Phoenician Dress
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Phoenician Dress, Ornaments and Social Habits
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Dress of common men

The dress of the Phoenician men, especially of those belonging to the lower orders, consisted, for the most part, of a single close-fitting tunic, which reached from the waist to a little above the knee.1 The material was probably either linen or cotton, and the simple garment was perfectly plain and unornamented, like the common shenti of the Egyptians. On the head was generally worn a cap of one kind or another, sometimes round, more often conical, occasionally shaped like a helmet. The conical head-dresses seem to have often ended in a sort of top-knot or button, which recalls the head-dress of a Chinese Mandarin.

Dress of men of the upper classes

Where the men were of higher rank, the shenti was ornamented. It was patterned, and parted towards the two sides, while a richly adorned lappet, terminating in uræi, fell down in front.2 The girdle, from which it depended, was also patterned, and the shenti thus arranged was sometimes a not inelegant garment. In addition to the shenti, it was common among the upper classes to wear over the bust and shoulders a close-fitting tunic with short sleeves,3 like a modern "jersey;" and sometimes two garments were worn, an inner robe descending to the feet, and an outer blouse or shirt, with sleeves reaching to the elbow.4 Occasionally, instead of this outer blouse, the man of rank has a mantle thrown over the left shoulder, which falls about him in folds that are sufficiently graceful.5 The conical cap with a top- knot is, with persons of this class, the almost universal head-dress.

Treatment of the hair and beard

Great attention seems to have been paid to the hair and beard. Where no cap is worn, the hair clings closely to the head in a wavy compact mass, escaping however from below the wreath or diadem, which supplies the place of a cap, in one or two rows of crisp, rounded curls.6 The beard has mostly a strong resemblance to that affected by the Assyrians, and familiar to us from their sculptures. It is arranged in three, four, or five rows of small tight curls,7 and extends from ear to ear around the cheeks and chin. Sometimes, however, in lieu of the many rows, we find one row only, the beard falling in tresses, which are curled at the extremity.8 There is no indication of the Phoenicians having cultivated mustachios.

Male ornaments

For ornaments the male Phoenicians wore collars, which were sometimes very elaborate, armlets, bracelets, and probably finger-rings. The collars resembled those of the Egyptians, being arranged in three rows, and falling far over the breast.9 The armlets seem to have been plain, consisting of a mere twist of metal, once, twice, or thrice around the limb.10 The royal armlets of Etyander, king of Paphos, are single twists of gold, the ends of which only just overlap: they are plain, except for the inscription, which reads /Eteadoro to Papo basileos/, or "The property of Etyander, king of Paphos."11 Men's bracelets were similar in character. The finger- rings were either of gold or silver, and generally set with a stone, which bore a device, and which the wearer used as a seal.12

Supposed priestly costume

The most elaborate male costume which has come down to us is that of a figure found at Golgi, and believed to represent a high priest of Ashtoreth. The conical head-dress is divided into partitions by narrow stripes, which, beginning at its lower edge, converge to a point at top. This point is crowned by the representation of a calf's or bull's head. The main garment is a long robe reaching from the neck to the feet, "worn in much the same manner as the peplos on early Greek female figures." Round the neck of the robe are two rows of stars painted in red, probably meant to represent embroidery. A little below the knee is another band of embroidery, from which the robe falls in folds or pleats, which gather closely around the legs. Above the long robe is worn a mantle, which covers the right arm and shoulder, and thence hangs down below the right knee, passing also in many folds from the shoulder across the breast, and thence, after a twist around the left arm, falling down below the left knee. The treatment of the hair is remarkable. Below the rim of the cap is the usual row of crisp curls; but besides these, there depend from behind the ears on either side of the neck three long tresses. The feet of the figure are naked. The right hand holds a cup by its foot between the middle and fore- fingers, while the left holds a dove with wings outspread.13

