Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Question about sail-cloth

Here's a question: is there any evidence, or any possibility, that Pompeii was a centre for the production of sail-cloth? This is a question thrown out by one of my students - based on Pompeii's location by the sea - that I can't answer. I'm be grateful for any thoughts.

5 comments:

Hilary Cool said...

Judged by the number of loomweights we get weaving is certainly going on. Quite what textiles were being produced though is an open question. I've occasionally seen mineralised fabric on copper alloy fittings, but they wouldn't be the sort of thing to retain sail cloth.

Miko Flohr said...

I would suspect that most of the weaving was domestic (as most of the loomweights were found in houses) and served domestic purposes, probably with locally harvested wool. Sailcloth was made of linen, and though it is possible that flax was grown in the Sarno Valley, there is no supporting evidence that it was grown there in large quantities (which is not necessarily an argument). Yet, the argument that Pompeii was located close to the sea is invalid: so where many large urban centers, and Pompeii definitely was not the largest urban center along the Bay of Naples, nor was it the largest harbor in the area (which was Puteoli). So, in the absence of evidence, there is no reason to assume that Pompeii was a more likely location for sailcloth production than any other city along the seashore.
Moreover, the idea that sail cloth production was geographically concentrated in certain cities - and was detached from boat construction - seems much too systematic to me. The Roman economy, in my eyes, was not organized like this. Most products were manufactured in many urban centers throughout the mediterranean, especially such basic necessities as sailcloth for which there is a local market almost anywhere in the mediterranean - think about the need to repair ships with storm damage: that can happen anywhere.

Jo Berry said...

Thank you both for your comments!

Moving on from sail-cloth to weaving (!), one of the things that I found interesting during my study of the household artefacts of Pompeii was that very few houses (at least very few of the 35 or so that I looked at) had very many loom-weights at all in AD 79. They all generally had one or two, but not enough to make up a loom and usually distributed throughout the house (not collected together as you might expect for a loom). I actually started to wonder whether this meant that weaving no longer took place in the domestic context and that loom weights were actually being used as door-stops! However, it could be that a different type of loom was being used ... I have always meant to investigate this and write it up, but I've never found the time. Sigh. Do either of you have any thoughts about this?

Hilary Cool said...

Miauri excavated what looks like a convincing loom emplacement at Herculaneum (Maiuri. A. 1958, Ercolano: Nuovi Scavi (1927-1958), p. 430)so there at least there was domestic weaving.

From the excavations at Insula VI.1 at Pompeii I have about 150 complete and fragmentary loom weights. Mike Baxter and I have done some work on these and over time (i.e. from the beginning of occupation onwards) there appears to be an increasing standardisation which might well suggest that the making of the loom weights moved from the domestic realm to a more specialised production. One might ponder whether the same went for the cloth. Interestingly the loom weights were not scattered randomly through the insula but were concentrated in the House of the Surgeon (again over time). Several were incorporated in the floors laid down between the earthquake and the eruption. So weaving may not have been a general domestic activity but that might have started considerably before the eruption.

My understanding is that Roman horizontal looms are best attested by late Antique damask cloths. I don't think there is any evidence of them by the 1st century.

If anyone is interested, our preliminary work on the loomweights should be being published about now in Archeologia e Calcolatori - though I should perhaps warn you that the focus of that paper is a methodological statistical analysis - and so not to everyone's taste.

Nicolas Monteix said...

As for Maiuri's loom in Insula Orientalis II, 10, it is no more than a misconceived restoration: the only vertical loom found in Herculaneum came from the Casa del Telaio; its fragments have been used to create the technically non-functioning one in Or. II, 10 and to invent the tale of the young ricamatrice dead under her bed (cf. BAR-IS, 1262, 2004, p. 291-299).
As for the scarce evidence for terracotta loom-weights in Pompeii, I wonder whether it is just a mere problem of excavation recording or a technological problem. I have identified 16 'obliques' looms that used lead loom-weights (20 of them or more). It may be possible that some looms used in Pompeii ('vertical' ones) didn't necessitate loom-weights. Classically (cf. Forbes), the shift between oblique and vertical looms occurs in the 1st century A.D.

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