On the Apparel of Women background information.

Early Christian Writings

Title: De cultu feminarum (On female fashion) 


From: (tertullian.org)

Ante-Nicene Fathers

Τὰ ἀρχαῖα ἔθη κρατείτω. The Nicene Council

Related Link:   

By: Roger Pearse  

Our Ref:
ECST: 167.27.1.T77

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Two books on how women (and men) should dress and adorn themselves.  What sort of image to Christians present in this way?




The thesis in both cases is that Christians, particularly but not exclusively women, should not pursue fashion to the detriment of their life and witness. Book 1 seems to be an unfinished or incomplete draft of much of the same material, but with an interesting excursus on 1 Enoch.  The two works have different titles in the Codex Agobardinus, and are probably not two books of the same work.  Book II may have been written earlier in view of its milder style; however Tertullian was quite capable of writing aggressively in book 1 of a work, and then modifying his position in book 2 of the same work, as we can see in Ad Uxorem.

Book II: “The De Spectaculis and De Idololatria consider problems which concerned men rather than women. Christian women were not obliged continually to walk past temples, to attend games or to join in pagan festivals.(11.1) If they wished, they could unobtrusively devote themselves to private piety. Tertullian therefore addressed himself to them with some show of diffidence.(1.1) He did not need to convince them of the necessity or virtue of modesty rather, of how they should display their modesty, which consists not merely in avoiding fornication but also in a chaste appearance.(1.2) Tertullian takes over and develops an idea which the De Idololatria.(24.2) had adumbrated : Fear of sin provides the basis for salvation.(2.2) A woman ought not to encourage lustfulness by her dress or demeanour. She must seek to please her husband alone. Plain cleanliness will suffice. It is vain to cultivate beauty, wicked to plaster oneself with cosmetics. As for those who dye their hair, do they desire to turn themselves into Gauls or Germans ? Shame on them: may the daughters of wisdom leave such foolishness! Fancy hairstyles are equally reprehensible.(2.3)

“In brief, Christian women should renounce extravagant bodily accoutrements and adornments. God created the instruments of luxury to test mankind’ s self control, and a Christian woman can have no good reason for gadding about in finery. (9.1) Appearances do matter. Christian modesty must not only exist but be seen. Luxury is nothing but an impediment to martyrdom. The end of the world may be at hand. For Christians it is an age of iron, especially at the present : the stoles of martyrs are being prepared, angels are ready to act as pallbearers. The Christian must forfeit worldly ornaments if he or she desires to gain a heavenly reward.(13.5, cf 9.8)” [Barnes, chapter 8, p.93 ff]


• Book I is notorious in feminist circles and often used to pillory Tertullian (following Simone de Beauvoir in Le deuxième sexe), because of the reference to woman: Tu es ianua diaboli — You are the doorway of the devil. (I, 1).  Church, F. Forester, Sex and Salvation in Tertullian, Harvard Theological Review, 68, 1976, pp.83-101, (reviewed in CTC 76, §26) assesses this issue rather less polemically. (Not checked). Marie Turcan reviews the whole subject of Tertullian and Woman, Être femme selon Tertullien, Vita Latina 119 (September 1990), pp.15-21 (reviewed CTC 90, §51).  Also now in 

• In I.3:1 Tertullian defends his right to use the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch as scripture, since it is quoted in Jude.  His argument makes plain that it was regarded by many as not being part of the canon, on the basis that the Jews did not so treat it.

• In I.8:3 there is a reference to De Spectaculis.

• Book I appears unfinished — only the first of the two aspects (jewelry) listed in I.4:2 is covered in the remaining chapters.

There is some evidence that this document consists of two separate works. Book 1 appears to have originally born a separate title, De Habitu Muliebri, to judge from the manuscripts, as all of them apart from the Codex Agobardinus refer to it by that titleO. It is also rougher and seems unfinished. Book 2 is a more polished and broader treatment of the same ideas, and would seen to be later,Q although some scholarsB think it is the earlier of the two.


