New Insights on the Life and Origin of Textile Industries and Cultures
in the Nile Valley in Antiquity (3rd c. BC to 7th c. AD)

The Nile River weaves a fertile web of life through many different territories. It is the longest river in the world and gave life to cultures and civilizations spanning from the African Great Lakes and the Ethiopian Highlands, through the rocky landscapes of the cataracts and the arid deserts of Nubia and Egypt, to the plains of the Delta until it ends in the Mediterranean Sea.
These regions were inhabited by a multitude of people: locals and newcomers, sedentary and nomadic groups, who were part of the Hellenistic world, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine world, or even politically independent, such as the kingdoms of Meroe and Axum. Each population, on the base of their individual culture, religion and customs, developed unique and distinct textile traditions which played a consistent and essential part in the construction and life of their material culture and identity.

This research group investigates the relationship and intrinsic cultural bond between textiles and their production and the unique environment of the Nile valley – both its landscapes and ethnic diversity – in Antiquity.
The geographical focus of our studies follows the course of the Nile itself: it covers the modern territories of Egypt and Sudan, and encompasses the river valley as well as its interrelated regions (desert, wadis, oases and the Mediterranean coast). The chronological span focuses on the Hellenistic to the Byzantine periods.
These ten centuries produced varied and plentiful sources which document the history and the cultures of textiles along the Nile: texts in Greek, Latin and Coptic, archaeological artefacts (tools, textiles, and iconographical representations), as well as archaeobotanical data. They allow us to conduct research into a range of topics, including:

  • The development and diffusion of textile techniques in Egypt and Sudan, including spinning, weaving, dyeing and the decoration of textiles
  • The economy of textile production and trade: centres of production and distribution between different regions and populations
  • The particularities of textiles and dress: the different textile and costume traditions along the Nile and their role in the construction of social identity
  • The analysis and structure of relevant terminology in Greek, Latin, and Coptic. We will also discuss the translation of ancient terms designating past techniques and fabric types into a modern technical language
  • Comparative ethnographic studies conducted in the Upper Egypt, the Central Sudan and the Lake Tana region in Ethiopi

We will explore extant material evidence from Egypt and Sudan through a wide range of complementary and innovative methods from the historical, sociological, archaeological, ethnographic and philological sciences, in order to shed new light on the local and supra-local characteristics of textiles. We will thereby highlight the diversity of textile cultures along the Nile and provide new knowledge and novel interpretative frameworks for our understanding of textile cultures and history along the Nile.

As all CTR study groups NILOTICA is open to all interested participants.