The Toga
by Sextilli (Clive Hewitt)


Sextilli's full article on the toga can be downloaded as a .pdf file by clicking here. The following is a brief extract:



Although a form of the toga [Tebena] appears in Etruscan times it wasn’t the garment we associate with the Romans. Merely an oblong of cloth that got used as a tunic and blanket, it was the basic garment for the farmer working in his field: or his ‘battle dress’ when drafted into the army. Women also wore a form of toga, but she also had a ‘dress. It was only afterwards that it metamorphosed into the - much-despised - formal dress item. It never seems to have been a popular thing to wear.

The Republican Toga.

By the second century B.C., the toga had, with the two exceptions noted, become an item of purely male dress, and was worn over a tunica: the tunica fell to mid-lower calf length. It had a rounded lower edge and a small over-fold [Sinus] at the top. This form seems to have continued in use until well into Imperial times.

Late 1st to early 2nd century A.D.

During this period, the toga developed into a much larger garment; some 5 metres long, which could no longer be put on alone. You needed at least two others to help. To cater for this the shape changed to a roughly trapezoidal form for the sinus area over a semi-circular form at the bottom. Quintillion (late 1st century) goes to some length about the correct way to wear one for oratory:-

“In my opinion the Toga should be rounded and cut to fit if it is not to be unshapely. The front edge should reach the middle of the shin whilst the back should be somewhat higher...the sinus should
fall to a little above the edge of the tunica if it is to be the most becoming, it should not fall below it. That part that passes like a belt from under the right arm to over the left shoulder should be neither too tight nor too loose. The portion that is last to be arranged should sit rather low, since it will sit better thus and may
be kept in place. A part of the tunica should be drawn back in order that it may not fall over the arm when we are pleading, and the sinus should be thrown back over the shoulder, while it will not be unbecoming if the edge is turned back.”

Early 2nd to early 3rd century.

There seem to have been some relatively minor changes to the way it was worn and the sinus came to be longer – further towards the calf than previously – and a different way of wearing came into use. From the Trajianic relief’s it looks as if the fold coming under the right arm to the over the left shoulder (balteus) was folded tighter. This went under the part hanging over the left shoulder. The Umbo also became exaggerated by an increase in overall length.

Early to late 3rd century.

The balteus became grossly exaggerated; it was concertina-folded to form a smooth band and was taken twice around the body. Much practice in preparing this is required. Thus, I would think it isn’t a suitable idea for reenactment when we are frequently short of people and time.

Early 4th century

The style with an exaggerated balteus continued but the sinus also grew so baggy that if not held on the right arm it swept the ground.

Late toga

After the ’fall’ of the Western empire the toga slowly changed to a shape akin to a ‘Yale’ type of key. It must have been easier to put on, cost less and easier to wear.



"Dress" : Akin to the Greek Peplos, the so-called ‘tube’ dress. Mr. Farmer may have worn underpants as his other garment.

"arranged" : Later known as the umbo

©RMRS 2010