improvements it has received, still betrays itself to an attentive observer, in the very-latest fashions of the sandal which Palestine has adopted.

To raw hides succeeded tanned leather, made of goat-skin, deer-skin, etc. this, after being accurately cut out to the shape of the sole, was fastened on the bare upper surface of the foot by two thongs, of which one was usually carried within the great toe, and the other in many circumvolutions round about the ankles, so that both finally met and tied just above the instep.

The laced sole, or sandal, of this form, continued in Palestine to be the universal out-of-doors protection for the feet, up to the Christian-era; and it served for both sexes alike. It was not, however, worn within doors. At the threshold of the inner apartments the sandals were laid aside; and visitors from a distance were presented with a vessel of water to cleanse the feet from the soiling of dust and perspiration. [Footnote 5]

With this extreme simplicity in the form of the foot apparel, there was no great field for improvement. The article contained two parts–the sole and the fastening. The first, as a subject for decoration, was absolutely desperate; coarse leather being exchanged for fine, all was done that could be done; and the wit of man was able to devise no further improvement. Hence it happened, that the whole power of the inventive faculty was accumulated upon the fastenings, as the only subject that remained. These were infinitely varied. Belts of bright yellow, of purple, and of crimson, were adopted by ladies of distinction–especially those of Palestine, and it was a trial of art to throw these into the greatest possible varieties of convolution, and to carry them on to a nexus of the happiest form, by which means a reticulation, or trellis-work, was accomplished, of the most brilliant coloring, which brought into powerful relief the dazzling color of the skin.

It is possible that, in the general rage for ornaments of gold which possessed the people of Palestine, during the ages of excessive luxury, the beauties of Jerusalem may have adopted gilt sandals with gilt fastenings, as the ladies of Egypt did. It is possible, also, that the Hebrew ladies adopted at one time, in exchange for the sandal, slippers that covered the entire foot, such as were once worn at Babylon, and are still to be seen on many of the principal figures on the monuments of Persepolis; and, if this were really so, ample scope would, in that case, have been obtained for inventive art: variations without end might then have been devised on the fashion or the materials of the subject; and by means of color, embroidery, and infinite combinations of jewellery and pearls, an unceasing stimulation of novelty applied to the taste of the gorgeous Asiatic.

IX. The VEIL, of various texture–coarse or fine–according to circumstances, was thrown over the head by the Hebrew lady, when she was unexpectedly surprised, or when a sudden noise gave reason to expect the approach of a stranger. This beautiful piece of drapery, which flowed back in massy folds over the shoulders, is particularly noticed by Isaiah, as holding an indispensable place in the wardrobe of his haughty country-women; and in this it was that the enamored Hebrew woman sought the beloved of her heart.


I. Of the Hebrew ornaments for the throat, some were true necklaces, in the modern sense, of several rows, the outermost of which descended to the breast, and had little pendulous cylinders of gold, (in the poorer classes, of copper,) so contrived as to make a jingling sound on the least motion of the person; others were more properly golden stocks, or throat-bands, fitted so close as to produce in the spectator an unpleasant imagination (and in the wearer, as we learn from the Thalmud, VI. 43, until reconciled by use, an actual feeling) of constriction approaching to suffocation. Necklaces were, from the earliest times, a favorite ornament of the male sex in the East; and expressed the dignity of the wearer, as we see in the instances of Joseph, of Daniel, etc. indeed the gold chain of office, still the badge of civic (and until lately, of military) dignities, is no more than the outermost row of the Oriental necklace. Philo of Alexandria, and the other Arabian poets, give us some idea of the importance attached by the women of Asia to this beautiful ornament, and of the extraordinary money value which it sometimes bore: and from the case of the necklace of gold and amber, in the 15th Odyssey, (v. 458,) combined with many other instances of the same kind, there can be no doubt that it was the neighboring land of Phoenicia from which the Hebrew women obtained their necklaces, and the practice of wearing them.

