Ancient Greek Loom Weights

Archaic Greek loom weight, made of clay. Archaic Greek loom weight, made of clay. TRC 2014.0796.

10. Conclusion

Weaving is only one step in the long process that results in a finished textile. In the case of wool, sheep must be bred, raised and sheared. The wool must then be cleaned, combed and/or carded to prepare it for spinning. It might be dyed or bleached before or after it is spun or woven. After spinning it is woven and embroidered. It is fulled and napped, then made into clothing. Clothing itself must be stored, cleaned and mended. Given these labour-intensive processes, textiles were highly valued and each scrap was used and re-used. Ancient Greek clothing was seldom cut out or tailored; that would be a waste of precious textiles. Both male and female clothing was draped on the body and held in place with decorative pins, ribbons, belts or sashes. It is clear that textile production took up a large amount of time for many Greeks, from shepherds to spinners, weavers to traders.

Yet clothing, too, is only one type of textile. The ancient Greeks used rugs, blankets, furniture coverings, wall hangings and cushions inside their homes, and awnings and canopies outside; ropes, halters and animal blankets on their farms; bandages to heal the sick and shrouds to bury their dead; tents, banners, linen corselets for war; sails, rigging, and fishing nets on their ships. There are many references in both Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey to finely woven textiles such as robes or tapestries being given as diplomatic gifts. The production of all these necessary textiles must have been on an industrial scale and consumed the waking hours of large numbers of people, especially women and girls. In an Athenian list of occupations of freed slaves, women are frequently identified as ‘talasiourgoi’—women who clean, card, comb and spin wool. As Ion says to Kreusa in Euripides’s (480-406 BCE) play Ion, “Young girls do a lot of weaving.”

Textiles and their production were deeply embedded in the daily life, the economy and the religious life of ancient Greece. Loom weights were an essential part of the warp weighted loom, which was commonly used to produce these textiles. Loom weights survive in the archaeological record when the looms themselves and the textiles they produced do not. A careful study of these artefacts, which are often found in archaeological sites throughout ancient Greece and its colonies, can tell us much about ancient Greek technology, but also behaviour and beliefs.

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