Women in World History
Curriculum Showcase



Nothing Lasts Forever: Roman Pompeii


Tools Uncover Women's Work

The spindle is a universal symbol of womankind. Within most cultures, the spinning of wool, flax, cotton and silk traditionally has been a woman's task. Throughout the centuries images, artifacts, poems, folk tales, songs, and goddesses dedicated to the art of spinning, reveal the importance of this task in women's lives. In the Dark Ages, for example, spindle whorls, the weight that pulls the spindle down while it is turning, were found buried with each female.

What if, in the ruins of Pompeii, you came upon these two objects. Someone tells you that they are important tools women have used for thousands of years. Do you know what they are? If not, use the following clues to help you find out that...

 1) The tools are used together.

 2) Women have used them to produce clothes, bed coverings, rugs, wall hangings, tents and even sails for ships.

 3) Your mother's side of your family is called the "distaff side." Look up this term to help you in your research.

 4) These tools were so commonly used by Roman women, that a well known poet, Catullus, in 54 B.C. wrote a poem about them. The poem names the tools and describes how they were used. Read it, and then name the tools. Can you figure out how they work?

Their hands duely plied the eternal task.
The loaded distaff in the left hand placed
with spongy coils of snow-white wool was graced.
From these the right hand lengthy fibers drew
which into thread 'neath nimble fingers grew.

At intervals a gentle touch was given
by which the twirling whorl was onward driven.
Then when the sinking spindle reached the ground,
the new-made thread around the spire was wound.

5) These are whorls.

On which tool will you find the whorl?

Identify it on the illustration above.

Do you think a whorl needs to be heavy, or should it be light? Why?

The pictures on this page will help you see how the distaff and spindle are used. Which is the distaff, which is the spindle, and where is the whorl?

Name other objects that you think mostly women use or have used in the past. Have men sometimes used these objects too?

What objects have mostly men used in the past?

Have women sometimes used these objects too?

Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
Click for Author Information

| Home Page | Lessons | Thematic Units | Biographies | Essays |
Reviews: | Curriculum | Books | Historical Mysteries |
| About Us |
Women in World History Curriculum