II. The fashion, however, of adorning the necklace with golden Suns and Moons, so agreeable to the Hebrew ladies of Isaiah’s time, (chap. iii. 18,) was not derived from Phoenicia, but from Arabia. At an earlier period, (Judges, viii. 21,) the camels of the Midianites were adorned with golden moons, which also decorated the necks of the emirs of that nomadic tribe. These appendages were not used merely by way of ornament, but originally as talismans, or amulets, against sickness, danger, and every species of calamity to which the desert was liable. The particular form of the amulet is to be explained out of the primitive religion, which prevailed in Arabia up to the rise of Mahometanism, in the seventh century of Christianity, viz. the Sabean religion, or worship of the heavenly host–sun, moon, and stars, the most natural of all modes of idolatry, and especially to a nomadic people in flat and pathless deserts, without a single way-mark or guidance for their wanderings, except what they drew from the silent heavens above them. It is certain, therefore, that, long before their emigration into Palestine, the Israelites had received the practice of wearing suns and moons from the Midianites; even after their settlement in Palestine, it is certain that the worship of the starry host struck root pretty deeply at different periods; and that, to the sun and moon, in particular, were offered incense and libations.

From Arabia, this fashion diffused itself over many countries; [Footnote 6] and it was not without great displeasure that, in a remote age, Jerome and Tertullian discovered this idolatrous ornament upon the bosoms of their countrywomen.

The crescents, or half-moons of silver, in connection with the golden suns, [Footnote 6] were sometimes set in a brilliant frame that represented a halo, and still keep their ground on the Persian and Turkish toilette, as a favorite ornament.

III. The GOLDEN SNAKES, worn as one of the Hebrew appendages to the necklace, had the same idolatrous derivation, and originally were applied to the same superstitious use–as an amulet, or prophylactic ornament. To minds predisposed to this sort of superstition, the serpent came specially recommended under the circumstances of the Hebrews, from the conspicuous part which this reptile sustains in the mythologies of the East. From the earliest periods to which tradition ascends, serpents of various species were consecrated to the religious feelings of Egypt, by temples, sacrifices, and formal rites of worship. This mode of idolatry had at various periods infected Palestine. According to 2 Kings, xviii. 4, at the accession of King Hezekiah, the Israelites had raised peculiar altars to a great brazen serpent, and burned incense upon them. Even at this day the Abyssinians have an unlimited reverence for serpents; and the blacks in general regard them as fit subjects for divine honors. Sonnini (II. 388) tells us, that a serpent’s skin is still looked upon in Egypt as a prophylactic against complaints of the head, and also as a certain cure for them. And of the same origin, no doubt, was the general belief of antiquity, (according to Pliny, 30, 12,) that the serpent’s skin was a remedy for spasms. That the golden serpent kept its place as an ornament of the throat and bosom after the Christian era, we learn from Clement of Alexandria. That zealous father, so intolerant of superstitious mummery under every shape, directs his efforts against this fashion as against a–device of the devil.

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IV. To the lowest of the several concentric circles which composed the necklace, was attached a little box, exquisitely wrought in silver or gold, sometimes an onyx phial of dazzling whiteness, depending to the bosom or even to the cincture, and filled with the rarest aromas and odorous spices of the East. What were the favorite essences preserved in this beautiful appendage to the female costume of Palestine, it is not possible at this distance of time to determine with certainty–Isaiah having altogether neglected the case, and Hosea (who appears to allude to it, ii. 14) having only once distinctly mentioned it, (ii. 20.) However, the Thalmud particularizes musk, and the delightful oil distilled from the leaf of the aromatic malabathrum of Hindostan. To these we may venture to add, oil of spikenard, myrrh, balsams, attar of roses, and rose-water, as the perfumes usually contained in the Hebrew scent-pendants. Rose-water, which I am the first to mention as a Hebrew perfume, had, as I presume, a foremost place on the toilette of a Hebrew belle. Express scriptural authority for it undoubtedly there is none; but it is notorious that Palestine availed itself of all the advantages of Egypt, amongst which the rose in every variety was one. Fium, a province of central Egypt, which the ancients called the Garden of Egypt, was distinguished for innumerable species of the rose, and especially for those of the most balsamic order, and for the most costly preparations from it. The Thalmud not only speaks generally of the mixtures made by tempering it with oil, (i. 135,) but expressly cites (ii. 41) a peculiar rose-water as so costly an essence, that from its high price alone it became impossible to introduce the use of it into the ordinary medical practice. Indeed this last consideration, and the fact that the highly-prized quintessence cannot be obtained except from an extraordinary multitude of the rarest roses, forbid us to suppose that women of the first rank in Jerusalem could have made a very liberal use of rose-water. In our times, Savary found a single phial of it in the place of its manufacture, valued at four francs. As to the oil of roses, properly so called, which floats in a very inconsiderable quantity upon the surface of distilled rose-water, it is certain that the Hebrew ladies were not acquainted with it. This preparation can be obtained only from the balsamic roses of Fium, of Shiras, of Kerman, and of Kashmire, which surpass all the roses of the earth in power and delicacy of odor; and it is matter of absolute certainty, and incontrovertibly established by the celebrated Langles, that this oil, which even in the four Asiatic countries just mentioned, ranks with the greatest rarities, and in Shiras itself is valued at its weight in gold, was discovered by mere accident, on occasion of some festival solemnity in the year 1612.

