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Thread: Persian Immortal Uniforms

  1. #1

    Default Persian Immortal Uniforms

    I am back from a nice journey to Paris, and I made some observations about the Persian uniformity. They are not terribly surprising to people who know about the Persian army; but still seeing the Immortals' uniforms in real impressed me, and you may be interested as well.

    Some opening remarks:

    Yes, the term Immortal is most likely a translation mistake by Herodotus and his interpreter, I know. It will be used however as everyone knows it means the corps of professional soldiers who were the ever ready core of the Great Kings army, loyal to him alone. The discussion about what soldiers in Greek texts are to be identified as such may belong to another place.

    The term uniform on the other hand implies a strictly organized and controlled system of how to dress by which one can identify the uniform’s wearer with a certain military group. For most ancient armies, this does not apply very well; that even includes the all professional late Roman army.

    But what about the so-called Immortals of the Persian Empire, do they qualify? As far as the field dress is concerned, called Median Riding Dress, we cannot tell because the documentation is not good enough. Descriptions in narrative sources are not detailed enough and pictorial evidence is dangerous at best since it all comes from the Greeks and the attribution of a depiction to the Immortals is far from sure.
    That leaves us with the Elamite Court Dress depicted in Persepolis and Susa most prominently. The Apadana reliefs from Persepolis have lost their colour, assuming they were coloured, so they also cannot answer the question on Persian uniformity. Darius’ palace in Susa however featured reliefs from glazed bricks and they still retain their colour in the Louvre, Paris, up to day.

    Again the attribution of the guardsmen wearing the dress to the Persian Immortals is not sure, but an honour guard for the Great King it was in any case. This could mean especially dignified nobles, too, but I tend to think of them as Immortals, much because they are dressed so uniformly. While the Court Dress itself does not constitute a uniform, the clear repetitive colouring of it does, as two major combinations, each with a minor variation, repeats itself way too often to be coincidence, when found on 29 guardsmen. Moreover the repetition even in the most minor details of the robes’ decorations is strict.

    Considering the hairstyle and the jewelry are always the same, a strong argument for uniforms at least concerning ceremonial purposes can be made. It is however a bit distracting that the guardsmen are not arrayed according to their uniforms at all, whenever we do actually have arrays. Consequently attributing any of these uniforms to certain regiments of the Immortals would be difficult, even though not entirely impossible. The modern day soldiers of the German military ceremonial unit, the Wachbataillon, wear uniforms of army, air force, and navy. Where ‘navy uniform bearers’ stand during ceremonies is solely decided on what looks good. (Often ‘army’ makes the core, flanked by ‘airforce’, while ‘navy’ is in the background when on Zapfenstreich e.g.)
    A similar practice in Persian palace service is possible, but purely conjectural.
    The variations could also be a sign of rank – otherwise conspicuously absent.

    I’ll quit the speculating here and show the pics. My photos proved to be insufficient, I know, but I hope you appreciate them anyway:

    Uniform A1:

    - saffron headband
    - saffron robe with white and blue flower ornaments
    - blue neckline decorated with triangles
    - dark brown ‘hanging sleeves’ and lower torso below breast and above lower belly, with blue ‘hem’/’border’ decorated by white circles and triangles
    - elaborated ’hem’/’border’ for the lower part of the uniform, with a dark brown stripe decorated with white and blue flower ornaments again, flanked by blue stripes with white dots (flowers?)
    - dark brown trousers
    - saffron shoes
    - dark brown quiver with white crescents facing each other and a safran top, which is bordered by bands made up of facing triangles in white and blue, tassels hanging from the top

    Uniform A2:

    - same as A1 but with a dark brown ‘hem’/’border’ for ‘hanging sleeves’ flanked by blue band and decorated with white circles and triangles

    Uniform B1:

    - saffron headband
    - white robe with white squares, which are bordered and tri-parted by dark brown lines; the middle of the three parts is saffron
    - saffron ‘hanging sleeves’ and lower torso below breast and above lower belly, with blue ‘hem’/’border’ with white circles flanked by a band of facing triangles in white and dark brown
    - same ‘hem’ for the lower part of the uniform
    - dark brown trousers
    - saffron shoes
    - all dark brown quiver with blue crescents facing each other, a band of facing triangles separates the two parts, tassels hanging from the top

    Uniform B2:

    - same B1 but with dark brown ‘hem’/’border’ for ‘hanging sleeves’ flanked by blue band and decorated with white circles and triangles
    Ρέζου λογίου πελάτης (Client of the eloquent Rez)

  2. #2
    Magister Militum Flavius Aetius's Avatar Aetī Avēas!

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    Default Re: Persian Immortal Uniforms

    cool! +rep

  3. #3

    Default Re: Persian Immortal Uniforms

    Great article. I've noticed the use of saffron colouring in Persian military headgear elsewhere as well. I believe it was found on the Alexander sarcophagus as well as the Alexander mosaic. There is also the case of the "Munich Wood" battle scene drawn on some wooden support beams of a tomb near Tatarli that has the Persians wearing uniformly red head dresses. But since the use of colour is so very limited in the piece it would appear that the only thing to take from it is that there was an intended uniformity in the depiction.

    I also wanted to add that i agree it is unlikely these depictions from Susa are of the Royal honour guard because they wear the twisted headband rather than the imitation crown that the bodyguards of Persepolis wear.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2005

    Default Re: Persian Immortal Uniforms

    Yep +rep from me too

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