Evidence from inscriptions and buildings suggest that Pompeii had a prosperous textile industry.
Pompeii preserves evidence of a thriving textile trade. Buildings such as fuller’s workshops, dye workshops and wool processing units suggest a comprehensive cloth manufacturing industry. Inscriptions indicate the importance of textile workers in local politics and the Eumachia building in the forum has also shows how successful textile manufactuers could make their mark on the town.
But is this evidence of Pompeii as a major cloth manufacturer? Or was its textile industry simply serving the needs of the town?
Electoral Notices and Inscriptions.
Many inscriptions, especially electoral notices, identify influential trades in Pompeii. They suggest that those working in textiles were particularly active in local politics. Dyers, felt workers, fullers and wool workers all feature in electoral notices. Other inscriptions from the town show that those in the textile business occupying prime positions on the city council. These local business men were an economic power to be reckoned with, at least within Pompeii itself.
The Eumachia Building.
The Eumachia building occupies a prominent position in the forum of Pompeii and has been used as evidence of the dominance of the textile business within the city.
A large porticoed building, its founder Eumachia came from a family associated with the wool trade. This and the fact that her statue were paid for and dedicated by the town’s fullers has led many people to speculate that the building was the town’s wool market or a guild house for the fullers. The prominent position of the building in the forum could also be seen to suggest that wool was central to Pompeii’s economic life, maybe perhaps one of the town’s major exports.
Nothing in the archaeology backs up either assertion. The exact function of the Eumachia building is unknown and so it cannot be used as evidence of textiles as a major trade beyond Pompeii. Its dedications simply show that the local textile producers flourished in the town, not that the town flourished because of its textiles.
Textile Workshops in Pompeii.
Pompeii has many examples of different types of textile workshop. Many certainly had a wider commercial purpose. But others were simply serving the needs of their districts.
Types of workshops that can be identified in the archaeological record are as follows:
Officinae lanifricariae . This type of workshop was where the raw wool was processed. Most facilities of this type were located to the east of the forum where there was a small scale ‘industrial park’ which housed outlets dealing with manufacturing on a commercial scale.
Textrinae. Spinning and weaving of wool for domestic consumption would have occurred in most roman homes. These workshops were dedicated to the commercial spinning and weaving of wool, possibly before passing it onto a dye workshop
Officinae tinctoriae. Dye workshops have been identified by kilns on the premises and plant remains for making pigments. They were distributed about the city, suggesting they were just as likely to dye cloth for the local communities as well as on a commercial scale. They could also have been linked to their own local retail outlets. Clothes shops existed in Pompeii and many of the dye workshops could have been supplying specific local retail outlets.
Officinae coactiliariae. These were wool felting workshops
Fullonicae. Fuller’s workshops were where raw wool was cleaned and woolen clothes were finished and also washed. They were located close to main streets, in the same area as other shops and small businesses. Fullonicae also served as local launderettes as well as playing a part in the commercial production of cloth. A famous example Stephanus’s Fullery on Via Dell Abbondanza.
Archaeologists have been able to discover much about the processes’ of a fuller from the wall paintings surviving in this building as well as the material remains. Fabric was pounded in narrow basins, with urine and fuller’s earth used to bleach it. Clothes would then be dried in an open courtyard, where they were brushed and finished. The whitening process would be completed by winding the cloth around a cylindrical frame and then applying sulphur. Creases were ironed out by a wooden clothes press.
Pompeii: A Sourcebook (2004) Alison E Cooley and MGL Cooley. Routledge: London and New York
The World of Pompeii (2008) Ed John J Dobbins and Pedar W Foss. Routledge: London and New York