Organizing the Workshop

Water Management in Roman fullonicae
Mika Flohr
During the last two decades water historians have become increasingly interested in the ways in which water was distributed and used in Roman eities.1 This foeus on the more tangible aspects of water management has brought about interesting diseussions about the various types of micro-scale water systems, such as public and private baths, fountains, latrines and houses, and has invited scholars to think more deeply about the social questions related to the urban uses of water. In this respect, it is remarkable that the uses of water in urban workshops have remained an almost completely neglected area: almost ail kinds of workshops needed water to some degree and several kinds of workshops needed water in extremely large quantities. Moreover, their uses of water are espeeially relevant to issues of hygiene and sarutation. Probably the largest consumers of water in the economic sector were the fullones, who washed and finished woollen clothes. Their demand for water emerges in various documents from all over the Roman world. Frontinus mentions that the water flowing over from public fountains was to be used only by fullers or bath complexes, not by private persons. 2 Two inscriptions from Antioch commemorate the construction of a long fullers' channel during the reign of Vespasianus.3 In Hellenistic EI Fayoum, half of the total capacity of the aqueduct was reserved for fuIling. 4 When one realises that fuilers needed such amounts of water that it was a reason for governmental policy, it becomes interesting for a water historian to see what they did with it: for what purposes did they need it? How did they get it? What did they actually do with it? How did they get rid of it?

For a discussion of the water management in Roman fullonicae, abasie understanding of how the Romans fulled clothes is indispensable. Here, however, we encounter a problem. In the 19 th and 20 th centuries, several scholars have tried to reconstruct the Roman fulling process. 5 They did so in a way that was the most common practice in their

days: emphasis was laid on the references to fulling in ancient literature. Scholars took care to fit every piece of written evidence into one aIl-encompassing account of the 'standard' Roman fulling process; consequently, they vaguely presented the fulling process as a nearly endless succession of phases including all kinds of activities aceidentally ascribed to fullers by Roman authors. 6 The preeise order of these activities varied from scholar to scholar. By our standards, these 'traditional' approaches seem methodologically ill-balanced: archaeological and iconographical data were used to illustrate the conclusions but their interpretation played only a lirnited role in building up the pieture. Hence, there is a wide gap between these text-based reconstructions and the material remains of fullonicae at Pompeii or Ostia. Moreover, little is known about the spatial organisation of the fulling process. For our present purpose, it is therefore necessary to re-assess the fulling process from an archaeological perspective. Our most logical starting point is the material evidence from Ostia and Pompeii. The fullonicae in these eities have sirnilar provisions and thus can be related to the same production process. Moreover, there is a direct link between these workshops and the written evidence, since on the walls of some of the Pompeian establishments election notices mentioningfullones have been found.7 The fullonicae at Pompeii and Ostia have been relatively weil preserved compared to others, but it must be emphasized that even in these workshops not much remains of portable instruments or wooden furniture. This means that part of the production process can not really be traced in the archaeological record. Parts, however, can. In all Ostian and most Pompeian fullonicae, two types of installations can be found. Typical are the narrow niches surrounded by low walls often referred to as 'fulling stalls' . On the bottom of the ruche, a tub was placed or built in (fig. 1).8 As is depicted on a painting from fullonica VI 8, 20 at Pompeii, the ruches were used by workers treating cloths by trampling and scrubbing them and wringing them out (fig. 2). Sometimes, the inner side of preserved fulling tubs is covered with a


Fig. 1. Ostia, fullonica I, xiii, 3, fulling stalls.

Fig. 2. Pompeii, fullonica VI 8, 20: painting of fullers working in fu lling stalls.

Fig. 3. Ostia, fullonica II, iv, 13: rinsing basin.

Fig. 4. Ostia, fullonica II, xi, 1: rinsing complex.

Fig. 5. Pompeii, fullonica I 6, 7: working beneh.