This work was transmitted to us in two different collections:

1. The Agobardine collection. Only one MS now exists, the 9th century Codex Agobardinus (A) or Parisinus Latinus 1622.

2. In members of the Cluny collection. (q.v.). 

The primary witnesses, therefore, are: 

• The 15th century Florence MS, Codex Florentinus BNC Conventi soppressi J.6.9 (N). (From the Alpha branch).  The text is not in P or M, the earlier codices.

• There are readings from G.  (I don’t know if there are readings from D for this work).

• The 15th century Luxembourg MS, Codex Luxemburgensis 75 (X).

• The 15th century(1426) Florence MS, Codex Florentinus BNC Conventi soppressi J.6.10 (F).

• Rhenanus edition of 1521.  This is because his only source for this work was the now lost Hirsau MS (H), the ancestor of F and X.

Possibly also to be considered are:

• The Naples MS, Codex Neapolitanus, Mus. Naz. 55, portions of which were once in Vienna as Codex Vindobonensis 4194 (V).

• The BPL Leiden MS, Codex Leidensis latinus 2 (L) has been considered independent but is merely a copy of V.

TITLE VARIATIONS[1]http://www.tertullian.org/manuscripts/title_variations.htm

DE CVLTV FEMINARUM LIB II EXPLICIT At the end of book 2 in Agobardinus (A),›››
. in the same hand as the rest of it.››› 
. The start of book 1 is missing.
De habitu muliebri Explicit. De cultu feminarum Incipit At the end of book 1 / start of book 2 in Agobardinus (A),›››
. in a later hand than the text.
Incipit De habitu Muliebri Florentinus Magliebechianus,›››
. Conventi soppressi VI,›››
. 9 (N) at start of book 1.
Incipit liber Tertulliani De Habitu Muliebri Florentinus Magliebechianus,›››
. Conventi soppressi VI,›››
. 10 (F) at start of book 1.
Tertulliani De Habitu Muliebri Explicit. Incipit De Cultu earum Florentinus Magliebechianus,›››
. Conventi soppressi VI,›››
. 9 (N) at end of book 1 / start of book 2.
Q. Septimi Florentis Tertulliani explicit Liber de habitu muliebri ››› Florentinus Magliebechianus,›››
Incipit liber eiusdem de cultu feminarum. Conventi soppressi VI,›››
. 10 (F) at end of book 1 / start of book 2.

Note: The MSS have the overscore above the letter, but you need a modern browser (N4/IE4+) to see it. It signifies an abbreviation.


Unless otherwise indicated, details are from Quasten’s Patrology, 2 (1955). See also Editions page and Critical Editions page for more information.

[Note: I need to add some biblio, from l’Annee Phil. for the years 1954-1974 and from CTC after that].


J. MARRA, De cultu feminarum libri duo (Corpus script, lat. Paravianum 54). Turin, 1930.

W. KOK, Tertullianus: De cultu feminarum. Met inleiding, vertaling en commentar door W.Kok. Kamminga, Dokkum (1934) Paperback 200 S. Lateinisch/Holländisch.

Latin/Dutch. (Details from a dealer catalogue where it was offered for sale for EUR 38.70 in September 2005)

A. KROYMANN, CSEL 70 (1942) 59-95. Checked.

J. (Josephus = Giuseppe) MARRA, De corona liber; De cultu feminarum libri duo, Q. Septimii Tertulliani; iterum recognovit et praefatus est Iosephus Marra, Augustae

Taurinorum, In aedibus Io. Bapt. Paraviae et sociorum, 1951, II editio (Corpus scriptorum Latinorum Paravianum). 181 p. ; 20 cm. (Details from Dr. Andrea Nicolotti)

A. KROYMANN, CCSL 1 (1954) 341-370. Checked. Based mainly on the Agobardinus Ms.

Marie TURCAN, La toilette des femmes, Sources Chrétiennes 173 (1971). Checked. (Personal copy). Based mainly on the Cluny-type Mss.

