Ancient Textiles

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Minoan’s and Mycenaean’s used plant and animal products to produce a variety of colors from yellow, to blue, to purple3 Purple, produced from murex shells, was the most prized and difficult color to create. Pliny wrote, in his Natural History, about the use of plants and animals for dyeing as well as an account of dyeing instructions using murex shells in order to obtain the desired purple hue. According to him once the desired dyeing concoction takes at least ten days of boiling, after which time “a fleece, from which the grease has been cleansed, is plunged into it by way of making trial.”4 After this trial test “the wool is left to soak for five hours, and then, after carding it, it is thrown in again, until it has fully imbibed the colour.”5 Pliny’s Natural History, also, describes color variances that this purple dyeing process could produce and which colors were most preferred. He wrote, the color considered to have “the best quality” is the “colour of clotted blood. . .”6 Vitruvius, too, wrote about the origins of purple dye, which was “obtained from marine shellfish and about the desirability of purple textiles. He wrote that purple “exceeds all the coors that have so far been mentioned both in costliness and in the superiority of its delightful effect.”7 Although Pliny’s and Vitruvius’s writings are more than a millennium after the Minoan civilization existed, according to Art Historian Brendan Burke, the textile resources and production technology is likely to have changed very little.8 The earliest evidence, of purple dyeing, including a large about of murex shells, has been found at Kouphonisi, Palaikastro, and Kythera on crete from the Early Minoan II period.9 Ancient dyeing required a large amount of wa... ... middle of paper ... ... Crete, and the Mycenaean mainland suggests that production belonged to the palace and was part of its economic center. Archeological remnants and ancient texts give a sense of how textiles were produced, the amount of production labor and resourced used, and the various colors that could be produced. Linear B tablets provide important information about who produced textiles, women, and how textiles were used, as either exports or redistributed as payments. This type of textile production ended with Mycenaean Greeks, production of cloth in classical Athen experienced a shift on several levels. Greek men during this time sold cloth in their private shops, and women’s cloth production moved into the home and was made for private use.34 Textiles were not just cloth meant to cover the body, they were an important resource and economic commodity in the ancient world.
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