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Byzantine textiles

Fabrics were produced in imperial manufactories, private workshops and households, depending on the type and application of the fabrics. In the 10th-12th centuries the weaver’s workshops were located in Thessaloniki, Corinth, Thebes and Athens1.

Luxurious fabrics were woven in the imperial manufactories. One of the most interesting uses of such textiles was giving them as a gift during important events or treating them as one of the instruments in the foreign policy.

In the 12th century Timorion describes spinning and weaving as activity of  both women and men, while Michael Psellos mentions the annual festival of Agathe in Constantinople and the weaving workshops. The production of textiles can be divided into two main phases-spinning and weaving. Moreover: cleaning, bleaching, dyeing and fulling. The main materials were wool (erion), len (linon), silk and cotton (bambakina). Sometimes different types of fibres were interlinked, e.g.. wool and silk2.

Few byzantine weaving implements have been preserved, as most are made of wood, but some clay spindle whorls, bronze spindle hooks, and bronze loom combs have been found at Corinth. Bronze needles, opentip thimbles, and clay thread spools used for sewing were also found at Corintt3.

Byzantine weavers used several types of loom. Only a simple loom was needed for the common linen and woolen cloth and tapestry weaves. Patterned compound weaves, preferred for silk but also used for wool, were made on a drawloom with a pattern-making mechanism4. The main weaving techniques found on the surviving Byzantine silks dating before the thirteenth century are: tabby, damask, twill, lampas, and tapestry weaves5.

The amount of archaeological material is utterly inadequate to the rich iconographic and written sources. Early fabrics from the 8th century have been preserved  i.a. in Egypt, and the ones dated after the 9th century prevail in the vaults of the churches in the Western Europe; most of them are silks. Byzantine textiles were also found in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, e.g. in Kiev.



Textile Fragment from the Reliquary of Saint Siviard, Cathedral  Treasury, Sens, 11th – 12th century6.



1  Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Edited by ALEXANDER P. KAZHDAN, Oxford University Press 2005, p. 2029, 2193.
2   De cer., 235, 12-13,
3   Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium.
4   Ibidem.
Essential Processes, Looms, and Technical Aspects of the Production of Silk Textiles, A. Muthesius. Dumbarton Oaks 2002.
6 The Glory of Byzantium Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era AD 843 -1261, H.C.Evans, W.D.Wixom, 1997, p.226.



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