V. To what I said, in the first scene of my exhibition, about the Hebrew ear-ornaments, I may add,

1. That sometimes, as Best remarked of the Hindoo dancing-girls, their ears were swollen from the innumerable perforations drilled into them to support their loads of trinketry.

2. That in the large pendants of coral which the Hebrew ladies were accustomed to attach to their ears, either in preference to jewels, or in alternation with jewels, they particularly delighted in that configuration which imitated a cluster of grapes.

3. That, in ear-rings made of gold, they preferred the form of drops, or of globes and bulbs.

4. That of all varieties, however, of this appendage, pearls maintained the preference amongst the ladies of Palestine, and were either strung upon a thread, or attached by little hooks–singly or in groups, according to their size. This taste was very early established amongst the Jews, and chiefly, perhaps, through their intercourse with the Midianites, amongst whom we find the great Emirs wearing pearl ornaments of this class.

Mutatis mutandis, these four remarks apply to the case of the nose ornaments.


I. THE HAIR.–This section I omit altogether; though with more room at my disposal, it would be well worth translating as a curiosity. It is the essay of a finished and perfect knave, who not merely being rather bare of facts, but having literally not one solitary fact of any kind or degree, sits down to write a treatise on the mode of dressing hair amongst Hebrew ladies. Samson’s hair, and the dressing it got from the Philistines, is the nearest approach that he ever makes to his subject; and being conscious that this case of Samson and the Philistines is the one sole allusion to the subject of Hebrew hair that he is possessed of, he brings it round upon the reader as often perhaps as it will bear–viz. not oftener than once every sixth page. The rest is one continued shuffle to avoid coming upon the ground; and upon the whole, though too barefaced, yet really not without ingenuity. Take, by way of specimen, his very satisfactory dissertation on the particular sort of combs which the Hebrew ladies were pleased to patronize.

‘COMBS.–Whether the ladies of Palestine had upon their toilette a peculiar comb for parting the hair, another for turning it up, etc. as likewise whether their combs were, as in ancient Rome, made of box-wood, or of ivory, or other costly and appropriate material, all these are questions upon which I–am not able, upon my honor, to communicate the least information. But, from the general silence of antiquity, prophets and all, [Footnote 7] upon the subject of Hebrew combs, my own private opinion is, that the ladies used their fingers for this purpose; in which case, there needs no more to be said on the subject of Hebrew combs.’

II. PERFUMES.–Before, however, the hair received its final arrangement from the hands of the waiting maid, it was held open and dishevelled to receive the fumes of frankincense, aloes-wood, cassia, costmary and other odorous woods, gums, balsams, and spices of India, Arabia, or Palestine–placed upon glowing embers, in vessels of golden fretwork. It is probable, also, that the Hebrew ladies used amber, bisam, and the musk of Thibet; and when fully arranged, the hair was sprinkled with oil of nard, myrrh, oil of cinnamon, etc. The importance attached to this part of the Hebrew toilette may be collected indeed from an ordinance, of the Thalmud, III. 80, which directs that the bridegroom shall set apart one-tenth of the income which the bride brings him, for the purchase of perfumes, essences, precious ointments, etc. All these articles were preserved either in golden boxes, or in little oval narrow-necked phials of dazzling white alabaster, which bore the name of onyx, from its resemblance to the precious stone of that name, but was in fact a very costly sort of marble, obtained in the quarries of Upper Egypt, or those of the Libanus in Syria. Indeed, long before the birth of Christ, alabaster was in such general use for purposes of this kind in Palestine, that it became the generic name for valuable boxes, no matter of what material. To prevent the evaporation of the contents, the narrow neck of the phial was resealed every time that it was opened. It is probable, also, that the myrrhine cups, about which there has been so much disputing, were no strangers to the Jewish toilette.