Fig. 6. Pompeii, fullonica VI 8, 20: rinsing complex


thin layer of a whitish substance. Chemical analysis of this residue in a recently excavated fullonica at Barcelona has revealed traces of ash, calcium carbonate and urine, detergents also related to fullers by Plinius Major. 9 As it seems, fulling stalls were used to soap the clothes with a mixture of chemicals (and, probably, some water). In some jullonicae, small terracotta storage jars sometimes were set into the walls between the niches. lO Other installations commonly found in Pompeian and Ostian fullonicae are basins - one or two in small workshops (fig. 3), three or four in the larger ones (fig. 4).11 The main function of these basins was to rinse the soaped clothes in fresh water. In most fullonicae, the basins are on a lower level than the surrounding working space in order to be accessible. Together with the appearance of working benches in some basins (fig. 5), this implies that this 'rinsing' was more than just soaking and maybe also included dirt-removing operations like e.g. brushing. This is confirmed by the sediment-analysis in Barcelona, where, along with traces of lavender, needles of thistles were found in the drain of the fullonica.1 2 In large workshops, the basins of one complex differ from each other: at Pompeii, one basin often has a higher water level than the others have and is not accessible (fig. 6); some basins have benches, others not. This presupposes a differentiation within the rinsing complex. I will return to that below. We can assurne that the clothes passed through the fulling stalls before entering the rinsing complex: there is no sense in soaping clothes after you have rinsed them. In most fullonicae the fulling stalls are located directly next to or around the rinsing complex. This suggests that the rinsing immediately followed the soaping. After the rinsing, the clothes were clean, but they had to be made ready for the customer to take them horne. This third part of the process can be referred to as 'finishing'. It is hard to say what this 'finishing' actually consisted of. Various treatments were necessary. Of course, the clothes had to be dried. Various authors mention further activities that can be related to this part of the fulling process, but as there is virtually no archaeological evidence and the literary references are often not very explicit, it is hard to make sense of it. Iconographic evidence suggests that brushing was common and there is considerable evidence for cloth-presses, both iconographic and archaeological. 13 Of the other activities (like, e.g., sulphuring), it is hard to say how common they were and when they . were performed.


Now that we have an idea about the Roman way of fulling, we can turn to our main subject: the water management in fullonicae. Fresh water was a conditio sine qua non for a fulling workshop. Most workshops were directly connected to the urban water network, though sm aller workshops sometimes used alternative ways to fulfil their water needs: the small fullery V I, 2 at Pompeii shared a street fountain with the two tinctoriae (dyehouses) next door (V I, 4 and V I, 5); jullonica VI 16, 6 got its water from a cistern. Water usually was supplied through lead pipes leading directly to the rinsing complex. In some fulleries at Ostia, the water first passed through a small basin on the border of the rinsing complex.1 4 Without exception, the entire complex was fed from one single point. In many jullonicae, traces of the mouthing of the water pipe are still visible on the borders of the rinsing complex. In the large jullonica in the Via degli Augustali in Ostia (, vii, 3), a small block of travertine in the south wall of the rinsing complex reveals a groove for the lead pipe (fig. 7). A broadening in the groove may indicate the presence of a tap with which the supply of water could be regulated.1 5 In most other fullonicae, the mouth of the water supply was built into the wall; in these cases, the presence of a tap is unlikely. The large jullonica in the Via della Fullonica at Ostia was probably served by an underground channel, which mouthed in the east wall of the northern basin (fig. 8).16

This brings us to the way water was used in the rinsing complexes. All complexes were fed from one single point and most complexes had only one outlet at the opposite side,17 Theoretically, a rinsing complex can have had a stagnant water system, in which the water stood still and had to be refreshed all in once, or a flowing water system, in which there was a continuous flow of fresh water through the complex. The archaeological difference between these two water systems is in itself not entirely straightforward, since a flowing system can easily be turned into a stagnant system by blocking the drain with a piece of stone or metal and closing the tap. However, the presence of overflows and the probable absence of taps in many jullonicae suggest that most rinsing complexes were meant to function as flowing water systems.


