Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
Taking a lead from John Murra's well-known 1950s argument for the importance of textiles to Inka rulers' power, wealth, and capacity for expansion, this essay considers the possible role of "textile rivalries" among the urban centers of the Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean as they maneuvered for position in a "world system" of communication and exchange. A brief comparative overview suggests several variables that elevate a cloth tradition to exceptional reputation and prestige -- the kind and quality of fiber, labor-intensive refinements in spinning and weaving, the range and saturation of colors, the iconography and aesthetics of pre- and postloom decoration. Such an overview further reveals a challenge, frequently encountered and acknowledged in many textile traditions: how to produce a lightweight (easily transportable) fabric in colors that consistently attract the eye (above all, shades of red). This challenge will be used to frame a reflection on the emergent power of Tyre, a precocious Phoenician trading city where exotic raw materials, skilled labor, and big ideas came together in what must have been a smashing textile for its time: fine woolen cloth dyed with the "royal purple" of the murex shellfish.