Ancient Greek Loom Weights

Roman-period loom weight from Greece, made of clay. Roman-period loom weight from Greece, made of clay. TRC 2014.0789.

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 when the clay was wet. Such impressions may provide clues as the weave and fineness of the textile. Fibres may also be preserved on a loom weight, especially inside or around the perforations. The width of a loom (hence the maximum width of the textile produced) might be calculated from the width of a line (or lines) of loom weights. First and foremost, loom weights provide evidence of textile technology, as shown above. But loom weights can also help to shed light on ancient economies; on migration; on gender construction and relations, and even on religious beliefs and practices.

The places where loom weights are discovered, and how the weights are grouped, can also give rise to important questions. Is the site a domestic dwelling, where textiles were produced for a household? Or is it a place where many weavers worked together? Researchers of the palace economies of the Aegean Bronze Age (Nosch 2014), where large-scale textile production was strictly organized by ruling elites, use loom weights and other archaeological finds (including Linear B inscriptions) to support their arguments.

Ancient Greek bobbin. TRC 2014.0797.Ancient Greek bobbin. TRC 2014.0797.Who made these loom weights? The weaver her/himself? A specialized craftsperson? One loom weight (TRC 2014.0795) and a bobbin (TRC 2014.0797) in the TRC collection bear stamps made in the clay before it was baked. While a stamp could conceivably be the personalized mark of an individual owner or administration, it is also possible that stamps indicate an object made by a recognized artisan for sale. This hints at the economic role textiles played.

Some researchers think that changes in the shape and/or decoration of loom weights point to migration, especially of women. The origins of, and changes in words for textile tools have also been used to argue for the movements of large groups of people. Other scholars point to changes as the result of invasion or trade.