Braccae

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Goths warrior of "Sarcophagus Ludovisi" with backless wearing a "braccae" baggy knickerbockers, first used by the Celts and then extended to the other barbarian tribes
barbarians carrying braccae reconstruction


Braccae is the Latin term for trousers, and in this context is today used to refer to a style of trousers, made from wool. According to the Romans, this style of clothing originate from the Gauls.[1]

Braccae were typically made with a drawstring, and tended to reach from just above the knee at the shortest, to the ankles at the longest, with length generally increasing in tribes living further north.

When the Romans first encountered the braccae, they thought them to be effeminate (Roman men typically wore tunics, which were one-piece outfits terminating at or above the knee).

Etymology[edit]

The word originates from the Gaulish bhrāg-ikā, after going through a process of syncopation it gave rise to braca 'trouser, pants'.[2]

The word is cognate with the English breeches, it appears to derive from the Indo-European root *bhrg- 'break', here apparently used in the sense 'divide', 'separate'. The consonant sequence *b.r.k implies an origin in the Germanic (with regular sound change *g > *k) rather than the Celtic branch of the Indo-European languages; Celtic would regularly have *b.r.g instead, as in Scottish Gaelic briogais or in Breton bragoù. The form *b.r.k is well attested in Germanic languages (Proto-Germanic *brōkiz, see breeches).

If the Romans learnt this word from Celtic-speakers, it seems odd that the Latin word has cc, apparently resembling the Germanic form with *k, rather than the Celtic form, with *g. There are several possible explanations:

  • The Romans first heard the word from Celtic-speakers, who had borrowed it from Germanic-speakers.
  • The Romans first heard the word from Germanic-speakers.
  • The Romans first heard a form with Celtic *g, but the pronunciation that they came to use in imitation did not accurately reflect what they originally heard.
  • The Celtic word first passed to the Etruscans, who did not distinguish between the "c" and "g" sounds. Transition through the Etruscans accounts for the Greek amorge being rendered as Latin amurca, Greek κυβερνἂν (kubernân) as Latin gubernare. Perhaps that is how "bragae" became "bracae" and then "braccae".

Notes[edit]


Bibliography[edit]

  • Collis, John (2003). The Celts: Origins, Myths, Inventions, Tempus. ISBN 0-7524-2913-2
  • Wells, Peter S (2001). Beyond Celts, Germans and Scythians, Duckworth Debates in Archaeology. ISBN 0-7156-3036-9
  • Oppenheimer, Stephen (2006). The Origins of the British, Constable & Robinson.
  • Hazel Dodge, Peter Connolly: Die antike Stadt. Ein Leben in Athen und Rom. ISBN 978-3829011044. Kapitel Kleidung.
  • August Mau: Ἀναξυρίδες. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (RE). Band I, 2, Stuttgart 1893ff., Sp. 2100 f.
  • James Yates: Bracae. In: William Smith: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. John Murray, London 1875, S. 213 (online)