Skip to main content

MONKS, NUNS AND TEXTILES: Production, Circulation, and Distribution of Textiles in the Monastic Environment in Egypt (4th-8th Centuries AD)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MONTEX (MONKS, NUNS AND TEXTILES: Production, Circulation, and Distribution of Textiles in the Monastic Environment in Egypt (4th-8th Centuries AD))

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

MONTEX has been hosted by the Centre for Textile Research (CTR) at Saxo-Institute – University of Copenhagen, and prof. Marie-Louise Nosch was the supervisor of the project. The secondment institution was the Université Paris Ouest – Nanterre La Défense, and prof. Pascale Ballet the mentor.
The project considers Egyptian society in the Late Roman, Byzantine and Early Arab periods (4th-8th century AD) through its economy and material culture. It focuses on the production, circulation, and distribution of textiles. Textile production was one of the most important branches of the Egyptian economy at the time. However, till now, there are not synthetic studies of textiles and their production at this period. The research has been conducted using the example of the monastic environment. As monks and nuns came from all social groups, their professional occupations and everyday life strongly correspond in many aspects with the lifestyle of lay people. What is more, the sources related to monastic environment are numerous and provide us with some information unavailable elsewhere regarding lay craftsmen and customers. The research carried out within the framework of MONTEX has also included the question of weaving tools and looms used in Egypt, not only in Late Antiquity but also in the Hellenistic and Roman times.
The overall research objectives of the project were:
1. Textiles in monastic economy: provision of raw materials, production, circulation
2. Crafts in textile industry: acquiring skills and craft training; professional specialisation
3. Textiles and monastic lifestyle: community organization, prayer and asceticism
The studies have been interdisciplinary, combining all kinds of sources: archaeological evidence, iconographic representations, as well as literary, normative, and documentary texts written in a bilingual Greek and Coptic environment.
"The cultivation of flax appears in a few texts from the monastic context. Both a monastic community and an individual monk could entered into a contract on flax cultivation with peasants. Raw material could also be acquired by monks on the market. Large communities raised sheep and goats, animals that were relatively easy to feed in a semi-desert terrain. However, even large communities were not always self-sufficient to provide wool. For the time being, we have no evidence of production in the monastic context of textiles made of camel wool, cotton or silk.
The impact of the gender dimension and community structure on the labour division is visible in spinning and weaving processes. In the masculine communities from the mixed-sex federations and monasteries, linen clothes and other fabrics were made by monks who were weavers. The nuns wove their own linen tunics and they took care of the spinning of linen “for the brothers’ tunics”. The wool clothes and blankets were made for the whole community in the female monasteries. Monks living in small cenobitic communities and those in the semi-anachoretic communities took care of the spinning of linen themselves. We have few information about monastic cloth produced in semi-anachoretic communities. However, it is obvious that anchorites bought certain clothes from the outside world. The monks, at least in the Theban area, were specialized in production of funerary fabrics: strips, shrouds, and funerary tunics. In addition to its practical and economic importance, textile production played a role in the ascetic life of monks and nuns.
As regarding official monastic garb, it was worn by the monk in specific situations, such as during participation in the liturgy, whereas “ordinary” clothes would be worn for daily tasks and for sleeping. This topic also raises the issue of clothing as marker of status and social rank.

The issue of different types of loom used for various purposes in broader context then monastic one, led my investigation to the question, what is a “Tarsian loom” ? It seems that at least from 2nd to 5th c. AD, a specialised weaver 'tarsikarios' worked on a large loom adapted to manufacture tunics woven in one piece with sleeves. I have also also identified the foot strap loom in iconographic and papyrological sources. The use of such a loom in Egypt has so far been completely ignored by researchers.

The results of the research carried out within the MONTEX project have been presented to the academic public at numerous international conferences, workshops and seminars, and some of them have been published in peer reviewed articles as well as in a collective book that I have edited: 'Egyptian Textiles and their Production: ""Word"" and ""Object""'."
"Comparative and interdisciplinary studies, crossing written, archaeological, and iconographic data, concerning monks and lay people, have brought new elements to the “puzzle” of the economic and social history of Egypt, especially on the organization of textile production and craft training, and their gender aspect. The MONTEX project included also innovative lexicographical research into Greek vocabulary connected to weaving tools and looms. The outcome of such research is of great importance to philologists, papyrologists, archaeologists, and historians of techniques and technology.
MONTEX gave me an opportunity to gain new experiences and qualifications as well as to develop my network. The hosting institution has benefited from my experience in organizing and publishing international conferences (Egyptian Textiles and their Production: ""Word"" and ""Object"") as well as in managing collective projects (research group ‘Egyptian weaving Tools and Looms’). I have also provided teaching to master and doctoral students (International Summer Schools, lectures, seminars), as well as I supervised Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow candidates (Master Class). I have also organised a one-to-one course of professional drawing using Adobe Illustrator vector drawing software for Farzana Khosrawi, a Kurdish refugee employed as intern at CTR. F. Khosrawi easily applies her artistic talent to professional drawing, and this new skill could be useful for her professional integration in Denmark.
My cooperation with the Department of Ancient Cultures of Denmark and the Mediterranean at the National Museum of Denmark and the consolidation of scientific exchanges within CTR led me to propose new research project RECONTEXT: 'Reconstructing the history of Egyptian textiles from the 1st Millennium AD at the National Museum of Denmark'. This one-year project will be carried out in 2021–2022 and hosted by CTR. RECONTEXT has already received funding from Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond, applications for additional funding are in progress. The aim of the project is to establish a history of the Egyptian textiles collection at the NMD: reconstructing the way the objects are acquired, their provenance and their original look. Most of 108 textiles were acquired from the art market. Not published, they remain inaccessible to specialists and the general public. The results will be presented in a digital exhibition and in academic articles."
MONTEX_book_publication_1
MONTEX_weaving_training_1
MONTEX_workshop_1
MONTEX_Workshop_4
MONTEX_seminar_PIO
MONTEX_book_publication_3
MONTEX_workshop_2
MONTEX_weaving_training_2
MONTEX_drawing_course_1
MONTEX_book_publication_2
MONTEX_workshop_3
MONTEX_drawing_course_2