Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Hidden Stories/Human Lives: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 17th Biennial Symposium, October 15-17, 2020. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/

doi: 10.32873/unl.dc.tsasp.0100


Copyright © 2020 Katherine M. Taronas


A small but distinct group of early Byzantine textiles from Egypt (dating between the fourth and sixth centuries) uses woven words and textual symbols for their primary decoration. Ornamented with bold letterforms created in brilliant colors, these objects are all inscribed with personal names—the names of individual men and women for whose lives we possess no other certain evidence. Far from simple labels indicating ownership, these names are integral parts of the textiles’ design and function both as text and as image. Investigating the epigraphic nuances, iconography, styles, and formats of these textiles will allow us to make some inferences about the identities and roles of these people in Late Antique Egyptian society. It will also shed light on some of their hopes and beliefs, for the inscriptions and iconography of these textiles can be interpreted as woven wishes for blessings and protection. This paper will consider this group of textiles as part of the tradition of protective inscriptions widespread in the ancient and Byzantine worlds but known primarily from more durable materials such as jewelry, carved inscriptions, and metalwork