Wednesday, February 22, 2017

From The "Nothing New Under the Sun" Department

Afghan man wearing a pakol
Boy wearing a clock, boots, and kausia.
Terracotta, made in Athens, 300 BCE
This evening, I was reading an Osprey text about the armies of Macedonia after the death of Alexander the Great, when I saw artists' images showing Macedonian army members wearing an odd kind of beret.  

I thought I recognized the beret.  It looked like a hat J. Peterman was selling in its upscale catalog back in the 1990s, which it labeled an "Afghan hat."  Nowadays, you can buy similar hats today on the Internet for as low as $9.99 USD; and Ebay sell such hats from various suppliers for prices ranging from about $15 USD to $30 USD.

When I attempted to find material on the Internet to confirm, or refute, my recollection, I came upon this Wikipedia article about a modern Afghan hat called a "pakol." Included with the article were two photographs from Wikimedia Commons (both featured here), one of a modern pakol, and one of an ancient Greek sculpture, showing a boy wearing a visually identical hat, which the Greeks and Macedonians called a kausia.  This style of hat originally was made as a woolen bag, with a bottom just a bit larger in circumference than the top. The bag is then rolled up until the hat is the right depth to sit comfortably on the head, and the larger bottom forms a kind of brim that lies above the rolled-up "headband." It is possible to tweak the circumference of the band by rolling or unrolling the bag.

At least some modern Afghans claim that Alexander introduced the hat to Nuristan and that there are modern Nuristans who are descendants of Alexander's troops. However, the actual adoption and wearing of the pakol in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and nearby areas today appears to date from the 20th century.

Back in the 1980s scholars debated whether Alexander's army introduced the kausia to Afghanistan and nearby regions, or whether he adopted the hat from the peoples there. One historical blogger summarizes the scholarly debate over the pakol's origins as follows:
It began with an article in American Journal of Archaeology in 1981, “The Cap that Survived Alexander”, in which Prof. Bonnie Kingsley made the arresting observation that the pakool closely resembles an ancient item of headwear, the kausia (καυσία)....
In 1986 Kingsley’s article received an academic response, and quite a decisive one. In Transactions of the American Philological Association Ernst Fredricksmeyer, an Alexander specialist, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the kausia was just too established a staple of the Macedonian wardrobe for it to have been imported from Central Asia toward the end of Alexander’s campaigns. ....
The debate between Kingsley and Fredricksmeyer rumbled on for a while ..., with Fredricksmeyer latterly slightly less confident about any connection between the pakool and Alexander the Great. The coup de grâce was administered by Willem Vogelsang of the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden (under the not-so-catchy title of “The Pakol, a distinctive but apparently not so very old headgear from the Indo-Iranian borderlands”), who showed that the pakool is actually a simple adaptation of caps with rolled rims worn all over the borderlands of China, India and Central Asia.
But the resolution of the academic debate does not tell us where or why the pakol (or pakool) re-emerged.  If the cap was adapted from similar types of cap in Central Asia, why did it take the old Macedonian form?   Surely there are other forms such a woolen cap could take?  Maybe the answer is just as Vogelsang suggests; that an adjustable wool cap is ideal for fighters and military men in mountain country.  Though in a way, it seems a little odd that there isn't more continuity of use of the cap from Alexander's time and today, since in many ways life in the Central Asian mountains hasn't changed all that much in the past two millennia.

Whatever the reason, the existence of the pakol today is a minor boon for Alexandrine period reenactors, who can easily find a genuine-looking hat for their kit for a reasonable price.  Alexander's men appear to have worn the kausia in white, and undyed white wool pakol are among those easily available on the Internet.  If you want a pakol simply for style, black, brown, tan, and gray are also available.

1 comment:

  1. How interesting! This would be a good little project for the April HSM challenge.