Textile manufacture in Roman Egypt

Start - End 
2012 - 2015 (ongoing)
Department of History
Other institution(s) 
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Research Focus 
Research Period 



The textile industry was the largest economic sector in pre-industrial society (apart from food). Early-modern textile industry has accordingly received much attention from economic and social historians. Matters are different regarding Antiquity. Prevalent models in Ancient History caused the textile industry to be underestimated, but ancient historians have now begun to realize the importance of industries in a world of increased urbanization and economic growth. Urbanization increased the demand for cheap products. The increasing prosperity benefitted also the growing ‘middle groups’, neither poor nor rich, whose total consumption was of crucial importance for the development of the economy. Textiles were a vital element of these consumption patterns. Yet we still know very little about the organizational structures of textile production and distribution. Did landowners dominate the textile industry, or did they leave it largely to the many small-scale artisans and merchants? To what extent was textile manufacture and trade a horizontally and/or vertically integrated sector? Was it a case of integration of production of raw materials, their processing and the distribution of the end products, or did these rather remain separate segments? These questions are central to this research project, dealing with textile industry in Roman Egypt, which is the best documented province of the empire.




Ruben Menten-Plesters

Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Paul Erdkamp

Vrije Universiteit Brussel