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Fashion Stories and Love tokens in the Antiquity and Medieval times - Your visual diary

Hi there fashion, stories and fashion history lovers! Welcome to My Fashion Stories Box Podcast Visual Diary!

Our today’s visual diary will be dedicated to Love with a big “L” and the different proofs of love our ancestors gave during the Antiquity and the Middle Ages. If you didn’t listen to the podcast dedicated to Love tokens in the Antiquity and Medieval times yet, head there now! You will learn about some beautiful love stories…

February is considered as the month of love with the celebration of Valentine’s Day on February 14th. And, this month, I wanted to look back to the past to see how love was shown and expressed during the Antiquity and Middle Ages times.

Love in Ancient Egypt

We have an idea on how Ancient Egyptians celebrated love through some beautiful love stories that survived the time.

Love story #1: Osiris and Isis

The very first love story is the one between two of the most powerful gods of the Egyptian mythology: Isis and Osiris.

Isis and Osiris were brother and sister. Their father was Geb, the God of Earth, and Nut, the Goddess of the Sky. They were twins. They had two other siblings: Seth and Nephtys. Osiris became king and married his sister, Isis, who became his queen. According to the legend, the two of them were already in love in the womb of their mother. Isis and Osiris were in charge of developing life on Earth and on giving the right conditions of life to humans and animals. And, during their times, life was indeed prosperous.

However Seth, the brother and God of chaos, darkness and drought, got jealous of the success and wanted to have the power for himself. He decided to kill his brother, Osiris, by organising a big party, inviting all the gods and goddesses. He put a long box and, when all the guests were gathered, he said that the box will be the property of the one who would fit in it. Everybody tried his luck and when Osiris laid down in it, Seth closed the box and disappeared with the body of his brother which he cut in several pieces and spread in all directions.

As you can imagine, Isis was devastated by the lost of her husband and started a long trip to gather all his body parts. Once done, she put back the body parts together with balms and tissues and revived Osiris by putting the Ankh cross, or cross of life, in his mouth. According to the legend, this is who the mummification process was born.

In the process, she managed to get pregnant and to give birth of a son, the god Horus, who would spend his life to avenge his father’s death.

After his resurrection, Osiris became the God of the underground and Isis, the Goddess associated with healing and magic. She became so powerful that her cult survived Ancient Egypt, traveled to Ancient Greece and was also found in Italy and England.

The love and devotion Isis showed to find her husband’s body and to revive him was considered as the most beautiful proof of love.

Love story #2: Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun

Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun

Tutankhamun was the last king of the 18th Dynasty during the New Kingdom. He succeeded his father, Amenhotep IV, also known as Akhenaten.

Indeed, Amenhotep IV revolutionised, for a time, the Ancient Egyptian mythology by renouncing the traditional gods and adopting the unique Sun God, Aten. He forced his people to adopt the same god, the temples dedicated to the old gods were closed and the capital city of the empire was moved from Thebes to Amarna.

Tutankhamun, at that time known as Tutankhaten, was the son of Akhenaten and, seemingly, one of Akhenaten’s sister. Ankhesenamun, at that time known as Ankhesenpaaten, was one of Akhenaten’s and Nefertiti’s daughters. She would have been his father’s wife.

Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their daughters

When Akhenaten died, Tutankhaten was 9, was married to his half sister Ankhesenpaaten and became the new Pharaoh. When accessing the throne, they would reject the monotheist religion of their father, came back to the old religion, changed their names to Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun and came back to the old capital city, Thebes.

However, when Tutankhamun would die 10 years later at the age of 19, the society would do everything possible to erase his name’s and his father’s name from the archives, to forget about everything linked with the unique god attempt. That’s why, we needed to wait until 1922 and Howard Carter discovering his tomb unviolated and all its treasures to know about this young king posterity forgot about.

From few texts of his reign and the paintings and frescos from his tomb we learnt about the relationships Tutankhamun had with his wife, Ankhesenamun. It is said that Ankhesenamun was deeply in love with her half-brother husband. She would accompany him everywhere he would go and attend to his needs.

On his side, Tutankhamun is said not to have taken other wives than her.

A proof of this affection the couple could have for each other is the feeling of love coming out from the representations we have of them together.

Tutankhamun and his wife Ankhesenamun

Love story #2: Ramses the 2nd and Nefertari

Let me conclude this part on Love in Ancient Egypt with the love story of maybe the most powerful Pharaoh of all times, Ramses the 2nd.


