Armenians – the glamour of Orient

In the 13th century Armenia was attacked by the Mongolian army. Because of that, many Armenian merchants moved their businesses abroad. In the 14th century they settled in the eastern part of the Kingdom of Poland and then some of them reached also the Wielkopolska Region.

Armenians specialised in long-distance trade which reached Turkey, Russia and even India. They imported luxurious silk and cotton fabrics, leather, carpets, tents, jewellery as well as Eastern weapons valued by the Polish gentry. They also traded horses, oxen, wax, honey, dried fruit and nuts and wine. Apart from that, they imported spices which contemporary cuisine could not do without such as pepper, ginger, saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and thyme.

At first, Armenian goods were imported by Poznań merchants. However, already in the second half of the 16th century Armenians began to bring these products to the wealthy inhabitants of Poznań themselves. For example, the Górka Family’s suppliers were merchants from Lviv, Kasper Adriasowicz and Szymon Awdekowicz. We also know some names of Armenians trading luxurious fabrics and gold (Piotr Ormena, Manuel and Roman from Kaffa) as well as leather (the Hołubek Family). Some merchants were even given citizenship, for example Daniel Zacharewicz from Kamieniec Podolski (1653), but that happened very rarely. Unfortunately, wars that followed as well as Poznań’s economic decline forced Armenians to move their businesses to other lands.

An Armenian merchant, Print from the 17th century by Johann Christoph Weigel, public domain

Main photo - Armenians – the glamour of Orient

Poznań chic

Luxurious fabrics such as damask, velvet and silk arrived in Poznań thanks to foreign merchants. They had a direct influence on Poznań fashion, not just of the upper crust. Proof can be found in the writing on the Poznań’s whipping post, which says: ‘This post was built in 1535 A.D. from the garment worn by cooks.’ In the past, municipal law clearly defined the kind of fabrics which the members of particular social strata were allowed to sew their clothes from. Crossing these boundaries meant that one risked getting a fine. The ‘garments’ mentioned in the writing are actually fines which Poznań women working as innkeepers and servants had to pay for exaggerated elegance.

What did the clothes worn by elegant women of Poznań in the 16th century look like, then? This is how they are described by one of the Renaissance authors:

‘Women in this city wear linen or velvet leather-lined cauls on their heads… They have long, floor-length dresses… in various colours, made of silk, baize or something else, but all of these are leather-lined and richly pleated… They wear coats made of fur with silk or fabrics of various colours, the way they like most.’

Perhaps fabrics for these rich dresses were bought from Armenian merchants.

La Donna di Posnania, that is a woman from Poznań and her Renaissance attire. Cesare Vecellio, De gli Habiti Antichi e Modérni di Diversi Parti di Mondo (1590), public domain