Tanning and Leather

Carol Van Driel-Murray

in The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780199734856
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Tanning and Leather

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  • Classical Studies
  • Greek and Roman Archaeology
  • Historical Archaeology


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Leather is antiquity's plastic, supplying a versatile, supple, hardwearing, and waterproof material. Tanning is often regarded as an industrial process of immense antiquity, with techniques virtually unchanged until modern times. Curing and tanning are the two basic forms of skin processing. Only anecdotal evidence is available for the nature of Greek tanneries, but for the Roman Empire, the massive scale of operations and the high degree of organization is attested in the size and variety of leatherwork complexes from northern Europe. The technology of skin processing underwent considerable development during antiquity in scale and technology. In the absence of detailed work on the subject in the Mediterranean area, the loss of technological knowledge after the fourth century ad in Western Europe cannot be verified elsewhere, though the development serves as a reminder that technology is intimately linked to social and economic factors governing its implementation.

Keywords: leather; tanning; curing; Roman Empire; Greek tanneries; Western Europe

Article.  4599 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Greek and Roman Archaeology ; Historical Archaeology

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