Textile Society of America



Sonja Marzinzik

Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


This paper focuses on luxury textiles from archaeological and non-archaeological contexts in north-western Europe. Select case studies of the 6th to 10th centuries AD, with reference to earlier and later examples, are used to introduce the contexts in which such textiles are found and to illustrate in what manner they accentuated the status of those in power.

The period under discussion saw fundamental change in the transition from Late Antiquity to a number of Germanic successor states of the Roman Empire and in the firm establishment of Christianity north of the Alps. These sociopolitical transformations found their reflection in material culture, including the availability and use of fine textiles.

The climate of north-western Europe is not conducive to the preservation of textiles. For archaeological finds from the earlier part of the period under discussion, we mostly have small scraps which survived in the vicinity of metal objects (Fig. 1). Two different mechanisms may have been in operation, either metal preservation, or metal replacement of fibres. Both result in the preservation of the structure of the textile, while the fibres themselves are gone, i.e. a pseudomorph of the original cloth is formed by the corrosion products of the metal objects.

Alternatively, textiles may survive in water-logged, anaerobe conditions, as the complete garments from north European peat bogs or the substantial fragments from Sutton Hoo in England or from south-west German graves indicate (cf. below). Textiles that survived in nonarchaeological ways include those found inside of reliquaries.