Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future, Los Angeles, California, September 10–14, 2014,


Copyright 2014 by the author(s).


Ancient literary sources indicate that, by the beginning of the Common Era, different textile types and qualities were available to Roman consumers and many of the best fibres were produced in Italy, from where they spread throughout the Roman Empire in the form of sheep, raw materials or finished textiles. The variety observed during the Roman times reflects a long period of evolution, based on selective breeding and cultivation, as well as development of new and more effective processing, spinning and weaving technologies. Recent investigations demonstrate that major changes in fibre development and processing took place in the Mediterranean Europe sometime around the turn from the Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age. Thus, the change in sheep coat involved the development from a primitive wool with very fine underwool and very coarse kemps to the appearance of much more uniform fleece without kemps, as well as subsequent diversification of fleeces during the 1st millennium BCE, possibly reflecting the coexistence of several sheep varieties. Meanwhile, linen production intensified when splicing was replaced by spinning as a means to produce yarn, possibly due to increasing demands for sail cloth. This diversification and optimisation of textile fibres was both the result of, and a requirement for, the specialised and large scale cloth production needed by the urban centres which developed in Mediterranean Europe during the Iron Age. The paper will explore the evidence for and the consequences of these changes.