Ramses the Great was a pharaoh of the 19th dynasty, during the New Kingdom. He is a pharaoh known for his military conquests, the signature of the first peace treaty in History, after the battle of Kadesh, with the Hittites, the numerous temples and statues he built during his reign. He died at around 90 years old of a tooth infection.

But Ramses was also a great lover. It is said he had more than 200 wives in his whole life. But, the most important one, the one he deeply loved was his first love and consort, Nefertari.

For her, he built temples, statues and her tomb is considered as the most magnificent tomb of Ancient Egypt with the paintings featured on its walls.

Ramses was so in love with Nefertari that he even wrote her poems.

My love is unique – no one can rival her, for she is the most beautiful woman alive. Just by passing, she has stolen away my heart.”

Love in Ancient Greece

What about the Greeks? How romantic were they? We already know about their outfits’ traditions [link to the post on Fashion Stories in Ancient Greece]. Let’s discover now how the civilisation of philosophy approached the concept of love.

For Ancient Greeks, love was a fundamental aspect of the human experience. And, on the top of having Aphrodite, the goddess of Love, and Eros, dedicated to this feeling, they also invented different words to describe the different types of love and affection a human being can feel:

  • Eros, a romantic and passionate love, inspired by the God himself

  • Philia, affectionate love, friendship, a kind of love without physical attraction

  • Agape, selfless, universal love, an unconditional love, bigger of ourselves

  • Storge, familiar love, a type of love experienced by family members

  • Mania, obsessive love, an unhealthy kind of love involving stalking, dependency, jealousy, violence

  • Ludus, playful love, when you have a crush on someone, or the type of love you feel at the beginning of a love story

  • Pragma, enduring love, an affection maturing over time, built on respect and compromise, implying patience and tolerance

  • Philautia, self love, a love for ourselves, taking care of ourselves to be able to love the others

Moreover, Ancient Greeks were quite open-minded towards same sex love. Homosexuality wasn’t considered as a sin and you can see representations of same sex scenes on pottery, wall paintings or mosaic.

To show their love or affection, Ancient Greeks, mostly men, would order pottery as wine glass, with an inscription and drawing inside that would be revealed to the recipient when he or she would empty the glass.

You could have texts as “Leonidas is handsome” or “Agape is beautiful” or “the girl is beautiful” as well as erotic scenes as you might have guessed already.

This kind of pottery gifting was considered as a luxury though and not everybody could afford that kind of present. And love doesn’t take into consideration your social status or wealth.

People from lower classes would still want to express their love to their loved one and give them some tokens as proof of it.

In the Ancient Greek novel “Daphnis and Chloe” written by Longus and taking place in the countryside, we learn about love tokens less rich people would offer to each other as pipe, cheese, flowers, fruits…

Love in the Roman Empire

With the Ancient Egyptians and the Ancient Greeks, we now have a quite romantic vision of what love and love tokens could have been for them. Let’s discover how Ancient Romans were celebrating love.

As a starter, love was lived as an unhappy affair. Love was torment. Love was a disease. Love didn’t have happy endings. It was all about suffering.

Why? would you ask me…

Well, firstly because in the Ancient Roman society, love marriages didn’t really existed. it was more a marriage of convenience in which both parts didn’t really feel happy. Of course, love, or at least affection, could appear over time. But it wasn’t associated with marriage. Love was found out of marriage. And it was frequent that married men would fall in love with other married women and vice versa.

Sad, isn’t it?

Then, according to Barbara Gold, a professor of classics at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., Ancient Romans had a poor vision of love because of their vision of women. Understand that Ancient Roman men wanted to be all powerful, to control everything. Women were seen as a kind of plague, a torment, able to make them lose their tempers. And, if we add the concept of love on the top of that, falling in love with a woman was, for them, the direct route to loose power and influence and to be manipulated by women through the feelings they can have for them. Love gave more power to women and our Ancient Roman men didn’t like it at all!

This is how you could have poems or declaration looking like “You’re like a plague, you set my bone marrow on fire”.

Here is a poem a certain Catullus wrote for his lover, Lesbia, the pseudonym of a married woman:

“Lesbia, come, let us live and love and be

Deaf to the vile jabber of the ugly old fools;

The sun may come up each day but when our

Star is out, our night, it shall last forever.

Give me a thousand kisses and another hundred,

Another thousand and, again, a hundred more;

As we kiss these passionate thousands, let us

Lose track; in our oblivion, we will avoid

The watchful eyes of stupid, evil peasants

Hungry to figure out

How many kisses we have kissed.”

