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Roman sails: leather, linen, or?
#1
An author who will be writing a book on the technology of textiles throughout history asked me what Roman sails were made of. Searching threads from a few years back I read possibly leather, and possibly linen. Has there been any new thinking on this or are those the two likely ones? 

I also read that 'canvas' is just a term for the weight and weave of a fabric like linen, so does not pertain just to cotton.
Richard Campbell
Legio XX - Alexandria, Virginia
RAT member #6?
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#2
I've heard linen as well. I'd imagine goatskin leather would be more likely than leather.
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#3
Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World by Lionel Casson, John Hopkins Publications, 1971, would be a good place to research. He seems to favour linen and uses several quotes to back that up.
Francis Hagan

The Barcarii
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#4
Pliny (Natural History 19.22) implies that linen was usual. In 205BC the people of Tarquinia, who were famed for flax production, were put to work making sails (Livy 28.45).

Leather was used by some northern peoples, it seems - Caesar (BG 3.13) mentions the ships of the Veneti having sails of aluta (alum-dressed leather, probably) "either because they do not have linen or are ignorant of its use, or, more likely, as they believe such sails could not hold up against storms".

Tacitus says that some of the Batavian native vessels during the revolt of AD69 were equipped with painted leather sails.
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#5
Cotton sails were used on ships in the Red Sea coming from India.

Graham.
"Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream" Edgar Allan Poe.

"Every brush-stroke is torn from my body" The Rebel, Tony Hancock.

"..I sweated in that damn dirty armor....TWENTY YEARS!', Charlton Heston, The Warlord.
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#6
(08-01-2016, 11:02 AM)richsc Wrote: I also read that 'canvas' is just a term for the weight and weave of a fabric like linen, so does not pertain just to cotton.

This is what I've heard as well.  Canvas means a kind of heavy, tight plain weave; cotton, linen and hemp are just the traditional fibers for it.

As I'd define it, canvas is the kind of fabric which at a glance appears to consist of staggered rows of tiny circles packed together.  This one is stated to be made of polyester:

[Image: B1064589647.jpg]
Dan D'Silva

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I ride the winds of fate
Prepared to go where my heart belongs,
Back to the past again.

--  Gamma Ray

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To pick myself up from under this table...

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#7
(08-03-2016, 04:33 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: Caesar (BG 3.13) mentions the ships of the Veneti having sails of aluta (alum-dressed leather, probably)

Just as a side note: alum-tawed leather is unlikely as it is not stable in wet conditions. Think of alum-tawing as a sort of incomplete/reversible tanning.
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#8
In this 3D animated recreation of a 900 AD Danish town, the narrator makes passing reference to 'woolen sails'

http://thedockyards.com/3d-animation-tisso-viking-age/
Richard Campbell
Legio XX - Alexandria, Virginia
RAT member #6?
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#9
(08-06-2016, 12:02 AM)richsc Wrote: In this 3D animated recreation of a 900 AD Danish town, the narrator makes passing reference to 'woolen sails'

http://thedockyards.com/3d-animation-tisso-viking-age/
That's a great little film, Rich.  Thanks.
Pecunia non olet
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#10
(08-06-2016, 12:02 AM)richsc Wrote: In this 3D animated recreation of a 900 AD Danish town, the narrator makes passing reference to 'woolen sails'

http://thedockyards.com/3d-animation-tisso-viking-age/

I have a printed report done for a Danish Museum on the Oseberg tents, which seems to suggest both Linen and wool "Canvas" was used for the tents/sails..... though I cant make out if it means different fibres in the warp and weft or different types of cloth/canvas, there appears to be substantial cloth remains from that particular ship much of which is unpublished.... my understanding of danish though is minimal...

I dont necesarily see a problem with aluta as long as it isnt submerged in water for any period of time, the same goes for similar preserving methods, leather/skin has been used for boats and walrus hide for ships ropes during the early medieval era and later and there are plenty of examples of leather tents during the Roman era and this could easily be used for sails, though its not proof of course....
Ivor

"And the four bare walls stand on the seashore. a wreck a skeleton a monument of that instability and vicissitude to which all things human are subject. Not a dwelling within sight, and the farm labourer, and curious traveller, are the only persons that ever visit the scene where once so many thousands were congregated." T.Lewin 1867
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#11
Memory being what it is I finally discovered a reference in my files for linen and cotton sails from Roman Berenike which led to the following:

"Sails  The physical evidence for sails in the archaeological record of the ancient world is very limited. Archaeological evidence comes mainly from Egypt and the Red Sea, fragments of sails having also been found at the Roman Red-Seaport of Berenike (Wild and Wild, 2001) and a fragment wrapped around a mummy at Edfu on the Nile (Rougé, 1987; Black, 1996). The sail cloth from Edfu was made from Egyptian-produced linen reinforced with locally-produced flax (Wild and Wild, 2001: 213; Wild, 2002: 13).The use of linen is consistent with the existing evidence, mostly textual, which points to linen being widely used for sails in the ancient Mediterranean (Black and Samuel, 1991: 220).This is in contrast to the sail cloth from Berenike which was made and reinforced from Indian-produced cotton (Wild and Wild, 2001: 211–20).Like those at Berenike, the sail cloth and reinforcement webbing strips excavated at Myos Hormos are also made of Indian-produced cotton (Handley, 2003: 57)."

https://www.academia.edu/490285/Roman_ri...yos_Hormos

Early Indian cotton textiles from Berenike:

https://www.academia.edu/11741339/Early_...8_229-233_
Ivor

"And the four bare walls stand on the seashore. a wreck a skeleton a monument of that instability and vicissitude to which all things human are subject. Not a dwelling within sight, and the farm labourer, and curious traveller, are the only persons that ever visit the scene where once so many thousands were congregated." T.Lewin 1867
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#12
Sorry I am a little late on this thread, I must have missed it last year and only found it when I was researching another thread on the "Myth of the Silk Road" and searching for threads on Roman ships but I thought the word canvas was derived from cannabis or hemp.
 
 The ancient Egyptians used both papyrus and linen. The Greek philosopher Theoprastus wrote about plants in Egypt and said "from the inner part of the papyrus they weave sails and also rope." and Pliny the Elder wrote  that "Papyrus grows in the swamps of Egypt or in the sluggish water of the Nile, and is plaited to make boats and the inner bark woven into sailcloth and . . . ropes. Linen was used as well because it would have been much finer and stronger. Linen sails were not always of one piece but made up of patches sewn together for added strength. Over time attempts were made to make linen stronger and more durable, these attempts included trying various chemical treatments ranging from soaking in oil that was then heated or burnt to form a polymer impregnated coating or treated with Fuller's Earth and other powders. Mixtures of fibres were used for stronger wind conditions such as linen and hemp.
 
 Cotton was used even on Roman ships for Red Sea and Indian Ocean travel.
 
 Wool for sails was used in Viking times and according to Tacitus who wrote of the Batavian revolt that took place in the estuary of the Rhine. He states that they "sewed their brightly coloured woollen war coats into sails". 
Cool
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Michael Kerr
Michael Kerr
"You can conquer an empire from the back of a horse but you can't rule it from one"
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