tanner. Most of the names for hides or skins in Greek--δορά, δέρμα, διφθέρα, βύρσα, σκῦτος
--are used sometimes
to signify the untanned hide, but more usually the tanned one. The Romans
used corium subigere
for tanning, and depsere
for tawing (see below); but it must be remembered that
as well as scortum
prepared leather, in opposition to unprepared hide. In Wilmann's Ex.
2738, 21, corium perfectum
Tanners at present divide the undressed material into hides
and skins. Hides
are skins of oxen, horses,
and larger animals; while skins
(in the technical
sense) are thinner skins: e. g. those of calf, sheep, goats, &c. The
was applied to hides
by the Romans, the tanned leather being called corium;
) first appear among the Romans; and though their work
seems to be alluded to in an obscure passage of Plautus (Men.
2.3, 45), still we may be said to know nothing of the
details of their manufacture as distinct from tanning. To this latter, then,
we now turn.
“Leather is made,” says Mr. James Paton in the
“by three processes or with three classes of substances. Thus we have
leather, in which the hides and skins
are combined with tannin or tannic and; (2) tawed
leather, in which skins are prepared with mineral salts,
especially alum; (3) shamoyed
consisting of skins, especially those of sheep, goat, deer and antelope,
combined with oils or fatty substances.” All these kinds of
leather existed in ancient times.
The main endeavour of tanning
is to try and unite as
closely as possible the gelatinous part of the hide with the tanning
principle of astringent vegetables, so as to produce leather which is
smooth, flexible, and insoluble in boiling water. The preliminary processes
preparing the hide for the reception of the tanning substance are, however,
of no small importance. After the horns are taken off and the hide washed,
the remaining flesh on one side has to be removed. This is effected by a
knife, like that in the accompanying cut of a tanner's knife found in
Tanner's knife. (From Pompeii.)
Pompeii: the shaded part is the wooden handle. This knife also removes the
cuticle, which is rendered friable and easily removable by means of
lime-water, though the ancients appear to have used for this purpose
mulberry leaves dipped in urine (Plin. Nat.
), or the seeds of the ἄμπελος
or bryony (Dioscor. 4.184). Next the hairy side must be
depilated quite clean. This is done by stretching the hide on a bench or
), which process was called
and Scholiast), and using a kind of scraping knife like that given in the
subjoined cut of a knife found also
Tanner's knife. (From Pompeii.)
in the tannery at Pompeii. The pointed extremities fitted into
wooden handles. Tanners at present use an exactly similar-shaped knife.
Sometimes it appears that for the depilation the hide was stretched on the
ground and pegs put into its four corners, to prevent it contracting in the
sun (cf. διαπατταλευθήσει χαμαί,
371, and Schol.).
So far for preliminaries which prepare the hide to receive the tanning
substances. These latter were for the most part what they are to-day, viz.
the bark of certain trees--oak (Paul. Aegin. 3.42), fir, alder (Theophr.
3.9 (10), 1; 14, 3), pomegranate (Plin. Nat. 23.107
), but especially the
leaves of rhus, which was hence called frutex
(ib. 24.91; cf. Dioscor. 1.147); also gall-nuts
Plin. Nat. 16.26
), roots and berries of
the wild vine (labrusca,
ib. 14.95), the
Egyptian acacia (Mimosa Nilotica
of Linnaeus, called spina
by Pliny, 24.109
), and an unknown plant called notia
(ib. 24.175). We principally use oak-bark; but the most
powerful tanning substance we have is the juice or extract of a species of
acacia called the mimosa catechu
one pound of which will tan as much leather as seven or eight pounds of
oak-bark. Into an ooze made of some of these vegetable ingredients the hides
were soaked, a process now called “colouring” : and doubtless,
as in modern times, they were removed at certain intervals from pits of
weaker to stronger ooze; and later to the “laying-away,” where
they are laid flat in heaps and the vegetable substance powdered very fine,
strewn between each skin; till after some few changes of pits, and lying in
each a few months, they are taken out, hung on poles, and smoothed with a
steel pin. In the tannery at Pompeii, in the second room, there are as many
as fifteen tubs.
From all these processes, on material also liable to putrefaction, tanneries
have always had a foul smell; and this foul smell rendered it necessary that
they should be located outside cities (Artemid. Oneir.
1.51)--e. g. at Athens in a place called Λεπρός
(Schol. on Arist. Ach.
724), and at Rome
across the Tiber (Juv. 14.203
; Mart. 6.93
The practice of tawing
--viz. applying mineral salts
to thin and light skins of sheep, lambs, kids, goats, &c.--was
undoubtedly known to the ancients, and the product was called aluta,
from the alumen
(Plin. Nat. 35.190
Gloss. Labb.) applied. Salt was also
sometimes used (Arist. Nub.
