A fullo was a Roman fuller or cloth-launderer (plural: "fullones"), known from many inscriptions from Italy and the western half of the Roman Empire and references in Latin literature, e.g. by Plautus, Martialis and Pliny the Elder. A fullo worked in a fullery or "fullonica". There is also evidence that fullones dealt with cloth straight from the loom, though this has been doubted by some modern scholars. [ [http://www.ostia-antica.org/dict/topics/fullones/fullones.htm Ostia Topographical Dictionary] ] In some large farms, fulleries were built where slaves were used to clean the cloth. In several Roman cities, the workshops of fullones, have been found. The most important examples are in Ostia and Pompeii, but "fullonicae" also have been found in Delos and Florence. The workshops at Delos go back to the first century BC, while those in Ostia and Florence were built during the reign of the Emperors Trajan and Hadrian.

Method of Cleaning

When dirty clothes were received, they were first soaked in a large basin. For that reason, most fulleries feature a main hall that had many large tubs on the floor. Instead of soap, fullones used alkalis, like urine, to separate dirt and grease from the clothing. The urine may have come from animals or from containers that fullones left on street corners. Romans would often fill these containers with urine as they passed by.

On three sides of this main hall were terracotta bowls where clothes were placed and fullones jumped and “danced” on the clothes, thereby removing grease and brightening the colors. Seneca called this dance-like motion of the fullones the "saltus fullonicus". The fourth side of the main hall was used for beating the clothing, which not only dried the clothing but also made it more compact.

After becoming dry, wool was often brushed, with either the skin of a hedgehog or the thistle of plants. The cloth was then hung on a basket woven structure called a viminea cavea. [ Murray, J. (1875). "A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities". Pgs. 551-553] This structure can be seen in the figure above. Fullones added sulfur to white cloths to maintain the color, knowing that sulfur was volatile enough to destroy colors. On the other hand, a detergent called "fuller’s earth" was used to remove grease and maintain colors for colored clothing. According to Pliny the Elder, the work of fullones was taken very seriously and C. Flaminius and L. Aemilius wrote the proper method for fullones to practice in the Metilian Law. The law stressed the use of Cimolian earth to brighten and freshen colors that have faded due to sulfur. On the other hand, the law stated that the mineral saxum was useful for white clothing but harmful to colors. [ [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137&layout=&loc=35.57 Pliny the Elder, "Naturalis Historia", XXXV.57] ]

Health Risks

The detergents caused a foul smell and posed a health hazard to fullones. The "saltus fullonicus" was dangerous for fullones because it exposed their feet to dirty water for long periods of time, allowing bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. The urine and creta fullonica (fuller's earth) led to dry, thick skin. Also, sulphur exposure could lead to respiratory problems.

Legal and Religious Obligations

Fullones had a legal responsibility of the clothes they were washing. Fullones were subject to penalties if they returned the wrong clothes or damaged the clothes. Furthermore, clothes once washed were considered devalued. In fact, Emperor Elagabalus said that he would not touch linen that had been washed because such cloth had already been devalued. [ [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Historia_Augusta/Elagabalus/2*.html#26 Elagabalus, "Historia Augusta", IIVI.] ] Still, the profession of a fullo was highly reputable. Fullones in Ostia created their own guild, called Corpus Fontanorum.

These Roman launderers worshipped the goddess Minerva, as did many other professions. Therefore, the fullones were particularly involved with Quinquatrus, Minerva’s main feast held on March 19th. The feast often took place in a fullo's workshops. [ [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0062%3Aid%3Dfullo Peck, H. (1898). "Fullo at Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities". New York: Harper and Brothers.] ]


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  • fullo — *fullo germ.?, Maskulinum: nhd. Walker; ne. fuller; Rekontruktionsbasis: ae.; Interferenz: Lehnwort lat. fullo; Etymologie: s. lat. fullo, Maskulinum …   Germanisches Wörterbuch

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