III. THE MIRROR was not made of glass, (for glass mirrors cannot be shown to have existed before the thirteenth century,) but of polished metals; and amongst these, silver was in the greatest esteem, as being capable of a higher burnish than other metals, and less liable to tarnish. Metallic mirrors are alluded to by Job, xxxvii. 18. But it appears from the Second Book of Moses, xxxviii. 8, that in that age, copper must have been the metal employed throughout the harems of Palestine. For a general contribution of mirrors being made upon one occasion by the Israelitish women, they were melted down and recast into washing vessels for the priestly service. Now the sacred utensils, as we know from other sources, were undeniably of copper. There is reason to think, however, that the copper was alloyed, according to the prevailing practice in that age, with some proportions of lead or tin. In after ages, when silver was chiefly employed, it gave place occasionally to gold. Mines of this metal were well known in Palestine; but there is no evidence that precious stones, which were used for this purpose in the ages of European luxury, were ever so used in Palestine, or in any part of Asia.

As to shape, the Hebrew mirrors were always either circular or oval, and cast indifferently flat or concave. They were framed in superb settings, often of pearls and jewels; and, when tarnished, were cleaned with a sponge of hyssop, the universal cleansing material in Palestine.

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The head-dresses of the Hebrew ladies may be brought under three principal classes:–

The first was a NET-WORK CAP, made of fine wool or cotton, and worked with purple or crimson flowers. Sometimes the meshes of the net were of gold thread. The rim or border of the cap, generally of variegated coloring, was often studded with jewellery or pearls; and at the back was ornamented with a bow, having a few ends or tassels flying loose.

Secondly, a TURBAN, managed in the following way: first of all, one or more caps in the form of a half oval, such are still to be seen upon the monuments of Egyptian and Persepolitan art, was fastened round the head by a ribbon or fillet tied behind. This cap was of linen, sometimes, perhaps, of cotton, and in the inferior ranks of leather, or, according to the prevailing fashion, of some kind of metal; and, in any case, it had ornaments worked into its substance. Round this white or glittering ground were carried, in snaky windings, ribbons of the finest tiffany, or of lawn resembling our cambric; and to conceal the joinings, a silky substance was carried in folds, which pursued the opposite direction, and crossed the tiffany at right angles. For the purpose of calling out and relieving the dazzling whiteness of the ground, colors of the most brilliant class were chosen for the ribbons; and these ribbons were either embroidered with flowers, in gold thread, or had ornaments of that description interwoven with their texture.

Thirdly, the HELMET, adorned pretty nearly as the turban; and, in imitation of the helmets worn by Chaldean generals, having long tails, or tassels, depending from the hinder part, and flowing loosely between the shoulders. According to the Oriental taste for perfumes, all the ribbons or fillets used in these helmets and turbans were previously steeped in perfumes. Finally, in connection with the turban, and often with the veil, was a beautiful ornament for the forehead and the face, which the ladies of this day would do well to recall. Round the brow ran a brandeau or tiara of gold or silver, three fingers’ breadth, and usually set with jewels or pearls; from this, at each of the temples, depended a chain of pearls or of coral, which, following the margin of the cheeks, either hung loose or united below the chin.


I. The reader has been already made acquainted with the chemise, or innermost under-dress. The Hebrew ladies, however, usually wore two under-dresses, the upper of which it now remains to describe. In substance it was generally of a fine transparent texture, like the muslins (if we may so call them) of Cos; in the later ages it was no doubt of silk.

The chemise sate up close to the throat; and we have already mentioned the elaborate work which adorned it about the opening. But the opening of the robe which we are now describing, was of much larger compass–being cut down to the bosom; and the embroidery, etc. which enriched it, was still more magnificent. The chemise reached down only to the calf of the leg, and the sleeve of it to the elbow; but the upper chemise or tunic, if we may so call it, descended in ample draperies to the feet–scarcely allowing the point of the foot to discover itself; and the sleeves enveloped the hands to their middle. Great pomp was lavished on the folds of the sleeves; but still greater on the hem of the robe, and the fringe attached to it. The hem was formed by a broad border of purple, shaded and relieved according to patterns; and sometimes embroidered in gold thread with the most elegant objects from the animal or vegetable kingdoms. To that part which fell immediately behind the heels, there were attached thin plates of gold; or, by way of variety, it was studded with golden stars and filigree-work; sometimes with jewels and pearls interchangeably.