Ordinary dress of women

Women were, for the most part, draped very carefully from head to foot. The nude figures which are found abundantly in the Phoenician remains14 are figures of goddesses, especially of Astarte, who were considered not to need the ornament, or the concealment of dress. Human female figures are in almost every case covered from the neck to the feet, generally in garments with many folds, which, however, are arranged very variously. Sometimes a single robe of the amplest dimensions seems to envelop the whole form, which it completely conceals with heavy folds of drapery.15 The long petticoat is sleeved, and gathered into a sinus below the breasts, about which it hangs loosely. Sometimes, on the contrary, the petticoat is perfectly plain, and has no folds.16 Occasionally a second garment is worn over the gown or robe, which covers the left shoulder and the lap, descending to the knees, or somewhat lower.17 The waist is generally confined by a girdle, which is knotted in front.18 There are a few instances in which the feet are enclosed in sandals.19

Arrangement of their hair

The hair of women is sometimes concealed under a cap, but generally it escapes from such confinement, and shows itself below the cap in great rolls, or in wavy masses, which flow off right and left from a parting over the middle of the forehead.20 Tresses are worn occasionally: these depend behind either ear in long loose curls, which fall upon the shoulders.21 Female heads are mostly covered with a loose hood, or cap; but sometimes the hair is merely encircled by a band or bands, above and below which it ripples freely.22

Female ornaments

Phoenician women were greatly devoted to the use of personal ornaments. It was probably from them that the Hebrew women of Isaiah's time derived the "tinkling ornaments of the feet, the cauls, the round tires like the moon, the chains, the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets and the ornaments of the legs, and the head-bands, and the tablets, and the ear-rings, the rings and nose-jewels, the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails,"23 which the prophet denounces so fiercely. The excavations made on Phoenician sites have yielded in abundance necklaces, armlets, bracelets, pendants to be worn as lockets, ear-rings, finger-rings, ornaments for the hair, buckles or brooches, seals, buttons, and various articles of the toilet such as women delight in.


Women wore, it appears, three or four necklaces at the same time, one above the other.24 A string of small beads or pearls would closely encircle the neck just under the chin. Below, where the chest begins, would lie a second string of larger beads, perhaps of gold, perhaps only of glass, while further down, as the chest expands, would be rows of still larger ornaments, pendants in glass, or crystal, or gold, or agate modelled into the shape of acorns, or pomegranates, or lotus flowers, or cones, or vases, and lying side by side to the number of fifty or sixty. Several of the necklaces worn by the Cypriote ladies have come down to us. One is composed of a row of one hundred and three gold beads, alternately round and oval, to the oval ones of which are attached pendants, also in gold, representing alternately the blossom and bud of the lotus plant, except in one instance. The central bead of all has as its pendant a human head and bust, modelled in the Egyptian style, with the hair falling in lappets on either side of the face, and with a broad collar upon the shoulders and the breast.25 Another consists of sixty-four gold beads, twenty-two of which are of superior size to the rest, and of eighteen pendants, shaped like the bud of a flower, and delicately chased.26 There are others where gold beads are intermixed with small carnelian and onyx bugles, while the pendants are of gold, like the beads; or where gold and rock-crystal beads alternate, and a single crystal vase hangs as pendant in the middle; or where alternate carnelian and gold beads have as pendant a carnelian cone, a symbol of Astarte.27 Occasionally the sole material used is glass. Necklaces have been found composed entirely of long oval beads of blue or greenish-blue glass; others where the colour of the beads is a dark olive;28 others again, where all the component parts are of glass, but the colours and forms are greatly varied. In a glass necklace found at Tharros in Sardinia, besides beads of various sizes and hues, there are two long rough cylinders, four heads of animals, and a human head as central ornament. "Taken separately, the various elements of which this necklace is composed have little value; neither the heads of the animals, nor the bearded human face, perhaps representing Bacchus, are in good style; the cylinders and rounded beads which fill up the intermediate spaces between the principal objects are of very poor execution; but the mixture of whites, and greys, and yellows, and greens, and blues produces a whole which is harmonious and gay."29

