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 Byzantine Greek "hexamitum", indicating the use of six varying yarns in the warp [Fairchild's Dictionary of Textiles, 7th Edition, NY, 1996] . [ Donald King in Jonathan Alexander and Paul Binski (eds.), "Age of Chivalry, Art in Plantagenet England, 1200–1400", p.157. Royal Academy/Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London 1987. ISBN 0297791907.] Samite is still used in ecclesiastical robes, vestments, ornamental fabrics, and interior decoration. [George E. Linton, The Modern Textile Dictionary, NY, 1954, pg. 561]

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 ground and patterning wefts, with only the binding wefts visible.Anna Muthesius, "Silk in the Medieval World". In David Jenkins, ed.: "The Cambridge History of Western Textiles", Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0521341078, p.343] By the later medieval period, the term "samite" was applied to any rich, heavy silk material which had a satin-like gloss, [George S. Cole, "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods", Chicago, W. B. Conkey company, 1892] indeed "satin" began as a term for lustrous samite. ["Clothing Of The Thirteenth Century", 1928 [ on-line text] )]

Origins and spread to Europe

Fragments of samite have been discovered at many locations along the Silk Road [For an example, see [ "The Silk Road"] , Metropolitan Museum of Art website, retrieved 24 May 2008] , and are especially associated with Sassanid Persia [ [ "Woven Textiles: Textiles from Antiquity to the Renaissance", Gallery Les Enluminures] , retrieved 24 May 2008] . Samite was "arguably the most important" silk weave of Byzantium, and from the 9th century Byzantine silks entered Europe via the Italian trading ports. Vikings, connected through their direct trade routes with Constantinople, were buried in samite embroidered with silver-wound threads in the tenth century. [ [ Carolyn Priest-Dorman, "Viking Embroidery"] , noting published excavations of graves at Valsgärde, Sweden.] Silk weaving itself was established in Lucca and Venice in the 12th and 13th centuries, and the statutes of the silk-weaving guilds in Venice specifically distinguished "sammet" weavers from weavers of other types of silk cloth. [Muthesius, "Silk in the Medieval World", p. 332-337]

The Crusades brought Europeans into direct contact with the Islamic world, and other sources of samite, as well as other Eastern luxuries. A samite saddle-cloth known in the West as the "Suaire de St-Josse", now in the Musée du Louvre, [Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom, "The Mirage of Islamic Art: Reflections on the Study of an Unwieldy Field", "The Art Bulletin" 85.1 (March 2003:152-184), p. 154, fig. 1.] was woven in eastern Iran, some time before 961, when Abu Mansur Bakhtegin, for whom it was woven, died; it was brought back from the First Crusade by Étienne de Blois and dedicated as a votive gift at the Abbey of Saint-Josse, near Boulogne. At the time of the First Crusade, "samite" needed to be explained to a Western audience, as in the eye-witness "Chanson d'Antioche" (ccxxx):

"Very quickly he took a translator and a large dromedary loaded with silver cloth, called "samite" in our language. He sent them to our fine, brave men..." [ [ On-line translated text] .]

The Fourth Crusade brought riches unknown in the West to the "Frankish" crusaders who sacked Constantinople in 1204, described by Villehardouin: "The booty gained was so great that none could tell you the end of it: gold and silver, and vessels and precious stones, and samite, and cloth of silk..." [Villehardouin, "Chronicle of The Fourth Crusade and The Conquest of Constantinople " ( [ on-line text] ).]

Use in Medieval Europe

Samite was a royal tissue: in the 1250s it features among the clothing of fitting status provided for the innovative and style-conscious English king Henry III, his family, and his attendants. For those of royal blood there were robes and mantles of samite and cloth of gold. [Noted by James F. Willard, reviewing "Close Rolls of the Reign of Henry III, A.D. 1251-1253" in "Speculum," 4.2 (April 1929:222-223).] Samite itself might be interwoven with threads wrapped in gold foil. It could be further enriched by being over-embroidered: in Chrétien de Troyes' "Perceval, the Story of the Grail" (1180s) "On the altar, I assure you, there lay a slain knight. Over him was spread a rich, dyed samite cloth, embroidered with many golden flowers, and before him burned a single candle, no more, no less." [Chrétien, Nigel Bryant, tr. "Perceval: The Story of the Grail" 2006:207 ] In manuscript illuminations, modern readers often interpret rich figurative designs as embroidered, but Linnet Kestrel [Kestrtel, ""Whips and angels: painting on cloth in the medieval period" ( [ on-line text] ).] points out that they could equally be painted, and illustrates a samite bishop's mitre painted in "grisaille" in the Cleveland Museum of Art. [Her figure 12.] According to the Louvre the most famous example of painted silk, the Parement of Narbonne, despite being a royal commission, was only made on "fluted silk imitating samite". [ [ Louvre website] ] In the wrong hands, samite could threaten the outward marks of social stability; samite was specified among the forbidden luxuries denied the urban middle classes in sumptuary laws by the court of René of Anjou about 1470: "In cities mercantile governments outlawed crowns, trains, cloth of samite and precious metals, ermine trims, and other pretensions of aristocratic fashion" [Diane Owen Hughes, "Regulating women's fashion", in "A History of Women in the West: Silences of the Middle Ages", Georges Duby et al. (Harvard University Press) 1992:139.] In Florence, when the "condottiero" Walter of Brienne offered the innovation of a sumptuous feast to San Giovanni in 1343, the chronicler Villani noted among the rich trappings "He added to the other side of the "palio" [San Giovanni's banner.] of crimson samite cloth a trim of gray squirrel skin as long as the pole." [Villani, "Chronicle", quoted in Richard C. Trexler, "Public Life in Renaissance Florence" (Cornell University Press) 1980:257f.]