II. On this upper tunic, to confine the exorbitance of its draperies, and to prevent their interfering with the free motions of the limbs, a superb GIRDLE was bound about the hips. Here, if anywhere, the Hebrew ladies endeavored to pour out the whole pomp of their splendor–both as to materials and workmanship. Belts from three to four inches broad, of the most delicate cottony substance, were chosen as the ground of this important part of female attire. The finest flowers of Palestine were here exhibited in rich relief, and in their native colors, either woven in the loom, or by the needle of the embroiderer. The belts being thirty or forty feet long, and carried round and round the person, it was in the power of the wearer to exhibit an infinite variety of forms, by allowing any fold or number of folds at pleasure to rise up more or less to view, just as fans or the colored edges of books with us are made to exhibit landscapes, etc. capable of great varieties of expansion as they are more or less unfolded. The fastening was by a knot below the bosom; and the two ends descended below the fringe; which, if not the only fashion in use, was, however, the prevailing one–as we learn both from the sculptures at Persepolis, and from the costume of the High Priest.

Great as the cost was of these girdles, it would have been far greater had the knot been exchanged for a clasp; and in fact at a later period when this fashion did really take place, there was no limit to the profusion with which pearls of the largest size and jewellery were accumulated upon this conspicuous centre of the dress. Latterly the girdles were fitted up with beautiful chains, by means of which they could be contracted or enlarged, and with gold buckles, and large bosses and clasps that gradually became the basis for a ruinous display of expenditure.

In conclusion, I must remark, that in Palestine, as elsewhere, the girdle was sometimes used as a purse: whether it were that the girdle itself was made hollow (as is expressly affirmed of the High Priest’s girdle), or that, without being hollow, its numerous foldings afforded a secure depository for articles of small size. Even in our day, it is the custom to conceal the dagger, the handkerchief for wiping the face, and other bagatelles of personal convenience, in the folds of the girdle. However, the richer and more distinguished classes in Palestine appear to have had a peculiar and separate article of that kind. And this was,

III. A PURSE made either of metal (usually gold or silver), or of the softest leather, etc. which was attached by a lace to the girdle, or kept amongst its folds, and which, even in the eyes of Isaiah, was important enough to merit a distinct mention. It was of a conical shape; and at the broader end was usually enriched with ornaments of the most elaborate and exquisite workmanship. No long time after the Christian era, the cost of these purses had risen to such a height, that Tertullian complains, with great displeasure, of the ladies of his time, that in the mere purse, apart from its contents, they carried about with them the price of a considerable estate.

The girdle, however, still continued to be the appropriate depository for the napkin (to use the old English word), or suclatory–i. e. handkerchief for clearing the forehead of perspiration. As to pocket-handkerchiefs, in our northern use of them, it has been satisfactorily shown by Bottiger, in a German Journal, that the Greek and Roman ladies knew nothing of that modern appendage to the pocket, [Footnote 8] however indispensable it may appear to us; and the same argument apply with equal force to the climate of Palestine.

IV. The glittering RINGS, with which (according to Isaiah, iii. 21), the Hebrew ladies adorned their hands, seem to me originally to have been derived from the seal-rings, which, whether suspended from the neck, or worn upon the finger, have in all ages been the most favorite ornament of Asiatics. These splendid baubles were naturally in the highest degree attractive to women, both from the beauty of the stones, which were usually selected for this purpose, and from the richness of the setting–to say nothing of the exquisite art which the ancient lapidaries displayed in cutting them. The stones chiefly valued by the ladies of Palestine, were rubies–emeralds–and chrysolithes; and these, set in gold, sparkled on the middle, or little finger of the right hand; and in the luxurious times upon all the fingers–even the thumb; nay, in some cases, upon the great toe.



