Martin Andersen
June 28th, 2014 09:22 AM

Sogdian design and iconography
Hi All

The Sogdian/Sassanid source to the turkmen rugs seems well accepted, perhaps we could go in to some details in this forum?
Both the animal tree motif, the primary and secondary Turkmen Gols have direct parallels in the Sogdian silk:

Here a Sogdian mural from Penjikent 5-8th.c. It seems to depict an outdoor party under textile canopies - and perhaps people sitting on a textile/rug. If it is a rug then the main field do bear some resemblance to the layout in the main field of the rugs we know from later Timorid miniatures, and has a basic medallion/cross structure:

Regarding the timeframe of the Sogdian/Sassanid silk its important that their layout and motifs were directly copied and reproduced at least into the 12.th c.:

6th. c. Sogdian + 12th c Byzantine silk

12th. c. Byzantine silk

This means its an almost 100% stable specific silk design for probably more than 600 years! I would say its a very good candidate for having had profound influence on the Turkmen rugs evolving around the silk road.

Here a suggestion for a possible explanation of the small “fish-bone” like ornament in the Saryk/Ersari Gol:

The ribbon banner is a Sogdian motif called “Kushti”, here an interesting article by Elmira Gyul http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/vi...ontext=tsaconf

best Martin

Filiberto Boncompagni
June 29th, 2014 11:20 AM

Thanks, Martin.

Your post and Elmira Gyul’s article make for very interesting reading.



Martin Andersen
June 29th, 2014 11:51 AM

Thanks Filiberto

Here another Sogdian mural from Penjikent. Its motif is interpreted as a dead amazon carried on a textile. The textile differs from the silk roundels in layout, with its larger more complex medallion and smaller border. Perhaps a candidate for a rug? perhaps carrying a person is a rather heavy load for a silk weave:

In the background there seem to be a more conventional roundel layout. Its interesting because the inner design is quartered and symmetrized, not the most common silk roundel design but it occur as seen in the hunting scene:

And a symmetrized and mirrored highly stylized animal tree motif I suppose we all agree is the basic inherent layout in the Turkmen Gol.

Whether the Sogdians produced rugs or not (or if they perhaps traded them with whatever nomadic turkic tribes that were around them) I suppose there is no answer to now. But they sure did sit on textiles that looks very rug-like, here an interesting Sogdian zoroastrian ossuary:

best Martin

Filiberto Boncompagni
June 29th, 2014 12:07 PM

Hi Martin,

The rugs could be embroidered or appliqué felts as well...


Filiberto Boncompagni
June 29th, 2014 12:13 PM

Looking at the picture of the “Sogdian mural from Penjikent 5-8th.c.” the rug feels definitely like an appliqué felt.

Martin Andersen
June 29th, 2014 12:55 PM

hi Filiberto

Here another detail from a Sogdian ossuary, perhaps a girl dancing (probably a zoroastrian deity) on a textile, and perhaps also felt appliqué-like:

Sogdia was no doubt a syncretic and cultural melting pot, and in their aesthetic there to is a strong non-persian element. Not that it is directly related (there is of course centuries in-between) but here a complete Sogian dress compared to the Pazyryk pile and felt:

best Martin

Martin Andersen
June 29th, 2014 01:48 PM

The embossed drawing of the pattern in this possible textile, sure does make one think appliqué felt rather than silk or pile

Afrasiab ossyary 7th.c.

Pierre Galafassi
July 3rd, 2014 07:02 PM

Hi Martin;

Many thanks for another of your always interesting threads . Amazing how esthetically influences can survive centuries, even millenaries and travel thousands of km!

An Egyptian Bull Apis (Saïte dynasty?) carries on his back a rug with the same motif as the one featured on the Sogdian Penjikent mural. Perhaps an import from the Sogdians. Unless I err, the same stellar motif covers the field of the Fourth century BC Pazyrik rug.
FIG 1. Saïte (?) sacred bull Apis. c&. 600 BC Louvre.

I was not aware that there is already agreement in rug science about the Sogdian heritage of Turkmen rugs, but it sure makes pretty good sense.

