Question: Early Period Silk Use?

Lady Siobhan of Innisfree sent me the following description of Etain from the Irish Epics: Her question was: Could they have really been using silk when the stories in the Yellow Book of Leinster probably occurred, or is this an addition of the 10th Century monks who put the stories in writing?

It is generally accepted that the events depicted in these epics took place somewhere between the 2nd century B.C. and the fourth century A.D., with some researchers narrowing the time frame from 1st century B.C. to 1st century A.D. A few weeks ago I would have said there was a good probability that the monks did a little embroidering on the tale, as we suspect they edited some of the more pagan stories; but then I read a copy of 'The Textile Museum Journal' for 1984, containing an article on early silk finds in northwestern Europe.

I knew the Romans had silk fairly early, but nothing like the 530 B.C. dating in Germany from Hohmichele and Hochdorf-Eberdingen. Another burial at Altrier in Luxemburg claims to have found silk and dates fro. 450-400 , B.C. The interesting thing about these finds is that they appear to have been woven by native weavers! This means raw silk was being imported, probably via Greece. It is important to note that the silk found was not cultivated silk, but wild silk probably from the Bombyx mori moth. However cultivated Chinese silk was reaching the west this I early, since at least 5 different tabby textiles were found, in Greece dating from about this time period. One example has a tablet woven starting cord, typical of early warp weighted looms. Because of the way the thread is spun and the weaving techniques used, it is thought that they were woven in Greece or at least not further west than Asia Minor.

Back to the question: Because of the known trade between Northern Europe, the British Isles end the Mediterranean world, it is highly possible that some silk cloth or raw silk found its way into Ireland during this period. It would have been possible for the upper class to have had limited access to some silk, and what better fabric to dress the most beautiful woman in Ireland in?


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