The pileus (Greek: πῖλος – pilos, also pilleus or pilleum in Latin) was a brimless, felt cap worn in Ancient Greece and surrounding regions, later also introduced in Ancient Rome. The Greek πιλίδιον (pilidion) and Latin pilleolus were smaller versions, similar to a skullcap.
The pilos (Greek: πῖλος, felt) was a common conical travelling hat in Illyria and Ancient Greece. The pilos is the brimless version of the petasos. It could be made of felt or leather. Pilos caps often identify the mythical twins, or Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, as represented in sculptures, bas-reliefs and on ancient ceramics. Their caps were supposedly the remnants of the egg from which they hatched. The pilos appears on votive figurines of boys at the sanctuary of the Cabeiri at Thebes, the Cabeirion.
The pilos helmet was made of bronze in the same shape as the pilos which was presumably sometimes worn under the helmet for comfort, giving rise to the helmet's conical shape. The first widespread adoption of the pilos helmet occurred in Sparta towards the end of the 5th century BC.
In Ancient Rome, a slave was freed in a ceremony in which a praetor touched the slave with a rod called a vindicta and pronounced him to be free. The slave's head was shaved and a pileus was placed upon it. Both the vindicta and the cap were considered symbols of Libertas, the goddess representing liberty. This was a form of extra-legal manumission (the manumissio minus justa) considered less legally sound than manumission in a court of law.
One 19th century dictionary of classical antiquity states that, "Among the Romans the cap of felt was the emblem of liberty. When a slave obtained his freedom he had his head shaved, and wore instead of his hair an undyed pileus." Hence the phrase servos ad pileum vocare is a summons to liberty, by which slaves were frequently called upon to take up arms with a promise of liberty (Liv. XXIV.32). The figure of Liberty on some of the coins of Antoninus Pius, struck A.D. 145, holds this cap in the right hand.
Ancient Greek helmets. Top line, from left to right: Illyrian type helmet, Corinthian helmet. Bottom line, from left to right: Phrygian type helmet, Pileus helmet with an olive branch ornament, Chalcidian helmet. Staatliche Antikensammlungen
- Encyclopædia Britannica
- πῖλος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- John Tzetzes, On Lycophron, noted by Karl Kerenyi's The Heroes of the Greeks, 1959:107 note 584.
- Walter Burkert. Greek Religion, 1985:281.
- Nick Sekunda,The Spartan Army, p.30
- Jesse Obert, A Brief History of Greek Helmets, p.16
- Cobb, T.R.R. (1858). An inquiry into the law of Negro slavery in the United States of America. Philadelphia: T. & J.W. Johnson. p. 285, 285n2.
- πίλεον λευκόν, Diodorus Siculus Exc. Leg. 22 p. 625, ed. Wess.; Plaut. Amphit. I.1.306; Persius, V.82
- Yates, James. Entry "Pileus" in William Smith's A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (John Murray, London, 1875).