One of the many nicknames for the ancient Greek wine-god, Dionysus, was the title Mitrephorus—meaning “Wearer of mitra”—with the key word, mitra, being a head-band. Dionysus’ headband was not an ordinary headpiece; it was instead a magical item with a special power that was quite useful for Dionysus’ intoxicative area of expertise. As the stories go, the wine-god’s headband had the power to nullify or lessen the effects of alcohol-induced headaches and hangovers. Dionysus, wearing this headband and similarly equipped with a special drunkenness-dispelling amethyst, would have been able to beat anyone in a drinking competition, even if he put aside his innate powers over intoxication that came with his status as a god of wine and fermentation.
According to the ancient mythological tales, Dionysus traveled widely in Europe and Asia, particularly around the Mediterranean civilizations and in India. During his adventures and roving wine-making demonstrations, Dionysus must have impressed local leaders with his stylish headband. Inspired by the godly wanderer’s fashion, local leadership figures began creating headbands for themselves, and this practice, so the folktales claimed, somehow evolved into the long custom of rulers wearing diadems and crowns. On this interesting connection between the myths of Dionysus and regal fashion, the scholar Diodorus Siculus (c. 1st century BCE) wrote, “[I]n order to ward off the headaches which every man gets from drinking too much wine he bound about his head, they report, a band (mitra), which was the reason for his receiving the name Mitrephorus; and it was this headband, they say, that in later times led to the introduction of the diadem for kings” (Diodorus Siculus, Library, 4.4). Of course, since the ancient age of myth and legend, diadems and crowns have become much more ornate, but much less magical.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Modified and cropped Bronze bust of Dionysus, by an unidentified artist, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Smithsonian Institute).
- The Library of History, by Diodorus Siculus, edited by Giles Laurén (Sophron Editor, 2014).