Ancient Greek Loom Weights

Ancient Greek loom weights in the TRC collection

In 2014, a small collection of eleven ancient Greek loom weights was donated to the Textile Research Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands. The collection also included other textile tools, such as a bobbin (TRC 2014.0797), a bobbin fragment (TRC 2014.0798), and two spindle whorls (TRC 2014.0802 and TRC 2014.0803). All the tools are made of baked clay; the loom weights are mostly pyramidical or conical in shape with one perforation at the top. The artefacts come from different sites in Greece and range in date from the Archaic to the Classical, and perhaps Roman periods. This digital exhibition will put these artefacts into context by exploring questions such as: what is a loom weight? How were they used? What can they tell us about ancient Greek textiles?

The text is by Shelley Anderson, volunteer at the TRC. A separate bibliography of the publications referred to in the text is provided in Chapter 11. All fifteen objects discussed in this digital exhibition are grouped together in Chapter 12. Individual objects from this group, plus other illustrative material, are placed wherever relevant throughout the other chapters. 

  • Author: Shelley Anderson.
  • Design: Joost Koopman
  • Publisher: TRC Leiden.
  • Year of publication: 2018.

1. Introduction

The best evidence for how ancient Greek textiles were produced would be the textiles themselves. Sadly such textiles are very rare. But we can also learn about ancient Greek extiles…

2. What is a loom weight?

Loom weights are used in a specific type of vertical loom, called a warp-weighted loom. By tying loom weights at the bottom of warp threads, the weaver creates an even…

3. When is a loom weight not a loom weight?

It can be difficult at times to precisely identify an object as a loom weight. Similarly shaped stone or clay objects, with perforations, might have been used as weights for…

4. What is a warp weighted loom?

Looms are used to weave textiles. Weaving itself “is a process of interlacing two or more sets of thread, according to a pre-defined system, to produce a cloth.” (Vogelsang-Eastwood 1993).…

5. How were the loom weights used?

Loom weights are an essential part of a warp-weighted loom. In preparation for weaving, rows of loom weights are tied to bundles of warp threads in order to keep the…

6. Ancient Greek textiles

Fragments of ancient Greek textiles have been discovered. The studies that have been made of these fragments are sometimes inconclusive or contradictory. The fragments from the Kerameikos cemetery in Athens,…

7. What can loom weights teach us?

The careful study of loom weights and other textile tools can offer many insights into ancient Greek textile production. Loom weights should be examined for impressions of cloth, perhaps made…

8. Women's work

Images on vases and many ancient literary references point to wool working and weaving as the work of women and girls in ancient Greece. But male weavers were not unknown…

9. Religion

Textiles also played a symbolic role in ancient Greek belief. In Plato’s Republic (circa 428-348 BCE)  human life is depicted as controlled by three female Fates (Moirae). The first Fate, named…

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…

11. Bibliography

Andrianou, Dimitra. “Eternal comfort: funerary textiles in late Classical and Hellenistic Greece” in Dressing the Dead in Classical Antiquity, ed. Maureen Carroll and John Peter Wild, 2012, Amberley Publishing, Stroud.…

12. Digital catalogue

The Textile Research Centre in Leiden houses eleven ancient Greek loom weights, and a small number of ancient Greek bobbins and spinning whorls.              …