Perhaps the most elegant and tasteful necklace of all that have been discovered is the one made of a thick solid gold cord, very soft and elastic, which is figured on the page opposite.30 At either extremity is a cylinder of very fine granulated work, terminating in one case in a lion's head of good execution, in the other surmounted by a simple cap. The lion's mouth holds a ring, while the cap supports a long hook, which seems to issue from a somewhat complicated knot, entangled wherein is a single light rosette. "In this arrangement, in the curves of the thin wire, which folds back upon itself again and again, there is an air of ease, an apparent negligence, which is the very perfection of technical skill."31


The bracelets worn by the Phoenician ladies were of many kinds, and frequently of great beauty. Some were bands of plain solid gold, without ornament of any kind, very heavy, weighing from 200 to 300 grammes each.32 Others were open, and terminated at either extremity in the head of an animal. One, found by General Di Cesnola at Curium in Cyprus,33 exhibited at the two ends heads of lions, which seemed to threaten each other. The execution of the heads left nothing to be desired. Some others, found in Phoenicia Proper, in a state of extraordinary preservation, were of similar design, but, in the place of lions' heads, exhibited the heads of bull, with very short horns.34 A third type aimed at greater variety, and showed the head of a wild goat at one end, and that of a ram at the other.35 In a few instances, the animal representation appears at one extremity of the bracelet only, as in a specimen from Camirus, whereof the workmanship is unmistakably Phoenician, which has a lion's head at one end, and at the other tapers off, like the tail of a serpent.36

A pair of bracelets in the British Museum, said to have come from Tharros, consist of plain thin circlets of gold, with a ball of gold in the middle. The ball is ornamented with spirals and projecting knobs, which must have been uncomfortable to the wearer, but are said not to be wanting in elegance.37

There are other Phoenician bracelets of an entirely different character. These consist of broad flat bands, which fitted closely to the wrist, and were fastened round it by means of a clasp. Two, now in the Museum of New York, are bands of gold about an inch in width, ornamented externally with rosettes, flowers, and other designs in high relief, on which are visible in places the remains of a blue enamel.38 Another is composed of fifty-four large-ribbed gold beads, soldered together by threes, and having for centre a gold medallion, with a large onyx set in it, and with four gold pendants.39 A third bracelet of the kind, said to have been found at Tharros, consists of six plates, united by hinges, and very delicately engraved with patterns of a thoroughly Phoenician character, representing palms, volutes, and flowers.40

But it is in their earrings that the Phoenician ladies were most curious and most fanciful. They present to us, as MM. Perrot and Chipiez note, "an astonishing variety."41 Some, which must have been very expensive, are composed of many distinct parts, connected with each other by chains of an elegant pattern. One of the most beautiful specimens was found by General Di Cesnola in Cyprus.42 There is a hook at top, by which it was suspended. Then follows a medallion, where the workmanship is of singular delicacy. A rosette occupies the centre; around it are a set of spirals, negligently arranged, and enclosed within a chain-like band, outside of which is a double beading. From the medallion depend by finely wrought chains five objects. The central chain supports a human head, to which is attached a conical vase, covered at top: on either side are two short chains, terminating in rings, from which hang small nondescript pendants: beyond are two longer chains, with small vases or bottles attached. Another, found in Sardinia, is scarcely less complicated. The ring which pierced the ear forms the handle of a kind of basket, which is covered with lines of bead-work: below, attached by means of two rings, is the model of a hawk with wings folded; below the hawk, again attached by a couple of rings, is a vase of elegant shape, decorated with small bosses, lozenges, and chevrons.43 Other ear-rings have been found similar in type to this, but simplified by the omission of the bird, or of the basket.44


