The Not-So-Deep History of a Fashion Faux-pas

Anyone who has ever laid eyes on me will know that I have as much fashion sense as a medieval court jester. But even I know not to wear socks with sandals. But the other day, when I went to see the new exhibition Africa & Byzantium at the Met (which I quite liked, especially the ancient stuff), I learned that this fashion felony did not originate in any of the more obvious places (e.g., England, Germany, your uncle’s house) but in Late Antique Egypt. Behold:

Shroud of a Woman Wearing a Fringed Tunic, ca. 170-200 CE. Linen, paint; 230.2 × 110.8 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art 09.181.8 (Rogers Fund, 1909).

This is a linen burial shroud, very likely from Egypt, with a painting of a woman, presumably meant to represent the deceased. She wears a fringed garment and, horrifyingly, red socks and sandals.

But it gets worse. This is not simply a case of an artist playing a cruel posthumous prank on the dearly departed by depicting her as a summer camp music teacher. The Egyptians actually dressed this way, as proven by the fact that such socks actually exist. In fact I found a red pair in the Victoria and Albert Museum, excavated at Oxyrhynchus:

Pair of Socks, ca. 250-420 CE, excavated at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. Wool; 25.5 x 18 cm. Victoria and Albert Museum 2085&A-1900 (given by Robert Taylor [Major Myers collection]).

It chills my blood just to look at them.

My Review of Aršāma and His World

On the whole I prefer not to review books–ever. It is a great deal of work to do well, and there is always the risk of annoying someone by pointing out the shortcomings of their scholarship. If I am going to review anything, I prefer it to be manuscripts submitted to journals or publishers, where I can point out potential problems beforehand. But once in a while I must make an exception, and this was certainly the case for Aršāma and his World: The Bodleian Letters in Context, edited by Christopher Tuplin and John Ma and published by Oxford University Press in 2020. This is a long-anticipated three-volume work on the Aramaic correspondence of Arshama, the Achaemenid satrap of Egypt in the second half of the fifth century BCE. Despite being satrap, it seems that Arshama was usually somewhere else, and therefore had to manage his province by mail, of which this is a very small sample published in a very big way.

The first volume contains texts and translations of the letters, and a very extensive commentary. The second discusses the sealed bullae that were acquired with the letters, though it goes well beyond that. The third volume has essays contextualizing the letters. I provide further detail in my review, in Ancient West and East 22 (2023), 486-9. 2020 was definitely a banner year for the study of Achaemenid Egypt, thanks in large part to this book, which I recommend unreservedly to anyone interested in this period.

Yet another review of my book

A few weeks ago I saw another review of my book, this time by Christopher Tuplin in the Journal of the American Oriental Society (143.3, 726-8). Like all of Tuplin’s scholarship, it is balanced and thoughtful, and his criticism is fair, as it gets at the main difficultly of any study of Achaemenid Egypt: identifying the material. I appreciate that he took the time to write this.