Braccae is the Latin term for trousers, and in this context is today used to refer to a style of trousers, made from wool. The Romans encountered this style of clothing among peoples whom they called Galli (Gauls).1 This is often assumed to mean speakers of Celtic languages, though many scholars (including John Collis,2 Peter S Wells,3 Stephen Oppenheimer4) doubt that the term Galli was primarily based on linguistic affiliation.
Braccae were typically made with a drawstring, and tended to reach from just above the knee at the shortest, to the ankles at the longest, with length generally increasing in tribes living further north.
The word is cognate with the English breeches. It appears to derive from the Indo-European root *bhrg- 'break', here apparently used in the sense 'divide', 'separate'. The consonant sequence *b.r.k implies an origin in the Germanic (with regular sound change *g > *k) rather than the Celtic branch of the Indo-European languages; Celtic would regularly have *b.r.g instead, as in Scottish Gaelic briogais or in breton language bragoù. The form *b.r.k is well attested in the Germanic languages (Proto-Germanic *brōkiz, see breeches).
If the Romans learnt this word from Celtic-speakers, it seems odd that the Latin word has cc, apparently resembling the Germanic form with *k rather than the Celtic form with *g. There are several possible explanations for this:
- The Romans first heard the word from Celtic-speakers who had in turn borrowed it from Germanic-speakers.
- The Romans first heard the word from Germanic-speakers.
- The Romans first heard a form with Celtic *g, but the pronunciation they came to use in imitation did not accurately reflect what they originally heard.
- The Celtic word first passed to the Etruscans, who did not distinguish between the "c" and "g" sounds. Transition through the Etruscans accounts for the Greek amorge being rendered as Latin amurca, Greek κυβερνἂν (kubernân) as Latin gubernare. Perhaps in this way "bragae" became "bracae", hence "braccae".
- Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica
- Collis, John (2003). The Celts: Origins, Myths, Inventions, Tempus. ISBN 0-7524-2913-2
- Wells, Peter S (2001). Beyond Celts, Germans and Scythians, Duckworth Debates in Archaeology. ISBN 0-7156-3036-9
- Oppenheimer, Stephen (2006). The Origins of the British, Constable & Robinson.