The upper or outer garments, which, for both sexes under all varieties and modifications, the Hebrews expressed by the comprehensive denomination of SIMLAH, have hi every age, and through all parts of the hot climates, in Asia and Africa alike, been of such voluminous compass–as not only to envelop the whole person, but to be fitted for a wide range of miscellaneous purposes. Sometimes (as in the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem) they were used as carpets; sometimes as coverings for the backs of camels, horses, or asses, to render the rider’s seat less incommodious; sometimes as a bed coverlid, or counterpane; at other times as sacks for carrying articles of value; or finally as curtains, hangings of parlors, occasionally tapestry, or even as sails for boats.

From these illustrations of the uses to which it was applicable, we may collect the form of this robe: that it was nothing more than a shawl of large dimensions, or long square of cloth, just as it came from the weaver’s loom, which was immediately thrown round the person, without receiving any artificial adjustment to the human shape.

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So much for the form: with regard to the material, there was less uniformity; originally it was of goats’ or camels’ hair; but, as civilization and the luxury of cities increased, these coarse substances were rejected for the finest wool, and Indian cotton. Indeed, through all antiquity, we find, that pure unsullied white was the festal color, and more especially in Palestine, where the indigenous soaps, and other cleaning materials, gave them peculiar advantages for adopting a dress of that delicate and perishable lustre.

With the advance of luxury, however, came a love of variety; and this, added to the desire for more stimulating impressions than could be derived from blank unadorned white, gradually introduced all sorts of innovations, both in form and color; though, with respect to the first, amidst all the changes through which it travelled, the old original outline still manifestly predominated. An account of the leading varieties, we find in the celebrated third chapter of Isaiah.

The most opulent women of Palestine, beyond all other colors for the upper robe, preferred purple–or, if not purple throughout the entire robe, at any rate purple flowers upon a white ground. The winter clothing of the very richest families in Palestine, was manufactured in their own houses; and for winter clothing, more especially, the Hebrew taste, no less than the Grecian and the Roman, preferred the warm and sunny scarlet, the puce color, the violet, and the regal purple. [Footnote 9]

Very probable it is, that the Hebrew ladies, like those of Greece, were no strangers to the half-mantle–fastened by a clasp in front of each shoulder, and suffered to flow in free draperies down the back; this was an occasional and supernumerary garment flung over the regular upper robe–properly so called.

There was also a longer mantle, reaching to the ankles, usually of a violet color, which–having no sleeves–was meant to expose to view the beauty not only of the upper robe, but even of the outer tunic formerly described. By the way, it should be mentioned, that, in order to steep them in fine odor, all parts of the wardrobe were stretched on a reticulated or grated vessel–called by the Thalmud (vi. 77) Kanklin–from which the steams of rich perfumes were made to ascend.

In what way the upper robe was worn and fastened, may be collected perhaps with sufficient probability from the modern Oriental practice, as described by travellers; but, as we have no direct authority on the subject, I shall not detain the reader with any conjectural speculations.



One magnificent dress remains yet to be mentioned, viz. the dress of honor, or festival dress–which answers in every respect to the modern CAFTAN. This was used on all occasions of ceremony, as splendid weddings, presentations at the courts of kings, sumptuous entertainments, etc. and all persons who stood in close connection with the throne, as favorites, crown-officers, distinguished military commanders, etc., received such a dress as a gift from the royal treasury, in order to prepare them at all times for the royal presence. According to the universal custom of Asia, the trains were proportioned in length to the rank of the wearer; whence it is that the robes of the high-priest were adorned with a train of superb dimensions; and even Jehovah is represented, (Isaiah, vi. 1,) as filling the heavenly palace with the length of his train, [Footnote 10] Another distinction of this festival robe, was the ordinary fulness and length of the sleeves; these descended to the knee, and often ran to the ankle or to the ground. In the sleeves, and in the trains, but especially in the latter, lay the chief pride of a Hebrew belle, when dressed for any great solemnity or occasion of public display.


NOTE 1. It is one great advantage to the illustrator of ancient costume, that when almost everything in this sort of usages was fixed and determined either by religion and state policy, (as with the Jews,) or by state policy alone, (as with the Romans,) or by superstition and by settled climate, (as with both,) and when there was no stimulation to vanity in the love of change from an inventive condition of art and manufacturing skill, and where the system and interests of the government relied for no part of its power on such a condition,–dress was stationary for ages, both as to materials and fashion; Rebecca, the Bedouin, was drest pretty nearly as Mariamne in the age of the Caesars. And thus the labors of a learned investigator for one age are valid for those which follow and precede.

