Dressing As A Trojan or Hittite Queen by Judith Starkston

 Hand of Fire Tour Graphic

I am so happy to have Judith Starkston as a guest author today, talking about her new novel HAND OF FIRE.

Dressing a Trojan or Hittite Queen

by Judith Starkston

One of the appeals of historical fiction to many readers is the depiction of elaborate clothes. This put me in a bit of a jam when I worked on my novel, Hand of Fire, set in the Trojan War, and now as I develop my historical mystery about Queen Puduhepa of the Hittites (cultural cousins and near neighbors to Troy). I am dressing women in the Late Bronze Age, about 1200 BCE, in what is now Turkey, that is ancient Anatolia, but I have no lovely oil portraits or written accounts of what these women wore. I have to be a fashion designer on a shoestring of evidence.


So what do I have to work with?


Fabrics were woven of wool or linen. We know that noble women, who could afford to spend extravagant amounts of time weaving fine fabrics as opposed to survival-wear, created both elaborate pictorial/geometric patterns and super fine weaves. Homer shows Helen depicting whole mythological scenes on her loom and spinning a golden spindle with precious purple wool (dyed by laboriously milking single drops of ink from each sea snail). We have evidence from Egypt that translucent fabric almost like silk could be woven if a single thickness of twisted linen fiber was used, producing two hundred threads per inch, finer than you typically find modern fabrics. No need to imagine the Trojan and Hittite princesses looking primitive or dowdy.


But what did they do with those fabrics? From rock carvings, pictorial vases and seal impressions we have a rough idea of the shape of the dresses and that part isn’t so sexy.


Here’s Queen Puduhepa herself on the Fraktin rock carving on the Old Hittite Road in south central Turkey.


Fraktin Rock Carving of Puduhepa


Shown are two female figures. The seated one is a goddess and the standing one is Puduhepa pouring a libation to the goddess. They are similarly dressed, which is interesting. They both wear long dresses with what appear to be fairly loose sleeves. They have conical hats that look like they are covered with a veil or mantle that flows down the back and around the shoulders. The standing woman’s garment seems pulled in at the waist but not dramatically so. This is modest garb. The conical hat, by the way, is a feature shared by most gods and kings. Apparently a clear sign of importance either royal or divine was a cone-head. We do have many gorgeous gold diadems from the period, so it isn’t a stretch to imagine that a crown-like diadem could also act as a signifier of wealth or status.


Can we add more detail to these depictions?


There’s an intriguing find at Troy that helps. Around the remains of a warp-weighted loom scattered in the dirt, archaeologists discovered hundreds of tiny gold beads. These beads must have been already woven into a partially done piece and fell to the ground when the fabric burned as we know this layer of Troy did. So you can imagine shimmering gold finely worked into a queen’s dress.


Another detail we can add is that we know there were also special band looms that made brightly colored edgings or braiding. Such edgings are hinted at on some Hittite vases. There are some musicians and dancers on a vase in the Corum Museum. The lines on their skirts may also indicate pleating.

Such fancy trims and pleating are much more visible on the Minoan and Mycenaean frescoes, but it’s best to remember these ladies are from a somewhat different period and place than my Trojans and Hittites. They do provide the only color vision, so it’s worth comparing.


Fresco of a lady from Akrotiri


We also know they polished fabrics with smooth stones to make them shine.

So what did I do in Hand of Fire to dress my young lady, the future queen of Lyrnessos, an ally of Troy? Briseis doesn’t always find herself in dress-up circumstances, to say the least, but here are two examples when she does.


Briseis is betrothed to the king’s son. In his first formal courting visit, Briseis wears “her best russet skirt, the pleats picked out with multicolored braid and a cream linen veil to cover her bright hair.” He gives her, among other things a necklace of amber beads.


Here is an excerpt from her wedding day, the grandest occasion I had to dress her up for:

Briseis put on her linen tunic and swirling skirt, bleached a brilliant white and rubbed with an oiled stone until the fabric glistened. Eurome reached underneath the pleated skirt to pull the tunic snugly over her breasts so that the fabric curved and swelled around her body. Briseis ran her hand over the smoothness of the tunic and then spun in a circle to feel the heavy skirt fly out. Eurome laughed and then made her hold still while she tied on a linen belt decorated with gold sun discs. Briseis slid on the matched bracelets that Antiope had received from Glaukos for her wedding day—two wide bands of gold set with cornelian.

Eurome brushed Briseis’s hair until it glowed, a long red-gold cascade. She wove the front strands into a crown and attached the diadem Milos had fashioned of golden sprays of lilies intertwined with tiny pomegranates. Traceries of flowers and leaves wound down from it, gleaming against the deeper gold of Briseis’s hair. Eurome clasped a matching necklace around Briseis’s neck.

As Eurome lifted the saffron-colored veil out of its chest, they heard the king, queen and Mynes announced and her father’s greeting.

“Your husband is here to claim you. Lucky we’re almost ready,” said Eurome. The breath caught in Briseis’s chest.

Eurome covered her from head to toe in the translucent veil, holding it in place with a golden pin shaped like Kamrusepa’s bee and arranging it so the delicate fabric clung to Briseis’s form and suggested the beauty that it only partially concealed. Her hair, the jewels, and shimmering fabrics glinted through the golden cloud surrounding her.

Book Description for HAND OF FIRE:

The Trojan War threatens Troy’s allies and the Greek supply raids spread. A young healing priestess, designated as future queen, must defend her city against both divine anger and invading Greeks. She finds strength in visions of a handsome warrior god. Will that be enough when the half-immortal Achilles attacks? Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis.



Buy Links: 


 Amazon UK


Advance Praise for HAND OF FIRE:

“In Hand of Fire, Starkston’s careful research brings ancient Greece and Troy to life with passion and grace. This haunting and insightful novel makes you ache for a mortal woman, Briseis, in love with a half-god, Achilles, as she fights to make her own destiny in a world of capricious gods and warriors. I devoured this page-turning escape from the modern world!” — Rebecca Cantrell, New York Times bestselling author of The World Beneath

“In her portrayal of Briseis, Judith Starkston has cast a bright light on one of the Iliad‘s most intriguing sub-plots. With her fast-paced story, three-dimensional characters, and fascinating cultural details, Starkston has given historical fiction fans a tale to remember.” –Priscilla Royal, author of Covenant with Hell and 9 other Prioress Eleanor mysteries

“Starkston breathes new life into an age-old tale in this masterful retelling of the Iliad. The reader experiences the terror, bravery and heartbreak of Briseis who now takes center stage in one of the most famous love triangles of all time.” Elisabeth Storrs, author of The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice

Author Photo

 About the Author:

Judith Starkston writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. Ms. Starkston is a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin and humanities. She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their golden retriever Socrates. Hand of Fire is her debut novel.

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