chapter  6
21 Pages

Cloth Worth a King’s Ransom: Textile Circulation and Transmission of Textile Craft in the Ancient Mediterranean


It has been argued that, within socially stratified societies of the ancient Mediterranean, extensive and far-reaching networks were established among the aristocratic elites through mechanisms such as gift exchange and intermarriage. In the latter case, women served as a link between aristocratic families of different communities, creating powerful alliances among them-a situation not unlike that lasting for many centuries among the royal families of medieval Europe. These networks were instrumental in movement of objects as well as transfer of techniques and fashions. Women were closely linked with cloth manufacturing activities, and they certainly took their tools with them when moving far away from home. Textile equipment therefore allows us to track their movements, as well as the diffusion of textile technology and fashion. This chapter examines the various modes of textile circulation, the transmission of textile craft through these networks, and the role of women in the transfer of technological knowledge involved in textile craft. First I will consider circulation of textiles as traded commodities, gifts, dedications, prizes and elements of dowry, ransom and booty. Circulation of textile tools will then be discussed, since they can be used as a proxy for tracing new techniques and technologies. I will then look at the knowledge networks created through the circulation of women, the agents of these techniques and technologies, and the wider implications of technological change through information exchange and imitation. Some of these modes of circulation leave more evidence than others, but all were fundamental for the transmission of fashions, patterns and designs, as well as in the transfer of techniques.