NOTE 2. Chiton (*) in Greek, and by inversion of the syllables, Tunica in Latin.

NOTE 3. Cheaper materials were used by the poorer Hebrews, especially of the Bedouin tribes–burnt almonds, lamp-black, soot, the ashes of particular woods, the gall-apple boiled and pulverized, or any dark powder made into an unguent by suitable liquors. The modern Grecian women, in some districts, as Sonnini tells us, use the spine of the sea-polypus, calcined and finely pulverized, for this purpose. Boxes of horn were used for keeping the pigment by the poorer Hebrews,–of onyx or alabaster by the richer.


Cleopatra had a couple of that value; and Julius Caesar had one, which he gave to Servilia, the beautiful mother of Brutus.


Washing the feet was a ceremony of ancient times, adopted not merely with a view, 1st, to personal comfort, in hotter climates; or, 2d, to decorum of appearance, where people walked about barefooted; but also, 3d, to the reclining posture in use at meals, which necessarily brought the feet into immediate contact with the cushions, squabs, etc. of couches.


Chemistry had its first origin in Arabia; and it is not impossible that the chemical nomenclature for gold and silver, viz. sol and luna, were derived from this early superstition of the Bedouin dress.


The Thalmud is the only Jewish authority which mentions such a utensil of the toilette as a comb, (vi. 39,) but without any particular description. Hartmann adds two remarks worth quoting. 1. That the Hebrew style of the coiffure may probably be collected from the Syrian coins; and, 2. That black hair being admired in Palestine, and the Jewish hair being naturally black, it is probable that the Jewish ladies did not color their hair, as the Romans did.


Or rather it was required only in a catarrh, or other cases of checked perspiration, which in those climates was not a case of common occurrence.

NOTE 9. By which was probably meant a color nearer to crimson, than to the blue class of purples.

NOTE 10. It has been doubted whether these trains were supported by train-bearers; but one argument makes it probable that they were not, viz. that they were particularly favorable to the peacock walk or strut, which was an express object of imitation in the gait of the Hebrew women.


I. The Syndon, mentioned by Isaiah, etc. was a delicate and transparent substance, like our tiffany, and in point of money value was fully on a level with the Caftan; but whether imported from Egypt, or imitated in the looms of the Hebrews and Phoenicians, is doubtful. It was worn next to the skin; and consequently, in the harems of the great, occupied the place of the under tunic (or chemise) previously described; and, as luxury advanced, there is reason to think that it was used as a night chemise.

II. The Caftan is the Kalaat of the East, so often mentioned by modern travellers; thus, for example, Thevenot (tom. iii. p. 352) says–‘Le Roi fait assez souvent des presens a ses Khans, etc. L’on appelle ces presens Kalaat.’ Chardin. (iii. 101,) ‘On appelle Calaat les habits que le Roi donne par honeur.’ And lately in Lord Amherst’s progress through the northern provinces of our Indian empire, etc. we read continually of the Khelawt, or robe of state, as a present made by the native princes to distinguished officers.

The Caftan, or festival robe of the Hebrews, was, in my opinion, the [Greek Text: Peaelos] of the Greeks, or palla of the Romans. Among the points of resemblance are these:–

1. The palla was flung like a cloak or mantle, over the stola, or uppermost robe, ‘Ad talos stola demissa et circundata palla.’

2. The palla not only descended in flowing draperies to the feet, (thus Tibullus, I. VII. C. ‘Fusa sed ad teneros lutea palla pedes,’) but absolutely swept the ground; ‘Verrit humum Tyrio saturata murice palla.’

3. The palla was of the same wide compass, and equally distinguished for its splendor.

4. Like the Hebrew festival garment, the palla was a vestis seposita, and reserved for rare solemnities.

With respect to the [Greek Text: Peplos], Eustathius describes it as [Greek Text: megan xai peoixallea xai poixilon peobolaion]; and it would be easy in other respects to prove its identity with the Palla.

Salmasius, by the way, in commenting upon Tertullian, de Pallio, is quite wrong, where he says–‘Palla nunquam de virili pallio dicitur.’ Tibullus, tom. iii. iv. 35, sufficiently contradicts that opinion.

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