The production of textiles was a large, important and highly specialized sector of the economy and trade of the ancient Mediterranean world. While, in most regions, organic material from antiquity has not survived, the arid climate of Egypt has preserved thousands of fragments of ancient textiles from the Late Antique period (ca. 300–800 CE), which provide important information about various aspects of textile production, such as the materials and dyes used. The Nile Valley has also preserved many thousands of papyrus documents from the same period. These texts, which are a unique window into everyday life in antiquity, contain crucial information about the manufacture and style of textiles, and also about the terminology for different types of garments. Egypt is a unique region of the ancient world where both texts and textiles have survived in very substantial quantities.
The aim of this project is to conduct a comprehensive study of the papyrological evidence for Late Antique textiles and to systematically confront it — for the first time — with the surviving textiles from Egypt. This project envisions that the great variety of materials and designs, decorations and colors found in the preserved textiles will correspond with and illuminate the diversified technical terminology of textiles and garments found in papyri from the same period. An integrated study of the preserved textiles together with the relevant texts on papyrus will shed light on various aspects of textile production as well as the exact meaning of the approximately 400 attested specific terms used for different types of textiles and garments.
This holistic approach will make a new and important contribution to our understanding of ancient textiles and of the textile industry in the Later Roman Empire. The project will thereby bridge the gap between the fields of papyrology, archaeology, and textile studies, combining the different approaches and methods issuing from these fields for a thorough examination of this centrally important sphere of ancient material culture.