A good example is the large jullonica of the Via della Fullonica at Ostia (fig. 4). Here, the fresh water entered the complex in the northern basin (fig. 8). The water went through all three basins and left the complex at the south side of the third basin. There are no signs of taps or other means of regulation and there are overflows between all basins and above the drain (fig. 9). It must also be mentioned that the large capacity of the complex makes it improbable that the whole complex was renewed at once: this simply would have cost too much time.1 8 The fact that most fullonicae had flowing water systems has an important implication if the rinsing complex consisted of more than one basin: when you throw the soaped clothes into the basins to be rinsed, the water will absorb the dirt and the soap: the cleaning of the clothes pollutes the water. The water of the first basin is polluted by the clothes rinsed there, then flows to the second and absorbs more pollution of the clothes rinsed there, and then to the third where it absorbs even more dirt. Thus, the water quality decreases from basin to basin and if every basin had the same function, clothes rinsed in the third basin would end up dirtier than clothes rinsed in the first basin. In that case, it would have been more efficient to have one large basin instead of several sm aller ones. Thus, as suggested above, the basins of the rinsing complex must have had slightly different functions. It may be suggested that the clothes gradually moved from 'dirty' to 'clean' water: after the soaping, the clothes were first rinsed in the third basin, then in the second and finally in the first. Besides the water management, there are several indications supporting this interpretation. At the three largest fullonicae at Ostia, the rinsing complex is surrounded by fulling stalls on three sides. The fourth side was occupied with other provisions. In all cases, this is the side directly behind the outlet of the water supply (i.e. where the rinsed clothes left the water). Further, the working benches that sometimes can be found in the basins only appear in the last basin or in the last but one and never in the first basin with the cleanest water. The higher, inaccessible basin found in some Pompeian fullonicae always is the first basin. This also implies that the intensity of the additional treatments decreases with the proceeding of the rinsing process: the clothes probably were brushed or scrubbed in the first stages of the rinsing process, whereas the last stage mainly consisted of soaking. The differentiation within the rinsing procedure had one major advantage: it made it possible to rinse three or four times more clothes than when

there would have been one large rinsing basin.19 It may be suggested that the organisation of the rinsing complexes in large Roman fullonicae points to the economically rational wish to maximize the efficiency of the fulling process.

Using water produces wastewater. In addition to the water from the rinsing complex, fullers also had to get rid of the mixture of chemieals and water from the fulling stalls. In large jullonicae, these seem to have been collected in sm all gutters immediately before the stalls and then were transported to the drain where they were mixed with the water from the rinsing complex (fig. 10, 11).20 At Ostia, the gutters sometimes emptied themselves into the last basin, emphasizing that the water quality in this basin had less priority than that in the other ones. The collected wastewater of a jullonica left the workshop through a drain leading into the normal urban system of discharge. This me ans that at Ostia the water was transported through sewers below the street surface. At Pompeii however, the discharge system of the large fullonicae mouthed on to the streets (fig. 12): the dirty mix of water and chemieals ran through the streets and was visible and smellable for all citizens walking through the town. Apparently, this was no big problem, since otherwise, Pompeian fullers would have been forced to get rid of their wastewater in some other way. This raises a fundamental question, since Roman archaeologists often present fulling as a filthy, stinky business: how dirty was fulling? Al:, it seems, fulling was less 'dirty' than usually is assumed. 21 It could even take place in private houses: at Pompeii, the three large fullonicae were part of complexes combining residential and industrial functions .22 Equally, the discharge of wastewater from fulleries through the streets of a city was not really causing any trouble: indeed, fullen; used urine, but its nasty smells must have disappeared in the large amounts of water used to wash it away; moreover, they used lavender during the rinsing procedure to give their products a nice smell. 23

The jullonicae at Ostia and Pompeii are the result of a long process of rationalizing the fulling process, which must have begun many centuries before the oldest recognisable fullonica was built. It is hard to reconstruct or even trace the steps in this


Fig. 7. Ostia, fullonica 11; viii, 3, outlet of the water suppZy.