An entirely different type is that furnished by an ear-ring in the Museum of New York brought from Cyprus, where the loop of the ornament rises from a sort of horse-shoe, patterned with bosses and spirals, and surrounded by a rough edging of knobs, standing at a little distance one from another.45 Other forms found also in Cyprus are the ear-ring with the long pendant, which has been called "an elongated pear,"46 ornamented towards the lower end with small blossoms of flowers, and terminating in a minute ball, which recalls the "drops" that are still used by the jewellers of our day; the loop which supports a /crux ansata/;47 that which has attached to it a small square box, or measure containing a heap of grain, thought to represent wheat;48 and those which support fruit of various kinds.49 An ear-ring of much delicacy consists of a twisted ring,curved into a hook at one extremity, and at the other ending in the head of a goat, with a ring attached to it, through which the hook passes.50 Another, rather curious than elegant, consists of a double twist, ornamented with lozenges, and terminating in triangular points finely granulated.51

Ornaments more or less resembling this last type of ear-ring, but larger and coarser, have given rise to some controversy, having been regarded by some as ear-rings, by others as fastenings for the dress, and by a third set of critics as ornaments for the hair. They consist of a double twist, sometimes ornamented at one end only, sometimes at both. A lion's or a griffin's head crowns usually the principal end; round the neck is a double or triple collar, and below this a rosette, very carefully elaborated. In one instance two griffins show themselves side by side, exhibiting their heads, their chests, their wings, and their fore-paws or hands; between them is an ornament like that which commonly surmounts Phoenician /stelæ/; and below this a most beautiful rosette.52 The fashioning shows that the back of the ornament was not intended to be seen, and favours the view that it was to be placed where a mass of hair would afford the necessary concealment.

Ornaments for the hair

The Phoenician ladies seem also to have understood the use of hair- pins, which were from two to three inches long, and had large heads, ribbed longitudinally, and crowned with two smaller balls, one above the other.53 The material used was either gold or silver.

Toilet pins and buckles

To fasten their dresses, the Phoenician ladies used fibulæ or buckles of a simple character. Brooches set with stones have not at present been found on Phoenician sites; but in certain cases the fibulæ show a moderate amount of ornament. Some have glass beads strung on the pin that is inserted into the catch; others have the rounded portion surmounted by the figure of a horse or of a bird.54 Most fibulæ are in bronze; but one, found in the treasury of Curium, and now in the Museum of New York, was of gold.55 This, however, was most probably a votive offering.

A Phoenician lady's toilet table

It is impossible at present to reproduce the toilet table of a Phoenician lady. We may be tolerably sure, however, that certain indispensable articles would not be lacking. Circular mirrors, either of polished metal, or of glass backed by a plate of tin or silver, would undoubtedly have found their place on them, together with various vessels for holding perfumes and ointments. A vase in rock crystal, discovered at Curium, with a funnel and cover in gold, the latter attached by a fine gold chain to one of its handles,56 was doubtless a fine lady's favourite smelling bottle. Various other vessels in silver, of a small size,57 as basins and bowls beautifully chased, tiny jugs, alabasti, ladles, &c., had also the appearance of belonging rather to the toilet table than to the plate- basket. Some of the alabasti would contain kohl or stibium, some salves and ointments, others perhaps perfumed washes for the complexion. Among the bronze objects found,58 some may have been merely ornaments, others stands for rings, bracelets, and the like. One terra-cotta vase from Dali seems made for holding pigments,59 and raises the suspicion that Phoenician, or at any rate Cyprian, beauties were not above heightening their charms by the application of paint.

Freedom enjoyed by Phoenician women

Women in Phoenicia seem to have enjoyed considerable freedom. They are represented as banqueting in the company of men, sometimes sitting with them on the same couch, sometimes reclining with them at the same table.60 Occasionally they delight their male companion by playing upon the lyre or the double pipe,61 while in certain instances they are associated in bands of three, who perform on the lyre, the double pipe, and the tambourine.62 They take part in religious processions, and present offerings to the deities.63 The positions occupied in history by Jezebel and Elissar (Dido) fall in with these indications, and imply a greater approach to equality between the sexes in Phoenicia than in Oriental communities generally.

