Written by


In the last few years a group of philologists and archaeologists have started to put the evidence for Greek textiles in order:

  • Cecilie Brøns, Gods and Garments: Textiles in Greek Sanctuaries {modest price}
  • Liza Cleland, The Brauron Clothing Catalogues {modest price, free review}
  • Margarita Gleba {various free-to-read articles on archaeology}
  • Mary Harlow and Marie-Louise Nosch (eds.), Greek and Roman Textiles and Dress: An Interdisciplinary Anthology. Ancient Textiles Series, Volume 19 (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2014)

Marie-Louise Nosch and Hero Granger-Taylor are two other names to look up. The Hippeis in Toronto have been doing a lot of research on textiles from the Aegean.

Chehrabad, Hasanlu, and Arǧān/Arjan are the most important sites with Iranian textiles (there are unpublished Iron Age textiles at Shahr-i Qumis in Damghan, northern Iran).

  • Javier Álvarez-Mon, “The Introduction of Cotton into The Near East: A View from Elam.” International Journal of the Society of Iranian Archaeologists, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Summer-Autumn 2015) pp. 41-52 http://journal.soia.org.ir/17-the-introduction-of-cotton-into-the-near-east-a-view-from-elam.html
  • Bellinger, Louisa (1957) “Charred Textiles from the Treasury.” In Schmitt 1957 p. 137 {just two fragments of woollen cloth, a weft-faced tabby with twisted wefts and one in ‘cloth weave’ (tabby?)}
  • Grömer, Karina …
  • Javier Álvarez-Mon, The Arjan Tomb: At the Crossroads of the Elamite and the Persian Empires (Peeters Press, 2010) {this is very expensive, I will see if I can find an article specifically on the embroidered textiles and 98 gold-sheet appliques from this tomb}
  • Hadian, M. / Good, I. / Pollard, A.M. / Zhang, X. / Laursen, R. (2012) “Textiles from Douzlakh Salt Mine at Chehr Abad, Iran: A Technical and Contextual Study of Late pre-Islamic Iranian Textiles.” International Journal of the Humanities Vol. 19 No. 3 pp. 152-173 http://journals.modares.ac.ir/article-27-588-en.html
  • Love, N. 2011. “The analysis and conservation of the Hasanlu-period IVB textiles,” in Maude de Schauensee (ed.) People and crafts in period IVB at Hasanlu, Iran (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) pp. 43–56
  • Kawami, Trudy S. “Archaeological evidence for textiles in pre‐Islamic Iran.” Iranian Studies, Vol. 25 Nr. 1-2 (1992) pp. 7-18

We have vast numbers of documents and a few grave finds for Mesopotamian textiles, including very detailed descriptions of the garments made for images of the gods:

  • Granger-Taylor, H. “The textile fragments from PG16,” in J. Curtis, Late Assyrian Bronze coffins. Anatolian Studies 33 (1983) pp. 94–95.
  • James, M.A., N. Reifarth, A.J. Mukherjee, M.P. Crump, P.J. Gates, P. Sandor, F. Robertson, P. Pfälzner and R.P. Evershed. “High prestige royal purple dyed textiles from the Bronze Age royal tomb at Qatna, Syria.” Antiquity 83 (2009) pp. 1109–1118. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003598X00099397
  • Malatacca, Luigi (2017) “Ordinary People’s Garments in Neo- and Late Babylonian Sources.” In Salvatore Gaspa, Cecile Michel, and Marie-Louise Nosch (eds.), Textile Terminologies from the Orient to the Mediterranean and Europe, 1000 BC to 1000 AD, Lincoln, Nebraska (2017). Zea E-Books 56. pp. 107-121 https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/zeabook/56/
  • Shiyanthi Thavapalan, “Purple Fabrics and Garments in Akkadian Documents,” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History 3.2 (2016) pp. 163-190 https://doi.org/10.1515/janeh-2017-0007 {focused on the Bronze Age but has a useful discussion of colour terms in Akkadian and an Amarna text EA 101 with lapis-lazuli-coloured linen (GADA ZA.GIN3}
  • Stefan Zadawski, Garments of the Gods, two volumes (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2006 and 2013) {on garments made for images of the Sun at Sippar, his bed, throne, chariot, etc.}
  • https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0179014

The Cambridge History of Western Textiles is very expensive and our library does not have it. I understand that the ancient chapters were written 40 years ago when archaeological textiles research had just begun.

