Pileus (hat)

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Ancient Greek red-figure plate from Apulia, third quarter of the 4th century BC, Louvre.
Pileus helmet with an olive branch ornament, bottom line, middle, Staatliche Antikensammlungen

The pileus (Greek πῖλος - pilos, also pilleus or pilleum in Latin) was a brimless, felt cap worn in Ancient Greece[1] and surrounding regions, later also introduced in Ancient Rome. The Greek πιλίδιον (pilidion) and Latin pilleolus were smaller versions, similar to a skullcap.

The pileus was especially associated with the manumission of slaves, who wore it upon their liberation. It became emblematic of liberty and freedom from bondage.[2] During the classic revival of the 18th and 19th centuries it was widely confused with the Phrygian cap which, in turn, appeared frequently on statuary and heraldic devices as a "liberty cap."[citation needed].


Odysseus wearing pileus depicted in a 3rd-century BC coin from Ithaca
Ancient Greek terracotta statuette of a peasant wearing a pilos, 1st century BC.


The pilos (Greek: πῖλος, felt[3]) was a common conical travelling hat in Ancient Greece. The pilos is the brimless version of the petasos. It could be made of felt or leather. Their pilos cap identifies the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, in sculptures, bas-reliefs and vase-paintings; their caps were already explained in Antiquity as the remnants of the egg from which they hatched.[4] The pilos appears on votive figurines of boys at the sanctuary of the kabeiri at Thebes, the Kabeirion.[5]

In warfare, the pilos type helmet was often worn by the peltast light infantry, in conjunction with the exomis, but it was also worn by the heavy infantry.

The pilos helmet was made of bronze in the same shape as the pilos which was presumably sometimes worn under the helmet for comfort, giving rise to the helmet's conical shape.[6] The first widespread adoption of the pilos helmet occurred in Sparta towards the end of the 5th century BC.[7]


Pileus between two daggers, on the reverse of a denarius issued by Brutus to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March

In Ancient Rome, a slave was freed in a ceremony in which a praetor touched the slave with a rod called a vindicta and pronounced him to be free. The slave's head was shaved and a pileus was placed upon it. Both the vindicta and the cap were considered symbols of Libertas, the goddess representing liberty.[8]

This was a form of extra-legal manumission (the manumissio minus justa) considered less legally sound than manumission in a court of law.[citation needed]

One 19th century dictionary of classical antiquity states:

Among the Romans the cap of felt was the emblem of liberty. When a slave obtained his freedom he had his head shaved, and wore instead of his hair an undyed pileus (πίλεον λευκόν, Diodorus Siculus Exc. Leg. 22 p. 625, ed. Wess.; Plaut. Amphit. I.1.306; Persius, V.82). Hence the phrase servos ad pileum vocare is a summons to liberty, by which slaves were frequently called upon to take up arms with a promise of liberty (Liv. XXIV.32). The figure of Liberty on some of the coins of Antoninus Pius, struck A.D. 145, holds this cap in the right hand.[9]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ http://pileusblog.wordpress.com/
  3. ^ πῖλος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon,on Perseus
  4. ^ John Tzetzes, On Lycophron, noted by Karl Kerenyi's The Heroes of the Greeks, 1959:107 note 584.
  5. ^ Walter Burkert. Greek Religion, 1985:281.
  6. ^ Nick Sekunda,The Spartan Army, p.30
  7. ^ Jesse Obert, A Brief History of Greek Helmets, p.16
  8. ^ Cobb, T.R.R. (1858). An inquiry into the law of Negro slavery in the United States of America. Philadelphia: T. & J.W. Johnson. p. 285, 285n2. 
  9. ^ Yates, James. Entry "Pileus" in William Smith's A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (John Murray, London, 1875).


Further reading[edit]

  • Sekunda, Nicholas and Hook, Adam (2000). Greek Hoplite 480-323 BC. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-85532-867-4

External links[edit]