Spartan cloaks: red, scarlet, vermilion?

The floor is open for nominations.  What color would you say was the cloak worn by the Spartans?

Unlike the other city states, the Spartans had something approaching standard issue wear, and it included a cloak that might be described as red, scarlet or vermilion.  (Or perhaps some other shade?).

In my third book, working title Sacred Games, I refer a few times to the famous cloak.  As I read through the ms, I find I've used all three words to describe the color.  This won't do!

I've put a poll widget on the right hand side of the blog page.  Feel free to express your opinion.

What makes this more fun is that if you base your answer on movies you've seen, such as 300, then it's the blind leading the blind, because their choice is as random as mine.  To the best of my knowledge, there's no surviving example of the real thing.

19 comments:

RWMG said...

Who is describing the cloak? You as narrator or one of the characters?

I suspect a Spartan would have said 'red' (or the Greek equivalent). 'Scarlet' has too many word associations (Scarlet Pimpernel doesn't really have a Spartan ring to it, now does it). 'Vermillion' is just too fancy a word for a Spartan.

Gary Corby said...

Nicolaos as the narrator is describing the cloak. He's Athenian, of course.

Helen said...

It seems it was possible to make several shades of red at the time of Nico. Ancient vermilion corresponds in colour to our modern "tomato red", ancient carmine (also knows as kermes) is similar in colour to modern carmine; and ancient red ochre is still in use today in its original form.

Because there are no examples for us to look at, I think that any of the variants would be OK. The name used would in theory be determined by the shade of the garment.

Liza said...

How about "deep red", Gary? I know Spartans used to wear red cloaks to cover the blood when they were fighting (for "high morale" reasons). In greek the equivalent is "άλικο=aliko" and it means carmine.

Elizabeth said...

How about crimson?

David J. West said...

I like crimson-but rather than deep red or tomatoe red-I believe blood red would be closest to the spirit of the matter.

Sean said...

I second deep red.

Gary Corby said...

Right, I'm going to hire you people to write my books for me.

I love crimson, blood red (so apropos), carmine and deep red.

Gary Corby said...

You're too good. This is making the choice harder!

Gary Corby said...

Welcome to the blog, Liza!

I think this is the first time you've ever commented, and you opened with a bang with that suggestion.

Linda G. said...

Blood red. It just seems fitting. Second choice: deep red.

Nice blog! :)

Loretta Ross said...

Call it "Spartan red" and the first time you mention it describe it as a deep red, the color of blood.

Gary Corby said...

Welcome too to the blog, Linda!

Yes, blood red does seem fitting, doesn't it?

Gary Corby said...

Hi Loretta, Spartan red seems a good workaround, especially starting with blood.

I'm so impressed everyone's doing better at this than me. :-)

Meghan said...

I'm at work so I offer this tidbit cautiously because I don't have my Paul Cartledge books in front of me, but if I remember correctly the Spartans used a dye similar to the Phoenicians by harvesting mollusk off the coast of Cythera. (Again I need to double check this).

I also found a description of how these dyes were made on a website:


"One of the trade secrets of the Tyrians probably was the mingling of the dyes from the two different shellfish; for the Murex, if used alone, produced a dull, dark purple and the Buccinum, a red tone which faded easily. Buccinum red was less in demand—200 pounds of Buccinum dye brought only 111 pounds of the Murex. It was by immersing a cloth, first in the dye of the Murex and then in that of the Buccinum, that the dark, rich color known as Tyrian purple was obtained. It has been described as 'the color of coagulated blood, but when held up to the light showing a crimson hue.' Was it perhaps due to the brilliance of the sun that shone upon Phoenicia? This might have been a factor, for exposing the tinted cloths to certain degrees of light had a great deal to do with the hue. If a cloth was immersed in the fluid of the Murex or Buccinum and then exposed to a strong light, it turned successively green, blue, red, deep purple-red, and, finally by washing in soap and water, a permanent shade of bright crimson."

At any rate, I think crimson would be a cool choice either way!

Amalia T. said...

I'm voting Spartan Red, via Loretta's suggestion. Especially since it is still so remarkably Spartan to us today, and no doubt if the reference made it this far it must have been doubly remarkable to the historians who passed it on.

Milan said...

Even modern fixed dyes eventually fade. If there are any constraints on availability of the red cloth then it might sometimes appear brown or even... pink. That doesn't seem so unmanly once you've seen grizzled rig workers in their once-red jumpsuits.

Gary Corby said...

Milan, yes, fading for absolute sure. Especially considering how they went about washing clothing. Good point.

Gary Corby said...

Meghan, yes, I believe the red came from mollusks, somehow. I don't know if anyone's ever tried to reproduce the ancient dyes? That would be sort of interesting.