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Short story of wool

A brief history of wool at the turn of the centuries

The use of wool dates back to a very distant time, and was the product of nomadic or sedentary pastoralism; together with agriculture, it constituted an essential element in the economy of primitive man, so much so that livestock became a currency of exchange (hence the word pecunia, deriving from pecus, which means flock).
Breve storia della lana a cavallo dei secoli
Spiteful sheep

Already 4000 years ago the Babylonians were able to spin (in a very rudimentary way) the wool obtained from the sheep they raised for food use.

The processing of wool appears to be the pride of the Greek woman already in the Homeric era and in Rome it was the symbol of domestic virtues.

Famous for whiteness and finesse were the wools of Miletus, Attica and, in Italy, Taranto.

Source of a constantly advancing market, wool processing spread from the Middle East, Greece and Egypt, even to northern Italy and Spain; this gave birth to large corporations of lanarii, which had their major centers in Tiatira, Ephesus and, in Italy, in Brescia. In the Middle Ages, wool was at the center of a real industry and favored international trade with an intense exchange of raw materials, dyeing materials and artifacts, now extended to all European countries.

Ancient vase
Ancient vase dated to 550 b.C.

In Italy, the barbarian migrations caused a lot of damage to sheep farms;

for some centuries the market was not competitive and produced products of little value; in the sec. XIII there was a recovery through a large import from the Moorish countries first and then with its own production, which was later able to compete with the Flanders market.

At the center of this happy renaissance of wool throughout history were Tuscany and Lombardy with the cities of Lucca, Florence, Milan, Bergamo, Como, Monza, Brescia. The primacy was first the prerogative of Lucca, but then passed to Florence towards the end of the century. XIII.

In the mid-fourteenth century, Italy and Flanders faced English competition, which produced highly appreciated fabrics.
Ancient weaver
Miniature XIV century Egerton 1894 f2v
British library

The English industry became more and more flourishing up to cause in the sec. XVI the decline of Flemish and Italian wool products.

From the seventeenth century the wool industry extended in England to all regions; the factories took on the appearance of real factories, with a very advanced division of labor and a very acute socio-economic problem.

In 1810 Great Britain set up the first mechanical spinning mills and in the middle of the same century, worsted processing began. 

Spinning mill
Mechanical spinning wheel

At a later time, wool production also resumed in other countries and spread especially where the abundance of water facilitated processing, sheep breeding was more consistent and wool of better quality.

Subsequently it was the most industrialized countries that owned the largest wool industries; they mainly or exclusively used imported raw materials, relying on skilled labor and the proximity of large markets.

Wool industries have also sprung up in various developing countries, but most of them produce for their own consumption and in not too large quantities.


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