Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Belt one out!

Update 12/10/13:  This post contains information that is probably incorrect.  Please see here.

Several ornate belt buckles are known from the Achaemenid period, but they're rare in art.  For the period of Darius the Great, a particular buckle is well-represented in reliefs at Persepolis.  Unfortunately, that doesn't put us much closer to understanding it.  It appears to be a large, round, sometimes flower-shaped button, which would be easy enough to replicate (although it would unfortunately mean the belt's tightness couldn't be adjusted).  The only problem is that the end of the belt always hangs straight down below the button, which should only work if the belt were made of very flimsy material, which it clearly isn't since it's used to suspend heavy objects, like weapons, or else if the belt were tied in a certain way.

The end of the belt was rounded, with a small round tassel.  When a sword or bowcase is worn, it's attached by a loop through an additional strap which in turn is attached to the belt at the button and the back.

I'd like to note right now that if and when someone figures out how this worked, I believe it should become the standard for reenactors of our period.

A simpler belt appears on a statuette dated to the time of Artaxerxes I, a narrow belt knotted in front with two hanging ends.  While I've seen many live and artistic reconstructions using this method, I have yet to see evidence of its use in conjunction with cavalry costume during the first few decades of the 5th century.

A similar front-knotted belt was worn with the court robe early on.  It was made of fabric and a bit wider, and ended in small round knots.  A small dagger was often tucked behind it, but I have never seen images of heavy objects being suspended from this kind of sash.  A detailed carving exists on the Egyptian statue of Darius the Great.

Still later, on the Alexander Sarcophagus, we see Persians wearing narrow belts with a round hole in the middle where the buckle should be.  Eureka!  What we have here is a simple ring belt.  While I can't say for sure that it's correct for the Graeco-Persian Wars, a ring belt is very easy to make at home.

A good leather belt should be around 8-ounce thickness.  An inch to an inch and a quarter in width is plenty.  If you're in the United States, I can recommend Tandy Leather Factory's blanks.  Use a metal ring of about 1/8 inch/3mm thickness and slightly wider than the belt.

Assembly is easy:  Fold about an inch and a half of one end of the blank through the ring.  Soaking it in water makes it more bendable, and you can weight it while it's drying so it'll stay put.  Next, either drill or punch large holes for rivets, or small holes to sew the end down.  I would guess that stitching is "safer" from an historical perspective, but won't object to rivets (ask for guidelines if you join a local group).  If you have real or artificial sinew, use that, but common dental floss is fine for leatherworking.  Stitch in several rows (or a square) for strength.  Once that's done, tie the belt around your waist and trim off the excess.

The fact that the buckle is visible as a hole means that the ring belt isn't tied in the usual way, with the end passing through the ring and tying around the base where the ring is attached (as demonstrated here and on countless other sites).  Presumably the end instead loops around the ring and ties back on itself.

Next time:  the God of kings.

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