Active habits of the men

The men were, for Orientals, unusually hardy and active. In only one instance is there any appearance of the use of the parasol by a Phoenician.64 Sandals are infrequently worn; neck, chest, arms, and legs are commonly naked. The rough life of seamen hardened the greater number; others hunted the wild ox and the wild boar65 in the marshy plains of the coast tract, and in the umbrageous dells of Lebanon. Even the lion may have been affronted in the great mountain, and if we are unable to describe the method of its chase in Phoenicia, the reason is that the Phoenician artists have, in their representations of lion hunts, adopted almost exclusively Assyrian models.66 The Phoenician gift of facile imitation was a questionable advantage, since it led the native artists continually to substitute for sketches at first hand of scenes with which they were familiar, conventional renderings of similar scenes as depicted by foreigners.

Curious agate ornament

An ornament found in Cyprus, the intention of which is uncertain, finds its proper place in the present chapter, though we cannot attach it to any particular class of objects. It consists of a massive knob of solid agate, with a cylinder of the same both above and below, through which a rod, or bar, must have been intended to pass. Some archæologists see in it the top of a sceptre;67 others, the head of a mace;68 but there is nothing really to prove its use. We might imagine it the adornment of a throne or chair of state, or the end of a chariot pole, or a portion of the stem of a candelabrum. Antiquity has furnished nothing similar with which to compare it; and we only say of it, that, whatever was its purpose, so large and so beautiful a mass of agate has scarcely been met with elsewhere.69 The cutting is such as to show very exquisitely the veining of the material.

Use in furniture of bronze and ivory

Bronze objects in almost infinite variety have been found on Phoenician sites,70 but only a few of them can have been personal ornaments. They comprise lamps, bowls, vases, jugs, cups, armlets, anklets, daggers, dishes, a horse's bit, heads and feet of animals, statuettes, mirrors, fibulæ, buttons, &c. Furniture would seem to have been largely composed of bronze, which sometimes formed its entire fabric, though generally confined to the ornamentation. Ivory was likewise employed in considerable quantities in the manufacture of furniture,71 to which it was applied as an outer covering, or veneer, either plain, or more generally carved with a pattern or with figures. The "ivory house" of Ahab72 was perhaps so called, not so much from the application of the precious material to the doors and walls, as from its employment in the furniture. There is every probability that it was the construction of Phoenician artists.


