26 February 2015
History of Cotton
In Iran (Persia), the history of cotton dates back to the Achaemenid era (5th century BC); however,
there are few sources about the planting of cotton in pre-Islamic Iran.
The planting of cotton was common in Merv, Ray and Pars of Iran. In the poems of Persian poets,
especially Ferdowsi's Shahname, there are references to cotton ("panbe" in Persian).
Marco Polo (13th century) refers to the major products of Persia, including cotton.
John Chardin, a French traveler of 17th century, who had visited the Safavid Persia,
has approved the vast cotton farms of Persia.
During the Han dynasty, cotton was grown by non Chinese peoples in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan.
In Peru, cultivation of the indigenous cotton species Gossypium barbadense was the backbone of the development of coastal cultures,
such as the Norte Chico, Moche and Nazca. Cotton was grown upriver,
made into nets and traded with fishing villages along the coast for large supplies of fish.
The Spanish who came to Mexico and Peru in the early 16th century found the people growing cotton and wearing clothing made of it.
During the late medieval period, cotton became known as an imported fiber in northern Europe,
without any knowledge of how it was derived, other than that it was a plant.
Because Herodotus had written in his Histories, Book III, 106, that in India trees grew in the wild producing wool,
it was assumed that the plant was a tree, rather than a shrub. This aspect is retained in the name for cotton in several Germanic languages,
such as German Baumwolle, which translates as "tree wool" (Baum means "tree"; Wolle means "wool"). Noting its similarities to wool,
people in the region could only imagine that cotton must be produced by plant-borne sheep. John Mandeville, writing in 1350, stated as fact the now-preposterous belief:
"There grew there [India] a wonderful tree which bore tiny lambs on the endes of its branches. These branches were so pliable that they bent down to allow the lambs to feed when they are hungrie."
(See Vegetable Lamb of Tartary.) By the end of the 16th century, cotton was cultivated throughout the warmer regions in Asia and the Americas.
India's cotton-processing sector gradually declined during British expansion in India and the establishment of colonial rule during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
This was largely due to aggressive colonialist mercantile policies of the British East India Company, which made cotton processing and manufacturing workshops in India uncompetitive.
Indian markets were increasingly forced to supply only raw cotton and were forced, by British-imposed law, to purchase manufactured textiles from Britain.