On the way between the fifth century BC Sogdians and the eighteenth century Turkmen one probably finds the fifteenth century Timurides. We agreed in an older thread, didn’t we, that the main field pattern of the later looked very much like the source of inspiration for several Turkmen motifs.

Fig 2. Iran. Timurid miniature. 1427. Herat school. Princes playing games. Berenson coll.

Fig 3. Iran . Timurid miniature. 1467-1468. Herat school. Timur granting an audience.

While Sogdians might have been the “inventors” of the roundel motive it was already a favorite of BC Romans. Especially on mosaics.


Martin Andersen
July 4th, 2014 09:56 AM

Hi Pierre

I might have exaggerated a bit saying the Sogdian roundels are generally accepted as source material regarding the turkmen rugs, but I often see general references to them as historical background material. And well, I am just curious if we here could look into some details, perhaps something interesting turns up.

I agree that the rugs on Timurid miniatures are a closer source to the turkmen rugs, and the generic nature of medallions being generated by cross patterns may of course have been developed independently simply by geometry, but I still find it interesting to compare the Sogdian mural also to the Seldjuk rugs, here the dark background color of the lattice pattern is a fit:

The Sogdian aesthetics were no doubt the result an interconnected cultural melting pot, situated in the middle of the silk road trade. Greek leftovers from the Greco-Bactrian period combined with Persian/ Mesopotamian influence is obvious. Roundels in textiles is a very broad patent which sure can’t be given solely to the Sogdian, but the pearl roundel ornament is certainly a Sodgian theme and a stylistically trademark both in textiles and architecture.

The silk seem to have been almost like an international currency, used as tribute and in trade. Perhaps lighter and more transportable than silver. And the silver drachms of the period are an interesting topic. Iconographic very stereotypic, also produced by the locally in Bukhara - in themselves roundels decorated with roundels

Regarding the fine egyptian bull cover textile you have spotted I don’t think we can give the Sogdians credit for export, they are as far as I know first on the marked a bit later, but the stereotypic kings on the silver drachms are all crowned with the horned solar disk which via mesopotamia probably have its very old origin in Egypt giving us evidence of cultural travel across millenaries and thousands of km

best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 4th, 2014 05:18 PM

It is interesting to look at the development of the silver drachma from the early Sassanid 3th.c coins with their classical figurative style and compare them to the stylization bordering abstraction on the later 8th.c. sogdian coins.

The motif on the reverse to the king is a zoroastrian fire altar flanked by two standing persons. The Sogdian religious clima though syncretic seems at least in the Bukhara/Samarkand area to have been predominantly zoroastrian in pre-islamic period. And the fire altar seems to have been an important motif, here a 8th.c. sogdian ossuary with fire altar and priests.

No doubt that islam did not behave tolerant towards zoroastrism, but still traces are found in local folkish traditions alive up till our time in Uzbekistan as small fire altar niches, even on the back of mosques . The oldest existing intact islamic mausoleum in central asia the samanid Ismail Samani Mausoleum from the 10th.c. is thought to have taken its basic architectural layout directly from the small zoroastrian pavilions in which the fire altars were placed.

best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 5th, 2014 11:34 AM

Hi All

Please bear with me in the following, I am of course only a curious amateur in all of this. When looking into coinage of the period and region the complexity is rather dizzyingly, and I surely want pretend I have an in-depth understanding of it. Sogdia probably wasn’t a statehood or a kingdom in our sense of the words, rather an interlinked urban culture with various degrees of independence. But coins with persons claiming titles like “king of Bukhara” were surely made. And interestingly simultaneously with persian/sassanid style drachma plain forward chinese styled coins with sogdian inscriptions were also issued in Bukhara:

The person on the left in pendjikent mural is wearing a sassanid crown much like the one seen on the coins:

On some of the coins depicting the zoroastrian fire altar the kings portrait is also appearing almost as fire on top of the alter, I suppose king and divinity merged:

The inscriptions on the coins for king “Malik” or the more generalized title “king of kings”, turns up in arabic on later 10th.c. non-figurative Bukhara coins. The arabic Al-malik is in islam also one of the names of Allah.

