previous next


FULLO (κναφεύς, γναφεύς), a fuller, a washer or scourer of cloth and linen. The fullones not only received the cloth as it came from the loom in order to scour and smooth it, but also washed and cleansed garments which had been already worn. As the Romans generally wore woollen dresses, which were often of a light colour, they frequently needed, in the hot climate of Italy, a thorough purification. The way in which this was done has been described by Pliny and other ancient writers, but is most clearly explained by some paintings which have been found on the walls of a fullonica at Pompeii. Two of these paintings are given by Gell (Pompeiana, vol. ii. pll. 51, 52), and the whole of them in the Museo Borbonico (vol. iv. pll. 49, 50); from the latter of which works the following cuts have been taken. The clothes were first washed, which was done in tubs or vats (lacus, lacunae), or mortars (pilae fullonicae, Cat. Agr. 10.5; 14.2), where they were trodden upon and stamped by the feet of the fullones, whence Seneca (Ep. 15) speaks of saltus fullonicus. The various operations of the κναφεῖς are described by Hippocrates (de Diaeta, 1.14): καὶ οἱ γναφέες τωὐτὸ διαπράσσονται:

Fullones. (From a painting at Pompeii.)

λακτίζουσι, κόπτουσι, ἕλκουσι λυμαινόμενοι, ἰσχυρότερα ποιέουσι, κελροντες τὰ ὑπερέχοντα καὶ παραπλέκοντες καλλίω ποιέουσι. The foregoing woodcut represents four persons thus employed, of whom three are boys, probably under the superintendence of the man. Their dress is tucked up, leaving the legs bare; the boys seem to have done their work, and to be wringing the articles on which they had been employed.

The ancients were not acquainted with soap until the time of Pliny, who once mentions sapo as a Gallic invention (H. N. 28.191); they used in its stead different kinds of alkaline detergents (ῥύμματα, Plat. Rep. 4.429 E). The following were the principal substances employed:--1. A species of lye or potash called κονία, Lat. lixivium (Plat. Rep. 4.430 A; Aristoph. Ach. 18, Ran. 712; Pollux, 7.39). 2. Nitrum, or native carbonate of soda (νίτρον, Att. λίτρον), of which Pliny (Plin. Nat. 31.106 ff.) gives a long account. The best nitrum came from Chalastra or Chalestra in Macedonia, whence χαλεστραῖον,, scil. λίτρον (Plat. l.c.; Plin. l. >c. § § 107, 115); it was also found in Egypt in large quantities, but of inferior quality (Hdt. 2.86; Plin. l.c. § § 109, 111). The νίτρον καὶ φῦκος of Theocritus (Idyll. 15.16), sometimes explained as cosmetics, are more probably a mineral and a vegetable alkali used for washing wool; κονία was prepared from nitrum (Aristoph. Frogs 712). 3. Fuller's earth (creta fullonia, Plin. Nat. 17.46), a sort of alkaline marl, of which there were many varieties; the most celebrated was from the island of Cimolos (Κιμωλία γῆ, Aristoph. Frogs 713; Theophr. Char. 10 and 18 ; Strab. x. p.484; Ov. Met. 7.463; and especially Plin. Nat. 35. § § 195-198). The Sardinian was also good, but destructive to colours, and hence only suitable for white garments or for the first rough washing of those which were afterwards to be smartened--up (poliri, Plin. l.c.; cogi, conciliari, Varr. L. L. 6.43) with Umbrian or Cimolian earth. We must distinguish between fuller's earth, mixed with the water in which the clothes were washed, and the ordinary creta, used like pipeclay for whitening the togas of the candidati (Plaut. Aulul. 4.9, 6). 4. The urine of men and animals, mentioned in this connexion by Mnesitheus, an Athenian physician of (probably) the fourth century B.C. (ap. Ath. 11.484 a), but in more general use among the Romans. The fullones derived their supply of it from the public latrines (Mart. 6.93, 12.48; DOLIUM); and they are supposed by Casaubon and others to have paid the urinae vectigal raised by Vespasian (Suet. Vesp. 23).