And here a poem from an Ancient Roman woman, Sulpicia, to her boyfriend:

“I have finally fallen in love.

This is the kind of love that, if kept hidden, will benefit my reputation more

But revealing it to someone else is likely to damage it.

I prayed to Venus with my poetic talent and she brought it

And dropped it in my bosom.

Venus fulfilled her side of the bargain;

Now let me tell my story so that everyone can know.

I did not want to put any of it down in sealed documents just for my beloved to read.

It is nice to go against the grain

As it is tiresome for a woman to constantly force her appearance to fit her reputation.

I only want to be thought worthy of my worthy love.”

Love seemed so complicated during the Roman empire…

The “Fin’amor”, or Love in the Medieval times

After this quite pessimistic Ancient Roman view on love as a disease, something bringing pain, let’s see how our ancestors from the Dark Ages celebrated love…

Did you ever heard about “courtly love”?

Yes, even if the Middle Ages are associated, at least for me, to a kind of decline after all the developments of the Antiquity period, and to the all power of the religion, it seems that our European ancestors knew how to celebrate love in due form.

“Courtly love”, also known as “amour courtois” in French or “Fin’amor” in Occitan, celebrating flirting and chivalry.

And, even though the religion governed everybody’s life and love was associated with the sin of flesh, only the love for God was considered as pure, Medieval gentlemen and gentlewomen found a way to please themselves. And, though passion was there, respect for the object of your love was paramount.

Courtly love was majoritary practiced by the Court, the nobles.

Launched by Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen of France and then queen of England during the 12th century, the concept of “courtly love” was then formalised by a Frenchman, Andre le Chapelin, also known under his Latin name Andreas Capellanus, who wrote the following rules:

  • Marriage is no real excuse for not loving

  • He who is not jealous, cannot love

  • No one can be bound by a double love

  • It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing

  • That which a lover takes against the will of his beloved has no relish

  • Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity

  • When one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of the survivor

  • No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons

  • No one can love unless he is impelled by the persuasion of love

  • Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice

  • It is not proper to love any woman whom one would be ashamed to seek to marry

  • A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved

  • When made public love rarely endures

  • The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized

  • Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved

  • When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved, his heart palpitates

  • A new love puts to flight an old one

  • Good character alone makes any man worthy of love

  • If love diminishes, it quickly fails and rarely revives

  • A man in love is always apprehensive

  • Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love

  • Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved

  • He whom the thought of love vexes eats and sleeps very little

  • Every act of a lover ends in the thought of his beloved

  • A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved

  • Love can deny nothing to love

  • A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved

  • A slight presumption causes a lover to suspect his beloved

  • A man who is vexed by too much passion usually does not love

  • A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved

  • Nothing forbids one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women

Then followed troubadours and writers as Chrétien de Troyes, Dante with La Divina Commedia, as well as stories as The King Arthur and the Knights of the Round table or Tristan and Iseult.

In these stories, the heroes was always a valiant knight trying to obtain the favors of his beloved, through kindness, generosity, courtesy, devotion and respect.

When speaking about Medieval times, an image pops up in our mind, the one of a valiant knight on his horse stopping in front of the stand of her lady who will throw at him her scarf that he will catch and fasten around his wrist. Quite a romantic image, right?

Indeed, the Middle Ages period is also known for its tournaments with knights fighting in horse and armor to showcase their skills. At the occasion of a tournament, a lady could give to her suitor her scarf, handkerchief, a ribbon or her sleeves. Yes, at that time, sleeves were detachable. We will come back to that fashion aspect in a future podcast.

These gifts were considered as tokens of knightly favours.

Another proof of love was to offer a brooch to the loved one. Not only this brooch was a testimony of wealth from the gifter, but it also had a practical function and could be a discreet way to declare your love…

Purses, combs, chaplets, jewel boxes in miniature could also be considered as love tokens for people with less money.

We reached the end of our time travel. I hope you enjoyed diving in the past to discover how love was celebrated.

Are you more like a Ramses, and Ancient Greek, an Ancient Roman or a knight practicing courtly love?

Are you going to offer a poem, a statue, a mug with an inscription inside or maybe a tournament?

Let me know in the comments!

Didn't listen to the podcast yet? I got you covered! Head here to all the episodes of My Fashion Stories Box Podcast!

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See you there!

Cath MyMarketingToolbox

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