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CAR´BASUS (κάρπασος), “cotton,” from Sansk. karpâsa, was an Eastern product, originally called ἔρια ἀπὸ ξύλου (cf. German Baumwolle), “superior in beauty and quality to the wool of sheep” (Hdt. 3.106). Herodotus also mentions it in his account of the corslet Amasis of Egypt had given the Lacedaemonians (3.47). It was brought by the Phoenicians into Spain: and indeed Pliny (19.10) is of opinion that it was originally found near Tarraco. The Greeks first got a real knowledge of it from the expedition of Alexander (Strab. 693, 694; Plin. Nat. 12.38 ff.). It is described by Theophrastus (H. P. 4, 9 init., ed. Budaeus a Stempel, and of his notes, pp. 425 ff.) and by Pliny in various passages. The Latin term Pliny uses (12.39) is gossypium. The common kind, grown in India, had small leaves like a mulberry, buds like a dog-rose (12.25), and fruit like apples (19.14). The cotton plant among the Arabians and in the island of Tylos in the Persian Gulf had a gourd-like fruit about the size of quince apples, and was called cyna (12. § § 38, 39; cf. Theophr. l.c.). The finest cotton was got in Egypt; its fruit presented the appearance of nux barbata, and from the fine substance within the husk the yarn was spun. The Egyptian priests used to wear garments made of this cotton. The article is called κάρπασος in Schol. on Ar. Lys. 736, and is mentioned by Caecilius Statius (ap. Non. 548, 15) about 180 B.C. This seems to be the earliest time we hear of cotton at Rome: for we cannot suppose the Vestal in Prop. 5.3, 54, to have really worn a cotton garment. Carbasus was used at Rome not only for articles of dress, but also for tent curtains (Cic. Ver. 5.12, § 30), sails (Verg. A. 3.357), awnings in the theatre (Lucr. 6.109). There was no great distinction maintained in ordinary language between cotton and linen (Catull. 64, 227; Prop. 5.3, 64: cf. also Becker-Göll, Charikles, 3.233 ; Gallus, 3.289), and σινδὼν ( “Indian muslin” ) is confused with linen stuffs (Auson. Epp. parecbas. 2, “puer eia surge et calceos et linteam da sindonem” ). Ὀθόνη] is not the same as κάρπασος in that it does not apply to the same article, and is used of any fabric woven from byssus flax or cotton (Marq. Privat. 473). In Malta there were a great many manufactories of ὀθόνια (Diod. 5.12) which were called vestis melitensis at Rome (Cic. Ver. 2.72, § 176; 74.183). This may have been cotton brought by the Phoenician colonists (Mövers, 2.2, 347; Blümner, Gewerb. Thätigkeit, p. 125), or, as Yates (Textrinum, p. 286) thinks, linen. Silius indeed (14.250) speaks of telâque superba lanigerâ Melite; but, in the confusion of ideas that existed among the average Romans between linen and cotton, this does not prove much. Raw cotton was used as stuffing for pillows and bolsters (τύλαι) at Tralles, Antinoopolis, and Damascus: see Ed. Diocl. 18.46, ed. Wadd., p. 41, and a secondary meaning of tula in Sansk. is cotton. The Macedonians with Alexander had already (Strab. 693) used it as stuffing for pillows and padding for saddles (ἀντὶ κναφάλλων καὶ τῆς σάγμασι σαγῆς). On the subject of cotton among the ancients, see Marquardt, Röm. Privatleben, pp. 470-474. For the botany of cotton, see Royle, Culture of Cotton in India, pp. 136 sqq.


hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.106
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.2.176
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.5.30
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 3.357
    • Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, 6.109
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 12.38
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 19.10
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 5.12
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