Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


For millennia, textiles have been utilized by human civilizations to define gendered identities as well as ethnic and political affiliations. Textiles have also been utilized as lucrative objects of trade. As such, their utilization in societies foreign to their origin of manufacture presents an interesting study in the power of trade textiles to transform the very essence of both gendered and cultural manifestations of identity through the absorption of foreign clothing styles and textile motifs.

Perhaps no society utilized the influence of trade textiles with more eclectic creativeness than the ancient citizens of the Palmyrene trade oasis of Tadmor, Syria. During the late Hellenistic and early Roman eras, Palmyra linked the Eastern Silk Routes as well as the Persian markets with the hungry consumers of the Mediterranean. Thus, lying literally between East and West, the tribes of Palmyra developed an interesting process of cultural and gendered cross-dressing influenced by their involvement in the textile trade between Asia and the Greco-Roman world.

This paper presents new research concerning the impact of textile styles and motifs on the garments worn by the elite and middle class citizens of Palmyra. Based on five seasons of research in Syria, this presentation specifically investigates the impact of the textile trade on the gendered identities of Palmyrene citizens. For the first time, this paper identifies and places eunuchs in Palmyrene social and religious contexts based on textile appropriations. The firm identification of such individuals in Palmyrene portraiture has never before been accomplished.