Dura Europos Embroidery

The Palmyrene Gate at Dura Europos, before ISIS control in the mid-2010s. The Palmyrene Gate at Dura Europos, before ISIS control in the mid-2010s.

Dura Europos was a border city built on an escarpment above the Euphrates river. The site is located near the modern village of Salhiye in Syria. The city is believed to have been founded around 303 BC at an intersection of east-west trade routes between Central Asia/China, Iran and the Mediterranean Sea and a north-south route up and down the Euphrates.

Dura Europos was abandoned following a siege by the Sassanians from Iran in AD 256-257. Afterwards the city was gradually covered by sand. It was never re-occupied. The first official excavations at Dura Europos took place in the 1930's by a team from Yale University.

During these excavations a number of woven, printed and knitted textiles were recorded, but no actual embroideries were identified. However, object no. 293 (acc. no. 1938.4590) was a length of cloth that acted as a holder for seventeen iron needles. The needles were between 5.2 and 6.0 cm long and each had a diameter of about 0.15 cm. These needles could easily have been used for simple sewing as well as for embroidery.

In the final textile report by the French textile specialist, Rudolf Pfister, and the American textile historian, Louisa Bellinger, there is a reference to a hank of gold thread. According to the report, this was a length of coiled metal plate, but there was no evidence of either a textile or core around which the metal plate may have been spun. Pfister and Bellinger were of the opinion that the fold thread was from an embroidered garment that had been deliberately burnt in order to collect the precious metal. The burning would have destroyed any fibre core that might have been present. In addition, the authors referred to the metal thread embroidery found at nearby Halabiyeh, which used a passing form of metal thread with a silk core.


  • PFISTER, Rudolf and Louisa BELLINGER (1945). The Textiles: Dura Europos, Excavations at Dura-Europos, Final Report, Harvard MA: Yale University Press, p. 60.
  • TOLL, Nikolaj Petrovic (1937). The Necropolis of Halebie-Zenobia, Prague: Seminarium Kondakovianum, IX, p. 21, fig. 5.
  • VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD, Gillian (2016). 'Embroideries from archaeological and historical sources from the Eastern Mediterranean and Iraq,' in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 71-77, esp. p. 73.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 17 June 2016).


Last modified on Tuesday, 18 April 2017 13:25
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