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Keywords:

  • Berenike;
  • cotton;
  • India;
  • Roman;
  • sails;
  • webbing

A 1st-century AD midden deposit at Berenike, a major port on the trade route between the Roman Empire and India, has produced cotton textile fragments reinforced with a rectangular grid-pattern of cotton strips, interpreted as the remains of sails. Webbing fragments of cotton and linen, in some cases attached to stout cotton or linen cloth, may also have come from sails. The only published example of a Roman-Period sail is a linen sail of 1st-century BC-AD date from Thebes in Egypt, to which the Berenike fragments bear a close resemblance. The S-spun linen sails were presumably manufactured in Egypt. Most of the Berenike material, however, was of Z-spun cotton: an import, it is argued, of Indian origin. The construction of Mediterranean-type sails entirely from Indian materials has implications for the presence of Westerners on the Indian sub-continent.