In general, think wool, linen, and maybe hemp cloth, think plain weaves (including warp-faced tabbies), and think very fine, densely packed threads. Some extant textiles have 100 threads per cm. Twills dating to this period have been found in northern Italy, the Alps, and Pazyryk (and slightly earlier at Chärchän in the Tarim Basin), but not Greece or the western parts of the Persian empire.

Herodotus 2.105 seems to say that linen was only grown in Colchis and Egypt, but it is common in graves in Greece and “nothing suggests that linen textiles were rare, or associated only with female burials or those of foreigners” (Nosch, “Linen Textiles and Flax”). Linen was successfully cultivated in Greece in recent times, and there was very extensive trade between the Aegean, the flax fields of Egypt, and the hemp fields of southern Russia which supplied the Athenian navy. Linen shows up in graves and lists from Babylonia: poor soldiers were often issued with a linen karballatu (= Greek kyrbasia “Skythian hood”), and the “foot-long linen chiton” which Herodotus’ Babylonian men wear under their woollen chiton and their white chamlidion (1.195.1) probably corresponds to the linen undergarments in graves and the TUG3.GADA “linen garment” in Babylonian texts.

There is some written and archaeological evidence for cotton reaching as far as Mesopotamia (trade between the Chaldean swamps and the Indus started and stopped every few centuries since the third millennium BCE). See Cotton from Dilmun; Margarita Gleba tells me that she is not so sure about the find from the Kerameikos which I described in Linen-Cotton Blends in the Greek and Roman World

So far, there does not seem to be evidence that Chinese, domesticated, de-gummed silk travelled west of the Oxus before the First Emperor (d. 210 BCE). Don’t just assume that of course Scythians/Saka/Gimmeraya wear Chinese silk because Turks and Mongols did! Other kinds of silk are native to India and the Mediterranean, but they look different.

… dyes …
Rubia tinctorum (madder) and indigotin (probably from dyer’s woad) were used to dye textiles on the Gulf of Aqaba in the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age ( https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0179014 ). Rubia tinctorum (madder), an indigotin (probably dyer’s woad/Isatis tinctoria), a yellow flavenol dye from tamarisk, and a yellow flavenol dye from an unknown plant were found on textiles from Chehrabad (Mouri et al., “Analysis of dyes in textiles from the Chehrabad salt mine in Iran”). One of the Pazyryk kurgans contains a pair of trousers of madder dyed woollen twill (Natalia V. Polosmak, “A Different Archaeology”). Late Bronze Age and Iron Age graves from the Tarim Basin contain textiles dyed with madder (or another rubia species), indigo, and “yellow dyes of the luteolin-type,” a flavenoid found in weld and several vegetables and herbs (Kramell et al., “Dyes from Yanghai”) … Tyrian purple … walnut browns, iron blacks …

… cut of clothing …

Most Greek clothing was probably made from 1 or 2 rectangles or semicircles which were woven to shape not cut, so you can experiment in draping it with some scrap fabric and safety pins.

… decorative techniques: kilim, applied tablet-woven bands, embroidery, bezants …

  • Spantidaki, Stella (2014) “Embellishment Techniques of Classical Greek Textiles.” In Mary Harlow and Marie-Louise Nosch (eds.), Greek and Roman Textiles and Dress: An Interdisciplinary Anthology. Ancient Textiles Series, Volume 19 (Oxford: Oxbow Books) pp. 34-45 ISBN 9781782977155

Needles and bodkins: Curtis, Late Assyrian Metalwork, pp. 35, 155 (Iron, copper, and bronze)

… near eastern …

← Back to table of contents