Semper ubi sub ubi Richard Armitage

This is my favorite non-Latin Latin phrase…taught to me by my high school Latin teacher.  It came immediately to mind the other day when a commenter suggested that a better understanding of ancient underwear was in order.  Well, we aim to please here at Ancient Armitage, so here you go:


Ancient nudity ahead!

A sculptor's workshop

A sculptor’s workshop

Even a cursory look through the corpus of Greek art, the remaining visual record of the civilization. argues that a great deal of ancient Greek life was conducted in the nude, especially for men.  There is a fair amount of information preserved about Greek dress, and most of it agrees that even when they were clothed, the Greeks did not regularly wear any type of undergarment beneath.  This raises the question of support when engaged in the kinds vigorous athletic activities that were a large part of the culture. I knew that the Greeks utilized a sort of rudimentary “athletic supporter” called the kynodesme (κυνοδέσμη).  It consisted of a thin strip of leather that was was tied around the end of the foreskin and then secured around the waist or at the base of the penis.

An athelete wearing a kynodesme Source:  Wikimedia Commons

An athelete wearing a kynodesme
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What I was not aware of until I did a bit of reading for this post, was that this practice also resulted in an particular Greek aesthetic preference in terms of the display of scrotum and a resulting enlongation of the foreskin.  The things you learn blogging! Interestingly, unlike the Greeks who were early practicioners of “going commando”, the Über militaristic Romans were much less loosey goosey about underwear.  True to their uptight reputation, Roman men wore an undergarment called a subligaculum.  As you can see below, the finished product looks quite a bit like a diaper.

How to tie your subligaculum...

How to tie your subligaculum

Despite having very little prohibition on nudity and a strong culture of public bathing in the buff, citizen class Romans are very rarely depicted in their subligaculi.  It’s fortunate, for the purpose of illustration, that this was also the go to garment for Roman gladiators who are widely depicted in Roman art

Draba (Woody Strode) and Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) wear the subligaculum

Draba (Woody Strode) and Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) wear the subligaculum

One famous fresco depicts women, identified as athletes, wearing a similar garment along with a brassiere like strophium.

This is often referred to as the Bikini Mosaic

This is often referred to as the Bikini Mosaic
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Outside of athletics, which would have been of limited access for most, it seems that underwear of any kind were optional for Roman women.

After this brief tour through ancient underwear, I’m left with one burning question:

greek or romanRichard Armitage….Greek or Roman??


35 comments on “Semper ubi sub ubi Richard Armitage

  1. Servetus says:

    Reblogged this on Me + Richard Armitage and commented:

  2. saraleee says:

    Very cute! Thanks.

  3. lamaruca says:

    Enjoyed your post immensely, obscura!! 😀

  4. guylty says:

    You caught the gauntlet firmly and beautifully. Or wait, were those the two words I had in mind when I finished on the last two illustrations? Hm. In any case – this is the sort of historical information that I always found much more interesting than dates of battles and genealogies of kings. We are talking RL application here. Most interesting, Obscura. And strangely, I am reminded of Prof Obscura’s little instruction chat with that actor in preparation for his turn in a ancient period piece. ” “Please tell me more”, he whispered huskily, pursing his lips and leaning forward with a smile.”…

    • obscura says:

      LOL! Asked and answered :D. I was just talking to my new classes about how I can’t agree that history is boring…some history *teachers* are boring, but observing human activity is never so! Oh yes…imagine the consulting extends to wardrobe fitting… While reaching to make a minor adjustment, “Oh dear, my bracelet is caught in the fabric…” 😉

  5. fedoralady says:

    Educational and entertaining. 😀

  6. jazzbaby1 says:


  7. judiang says:

    Very educational. Sadly, my classes were never this interesting. 😉

  8. asteraurora says:

    Love this sort of historical detail, with the crafty Richard twist at the end!

    • obscura says:

      Yeah, talk of underwear doesn’t come up everyday for most historians…and it was very accommodating of RA to provide some food for thought 😉

  9. mujertropical says:

    I will take a ‘wild’ guess and say that he is Roman by day, Greek by night, and magically delicious all the time!

  10. Mrs Thornton says:

    Very informative and great fun to read!
    And I agree with Mujertropical…

  11. Perry says:

    Love th post.Love the bow.

    • obscura says:

      Yeah…I wasn’t quite getting how that version actually worked from the illustration alone (vase painting has it’s limits), but a google image search of kynodesme provided plenty of clarification…let’s just say NSFW clarification 🙂

      • Perry says:

        I think I looked at the same website you did. “Dog Leash”?

        • obscura says:

          Something like that…it is the literal translation of the word. I had no problem with securing it around the waist, but the version illustrated on vase doesn’t show how tying it to the shaft basically makes a sort loop of flesh. Being 1. Female and 2. American, I wasn’t quite following how that worked. I get it now 🙂

          Sent from my iPad


  12. Cris says:

    Very informative, 🙂 thank you !
    IMHO, it’s neither Greek nor Roman with RA,
    but Ballet, like here:

    (Dance of the Furies by Christoph Willibald Gluck)
    Perhaps we need now an expose on the dancer undergarments throughout history? E.g., Louis XIV was very fond of dancing on Lully.

  13. katie70 says:

    Who ever said history is boring, must be boring themselves. Thanks for today’s lesson. Now back to writing class.

  14. […] Obscura, you had me at “ancient nudity”! […]

  15. Mrs Thornton says:

    I have posted this comment on one of your other pages, but it may have been more suited here –

    ‘ I was intrigued, a few years ago, on a visit to Pompeii, to hear the guide say that Roman ladies used to buy vials of their favourite Gladiators’ sweat.
    It just reminded me of we ladies and some actor or other….’

    • obscura says:

      LOL…yes, quite apropos. Gladiators had huge fandoms of Roman ladies. Hmmm, a vial of sweat, full of pheremones, sounds…ah….*inspiRAtional* ?? 😉

  16. […] reference turns up on a paper assigned by me, you all will be the first to know! (as a funny FYI, Semper ubi sub ubi Richard Armitage, a post about ancient underwear from January 2014 was not terribly far behind…who knew people […]

  17. […] has to be Semper ubi sub ubi Richard Armitage.  It cracks my s#!t up every time I see someone has viewed it…I was just thinking about it […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s