Virginia ALFARO BECH and Victoria Eugenia RODRÍGUEZ MARTÍN, Tertulliano: De cultu feminarum. El adorno de las mujeres. Introducción, comentarios, texto latino y traducción.  Malaga: Servicio de Publicaciones e Intercambio Cientifico de la Universidad de Malaga (2001). 131 pp.  (Clasicos Universidad de Malaga, 9). (Details CTC 2002, BN Spain).  Latin text, from Turcan, and Spanish translation.


Henri QUELLET, Concordance verbale du “De cultu feminarum” de Tertullien. Hildesheim 1986 (Olms), IV, 328 S. ISBN: 3-487-07769-8



S. THELWALLANCL 11 (1869) pp.304-322; reprinted ANF 4 (1885), pp. 14-25.  Online.  Checked.

E. A. QUAIN, Fathers of the Church 40 (1959), pp. 117-152.  Checked. (Personal copy).


Lambert DANEAU, Deux Traitez de Florent Tertullian … L’un des Parures & ornemens: l’autre des Habits & accoustremens des femmes Chrestiennes. Geneva: Laon (1580). 68pp. (Details from Bodleian and British Library catalogues).  Mentioned in CTC2002.73 (see Backus below)

D. HEBERTTertullien. Des Prescriptions contre les hérétiques, de l’Habillement des femmes, de leur Ajustement et du Voile des Vierges. De la traduction de M.H, Publisher : Paris : Simon Trouvin ( 1683) Description : 3 parties en 1 vol. : bandeau aux armoiries du dédicataire, F. de Harlay ; 12°. Notes : Traduit par Hébert, d’après son épître dédicatoire et le privilège.(Details from the Montpellier library catalogue)

Mathieu CAUBÈRETraités de Tertulien sur l’ornement des femmes, les spectacles, le batême & la patience : avec une lettre aux martirs ; traduits en francois. Paris: Jacques Rollin (1733).  XVIII, [4], 377 [i.d. 397], [13] p. : 12º ; 17 cm (Details Biblioteca de CatalunyaMontpellier library catalogue).

M. HEBERT, Tertullien. Des prescriptions contre les hérétiques. De l’habillement des femmes, de leur ajustement, et du voile des vierges. De la traduction de M. H(ebert). (Eclaircissemens du livre de Tertullien des prescriptions, etc.).  Publisher: Paris : Simon Trouvin, 1683. Physical Desc.: 3 pt. ; 12o. (Details from COPAC. Listed at British Library).

M. CHARPENTIEROeuvres de Tertullien: Apologétique. Prescriptions contre les gentils. Du Baptême. De l’Ornement des femmes. [Contre les spectacles. De la Patience. De la Couronne du soldat. Contre Marcion, extrait. De la Chair de Jésus-Christ. De la Résurrection de la chair. Aux nations. – listed in table of contents but not on title page] Paris : Ed. M. Charpentier, 1844. 12o, III-504 p.  Another title page has the address:”A. Delahays, 1845″. “Oeuvres de Tertullien traduites en français” Checked (Details from BNF catalogue and personal copy).  De Cultu Feminarum is pp.146-174.  Online: Book I and Book 2

A. DE GENOUDEDe l’Ornement des femmes. Oeuvres de Tertullien2, Paris (1852). t. 3, pp.305-332. Online..

Marie TURCANloc. cit., 1971.


H. KELLNERUeber den weiblichen Putz, BKV2 7 (1912). pp.175-202.  Online.


H. U. MEYBOOM, Over den opsmuk der vrouwen (Oudchristel. geschriften, dl. 46). Leiden, 1931.

W. KOKloc. cit.

A. DUCHEYNE, Proeve van vertaling en commentaar van het eerste boek van De cultu feminarum, met enkele bemerkingen over Tertullianus’ gedachtengang. Thèse de license Univ. de Gand, 1941.


