Pileus (hat)

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Ancient Greek red-figure plate from Apulia, third quarter of the 4th century BC, Louvre

The pileus (Greek: πῖλοςpilos, also pilleus or pilleum in Latin) was a brimless, felt cap worn in Illyria, Ancient Greece and surrounding regions,[1][2] later also introduced in Ancient Rome.[3] The Greek πιλίδιον (pilidion) and Latin pilleolus were smaller versions, similar to a skullcap. The plis, an Albanian felt cap, originated from a similar felt cap worn by the Illyrians, and is worn even today in Albania, Kosovo and surrounding regions.[4][5]


Ancient Greek terracotta statuette of a peasant wearing a pilos, 1st century BC


The pilos (Greek: πῖλος, felt[6]) was a common conical travelling hat in Illyria and Ancient Greece always used by Illyrians and Epirotes tribes in Greece. The pilos is the brimless version of the petasos, it could be made of felt or leather. Pilos caps often identify the mythical twins, or Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, as represented in sculptures, bas-reliefs and on ancient ceramics, their caps were supposedly the remnants of the egg from which they hatched.[7] The pilos appears on votive figurines of boys at the sanctuary of the Cabeiri at Thebes, the Cabeirion.[8]

In warfare, the pilos type helmet was often worn by the peltast light infantry, in conjunction with the exomis, but it was also worn by the heavy infantry.[citation needed]

The pilos helmet was made of bronze in the same shape as the pilos which was presumably sometimes worn under the helmet for comfort, giving rise to the helmet's conical shape.[9] Some historians theorize that the pilos helmet had widespread adoption in some greek cities such as Sparta[10], however, there is no primary historical source or any archeological evidence that would suggest that Sparta or any other greek state would have used the helmet in a standardized fashion for their armies. What led historians to believe that the helmet was widespread in places such as Sparta was, amongst other reasons, the supposed advancement of battlefield tactics that required that infantry have full vision and mobility [11]. However, many other types of greek helmet offered similar designs to the pilos when it came to visibility, such as the konos or the chalcidian helmets, and the idea that Sparta widely adopted the pilos helmet, or any type of helmet in a standard fashion, is based purely on speculation, since any surviving records of classical historians such as Herodotus or Xenophon never gave such an account of a precise type of widespread equipment or helmet the greeks wore at any point in time.


Pileus between two daggers, on the reverse of a denarius issued by Brutus to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March

In Ancient Rome, a slave was freed in a ceremony in which a praetor touched the slave with a rod called a vindicta and pronounced him to be free; the slave's head was shaved and a pileus was placed upon it. Both the vindicta and the cap were considered symbols of Libertas, the goddess representing liberty;[12] this was a form of extra-legal manumission (the manumissio minus justa) considered less legally sound than manumission in a court of law.[citation needed]

One 19th century dictionary of classical antiquity states that, "Among the Romans the cap of felt was the emblem of liberty; when a slave obtained his freedom he had his head shaved, and wore instead of his hair an undyed pileus."[13] Hence the phrase servos ad pileum vocare is a summons to liberty, by which slaves were frequently called upon to take up arms with a promise of liberty (Liv. XXIV.32). The figure of Liberty on some of the coins of Antoninus Pius, struck A.D. 145, holds this cap in the right hand.[14]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ Cleland, Liza; Davies, Glenys; Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd (2007). Greek and Roman Dress from A to Z. London and New-York: Routledge. p. 88. ISBN 0-203-93880-1.
  2. ^ Campbell, Duncan B. (2012). Spartan Warrior 735–331 BC. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 34. ISBN 1849087016.
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ Stipčević, Aleksandar (1977). The Illyrians: History and Culture. History and Culture Series. Noyes Press. p. 89. ISBN 0815550529. It is generally agreed, and rightly so, that the modern Albanian cap originates directly from the similar cap worn by the Illyrians.
  5. ^ Recherches albanologiques: Folklore et ethnologie. Instituti Albanologijik i Prishtinës. 1982. p. 52. Retrieved 14 April 2013. Ne kuadrin e veshjeve me përkime ilire, të dokumentuara gjer më tani hyjnë tirqit, plisi, qeleshja e bardhë gjysmësferike, goxhufi-gëzofi etj
  6. ^ πῖλος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  7. ^ John Tzetzes, On Lycophron, noted by Karl Kerenyi's The Heroes of the Greeks, 1959:107 note 584.
  8. ^ Walter Burkert. Greek Religion, 1985:281.
  9. ^ Nick Sekunda,The Spartan Army, p.30
  10. ^ Jesse Obert, A Brief History of Greek Helmets, p.16
  11. ^ Jesse Obert, A Brief History of Greek Helmets, p.16
  12. ^ Cobb, T.R.R. (1858). An inquiry into the law of Negro slavery in the United States of America. Philadelphia: T. & J.W. Johnson. p. 285, 285n2.
  13. ^ πίλεον λευκόν, Diodorus Siculus Exc. Leg. 22 p. 625, ed. Wess.; Plaut. Amphit. I.1.306; Persius, V.82
  14. ^ Yates, James. Entry "Pileus" in William Smith's A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (John Murray, London, 1875).

Further reading[edit]

  • Sekunda, Nicholas and Hook, Adam (2000). Greek Hoplite 480–323 BC. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-85532-867-4

External links[edit]