- Making Textiles in Pre-Roman and Roman Times: People, Places, Identities ed. by Margarita Gleba and Judit Pásztókai-Szeöke
Making Textiles in Pre-Roman and Roman Times: Peoples, Places, Identities is one of many publications produced by the international research project Clothing and Identities in the Roman World (DressID). This volume stems specifically from a DressID workshop held in Hallstatt, Austria, in June 2009—a workshop that was organized by the Production and Trade study group and investigated aspects of “Work and Identity: The agents of textile production and exchange in the Roman period.” The overarching project, DressID, was an EU-funded research project that involved institutions from seven European countries for five years between 2008 and 2012. A detailed article about the project and its research goals can be found in a recent issue of Archaeological Textiles Review.1
Many of the articles in the Making Textiles in Pre-Roman and Roman Times volume are papers that were presented during the workshop in Hallstatt; however, a number of later contributions, including those by Ivan Radman-Livaja (Chapter 5), Lena Larsson Lovén (Chapter 6), Sophie Gällnö (Chapter 10), and Jens-Arne Dickmann (Chapter 13), broaden the scope of the topic. The result is a monograph with 13 articles that explore the identity of the textile producers, traders, and consumers in the Graeco-Roman world. Drawing from archaeological, documentary, epigraphic, and iconographic [End Page 680] sources, as well as funerary inscriptions, the articles reflect both the interdisciplinary nature of the DressID project and a growing trend in cross-disciplinary collaboration and scholarship in textile research and material culture studies more broadly.
John Peter Wild of the University of Manchester, a pioneer in the field of archaeological textiles, introduces the volume. Wild situates the book’s focus as part of an emerging interest in recent years across disciplines such as archaeology, anthropology, and history in revisiting familiar source materials with new interpretations and perspectives on “identity.” Wild and a number of contributors note the challenges to analyzing the identity of individuals involved in textile production and exchange in the ancient world because of the varying degrees of survival of archaeological and documentary evidence, coupled with the perceived difficulty of understanding ancient craft practices. Wild aptly points out, however, that similar attitudes were held toward the entire Roman economy some 60 years ago and that bold pursuits enriched with increased archaeological materials enabled new fundamental understandings of matters such as the Roman Gross National Product. “‘Identity,’” Wild writes, “may seem a will-o’-the-wisp, but the very exercise of chasing it can lead to exciting new perceptions” (xiv).
In order to extrapolate the elusive subject of identity from the remnants of a complex economy and culture, the articles in this volume focus on occupation, gender, ethnicity, status, labour organization, and the underlying relationship between professional and personal identity. The role of women in textile work and trade is a significant question within the discussion, as women and female virtue were closely bound to textile work in Roman culture. Lipkin’s study of grave burials in Latium vetus and southern Etruria (Chapter 2) and Larsson Lovén’s methodological discussion of female work in Roman textile production and trade (Chapter 6) look beyond a general association of women with textile work to examine exactly how this relationship manifested. Lipkin’s close examination of graves in Latium vetus and southern Etruria reveals that spinning instruments found in these burials are symbolic indications of status more than they are reflections of occupation or skill. Larsson Lovén’s methodological discussion lays a foundation for analyzing epigraphic and iconographic sources, while she also notes the interpretive challenges to distinguishing between producers and sellers through these sources.
Miko Flohr’s spatial reading of archaeological sites, what he calls “the infrastructure of identity” (194), is a particularly interesting approach to uncovering identity from a space devoid of people...