In literature

As the premier luxury textile of the Middle Ages, samite has long been associated with Arthurian literature.

In the dramatic and eerie manifestation of the Holy Grail in Arthur's court in the Romance "Queste del Saint Graal", the Grail appeared, covered with a samite cloth, hung in the air a moment, and disappeared. [Noted by Joseph Campbell and Eugene C. Kennedy in "Thou art that: transforming religious metaphor" (New World Library) 2001:30.]

It was famously referred to in the "Idylls of the King" cycle of poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. There the Lady of the Lake, described in the cycle only by the same line, repeated in four different places: "Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful", [ [ online text] ] gives Arthur his sword Excalibur and then in the "The Passing of Arthur" catches it when it is flung into the lake as he lies dying. [The cycle refers to samite as being worn by several other characters, including Arthur himself (in red) and Vivien::A twist of gold was round her hair; a robe:Of samite without price, that more exprest:Than hid her, clung about her lissome limbs,:In colour like the satin-shining palm:On sallows in the windy gleams of March:(Tennyson, "Merlin and Vivien" ( [ on-line text] ) Though "Vivien" is the name of the Lady of the Lake in some versions of the Arthurian legends, in Tennyson she is a different person. The "greenery-yallery" color of earlies willow leaves that Tennyson describes is a prominent color of the British Aesthetic Movement rather than of the Middle Ages.] This appearance was referenced, too, in the film "Excalibur" and even burlesqued in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".


External links

* [ Embroidered red samite cope from 1270]
* [ Samite fragment from Turfan, with pattern in weave]

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  • Samite — Sa mite, a. [OF. samit, LL. samitum, examitum, from LGr. ?, ? woven with six threads; Gr. ? six + ? a thread. See {Six}, and cf. {Dimity}.] A species of silk stuff, or taffeta, generally interwoven with gold. Tennyson. [1913 Webster] In silken… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • samite — SÁMITE adv. v. pesemne, poate, probabil. Trimis de siveco, 13.09.2007. Sursa: Sinonime …   Dicționar Român

  • samite — (n.) rich silk cloth, c.1300, from O.Fr. samit, from M.L. samitum, examitum, from Medieval Gk. hexamiton (source of O.C.S. oksamitu, Rus. aksamit velvet ), noun use of neuter of Greek adjective hexamitos six threaded, from hex six (see SIX (Cf …   Etymology dictionary

  • Samite — SAMITE, SAMIT, SAMITA, SCIAMITUM The most expensive, most fashionable and most often mentioned fabric of the Middle Ages, silk warp in red or green and gold weft in brocades. It was chiefly dedicated to sacred uses, and constituted many of the… …   Dictionary of the English textile terms

  • samite — [sam′īt, sā′mīt] n. [ME samyte < MFr samit < ML samitum < MGr hexamiton < hexamitos, woven with six threads < Gr hex, SIX + mitos, a thread] a heavy silk fabric worn in the Middle Ages: it was sometimes interwoven with gold or… …   English World dictionary

  • samite — noun Etymology: Middle English samit, from Anglo French, from Medieval Latin examitum, samitum, from Middle Greek hexamiton, from Greek, neuter of hexamitos of six threads, from hexa + mitos thread of the warp Date: 13th century a rich medieval… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • samite — /sam uyt, say muyt/, n. a heavy silk fabric, sometimes interwoven with gold, worn in the Middle Ages. [1300 50; ME samit < OF < ML examitium, samitium < Gk hexámiton, neut. of hexámitos having six threads. See HEXA , MITOSIS] * * * …   Universalium

  • samite — rich and heavy silk, sometimes interwoven with gold or silver Fabric and Cloth …   Phrontistery dictionary

  • samite — n. heavy silk fabric which is sometimes interlaced with gold or silver threads (was worn in the Middle Ages) …   English contemporary dictionary

  • samite — [ samʌɪt, seɪ ] noun a rich silk fabric interwoven with gold and silver threads, made in the Middle Ages. Origin ME: from OFr. samit, via med. L. from med. Gk hexamiton, from Gk hexa six + mitos thread …   English new terms dictionary

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