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Flax is mostly sown in sandy1 soils, and after a single ploughing only. There is no plant that grows more rapidly2 than this; sown in spring,3 it is pulled up in summer, and is, for this reason as well, productive of considerable injury to the soil.4 There may be some, however, who would forgive Egypt for growing it, as it is by its aid that she imports the merchandize of Arabia and India; but why should the Gallic provinces base any of their reputation upon this product?5 Is it not enough, forsooth, for them to be separated by mountains from the sea, and to have, upon the side on which they are bounded by the Ocean, that void and empty space, as it is called?6 The Cadurci,7 the Caleti, the Ruteni,8 the Bituriges,9 and the Morini,10 those remotest of all mankind, as it is supposed, the whole of the Gallic provinces, in fact, are in the habit of weaving sail-cloth; and at the present day our enemies even, who dwell beyond the Rhenus, have learned to do the same; indeed, there is no tissue that is more beautiful in the eyes of their females than linen. I am here reminded of the fact, that we find it stated by M. Varro, that it is a custom peculiar to the family of the Serrani11 for the women never to wear garments of linen. In Germany it is in caves12 deep underground that the linen-weavers ply their work; and the same is the case, too, in the Alian territory, in Italy, between the rivers Padus and Ticinus, the linen of which holds the third rank among the kinds manufactured in Europe, that of Sætabis13 claiming the first, and those of Retovium14 and of Faven- tia, in the vicinity of Alia, on the Æmilian Way, the second, place in general estimation. The linens of Faventia are preferred for whiteness to those of Alia, which are always unbleached: those of Retovium are remarkable for their extreme fineness, combined with substance, and are quite equal in whiteness to the linens of Faventia; but they have none of that fine downy nap15 upon them, which is so highly esteemed by some persons, though equally disliked by others. A thread is made, too, from their flax, of considerable strength, smoother and more even, almost, than the spider's web; when tested with the teeth, it emits a sharp, clear twang; hence it is, that it sells at double the price of the other kinds.

But it is the province of Nearer Spain that produces a linen of the greatest lustre, an advantage which it owes to the waters of a stream which washes the city of Tarraco16 there. The fineness, too, of this linen is quite marvellous, and here it is that the first manufactories of cambric17 were established. From the same province, too, of Spain, the flax of Zoëla18 has of late years been introduced into Italy, and has been found extremely serviceable for the manufacture of hunting-nets. Zoëla is a city of Callæcia, in the vicinity of the Ocean. The flax, too, of Cumæ, in Campania, has its own peculiar merits in the manufacture of nets for fishing and fowling; it is employed, also, for making hunting-nets. For it is from flax, in fact, that we prepare various textures, destined to be no less insidious to the brute creation than they are to ourselves. It is with toils made from the flax of Cumæ that wild boars are taken, the meshes being proof against their bristles,19 equally with the edge of the knife: before now, too, we have seen some of these toils of a fineness so remarkable20 as to allow of being passed through a man's ring, running ropes and all, a single individual being able to carry an amount of nets sufficient to environ a whole forest—a thing which we know to have been done not long ago by Julius Lupus, who died prefect of Egypt. This, however, is nothing very surprising, but it really is quite wonderful that each of the cords was composed of no less than one hundred and fifty threads. Those, no doubt, will be astonished at this, who are not aware that there is preserved in the Temple of Minerva, at Lindus, in the Isle of Rhodes, the cuirass of a former king of Egypt, Amasis by name, each thread employed in the texture of which is composed of three hundred and sixty-five other threads. Mucianus, who was three times consul, informs us that he saw this curiosity very recently, though there was but little then remaining of it, in consequence of the injury it had experienced at the hands of various persons who had tried to verify the fact. Italy, too, holds the flax of the Peligni in high esteem, though it is only employed by fullers; there is no kind known that is whiter than this, or which bears a closer resemblance to wool. That grown by the Cadurci21 is held in high estimation for making mattresses;22 which, as well as flock,23 are an invention for which we are indebted to the Gauls: the ancient usage of Italy is still kept in remembrance in the word "stramentum,"24 the name given by us to beds stuffed with straw.

