Is it samitum?

From Wikipedia: “Samite was a luxurious and heavy silk fabric worn in the Middle Ages, of a twill-type weave, often including gold or silver thread. The word was derived from Old French samit, from medieval Latin samitum, examitum deriving from the ByzantineGreek ἑξάμιτον hexamiton “six threads”, usually interpreted as indicating the use of six yarns in the warp.”

“Structurally, samite is a weft-faced compound twill, plain or figured (patterned), in which the main warp threads are hidden on both sides of the fabric by the floats of the ground and patterning wefts, with only the binding warps visible.”

It seems that the textile, to be called “samitum”, needs to be silk and and have warp threads mostly hidden, and more than one weft.

On the pictures, made by the wonderful Angelika in a museum in Stockholm, next to the remnants of the tablet woven band there’s a very interesting piece of fabric. Here’s why I called “samitum!” the moment I saw it 🙂

Angelica’s picture:


I suspect it’s samitum with a pattern, hence the different structures, but I focused on this part:


At first I thought there’s something similar in it to the pictures I saw in dr Małorzata Grupa’s article about bands from Kałdus (The paper can be found here), but that’s not exactly it – the bands from Poland may be woven in samitum technique, but they look as if they were heddle-woven.

If you search “samitum” in google graphics, that won’t be of much help, but – if you look at Pinterest collections – you will surely find this:

And the above will lead you to this:

where one of the pictures is a closeup:


The description for this piece of fabric says:

“There are four pieces of samite with the same pattern, one is now in the British Museum collection and three are in the V&A.”

Doesn’t it resemble closely the fabric from grave 965?

Other examples from British Museum include:


Same fabric, back view:

Notice how on the above picture the technique seems to be plain weave? This may also be visible in another place on the fabric from Stockholm:


Maybe – this part isn’t clear enough to be certain.

Back to samitum examples from the British Museum:


Back of the above fabric:


And another one:




Also, all of these examples are from the right period of time.

However, the last example from the British Museum provides another clue. Notice how on parts of the fabric the warp threads seem to be completely on the front? Like here:


samitum 5 grave 965.jpg

Now this piece in the British Museum is composed of four different weaves (fabrics? Definately more than one fabric):


The samite is the one with lions. The description says:

“The borders of the body panel and the head of the tie are made of samite with confronting lions inside a pearl roundel, while the fastening band is of hemp. The pattern of the samite can be reconstructed, repeating 32 cm in the warp direction and 22-23 cm in the weft direction. A large number of similar textiles, considered to be typically Sogdian, has been preserved in European cathedrals from the medieval
period; and this piece from Dunhuang shows that this type of textile was also appreciated in the east. There is another sutra wrapper in the same fabric in the Pelliot collection at the Musée Guimet (EO.1199).
Textile scholars often refer to ‘Sogdian textiles’ as zandaniji, which was also recorded in Chinese history as Zandanniqi Shadalaqi. There can be little doubt that the samite silk with this sort of pattern corresponds with the term fan jin ‘foreign-style silk’ which appears frequently in the late Tang dynasty documents found in Cave 17.”

“a. Samite
Warp: silk, Z twisted, triple, undyed, 14 triples/cm; Weft: silk, untwisted, white, green, blue, faded red, 24 passes/cm. Weave structure: 1/2S weft-faced compound twill, so called samite weave.”



And here, at the bottom – the warp threads seem to all come to the front. I think this is a closeup of the eye of the lion on the bottom right (possibly mirrored?), but on the bigger pictures there’s no sign of these warp threads being visible, so maybe it’s a closeup of some other part.

Maybe the warp threads were intentionally brought to front, or maybe it’s just wear and tear? No idea, never wove samitum 😉

Another source of samitum pictures is the Victoria and Albert Museum:

Here’s a bigger picture:


It’s as big as it gets, the point is you can see there’s a similar pattern to the weave.

More from Pinterest:


Same weave…

So, in conclusion – I know there’s nothing certain to be said if you can’t dissect the fabric, but from the looks of it – I would put my bet on samitum, that somehow found it’s way to Birka from a weaver’s workshop somewhere in Sogdia (or one of the Sogdian communities in China).



Research in Progress: Application of Digital Image Processing to Analysis of AD 7th-12th Century Eastern Mediterranean Silk Textiles by Julia Galliker, p. 48

Julia Galliker: Middle Byzantine Silk in Context, p. 82

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