A form of underwear worn by both men and women in ancient Rome, the subligaculum was one of the most basic garments. It was very similar to the perizoma, a tight-fitting pair of shirt pants, worn by the Etruscans, a pre-Roman society that inhabited the central part of present-day Italy, and the Etruscans in turn appear to have adapted the garment from examples worn by ancient Greeks and Egyptians. A basic loincloth, the main purpose of the subligaculum was to cover the genitals. Like other loin coverings worn in ancient times, the subligaculum came in a number of forms. At its simplest, it might consist of a belt with a piece of fabric stretching from front to back between the legs. More substantial subligaculums might cover all of the buttocks and tie at the sides.
Most people wore the subligaculum under other garments. For example, men wore the garment under the tunica (shirt) or the toga, and women wore it under the stola, a long gown. But others wore the subligaculum alone. Common workers often labored wearing only a subligaculum, and Roman gladiators, warriors who fought for entertainment in Rome, usually fought wearing just a subligaculum.
Our knowledge of Roman costume generally comes from the many statues, bas-reliefs, wall carvings, and paintings that have been recovered by archeologists, scientists who study the physical remains of past cultures. Yet these statues and paintings don't reveal what was worn beneath the outer garments. Historians aren't sure what Romans were wearing underneath their flowing togas and stolas, but their best guess is that it was a subligaculum.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Symons, David J. Costume of Ancient Rome. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.