Fig. 8. Ostia, fullonica n xi, t outlet of the water suppZy.

Fig. 9. Ostia, fullonica xi, 1, entrance to drain and overflow.


Fig. 10. Pompeii, fullonica VI 14,21.22: higher fulling stalls, drainage system.

Fig. 11. Pompeii, fullonica VI 14, 21.22: Zower fulling stalls, drainage system.

Fig. 12. Pompeii, fullonica VI 14,21.22: mouth of the drain on the Via deZ Vesuvio.


process of rationalization, but the process succeeded in producing well-organized workshops of a scale we do not know from the medieval period. At first sight, there might seem to be considerable differences between the fullonicae at Ostia and the ones at Pompeii. The workshops at Ostia are much larger and have a regular layout, the workshops at Pompeii are modest in size and less regular in layout - they also look very different from each other, whereas the Ostian fulleries seem more or less similar. However, it must be stressed that, in the end, all these fullonicae functioned in a similar way. In the organization of these workshops, the water management was of paramount interest. Especially in the rinsing complexes, water was used in a relatively advanced manner. This succeeded in improving the efficiency of the workshop. If the Romans would not have built differentiated rinsing complexes, they would not have been able to build jullonicae on the scale of the large Ostian workshops. The high degree of rationalization permitted an enormous increase in scale; we may imagine that these workshops functioned in almost industrial manner.





15 16









I thank Gemma Jansen and Gilbert Wiplinger for inviting me to the congress. The Royal Dutch Institute at Rome awarded me two research grants, without which this contribution would have been impossible. The Radboud University at Nijmegen financially supported my trip to the congress. Frontinus, de Aqu. 94. Feissel1985, 77-103. P. Oxy. Griffith 55. E.g. Marquardt 1886, 527-530; Blümner 1912, 170-190; Jakob 1921, 1349 ff; Pernier, 317; Wipszycka 1965, 129145; Moeller 1978, 18-24. E.g. washing, drying, rinsing, beating, shaving, sulphuring, carding and pressing. E.g. on the walls of fullonicae I 4, 7 (CIL Iv, 998), I 6, 7 (CIL Iv, 7164), VI 14, 21.22 (CIL Iv, 3478) and VI 15, 3 (CIL Iv, 3529). This epigraphic link is even more explicit than the paintings from fullonica VI 8, 20 at Pompeü. Cf. Wilson 2003, 443. In Ostia, fullones used built-in terracotta tubs. At Pompeü, most fulling stalls lack a bottom, which indicates the use of portable tubs of lead or wood. In one fullery (VI 16, 6) traces of wood have been found in the filling of a hole in the bottom of one of the niches. Cf. Seiler 1992, 72. Beltran de Heredia BercerolJordi y Tresserras 2000, 242, tab. 1. Plinius Major, NH XXXV; 195-198. Infullonica VI 16, 6 at Pompeü, traces of calcium carbonate have been found; cf. Seiler 1992, 72. E.g. in fullonica VI 8, 20 and V 1, 2 at Pompeü and in fullonica Iv, 5-7 in Herculaneum. Cf. Maiuri 1958, 422, n.218.