After the clothes had been washed, they were hung out to dry, and were allowed to be placed in the street before the doors of the fullonica. (Dig. 43, tit. 10, s. 1.4.) When dry, the wool was brushed and carded to raise the nap, sometimes with the skin of a hedgehog (Plin. H. N. 8.135), and sometimes with some plants of the teasel kind (γναφικὴ ἀκάνθη, Dioscor. Mat. Med. 4.160; spina fullonia, Plin. Nat. 16.244, 24.111, 27.92). The carding instrument is called in Greek κνάφος (Schol. ad Aristoph. Pl. 166), in Latin aena (Plin. ll. cc.). The clothes were then hung on a vessel of basket-work (viminea cavea), under which sulphur was placed in order to whiten the cloth; for it was well known that many colours were [p. 1.882]destroyed by the volatile steam of sulphur. (Apul. Met. ix. p. 208; Plin. Nat. 35.175; Pollux, 7.41.) The preceding account is well illustrated by the first of the two following woodcuts.

On the left we see a fullo brushing or carding a white tunic, suspended over a rope, with a card or brush, which bears considerable resemblance

Fullones. (From a painting at Pompeii.)

to a modern horse-brush. On the right, another man carries a frame of wicker-work, which was without doubt intended for the purpose described above; he has also a pot in his hand, perhaps intended for holding the sulphur. On his head he wears a kind of garland, which is supposed to be an olive garland, and above him an owl is represented sitting. It is thought that the olive garland and the owl indicate that the establishment was under, the patronage of Minerva, the tutelary goddess of the loom. On the left, a well-dressed female is sitting, examining a piece of work which a younger girl brings to her. A reticulum [see p. 499 a] upon her head, a necklace, and bracelets denote a person of higher rank than one of the ordinary work-people of the establishment

In the following woodcut we see a young man in a green tunic giving a piece of cloth, which appears to be finished, to a woman, who wears a green under-tunic, and over it a yellow tunic

Fullones. (From a painting at Pompeii.)

with red stripes. On the right is another female in a white tunic, who appears to be engaged in cleaning one of the cards or brushes. Among these paintings there was a press, worked by two upright screws, in which the cloth was placed to be smoothened. A drawing of this press is given on p. 464 a.

The establishment or workshop of the fullers was called Fullonica (Dig. 39, tit. 3, s. 3), Fullonicum (Dig. 7, tit. 1, s. 13.8), or Fullonium (Ammian. 14.11.31); fullonum officina (Plin. Nat. 35.175). Of such establishments there were great numbers in Rome, for the Romans do not appear to have washed at home even their linen clothes (Martial, 14.51). The word πλύνειν denoted the washing of linen, and κναφεύειν or γναφεύειν the washing of woollen, clothes. (Athen. 13. 582d; Pollux, 7.39, 40, 41.; Eustath. ad Od. 24.148, p. 1956, 41.) To large farms a fullonica was sometimes attached, in which the work was performed by the slaves who belonged to the familia rustica (Varro, R. R. 1.16). Woollen garments which had been once washed were considered to be less valuable than they were previously (Petron. 30; Lamprid. Heliog. 26); hence Martial (10.11) speaks of a toga lota terque quaterque as a poor present.

The trade of the fullers was considered so important that the censors C. Flaminius and L. Aemilius, B.C. 220, prescribed the mode in which the dresses were to be washed (Plin. Nat. 35.197). Like other principal trades in Rome, the Fullones formed a collegium or sodalicium (Fabretti, Insc. p. 278 ; Orelli, 3291 Mommsen, Inscr. Regn. Neap. 2208; Orelli, 4056, 4091) under the protection of Minerva, the patroness of handicrafts (Id. 4091, 7240). As regards legal liability, the fullo was answerable or the property wile it was in his possession; and if he returned by mistake a different garment from the one he had received, he was subject an action ex locato; to which action he was also liable if the garment was injured (Dig. 19, tit 2 s. 13 § 6 s. 60 § 2; 12, tit. 7, s. 2)

(Schöttgen, Antiquitates Triturae et Fulloniae, Traj. ad Rhen. 1727; Beckmann, Hist. of Inventions, 2.92 ff., ed. Bohn; Becker-Göll, Charikles, 1.316; Gallus, 3.306 ff.; Hermann-Blümner, Privatalterth. 415; Marquardt, Privatl. 511; and especially Blümner, Technol. 1.157 ff.)

[W.S] [W.W]

hide References (13 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (13):
    • Aristophanes, Acharnians, 18
    • Aristophanes, Frogs, 712
    • Aristophanes, Frogs, 713
    • Aristophanes, Plutus, 166
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.86
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 7.463
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 17.46
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 14.11.31
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.11
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 12.48
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.51
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 6.93
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: