The subject had remained shrouded in the mists of antiquity until it was tackled by Neil Adkin, Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln – who shone some much needed light into this once murky area with findings published in an article for the journal The Classical World. 93 (2000) 619-20
The professor turned-up answers in a passage from St. Jerome’s Contra Vigilantium – in which he (St. Jerome) reproaches theologian Vigilantius who has been turfed out of bed, somewhat drunk, during a calamity:
“ … unde et in hac provincia cum subitus terrae motus noctis medio omnes de somno excitasset, tu prudentissimus et sapientissimus mortalium nudus orabas et referebas nobis Adam et Evam de paradiso: et illi quidem apertis oculis erubuerunt, nudos se esse cernentes, et verenda texerunt arborum foliis: tu et tunica et fide nudus, subitoque timore perterritus, et aliquid habens nocturnaec rapulae,s anctorum oculis obscenam partem corporis ingerebas, ut tuam indicares prudentiam.”
As prof. Adkin points out: “It is clear from the references to Adam and Eve’s verenda and to Vigilantius’ own obscenam partem corporis that he did not keep even his underpants on while in bed.” These observations clearly lend support to the idea that if Christian clergymen did not wear underwear in bed, then it’s unlikely that the rest of the rest of the population did either.
But do the professor’s year 2000 interpretations still hold up? More on Roman nocturnal undergarments coming soon…