Ancient Egypt – the Faiyum

Posted by jerry on August 14th, 2004 — Posted in Technology, Travel, Writing

I was recently reading a book on Ancient Egypt by Lorna Oakes and Lucia Gahlin. It is richly illustrated and covers a lot of cultural and belief system issues not covered in such breadth elsewhere. One of the cultural issues referenced in passing is the production of textiles – ancient Egypt was big in cotton and linen production.

About 60km south-west of Cairo lies a large depression in the Libyan desert – a fertile area around a large lake, called the Faiyum. It seems that in Phaironic times, the kings used to time out visiting the Faiyum area for a spot of fishing. Interestingly, in the reign of Ramses II (1279-1213BC some of the ladies of the harem were employed in the production of textiles there. There are references to Maathorneferura, the daughter of the Hittite king Hattusilis being one of these women. She lived in a palace at nearby Miwer, which appears to have been a textile production centre.

Several sources state that large estates and palaces in Ancient Egypt usually contained various workshops, including spinning and weaving studios, to provide the household with necessary items. The evidence would suggest that within such studios, tens of people, usually women, were involved in the production of cloth.

In royal palaces, these women were often the numerous wives of the pharaoh. Along with their children and servants, they were housed in harem palaces in remote areas, such as that at Abu Ghurab.

The linen from the towns of Tennis, Damietta, and Shata in the Northern Delta and in Faiyum and El Bahnasa in Middle Egypt, were particularly famous. Tennis, one of the most famous linen manufacturing centers, was known for a fabric called Al-Qasab Al-Molawwan, or the Brocade of Tennis. Historical sources state that Tennis had around 5,000 weaving workshops with 10,000 weavers and that there was no house in the world that did not have Tennis fabrics or clothes.

Linen, woven from the flax plant that grew prolifically in Egypt’s fertile delta region was first spun and then woven. There is a bit more information abut the actual spinning and weaving processes here.

Anyhow, Oakes and Gahlin’s book Ancient Egypt: An illustrated reference to the myths, religions, pyramids and temples of the land of the Pharaohs is a great read, lavishly illustrated and well worth buying!


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