The toga, a distinctive garment of Ancient Rome, was a cloth of perhaps 20 ft (6 m) in length which was wrapped around the body and was generally worn over a tunic. The toga was made of wool, and the tunic under it often was made of linen. After the 2nd century BC, the toga was a garment worn exclusively by men, and only Roman citizens were allowed to wear it. After this time, women were expected to wear the stola; to distinguish sex workers from other women, the former were required to wear the toga.
The toga was based on a dress robe used by Rome's northern neighbours, the Etruscans. The toga was the dress clothing of the Romans, a thick woolen cloak worn over a loincloth or apron. It is believed to have been established around the time of Numa Pompilius, the second King of Rome. It was taken off indoors, or when hard at work in the fields, but it was considered the only decent attire out of doors. This is evident from the story of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus: he was ploughing in his field when the messengers of the Senate came to tell him that he had been made dictator; upon seeing them, he sent his wife to fetch his toga from the house so that they could be received appropriately. While the truth of the story may be doubtful, it nevertheless expresses the Roman sentiment on the subject.
Free citizens were required to wear togas because slaves would wear tunics. They wore them because the tunic was a sign of poverty and would let them work with ease.
As time went on, dress styles changed. Romans adopted the shirt (tunica), which the Greeks and Etruscans wore, which made the toga more bulky, and caused them to wear it in a looser manner. The result was that it became useless for active pursuits, such as those of war. Its place was therefore taken by the handier sagum or woolen cloak on all military occasions.
The same process that removed the toga from everyday life gave it an increased importance as a ceremonial garment, as is often the case with clothing. The toga also came to be used to signify different types of power. As early as the 2nd century BC, and probably even before, the toga (along with the calceus) was looked upon as the characteristic badge of Roman citizenship. It was denied to foreigners, and even to banished Romans, and it was worn by Roman magistrates on all occasions as a badge of office. In fact, for a magistrate to appear in a Greek cloak (pallium) and sandals was considered by all as highly improper, if not criminal. Augustus, for instance, was so much incensed at seeing a meeting of citizens without the toga, that, quoting Virgil's lines, "Romanos, rerum dominos, gentemque togatam" ("Romans, lords of the world and the toga-wearing race"), he gave orders to the aediles that in future no one was to appear in the Forum or Circus Maximus without it.
Because the toga was not worn by soldiers, it was regarded as a sign of peace. A civilian was sometimes called togātus "toga-wearer" in contrast to sagum-wearing soldiers. Cicero's De Officiis contains the phrase "cedant arms toga" "let arms yield to the toga", meaning "may peace replace war", or "may military power yield to civilian power". Members of the Praetorian Guard wore togas for Imperial palace or escort duty during the earlier Empire, in order to maintain the impression that civilian authority was still dominant.
There were many kinds of togae, each used differently.
- Toga virilis (toga alba or toga pura): A plain white toga worn on formal occasions by most Roman men of legal age, generally from about 14 to 18 years, but it could be any stage in their teens. These were also worn by members of the Roman Senate who did not hold a position as a curule magistrate. The first wearing of the toga virilis was part of the celebrations on reaching maturity.
- Toga candida: "Bright toga"; a toga bleached by chalk to a dazzling white (Isidorus Orig. xix. 24, 6), worn by candidates (from Latin candida, "pure white") for public office. Thus Persius speaks of a cretata ambitio, "chalked ambition". Oddly, this custom appears to have been banned by plebiscite in 432 BC, but the restriction was never enforced. The term is the etymologic source of the word candidate.
- Toga praetexta: An ordinary white toga with a broad purple stripe on its border. It was worn by
- Freeborn boys who had not yet come of age.
- All curule magistrates.
- Ex-curule magistrates and dictators, upon burial and apparently at festivals and other celebrations as well.
- Some priests (e.g., the Flamen Dialis, Pontifices, Tresviri Epulones, the augurs, and the Arval brothers).
- During the Empire, the right to wear it was sometimes bestowed as an honor independent of formal rank.
- According to tradition, the Kings of Rome.
- Those with the right to wear a toga praetexta were sometimes termed laticlavius, "having a broad crimson stripe". It also gave its name to a literary form known as praetexta.
- Toga pulla: Literally just "dark toga". It was worn mainly by mourners, but could also be worn in times of private danger or public anxiety. It was sometimes used as a protest of sorts—when Cicero was exiled, the Senate resolved to wear togae pullae as a demonstration against the decision. Magistrates with the right to wear a toga praetexta wore a simple toga pura instead of pulla.
- Toga picta: "Painted toga". This toga, unlike all others, was not just dyed but embroidered and decorated. It was solid purple, embroidered with gold. Under the Republic, it was worn by generals in their triumphs, and by the Praetor Urbanus when he rode in the chariot of the gods into the circus at the Ludi Apollinares. During the Empire, the toga picta was worn by magistrates giving public gladiatorial games, and by the consuls, as well as by the emperor on special occasions.
- Toga trabea: According to Servius, there were three different kinds of trabea: one of purple only, for the gods; another of purple and a little white, for kings; and a third, with scarlet stripes and a purple hem, for augurs and Salii. Dionysius of Halicarnassus says that those of equestrian class wore it as well, but this is not borne out by other evidence.
In several countries, the tradition of the toga party has become popular in recent decades, generally at colleges and universities, as illustrated in and possibly inspired by the film Animal House. This practice trades on the exaggerated legend of Roman debauchery, and participants dress in togas that are usually makeshift garments fashioned from bed sheets. As such, these togas often bear little resemblance to the Ancient Roman garment, being flimsier and scantier.
- William Smith, LLD; William Wayte; G. E. Marindin, ed. (1890). "Toga". A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London: John Murray.
- Catharine Edwards, "Unspeakable Professions: Public Performance and Prostitution in Ancient Rome," in Roman Sexualities (Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 81.
- Livius, Titus (ca. 1st century BC). "Book III: The Decemvirate", chapter 26, Ab Urbe Condita.
- Spart. Sever. 1, 7. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
- Suetonius Tranquillus, Gaius (121 AD). 15.2, The Life of Claudius. "In a case involving citizenship a fruitless dispute arose among the advocates as to whether the defendant ought to make his appearance in the toga or in a Greek mantle..."
- Plinius Caecilius Secundus, Gaius (ca. 105 CE). Line 3, epistle 11, book 4, Epistulae. "Idem cum Graeco pallio amictus intrasset—carent enim togae iure, quibus aqua et igni interdictum est..." ("Likewise he would have gone clothed with the Greek garb—for those who have been barred from fire and water are without the right of a toga...")
- Tullius Cicero, Marcus (63 BC). Pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo ("For Rabirius on a Charge of Treason"). "Rabirius... was now accused of... wearing the dress of an Egyptian."
- Suetonius Aug. 40.5
- Rankov, Boris. The Praetorian Guard. p. 31. ISBN 1-85532-361-3.
- cf. Mart. viii. 28, 11. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
- cf. Polybius, x. 4, 8. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
- Liv. iv. 25, 13. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
- Liv. xxiv. 7, 2. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
- cf. Cic. post red. in Sen. 5, 12. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
- Zonar. vii. 19. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
- Liv. xxxiv. 7, 2. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
- cf. Cic. Phil. ii. 4. 3, 110. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
- Liv. xxvii. 8, 8; xxxiii. 42. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
- post red. in Sen. 5, 12. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
- cf. Liv. v. 41, 2. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
- cf. Isid. Orig. xix. 24, 8. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
- ad Aen. vii. 612; cf. ad vii. 188. As cited by The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
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