The flax of Egypt, though the least strong25 of all as a tissue, is that from which the greatest profits are derived. There are four varieties of it, the Tanitic, the Pelusiac, the Butic, and the Tentyritic—so called from the various districts in which they are respectively grown. The upper part of Egypt, in the vicinity of Arabia, produces a shrub, known by some as "gossypium,"26 but by most persons as "xylon;" hence the name of "xylina," given to the tissues that are manufactured from it. The shrub is small, and bears a fruit, similar in appearance to a nut with a beard, and containing in the inside a silky substance, the down of which is spun into threads. There is no tissue known, that is superior to those made from this thread, either for whiteness, softness, or dressing: the most esteemed vestments worn by the priests of Egypt are made of it. There is a fourth kind of tissue, known by the name of "othoninum," which is made from a kind of marshreed,27 the panicule only being employed for the purpose. In Asia, again, there is a thread made from broom,28 which is employed in the construction of fishing-nets, being found to be remarkably durable; for the purpose of preparing it, the shrub is steeped in water for ten days. The Æthiopians, also, and the people of India, prepare a kind of thread from a fruit which resembles our apple, and the Arabians, as already29 mentioned, from gourds that grow upon trees.

1 A light soil, and well manured, is usually employed for the purpose. Columella, B. ii. c. 10, recommends a rich, moist soil. It is sown in March or April, and is gathered, according to the season, from June to September.

2 Though rapid in its growth, there are many vegetable productions that grow more rapidly.

3 This was the time for sowing it with the Romans, though in some countries, at the present day, it is sown so late as the autumn.

4 In B. xviii. c. 72, he has spoken of this method of gathering vegetable productions as injurious to the soil, by withdrawing its natural juices.

5 "Censentur hoc reditu?" There is little doubt that the Gauls, like their German neighbours, cultivated flax for the purposes of female dress, and not mainly for the manufacture of sails.

6 "Quod vocant inane." He implies that the boundless space of ocean on the Western coasts of Gaul was useless for any purposes of navigation.

7 See B. iv. c. 33.

8 See B. iv. c. 33.

9 See B. xxxiv. c. 48.

10 See B. iv. c. 31.

11 A family of the Atilia gens.

12 It was, and is still to some extent, a prevalent opinion, that the humidity of caves under-ground is favourable to the manufacture of tissues of hemp and flax.

13 In Spain. See B. i. c. 1, and B. iii. c. 4.

14 Cluvier takes this place to be the same with Litubium in Liguria, mentioned by Livy, B. xxxii.

15 "Lanugo." This is not generally looked upon as a merit in linen, at the present day.

16 Now Tarragona. See B. iii. c. 4.

17 "Carbasus." This was probably the Spanish name originally for fine flax, and hence came to signify the cambrics, or fine linen tissues made of it. It seems, however, to have afterwards been extended to all kinds of linen tissues, as we find the name given indifferently to linen garments, sail-cloth, and awnings for the theatres.

18 See B. iii. c. 4.

19 "Sætas ceu per ferri aciem vincunt." This passage is probably in a mutilated state.

20 There must either be some corruption in the text, or else Pliny must have been mistaken. Nets such as these could have been of no possible use in taking a wild boar.

21 See B. iv. c. 33. Now Querci, the chief town of which is Cahors.

22 "Culcitæ."

23 "Tomenta."

24 Exactly corresponding to our "paillasse," a "bed of straw."

25 This is doubtful, though at the same time it is a well-known fact that the Egyptian flax grows to the greatest size. Hasselquist speaks of it attaining a height of fifteen feet.

26 Our cotton, the Gossypium arboreum of Linnæus. See B. xii. c. 21. The terms xylon, byssus, and gossypium, must be regarded as synonymous, being applied sometimes to the plant, sometimes to the raw cotton, and sometimes to the tissues made from it. Gossypium was probably the barbarous name of the cotton tree, and byssus perhaps a corruption of its Hebrew name.

27 Probably the Arundo donax of modern botanists. See B. xvi. c. 66.

28 Fée says, that the people of Pisa, at the present day, soak the stalks of broom, and extract therefrom a thread, of which cords and coarse stuffs are made.

29 In B. xii. c. 21. He seems there to speak of the cotton-tree, though Fée suggests that he may possibly allude to the "Bombax pentandrum" of Linnæus.

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