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CORIA´RIUS

CORIA´RIUS (βυρσεύς, βυρσοδέψης, σκυτοδέψης, δερματομαλάκτης), a 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 or perficere for tanning, and depsere for tawing (see below); but it must be remembered that corium as well as scortum and aluta all signify prepared leather, in opposition to unprepared hide. In Wilmann's Ex. Inscr. 2738, 21, corium perfectum and pilosum are contrasted.

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 term tergora was applied to hides by the Romans, the tanned leather being called corium; and skins were called pelles. Curriers (pelliones) 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 Encyclopaedia Britannica, “by three processes or with three classes of substances. Thus we have (1) tanned 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 leather, 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. 23.140), or the seeds of the ἄμπελος λευκή 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 horse (θρᾶνος), which process was called θρανεύω (Arist. Eq. 369, 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, Arist. Ep. 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. H. P. 3.9 (10), 1; 14, 3), pomegranate (Plin. Nat. 23.107), but especially the leaves of rhus, which was hence called frutex coriarius (ib. 24.91; cf. Dioscor. 1.147); also gall-nuts (κηκίς, galla, 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 or terra-japonica, 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, 1).

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; στυπτηρία, Gloss. Labb.) applied. Salt was also sometimes used (Arist. Nub. 1237; cf. Cato, Cat. Agr. 135, 3). The product was naturally of a white colour (Ov. A. 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, 1) or scarlet (ib. 2.29, 8). This latter passage shows the softness of aluta (cf. ib. 12.26, 9). It was made into purses (Juv. 14.282), 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 ff. ) and also in Cato (Cat. Agr. 135, 3). 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 βύρσα σοῦ θρανεύσεται 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 (Ed. 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), madder (ἐρευθέδανον, Hdt. 4.189; rubia, Plin. Nat. 19.47), scarlet (coccum; cf. Mart. 2.29, 8), 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, Vopisc. Aurel. 49). Parchment, we know, was often coloured yellow or purple on the side not used (cf. Pers. 3.10; Isid. Orig. 6.11, 4).

We have seen shamoying was known to Homer. In Homer, too, an untanned ox-skin (ἀδέψητος βοέη, Od. 20.2 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 homerischen Zeiten, p. 139). But among the Romans tanners (σκυτοδέψαι) 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; also Suidas, βυρσοδέψης: σκυτοτόμος, τὰς βύρσας θεραπεύων). 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 magnariorumsalaiariorum; perhaps salariorum, “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. Ann. 4.72), Britain (Strab. iv. p.200). 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, Il. 10.335; 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, 12), in later times skins were only worn by rustics, mostly by rustic slaves, and were called διφθέραι, σίττυβαι, σίσυρναι, ἀρνακίδες, βαῖται, σπολάδες, mastrucae (Aristoph. Cl. 72 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; Marquardt, Privatleben der Römer, p. 570.)

[L.C.P]

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