Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.


Copyright 2012 by the author(s).


A new examination of the textile fragments found in the Merovingian burials in the basilica of Saint Denis, near Paris, has recently underscored the diversity of fabrics used to make garments in which members of the royal court were buried. Among them, some woolens of fine quality had been dyed with indigotin. The most astonishing fibre found belongs to a mixed textile (not skin) with beaver fibers and wool. Silks contained shellfish purple and in one case kermes? Two dyestuffs associated with royalty and privilege. Along with this was large number of gold threads, probably produced locally and that were used in tablet-woven borders or for embroideries. In addition, several figured silks, of oriental origin, testify to the importance of this "foreign" material and the taste for textiles woven with complex techniques and probably what had originally had beautiful designs. Although none of these designs have been preserved and many colors have been greatly damaged, the technical characteristics of the remnants indicate proveniences as far as Byzantium, Sassanid Persia and the Chinese court. Such precious textiles show the high social status and political power of the Merovingian court, a testament to their ability to access such luxurious and costly textiles through diplomacy and/or trade with other powerful empires. The examination of these rare textiles along with other fine silks and luxury objects from the same period found in France expand our view of the fundamental role of textiles in the political sphere of this early period of European history.