Caftan covered in Syrian Silk
9th century
The Hermitage Museum

Silk and Cotton:

Rare Fibers

The History of Silk

  • By the 6th century A.D. the methods of unreeling and processing silk worm cocoons were known in Byzantium
  • The manufacture of silk in western Europe began in the 11th and 12th centuries A.D., mostly in Spain and Sicily, but lots of silk was still imported from the Middle East and China, as cloth or thread.
  • By the 13th century A.D. silk throwing using water power was used in Tuscany: the first mechanized textile mill
  • In 1565, there were around ten thousand silk looms in use in Genoa
  • At the beginning of the 17th century, Verona produced 150,000 lbs silk anually, while Venice produced 800,000 yards of silk fabric


  • Scarce outside the Mediterranean throughout most of the Middle Ages.
  • Grew in land controlled by the Muslim Caliphate, which made it expensive to trade.


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