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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Textiles to Dye For!

Textile production was a major part of the ancient economy and clothing was used to give a visual message about the wearer’s rank, wealth and sometimes their profession. Despite the fact that textiles very rarely survive in archaeology, there are some artefacts which can at least tell us about how they were made

Hannah's handy diagram showing the basic stages of textile production: collection of raw materials, spinning and weaving.

Using this sophisticated diagram of my creation and a selection of spindle whorls and loom weights from the museum’s collection, my Tuesday Times Table explained how an item of Roman clothing would have been made. As an added treat (and my favourite object), I also brought out a replica warp-weighted loom to show how the weaving process worked. Weaving a piece of cloth on a loom like this was a very long and slow process, especially when making a Roman toga. They were made of a single piece of cloth which measured up 
to 6ft in width and 12ft in length. That’s a lot of weaving!
Hannah with her table

As well as spinning and weaving artefacts, I also showed some examples of natural dyes used in Roman Britain. The most commonly used dyes were madder (red), yellow (weld) and woad (blue) and these were relatively cheap. The most expensive dye of all was purple, knows as Tyrian or Phoenician purple. It was so expensive because it was made from the mucous of tiny Murex sea snails. 1000s of these snails were required to make enough dye just to trim one garment! Because of this, purple was associated with the emperors and is still associated with royalty today. 
Dyes used in Roman Britain: madder (red), weld (yellow), woad (blue) and alkanet (lilac). Green could be made using a mixture of weld and woad.

The most surprising thing about my handling table for many visitors was the bright and varied colours of the dyes. We often think of the Romans wearing only white togas, perhaps because colour from the ancient world has generally not survived well. It is easy to forget that almost all of the pure white marble statues and friezes we see in museums today would have once been painted in bright colours, which would have more accurately shown what Roman clothing looked like. In short, the Romans and their clothes were much more colourful than we imagine!
MA Placement student 

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