  1. See also Di Cesnola, Cyprus, p. 233; Perrot et Chipiez, Hist. de l'Art, iii. 405, 447, 515, &c.
  2. Perrot et Chipiez, iii. 428, 527, 531, 533, 534, &c.
  3. Ibid. pp. 527, 545; Di Cesnola, Cyprus, p. 145.
  4. Perrot et Chipiez, p. 538.
  5. Ibid. pp. 539, 547; Di Cesnola, pp. 143, 145, 149, 151, &c.
  6. Di Cesnola, pp. 141, 145, 149, 151, 153, 240, 344.
  7. Ibid. pp. 141, 143, 149; Perrot et Chipiez, pp. 511, 513, 531, &c.
  8. Perrot et Chipiez, pp. 519, 523, &c.
  9. Ibid. pp. 531, 533; Di Cesnola, pp. 129, 131, &c.
  10. Perrot et Chipiez, pp. 527, 533, 539; Di Cesnola, pp. 129, 145, 154.
  11. Di Cesnola, p. 306.
  12. Ibid. Pls. xlvi. and xlvii.; Perrot et Chipiez, pp. 205, 643, 837.
  13. Di Cesnola, p. 132.
  14. Perrot et Chipiez, pp. 64, 450, 555, 557; Di Cesnola, Pls vi. and xv.; also p. 275.
  15. Perrot et Chipiez, Hist. de l'Art, iii. 431.
  16. Perrot et Chipiez, pp. 202, 451, 554.
  17. Ibid. pp. 473, 549; Di Cesnola, Cyprus, p. 230.
  18. Perrot et Chipiez, iii. 549.
  19. Ibid. pp. 189, 549, 565.
  20. Di Cesnola, Cyprus, 141, 190, 230.
  21. Ibid. pp. 141, 191.
  22. Ibid. p. 141.
  23. Is. iii. 18-23.
  24. Perrot et Chipiez, pp. 257, 450, 542, 563, 824.
  25. Di Cesnola, Cyprus, pl. xxiii.; Perrot et Chipiez, /Histoire de l'Art/, iii. 819, A.
  26. Di Cesnola, pl. xxii.; Perrot et Chipiez, iii. 819, B.
  27. Di Cesnola, p. 315.
  28. See plate x. in Perrot et Chipiez, iii. opp. p. 824.
  29. Ibid. pp. 826, 827.
  30. Compare Di Cesnola, pl. xxv.; Perrot et Chipiez, iii. 826.
  31. Perrot et Chipiez, iii. 826.
  32. Di Cesnola, Cyprus, p. 311.
  33. Ibid. Compare Perrot et Chipiez, p. 832.
  34. These bracelets are in Paris, in the collection of M. de Clercq (Perrot et Chipiez, iii. 832).
  35. Ibid.
  36. This bracelet is in silver, but the head of the lion has been gilded. It is now in the British Museum.
  37. Perrot et Chipiez, p. 836; No. 604.
  38. Di Cesnola, Cyprus, pp. 311, 312.
  39. Ibid. p. 312. Compare Perrot et Chipiez, p. 835.
  40. Perrot et Chipiez, l.s.c. (No. 603.)
  41. Perrot et Chipiez, p. 818: "Il y a dans les formes de ces boucles d'orielles une Ètonnante variÈtÈ."
  42. See his Cyprus, pl. xxv., and compare Perrot et Chipiez, iii. 819, fig. D.
  43. Perrot et Chipiez, p. 821; No. 577.
  44. Ibid. Nos. 578, 579.
  45. Di Cesnola, pl. xxvi.
  46. Perrot et Chipiez, p. 823.
  47. See Perrot et Chipiez, iii. 822; No. 582.
  48. Ibid. pp. 821, 822. Compare Di Cesnola, Cyprus, p. 297, and pl. xxvii.
  49. Perrot et Chipiez, p. 823.
  50. Di Cesnola, p. 310; Perrot et Chipiez, p. 818; No. 574.
  51. Perrot et Chipiez, p. 818; No. 575.
  52. Di Cesnola, pl. xxviii.
  53. Ibid. pl. xxi.
  54. Perrot et Chipiez, pp. 830, 831.
  55. Perrot et Chipiez, p. 831; No. 595.
  56. Di Csnola, p. 316.
  57. Ibid. pl. xxi (opp. p. 312).
  58. Ibid. pl. xxx.
  59. Ibid. pl. ix.
  60. Compare Di Cesnola, p. 149.
  61. Ibid. pl. x.
  62. Ibid. p. 77; Perrot et Chipiez, iii. 783.
  63. Di Cesnola, p. 149.
  64. Ibid. pl. xiv.
  65. Ibid. pl. x.
  66. See Perrot et Chipiez, iii. 769, 771, 789.
  67. Perrot et Chipiez, iii. 798.
  68. C. W. King, in Di Cesnola's Cyprus, pp. 363, 364.
  69. Mr. King says of it: "No piece of antique worked agate hitherto known equals in magnitude and curiosity the ornament discovered among the bronze and iron articles of the treasure. It is a sphere about six inches in diameter, black irregularly veined with white, having the exterior vertically scored with incised lines, imitating, as it were, the gadroons of a melon" (ibid. p. 363).
  70. Renan, Mission de Phénicie, Pls. xii. xiii.; Di Cesnola, Cyprus, pls. iv. and xxx.; and pp. 335, 336.
  71. Perrot et Chipiez, iii. 846-853.
  72. 1 Kings xxii. 39.

-- Rawlinson, George. History of Phoenicia, 1889, Canon of Canterbury and Camden Professor of Ancient History at the University of Oxford

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