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The fulleries (fullonicae)

A number of tiny and very large fulleries has been found in Ostia, workshops where clothes were cleaned, which the (wealthier) Romans apparently did not do at home. Four were published by A.L. Pietrogrande in 1976, in one of the volumes of Scavi di Ostia. Another two were excavated later, by C. De Ruyt and A. Pellegrino.

Similar activities may have taken place in some other buildings:

The large fulleries have several features in common. They contain a large hall with very large basins in the floor, communicating with one another. In these basins clothes were put to soak and cleaned. Along three sides of the hall are pressing-bowls, usually made of terracotta, often the lower half of a dolium. Here the material was further cleaned, by workers who "jumped" or "danced" on the clothes (the so-called saltus fullonicus; Seneca, Epistulae 15,4), while they leaned on small walls on either side. Detergents were used, such as the creta fullonica (fuller's earth), that was stored in small bowls. It helped remove the grease and enhanced the colours. Urine, collected in public urinals, was used for bleaching, and so was sulphur, that was burned under wooden frames over which the cloth was suspended. After the pressing, the material was taken to the basins again, for the removal of the detergents.



Reconstruction drawing of a fullery in Ostia. From De Ruyt 2001, fig. 4.

The fourth side of the hall was used for other activities. Here the cleaning process ended with beating the cloth, which also made it more compact. In two buildings this fourth side is next to a smaller area, which seems to have been used for further finishing activities.

Fulleries were known for their stench, caused by the detergents. This must have affected also the health of the workers. "Prolonged immersion in water inevitably made fullers' feet and legs particularly vulnerable to bacterial, viral and fungal infections; repeated exposure to urine and fuller's earth (even for just one hour per day) would have led rapidly to irritant dermatitis with thickened, dry, and cracked skin. Fullers' lungs, exposed on a daily basis to burning sulphur, presumably also suffered severe respiratory complications." (Bradley 2002, 37-38).

Pietrogrande is not sure whether the large establishments were used for cleaning only, or whether the cloth was also processed further (starching, carding, shearing, dyeing etc.). There does not seem to be enough room for the whole process of making clothes. On the other hand, a small oven near one of the fulleries may well have been used for dyeing. De Ruyt is certain that clothes were fabricated, and she suggests that the volume was so large, that some of the clothes must have been sold in Rome. Bradley is convinced that only cleaning and re-dyeing took place. Wilson and Flohr (2003) maintain, that the large Ostian fulleries were large-scale wool-finishing establishments.

From literary sources we know that workers feasted at the occasion of certain feriae publicae (public feasts). The most important of these was the Quinquatrus in honour of Minerva. This feast took place on March 19th, also called artificum dies (day of the craftsmen), and on the four following days. Ovid calls the Minerva of the Quinquatrus mille dea operum (goddess of a thousand crafts) and lists as participants wool processors, shoe-makers, carpenters, doctors, teachers, engravers, painters, sculptors and poets (Fasti 3, 809-834). The actual workshops, at least of the fullers, were used for the feasts, as is shown by Pliny the Elder's description of a painting: Simus ... officinam fullonis Quinquatrus celebrantem (pinxit) (Simus ... painted the workshop of a fuller celebrating the Quinquatrus) (Naturalis Historia 35, 143). Possibly processions were organized: on the facade of the Domus di Tullius (VI 7, 8-12) in Pompeii, in which an officina lignaria (cabinet-makers' workshop) was installed, a painting was found showing the carrying of a ferculum (a frame) with Daedalus and Minerva on top. Daedalus and Minerva are here the protectors of the cabinet-makers' craft, a craft also depicted on top of the ferculum. The presence of Minerva might point to the Quinquatrus. The various kinds of wool-processors worshipped Minerva as their protective deity, as can be deduced from inscriptions from Spoletium, Aquileia and Rome, from some graffiti from the Fullonica di Fabius Ululitremulus (III 1, 1) in Pompeii, and from the painting of Simus mentioned above.(Bakker 1994, 73-74).



Graffito from a fullery in Pompeii (CIL IV, 9131).
"Fullones ululamque cano non arma virumq(ue)"
"I sing of fullers and the owl, not arms and the man"
The owl is a reference to Minerva, the whole text to the opening of Virgil's Aeneid.

The guild of the fullers in Ostia was called Corpus Fontanorum. It is mentioned in an inscription from 232 AD (CIL XIV, 4573 = AE 1909, 0215, AE 1913, p. 57 s.n. 233; Meiggs 1973, 312). It contains a list of the owners and managers of the fulleries.

L(ucio) VIRIO LVPO ET L(ucio) MARIO MAXIMO CO(n)S(ulibus)
CORPVS FONTANORVM Q(uod) EX S(enatus) C(onsulto) COIRE LICE(t)
PAI[---]IS(?)[---]II
P(ublius) [an]TONIVS CHA[ri]TON @ (= obitus)
[---]IVS C[--]EM[---]
[---]BIVS GRV[m]EN[ti]NVS
[---]ONIVS M[y]RISMVS
TI(berius) CLAVDIV[s] EPAG[a]T(h)VS EBS
T(itus) IVLIVS FELIX
M(arcus) CI[--]IVS DIONYSIVS
[---]S THALAMVS
VOLVSI[us] SATVRN[i]N(us)
I[---]VS ANTIN[---]
[- pet]RONIVS O[---]
L(ucius?) [pet]RONIVS MYRISMVS
L(ucius) AE[l]IVS ATHENODOR(us)
P(ublius) IVLIVS GEMINVS
P(ublius) IVLIVS GRVMENTINVS
[-?] PETRONIVS MYRISMVS IVN(ior)
[---]VLIVS SATYRVS
[---]AFIVS DALIS
[---]LIVS HILARVS
[---]ICCIVS MITHRES
[---]VIVS COGNITVS
[---]IVS HESPER
[---]S LIBERALIS
[--- gru]MENTIN(us) IVN(ior)
[---]NVS
[---]CISSIM(us?)
[--- ma]RTIALIS
[---] PAGATVS
[---]MVS VI
P(ublius) PETRON{l=i}VS FELIX
LVCIVS POMPEIVS QVINTINVS
G(aius) IVLIVS SATVRVS
N(a)EVIVS CATVLLINVS
Q(uintus) AVRELIVS VITALIO
CAECILIVS SOTERICVS
P(ublius) SEXTILLVS SEBERIANVS(!)
L(ucius) FLAVIVS ONESIMIANVS

[jthb - 1-Mar-2003]