The Causia was one of the most widespread Hellenic head dresses. It was made of heavy wool felt or hide and originated in Macedon. According to Pliny it had the shape of an overturned cloak or cone. Knotted at the nape of the neck with ribbons and fastened with a chinstrap, it was also used as a helmet during battles. The Galerus was also very popular. It consisted in a pointy cap held down by laces and knotted under the chin.
Initially made with animal skins, it was later constructed with wool felt.
Greek men’s wear in the Classical Era was topped off with the Petasus, a large brimmed soft wool felt or hide felt head dress. “Made in different colours and at times decorated with a button on top, the felt petasus, with its dome and silhouetted wing, may consider itself the first true hat”. 1
It was a head dress that was used primarily for travelling and perhaps since also related with movement and velocity, it was associated to the pilgrim god Hermes, the roman god Mercury, who wore it furnished with lateral wings. The name etymology recalls the Greek verb petannymi referring to the action of ‘unfolding, ‘spreading out’ sails and ‘hanging out’ clothing, thus indicating a head dress with a brim.
From Greece, the Petasus was also exported to Rome thanks to the actors of Latin comedies that wore this head dress on stages such as Plato’s Anphitryon. The petasus continued to be considered an appropriate “exoticism” more for theatre actors than austere roman citizens who did not considered virile covering their head with anything but a toga.
Proof is the fact that its name was never Latinized.
The Pileus was very common among humble citizens. It was a felt cap, made of leather or cloth, worn tight at the temples, and had a small raised brim that fell either to one side or forward. It was a very old head dress spread by the Persians during the period of Alexander the Great, and was thought up centuries before by the Phrygians which ruled over Asia Minor for roughly eight centuries.
It is for this reason that it was also called “Phrygian cap” and with this name it became famous during the French revolution as symbol of Jacobinism. The Phrygian bonnet became a sign of obtained freedom.
In Rome the pileus symbolized freedom from slavery. Slaves were forced to work without any headgear so once freed they received a pileus during an emancipation ceremony as sign of restored dignity. It was also worn during Saturnalia, and it is believed that with Nero’s death people filled the streets waving their pileus joyfully for the end of the tyranny.
Free men wore it during banquettes or plays almost as a sign of defiance. The name takes us back to the Greek pilos that was mentioned in Homer and Hesiod’s works, and indicated wool or fur transformed into felt that was used not only to line helmets and shoes, but also for caps similar to the modern day Fez which is made from that same type of felt.
1. F. MONDOLFO, Tanto di cappello, Alberti Editore, Verbania, 1997, pg. 23 14