Colouring the Mediterranean

Production and Consumption of Purple-dyed Textiles in Pre-Roman Times


  • Beatriz Marín-Aguilera University of Cambridge
  • Francesco Iacono University of Cambridge
  • Margarita Gleba University of Cambridge



dyeing, textiles, Bronze Age Mediterranean, chaîne opératoire, democratisation, globalisation, Iron Age Mediterranean, shellfish-purple


Purple textiles were highly valued in the ancient Mediterranean as a symbol of prestige, social status and power. Despite the numerous publications focused on the production and spread of purple dye technologies, the discussion regarding this particular dye has often been compartmentalised regionally (eastern or western Mediterranean) and chronologically (second or first millennium bc). The aim of this paper is threefold: (1) to propose a full chaîne opératoire for the production of shellfish-purple-dyed textiles; (2) to synthesise the archaeological evidence on production and consumption of such textiles in the entire Mediterranean before the Romans; and (3) to discuss the social implications of the production and consumption of these textiles, to gain a better understanding of their economic and social significance.

Open access: Attribution—Non Commercial—NoDerivs / CC BY-NC-ND

Author Biographies

Beatriz Marín-Aguilera, University of Cambridge

Beatriz Marín-Aguilera is currently a Renfrew Fellow at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, UK. She was awarded her PhD in Archaeology by the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain. While doing her PhD, she was based for a year at the University of Glasgow, for three months at the Spanish School for Archaeology in Rome, and three months at Brown University. Her research focuses on the archaeology of cultural contact and colonialism, particularly on the role of architecture, food habits and clothing in shaping borderland identities and power relationships in colonial situations.

Francesco Iacono, University of Cambridge

Francesco Iacono is currently a Marie Skłodowska Curie Research Fellow at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, UK. He was previously a Postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Aegean Prehistory. He completed his postgraduate education (both MA and PhD) at University College London.While doing his PhD, he was based for a year at the British School at Athens as Macmillan-Rodewald Fellow. His research interests range in scope from cultural heritage to Mediterranean archaeology, with a specific focus on Bronze Age connections between the Aegean and the central Mediterranean and the use of formal network methods to analyse them.

Margarita Gleba, University of Cambridge

Margarita Gleba is currently ERC Principal Research Associate at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, UK. She was previously a research project manager at the Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and Marie Curie Fellow at University College London. Her research interests include the archaeology of the pre- and protohistoric Mediterranean and Near East. She specialises in textile archaeology, including scientific analytical methods of fibre and textile investigation.


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Marín-Aguilera, B., Iacono, F., & Gleba, M. (2019). Colouring the Mediterranean: Production and Consumption of Purple-dyed Textiles in Pre-Roman Times. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 31(2), 127–154.