The smallest Pompeian fullonicae do not reveal any traces of basins. Probably, they used portable installations. Beltran de Heredia Bercero / Jordi y Tresserras·2000, 242. Brushing is e.g. shown on paintings from fullonica VI 8, 20 and the House of the Vettü (VI 15, 1) at Pompeii and on arelief from Sens (see Esperandieu 1912, 11-12). Remains of presses have been found at Pompeii lfullonica 16, 7 and VI 14, 21 .22) and Herculaneum (Ill, 10); a detailed depiction of a cloth press is found on the paintings from fullonica VI 8, 20. These basins have been found at the large fullonica of the Via della Fullonica (11, xi, 1), in the one recently excavated behind the temple of the Fabri Navales (III, ii; Cf. de Ruyt, 1996,5-16.) and in the small establishment along the Cardo (I xiii, 3). The idea behind these basins is not entirely clear. They seem too small to perform a role in the rinsing procedure. Presumably, they were intended as an accessible source for fresh, clean water. At the same point, several small holes have been carved out in the sides of the groove, probably to fix the tap. The same opening was interpreted by the excavator as an overflow. This is strange, since the opening is on a higher level than the overflow in the south wall of the basin and thus above water level. The irregularity in the floor below the opening probably must be seen as an ancient repair of erosion damage caused by the continuous pressure of water flowing from the channel to the basin. Cf. Pietrogrande 1976, 3l. The only exception is fullonica VI 14, 21.22 at Pompeü where all three basins have their own outlet. It cannot be excluded that the water was refreshed once a day, during the night, but this would have had the obvious dis advantage that the quality of the product decreased in the course of the day. Depending on the number of basins. In smaller fullonicae, the fulling stalls were situated in the middle of a sm all platform surrounded by ridgetiles preventing the wastewater from polluting the entire workshop; examples are fullonicae I 10, 6 and VI 16, 6 at Pompeii. Cf. Seiler 1992, fig. 511; Elia 1934, 277, fig. 7. Such assumptions about tne dirtirless of fulling are widespread among scholars. See e.g. Richardson 1988, 20-21 and, more recently, Bradley 2002, 21-44. Flohr 2003, 448. Beltran de Heredia Bercero /Juan y Tresserras 2000, 242.


Beltran de Heredia Bercero, J./J. Jordi y Tresserras 2000, Nuevas aportaciones para el estudio de las fullonicae y tinctoriae en el munda romano. Resultados de las investigaciones arqueol6gicas y arqueometricas en las instalaciones de la colonia de Barcino (Barcelona, Espafta), in D. Cardon/M. Feugere (eds), Archeologie des

textiles des origins au Ve siede. Actes du colloque de Lattes,
Montagnac, 241-246. Blümner, H. 1912, Technologie und Terminologie der Gewerbe und Künste bei Griechen und Römern I, Leipzig. Bradley, M. 2002, "It all comes out in the wash" Looking harder in the Roman fullonica, JRA 15, 21-44. De Ruyt, C. 1996, RBAH 65,1996,5-16. Elia, O. 1934, NSc 58, 277 ff. Esperandieu, E. 1912, Recueil general des bas-reliefs de la Gaule romaine III, Paris.


Feissel, D. 1985, Deux listes de quartiers d ' Antioche astreints au creusement d' un canal (73-74 apres J.-c.), Syria 62,77-103. Flohr, M. 2003, Fullones and Roman society. A reconsideration, IRA 16, 447-450. Jakob, A 1921, Daremberg-Saglio II 1921, 1349-1352, s.v. Fullonica. Maiuri, A 1958, Ercolano. I nuovi scavi, Rome. Marquardt, J. 1886, Das Privatleben der Römer II, Leipzig. Moeller, W. 1978, The Wool Trade of Ancient Pompeii, Leiden. P. Oxy, B.P. Grenfeld/ AS. Hunt (eds.), The Oxyrhyncus Papyri, London 1898 ff.

Pernier 1922, DEAR I (1922) 317 s.v. Fullones. Pietrogrande, AL. 1976, Le fulloniche, Scavi di Ostia 8, Rome. Richardson Jr., L. 1988, Pompeii. An Architectural History, Baltimore. Seiler, F. 1992, Häuser in Pompeji 5. Casa degli Amorini Dorati (VI 16, 7.38), Munieh. Wilson, A 2003, The archaeology of the Roman fullonica, IRA 16, 442-446. Wipszycka, E. 1965, L'industrie textile dans l'Egypte romaine, Wroclaw.


Related Interests