Five Myths About Corinthian Headwear

  1. Women in ancient Corinth were under some kind of obligation to wear a covering on their head when they appeared in public.

    Supposed Evidence Supporting the Myth:

    1. Regarding Romans:
      "Why do sons cover their heads when they escort their parents to the grave, while daughters go with uncovered heads and hair unbound? . . . . Or is it that the unusual is proper in mourning, and it is more usual for women to go forth in public with their heads covered and men with their heads uncovered?" (Plutarch, Moralia, The Roman Questions 14)

    2. Regarding Spartans:
      "When someone inquired why they took their girls into public places unveiled, but their married women veiled, he said, 'Because the girls have to find husbands, and the married women have to keep to those who have them!'" (Plutarch, Moralia, Sayings of Spartans, Charillus 2).

    Counter-evidence to the Myth:

    Corinth was basically a Greek city, following Greek customs (cf. Dio Chrysostom Orationes 37.26: "he has become thoroughly hellenized, even as your own city has").

    "The mysteries inscription of Andania (Ditt. Syll.3, 736), which gives an exact description of women taking part in the procession, makes no mention of the veil. Indeed, the cultic order of Lycosura seems to forbid it. Empresses and goddesses . . . are portrayed without veils . . ." (Oepke in Kittel TDNT 1965, 3:562).

    See counter-evidence drawn from Zinserling's book and drawings on ancient Greek vases found on the Perseus web site.

  2. Only prostitutes appeared in public without a headcovering.

    Counter-evidence to the Myth:

    Greek pottery shows that hetaerae ('companions') often wore a headdress shaped like a horn-of-plenty, even if they wore nothing else but sandals.

  3. The covering that women wore in ancient Corinth covered the whole head, including the face.

    Counter-evidence to the Myth:

    Regarding the veiling of women in Tarsus, Dio Chrysostom (Orationes 33.49) indicates that Tarsian women followed a custom of covering their faces when they went out for a walk:

    Among these is the convention regarding feminine attire, a convention which prescribes that women should be so arrayed and should so deport themselves when in the street that nobody could see any part of them, neither of the face nor of the rest of the body, and that they themselves might not see anything off the road. (Orationes 33.48)
    William M. Ramsey (The Cities of St. Paul 1960, 202) notes that this heavy veiling of women in Tarsus was "utterly different" from the Greek custom.

  4. Shaving a woman's head was a sign of her adultery.

    Supposed Evidence Supporting the Myth:

    1. Regarding a German woman caught in adultery:
      "the husband expels the wife from the house nude, with her hair cut, and drives her through the whole village with a whip" (Tacitus Germania 19).

    2. Regarding Demonassa, ruler of Cyprus in the distant past:
      "She gave the people of Cyprus the following three laws: a woman guilty of adultery shall have her hair cut off and be a harlot--her daughter became an adulteress, had her hair cut off according to the law, and practiced harlotry; . . ." (Dio Chrysostom Discourses, On Fortune 64.2-3).

    Counter-evidence to the Myth:

    "So in Greece, whenever any misfortune comes, the women cut off their hair and the men let it grow . . ." (Plutarch, Moralia, The Roman Questions 14).

    Cf. Deut. 21:12-13; Is. 7:20; 15:2; 22:12; Jer. 16:6; Mic. 1:16; and Josephus Antiquities iv.8.23 [§257]

  5. Men always prayed bare-headed.

    Counter-evidence to the Myth:

    1. Regarding Romans:

      "Why is it that when they worship the gods, they cover their heads, but when they meet any of their fellow-men worthy of honour, if they happen to have the toga over the head, they uncover?" (Plutarch, Moralia, The Roman Questions 10)

      "It is no piety to show oneself often with covered head, turning towards a stone and approaching every altar, none to prostrate upon the ground and to spread open the palms before shrines of the gods . . ." (Lucretius de Rerum Natura 5.1198-1201).

      ". . . and when now thou raisest altars and payest vows on the shore, veil thy hair with covering of purple robe, that in the worship of the gods no hostile face may intrude amid the holy fires and mar the omens" (Virgil Aeneis 3.403-409).

      "It was in accordance with the traditional usages, then, that Camillus, after making his prayer and drawing his garment down over his head, wished to turn his back; . . ." (Dionysius of Halicarnassus The Roman Antiquities 12.16.4).

    2. Regarding Jews:

      "Let not the Wise Men, nor the scholars of the Wise Men, pray unless they be covered" (Maimonides, quoted by Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians 1946, 435).

      Cf. the tallith which Jewish men wear when they pray


Date    Total Bareheaded Headband Hooded
8th BC+   12       2         5       3  
7th BC     4       4         -       -  
6th BC    29       -        20       8  
5th BC    97      21        50      23  
4th BC    20       8         4       8  
3rd BC    11       6         3       2  
2nd BC     5       2         2       -  
1st BC     2       -         -       2  
Totals   180      43        84      46  


Date    Total Bareheaded Headband Hooded
8th BC+    7       5         -       2  
7th BC     -       -         -       -  
6th BC     -       -         -       -  
5th BC     1       -         -       1  
4th BC     -       -         -       -  
3rd BC     -       -         -       -  
2nd BC     1       1         -       1  
1st BC    16       7         3       6  
1st AD     9       6         2       1  
2nd AD    15      10         2       3  
3rd AD     3       2         -       1  
4th AD     3       3         -       -  
5th AD     -       -         -       -  
6th AD     8       3         1       4  
Totals    63      37         8      18  

Data taken from photographs and illustrations in Verena Zinserling's Women in Greece and Rome (1973).

Bareheaded and Headbands:

A seventh century B.C. water jar shows four bareheaded dancers dancing with young men in a cult dance (page 19).

A fifth century B.C. jar shows a Maenad (i.e., a frenzied female dancer) worshiping Dionysus in a frenzy, wearing an ivy chaplet in her hair (plate 21).

A fifth century B.C. jar shows four Maenads with garlands in their hair drinking at a cult celebration of Dionysus (plate 51).

A fifth century B.C. statue of what appears to be a girl praying with arms outstretched shows her bareheaded (plate 28).

A fifth century B.C. vase shows a bareheaded woman sacrificing a young pig to the goddesses of the underworld (plate 43).

A fifth century B.C. vase shows a young woman and a slave girl at a scene of the cult of the dead; one is bareheaded and the other wears a headband (plate 49).

A third century B.C. statue of a serving maid sacrificing at a cult ritual shows her bareheaded (plate 66).


A third century B.C. statue shows a priestess standing apparently wearing a hood; part of her head is missing and the identification of the headwear cannot be exact (plate 71).

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