1237; cf. Cato, Cat. Agr. 135
The product was naturally of a white colour (Ov. A.
3.271)--and indeed “white leather” is to-day the
technical term for this class of goods--but sometimes coloured black (Mart. 7.35
scarlet (ib. 2.29, 8). This latter passage shows the softness of aluta
(cf. ib. 12.26, 9). It was made into purses
), plasters (Ov. A. A.
3.202), and by the Veneti was used for sails
(Caes. Gal. 3.13
). [p. 1.543]
The oldest known form of preparing leather is shamoying,
i.e. combining skins and hides with oils. It is alluded to
in a simile of Homer's (Il. 17.387
and also in Cato (Cat. Agr. 135
). The chief point aimed at is to open the pores
so as to admit the oil. This is done by repeated washings. Then the skins
are staked out and taken to the stocks, where, after being rubbed with oil,
they are hammered for about two hours to force the oil into the substance of
the skin. That to this part of the process ἡ βύρσα
of Arist. Eq.
369 refers is
the opinion of one of the Scholiasts: καὶ γὰρ τὰς
βύρσας ξύλοις τύπτειν εἰώθασιν ἵνα ἁπαλαὶ ὦσι ἔνιοι δὲ
ἵνα διαλάβοιεν εὐχερῶς τοῦ φαρμάκου.
The preparation of parchment by membranarii
Diocl. 7.38), διφθεροποιοί,
did not differ
essentially from that employed at present.
The substances used for colouring leather were for the most part lotus-tree
(Plin. Nat. 16.124
Plin. Nat. 19.47
), scarlet (coccum;
cf. Mart. 2.29
), and for boots especially atramentum sutorium,
or oil of vitriol (Plin. Nat. 33.123
); though of course there
were boots of many different colours (calcei mullei et
cerei et albi et hederacii,
Parchment, we know, was often coloured yellow or purple on the side not used
(cf. Pers. 3.10; Isid. Orig.
We have seen shamoying was known to Homer. In Homer, too, an untanned ox-skin
and 142) is used by Ulysses, but
only when disguised as a beggar and for a bed covering to lie upon. In
Homeric times, however, tanning appears to have been done in the household;
just as among the early Germans there does not seem to have been a regular
class of tanners (Riedenauer, Handwerk und Handwerker in den
p. 139). But among the Romans tanners
) formed a guild distinct
from shoe-makers (σκυτοτόμοι
) in Numa's
time (Plut. Num. 17
). Yet in Greece, even in
historical times, shoemaking does not appear to have been separated entirely
from tanning (cf. Theophr. Char.
16, ἐκδοῦναι τῷ σκυτοδέψῃ ἐπιρράψαι;
βυρσοδέψης: σκυτοτόμος, ὁ τὰς βύρσας
). At Rome under the later emperors, when the
different classes of artisans crystallized into close guilds, we find a
guild of wholesale tanners who sold boot-leather. (Orelli, 4074, corpus corariorum magnariorum
“the guild of wholesale tawers,” for, as we have seen, salt was
used as well as alum for tawing.)
Greece and Italy were rich in cattle; but for all that there was a most
extensive import trade of hides to Greece, especially from the Black Sea
(Strab. xi. p.493
) and from Cyrene
(Hermippus Frag. 63, 4, ed. Kock); and to Rome from Sicily (Cic. Ver. 2.2, 6
), Asia Minor (ib. 1.38, 9), Germany (Tac.
), Britain (Strab. iv.
). It is in the highest degree remarkable that Homer does not
mention the skins of sheep or swine as used for leather, only those of oxen,
goats, and weasels (cf. κτιδέη κυνέη,
; see Riedenauer, op. cit.
note 238). In the Edict of Diocletian
(chap. viii.) we find that tanning was applied to the skins of oxen, goats,
sheep, kids, hyaenas, gazelles, stags, wolves, martens, beavers, bears,
seals, leopards, lions. As material for wearing, leather was principally
used for boots: for though in early times, both in Greece and Rome, it was
used extensively for clothes by all ranks (Varr. R. R.
2.11.11; Prop. 5.1
), in later times skins were only worn by rustics, mostly by
rustic slaves, and were called διφθέραι, σίττυβαι,
σίσυρναι, ἀρνακίδες, βαῖται, σπολάδες,
and Schol.; Vesp.
444; Poll. 7.70; Quint. Inst. 1.5.8
(For tanners among the ancients, see Blümner, Technol. u.
Term. der Gewerbe und Künste,
i. pp. 254-267; Daremberg
and Saglio, s. v. Coriarius;
Privatleben der Römer,