(from the Arab name kutun), the well-known wool-like substance which envelops the seeds, and is contained within the roundish-pointed capsule or fruit of the cotton-shrub. Every one also knows that cotton has, from the earliest ages, been characteristic of India. Indeed, it has been well remarked that, as from early times sheet's wool has been principally employed for clothing in Palestine and Syria, in Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and Spain, hemp in the northern countries of Europe, and flax in Egypt, so cotton has always been employed for the same purpose in India, and silk in China. In the present day, cotton, by the aid of machinery, has been manufactured in this country on so extensive a scale, and sold at so cheap a rate, as to drive the manufactures of India almost entirely out of the market. But still, until a very recent period, the calicoes and chintzes of India formed very extensive articles of commerce from that country to Europe. For the investigation of the early history of cotton, we are chiefly indebted to the earliest notices of this commerce; before adducing these, however, we may briefly notice the particular plants and countries from which cotton is obtained. India possesses two very distinct species: 1. Gossypium herbaceum of botanists, of which there are several varieties, some of which have spread north, and also into the south of Europe, and into Africa. 2. Gossypium arboreum, or cotton-tree, which is little cultivated on account of its small produce, but which yields a fine kind of cotton. This must not be confounded, as it often is, with the silk-cotton tree, or Bomntyx heptaphyllum, which does not yield a cotton fit for spinning. Cotton from these kinds is now chiefly cultivated in Central India, from whence it is carried to and exported from Broach. It is also largely cultivated in the districts of the Bombay Presidency, as also in that of Madras, but less in Bengal, except for home manufacture, which of course requires a large supply, where so large a population are all clothed in cotton. American cotton is obtained from two entirely distinct species — Gossypisum Barbadense, of which different varieties yield the Sea Island, Upland, Georgian, and the New Orleans cottons; while G. Peruvianum yields the Brazil, Pernambuco, and other South American cottons. These species are original natives of America. The Gossypiusm herbaceum, a figure of which is annexed, is probably the species known to the ancients. (See Penny Cyclopaedia, s.v. Gossypium.)
This substance is no doubt denoted by the term כִּרפִּס, karpas' (whence Gr. κάρπασος, Lat. carbasus, from Sanscr. karpas), of Es 1:6, which the A. V. renders "green" (Sept. καρπάσινος, Vulg. carbasinus). There is considerable doubt, however, whether under שֵׁשׁ, saesh, in the earlier, and בּוּוֹ, buts, in the later books of the O.T. rendered in the A. V. "white linen," "fine linen," etc., cotton may not have been included as well. Both these latter terms are said by Gesenius to be from roots signifying originally mere whiteness; a sense said also to inhere in the word בִּד, bad, used sometimes instead of, and sometimes together with shesh to mean the fabric. In Eze 27:7,16, shesh is mentioned as imported into Tyre from Egypt, and buts as from Syria. Each is found in turn coupled with אִרגָּמָן (argamon'), in the sense of "purple and fine linen," i.e. the most showy and costly apparel (comp. Pr 21:22, with Es 8:15). The dress of the Egyptian priests, at any rate in their ministrations, was without doubt of linen (Herod. 2:37), in spite of Pliny's assertion (19, 1, 2) that they preferred cotton. Yet cotton garments for the worship of the temples is said to be mentioned on the Rosetta stone (Wilkinson, Anc. Eg. 3. 117). The same was the case with the Jewish ephod and other priestly attire, in which we cannot suppose any carelessness to have prevailed. If, however, a Jew happened to have a piece of cotton cloth, he probably would not be deterred by any scruple about the heterogenea of De 22:2, from wearing that and linen together. There is, however, no word for the cotton plant (like פַּשׁתֶּה for flax) in the Hebrew, nor any reason to suppose that there was any early knowledge of the fabric in Palestine. SEE LINEN.
⇒Bible concordance for COTTON.
The Egyptian mummy swathings also, many of which are said to remain as good as when fresh from the loom, are decided, after much controversy and minute analysis, to have been of linen, and not cotton (Egypt. Antiq. in the Lib. Of Entertaining Knowl. 2:182). The very difficulty of deciding, however, shows how easily even scientific observers may mistake, and, much more, how impossible it would have been for ancient popular writers to avoid confusion. Even Greek naturalists sometimes clearly include "cotton" under λίνον. The same appears to be true of ὀθόνη, ὀθόνιον, and the whole class of words signifying white textile vegetable fabrics. From the proper Oriental name for the article karpas, with which either their Alexandrian or Parthian intercourse might familiarize them, the Latins borrowed carbasus, completely current in poetical use in the golden and silver period of Latinity, for sails, awnings, etc. Varro knew of tree-wool on the authority of Ctesias contemporary with Herodotus. The Greeks, through the commercial consequences of Alexander's conquests, must have known of cotton cloth, and more or less of the plant. Amasis indeed (about B.C. 540) sent as a present from Egypt a corset ornamented with gold and "tree-wool" (ἐρίοισι ἀπὸ ξύλου, Herod. 3, 47), which Pliny says was still existing in his time in a temple in Rhodes, and that the minuteness of its fibre had provoked the experiments of the curious. Cotton was manufactured and worn extensively in Egypt, but extant monuments give no proof of its growth, as in the case of flax, in that country (Wilkinson, ut sup. p. 116-139, and plate No. 356); indeed, had it been a general product, we could scarcely have missed finding some trace of it in the monumental details of ancient Egyptian arts, trades, etc.; but especially when Pliny (A.D. 115) asserts that cotton was then grown in Egypt, a statement confirmed by Julius Pollux (a century later), we can hardly resist the inference that, at least as a curiosity and as an experiment, some plantations existed there. This is the more likely, since we find the cotton-tree — (Gossypium arboreum, less usual than, and distinct from, the cotton plant, Gossyp. herbac.) mentioned still by Pliny as the only remarkable tree of the adjacent Ethiopia; and since Arabia, on its other side, appears to have known cotton from time immemorial, to grow it in abundance, and in parts to be highly favorable to that product. In India, however, we have the earliest records of the use of cotton for dress, of which, including the starching of it, some curious traces are found as early as 800 B.C., in the Institutes of enu; also (it is said, on the authority of Prof. Wilson) in the Rig-Veda, 105, v. 8. (For these and some other curious antiquities of the subject, see Royle's Culture and Conmmerce of Cotton in India, p. 117-122.)
Cotton is now both grown and manufactured in various parts of Syria and Palestine, and, owing probably to its being less conductive of heat, seems preferred for turbans and shirts to linen; but there is no proof that, till they came in contact with Persia, the Hebrews generally knew of it as a distinct fabric from linen, whilst the negative proof of language and the probabilities of fact offer a strong presumption that, if they obtained it at all in commerce, they confounded it with linen under the terms shesh or buts. The greater cleanliness and durability of linen probably established its superiority over cotton for sepulchral purposes in the N.T. period, by which time the latter must have been commonly known, and thus there is no reason for assigning cotton as the material of the "linen clothes" (ὀθόνια) of which we read. (For the whole subject, see Yates's Textrinum Antiquorun, pt. 1, chap. 6, and app. D.) SEE BOTANY.