Selvaggia BORGHINIOpere di Tertulliano tradotte in Toscano. Rome (1756). p.351-378.  Personal copy. Checked.

C. MORESCHINI, Opere scelte di Quinto Settimo Florente Tertulliano. (Classici UTET). Turin, 1974.  (Details from BRAUN, SC 456 for Marc, but I presume contents as for 2nd edition.  Also in BN Florence OPAC).

Sandra ISETTA, Tertulliano, L’eleganza delle donne; a cura di Sandra Isetta .Firenze : Nardini-Centro internazionale del libro (1986) 223 p. ; 21 cm. ( Biblioteca patristica ; 6.) (Details from BN Florence OPAC).

Maria TASINATO, Tertulliano, Gli ornamenti delle donne. Parma : Pratiche, [1987]. 76 p. ; 18 cm. ( Biblioteca medievale ; 2.) ISBN 88-7380-085-8 (Details from BN Florence OPAC).  Also 3rd edtn (1995), ISBN 88-7380-085-8 (Details from BN Florence OPAC)

Claudio MORESCHINI, Tertulliano, Opere scelte di Quinto Settimio Fiorente Tertulliano. 2. ed. interamente rifatta.Torino : Unione tipografico-editrice torinese, [1999]. 813 p., [8] c. di tav. : ill. ; 24 cm. ( Classici delle religioni. Sez. 4, La religione cattolica). Contiene: Gli ornamenti delle donne (tit. orig.: De cultu feminarum), Contro Marcione (tit. orig.: Adversus Marcionem), La resurrezione della carne (tit. orig.: De resurrectione carnis). ISBN 88-02-05362-6 (Details from BN Florence OPAC)

Spanish : 

J. PELLICER DE OSSAU, Barcelona, 1639.

Virginia Alfro BECH, Victoria Eugenia Rodríguez MARTÍNLoc. cit..


Fernando MELRO, Tertuliano: A moda feminina / Quinto Septimo Florentio Tertuliano, trad. Fernando Melro.- Lisboa: Verbo, 1974.- (Origens do cristianismo, 3) . 122, [3]. p. – 20 cm. (Details from BN Portugal)


László VANYÓ &c, Tertullianus muvei (The works of Tertullian), Budapest: Szent István Társulat (1986) 1100pp. (Ókeresztény frók 12). (Details CTC 2002.75).  The older translations of István Városi (Pat, Apol, Orat, Ux, Cult) and Marcell Mosolygó (Mart) have been recycled; the rest are new.


M. HAUPTConiectanea (On Ad Nationes i, 7 & De Cultu Feminarum ii, 11), Hermes. Zeitschrift für Classische Philologie 8 (1874) pp. 247-8

G. CORTELLEZZI, Il concetto della donna nelle opere di Tertulliano : Didaskaleion (1923) 1, 5-29; 2, 57-79; 3, 43-100.

U. MORICCA, Degli ornamenti delle donne (Tert.) : Bilychnis 21 (1923) 401.

M. GALDI, De Tertulliana ‘de cultu feminarum’ et Cypriani ‘Ad virgines’ libellis commentatio : Raccolta di scritti in onore di F. Ramorino. Milan, 1927, 539-567.

H. KOCH, Tertullianisches: ThStKr 101 (1929) 469-471.

S. SELIGA, Tertullianus et Cyprianus de feminarum moribus pravis: Munera philologica L. Cwiklinski oblata. Poznan, 1936, 262-269.

Irena BACKUS, Le Tertullien de Lambert Daneau dans le contexte religieux du seizième siècle tardif.  I Padri sotto il torchio.  Le edizioni dell’antichità cristiana nei secoli XV-XVI.  Atti del Convegno di studi, Certosa del Galluzo, Firenze, 25-26 giugno 1999, Tavarnuzze (Firenze), SISMEL, Edizioni del Galluzo (2002), p. 33-52. (Millennio Medievale 35; Atti di convegni 10). (Details CTC2002.73).


1 http://www.tertullian.org/manuscripts/title_variations.htm

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