Some of you know were this quickly will lead me, to my favorite obscure speculation regarding this specific seldjuk border pattern, sorry I can’t help it

The left detail is from this Timorid ceramic plate which motif is directly related to the sassanid/sogdian silk roundels, and the kufic border around is supposedly an inscription with ornamentalized variations of “Al-malik”

best Martin

Filiberto Boncompagni
July 5th, 2014 01:51 PM

Hi Martin,

The correlation between the Seljuk border and the Kufic border on the plate is clear.
Nice trove, the Timurid plate. Where did you find it?



Martin Andersen
July 5th, 2014 04:54 PM

Hi Filibertp
The plate is from the the Metropolitan Museum - and would have been nice to have had it last time we were around the topic of kufic ornamentation
best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 6th, 2014 07:58 AM

Hi All

Filiberto and Pierre have made me aware that the ceramic plate below ain’t a plate but a bowl, and that its 11th-12th.c and thus Seldjuk and not Timorid - and perhaps even worse that I am in disagreement with the Met regarding what the kufic text says. The official translation is "glory" or "happiness”. Sorry I should have checked the data on the homepage before I posted.

But I think I will be stupid and stubborn for now - and stick with the possibility that metropolitans translation is a poetic translation of “al-malik” to “glory”, and perhaps use this to make a point out of my own close to illiteracy in kufic arabic: There is a very good chance that the craftsman behind the border decoration were an illiterate who probably didn’t speak arabic, and this generally could be seen as a factor in how religious text turned into decorative ornaments. Neither the people how made the artifacts nor the persons they were intended for were nessasarely able to read complicated texts but they simply wanted the notion of piety connected to the artifacts. And that could have been why the kufic “high-low-high” or “alef-mim-lam” became such a widespread ornament. 3 simple symmetrical letters which easily can be spotted and are visually very close to basic religious words as “Allah” and “Al-Malik”.

The 3 letters "alef-mim-lam" does not in themselves make a word, but they are actually also an inherent problem in the Quran were they are appearing as “alef-lam-mim” in openings of several suras. And as the Quran is thought to be infallible and devine the letters has been regarded as mysterious abbreviation and divine secrets even by highly educated muslims http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muqatta'at

Here is another plate, this time rather certainly legible “al-mulk”/“kingdom” (sorry I have lost from were I got it, but have noted that the official translation were “Royal power is God’s”)

(The kufic is of course a digression regarding the Sogdian topic, but the topic of the development of the high-low-high ornamentation for me is here speculatively connected to the iconography of the coinage zoroastrian fire altar.)

best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 6th, 2014 09:09 AM

I will try to clarify my point, here a zoom in on two details in the ceramic Seldjuk border:

In the context of the complete border this is clearly arabic kufic letters “alef-min-lam”/ "high-low-high", that is to say the decoration of the center “mim” is not clear, and not a part of what is normally understood as written kufic - its a mixture of figuration and letters. This is known elsewhere, here the well known 8th.c. sample from an egyptian gravestone, generally interpreted as depicting a mosque in-between the letters of “allah”:

On the seldjuk ceramic border the figuration to me might be something else which also have divine or noble connotations, my suggestion is it could be burning insence and a crowned head - both motifs could have been derived from the stylization of the iconography of the coinage. Here two 8th.c. Bukhara/Sogdian coins

best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 6th, 2014 09:51 AM

Hopefully I have underlined that the possible connection between the seldjuk border and the sogdian coinage is a totally speculative suggestion, and personally I am generally interested in multisourced possible origins of the ornaments. But the comparison between the anatolian seldjuk rug border and the persian seldjuk ceramic border to me seems very straight forward and speaks for itself

best Martin

Pierre Galafassi
July 7th, 2014 07:07 AM

Hi Martin,

Concerning the bowl, made in Seljuk style, thus under the patronage of an Oghuz Turkmen ruling class freshly escaped from their Transcaspian steppe, you would surely be excused to see in its design another quite credible link, over many centuries, between the Sogdians and “our” Turkmen.These wander-happy Oghuz warriors left behind many stay-at-home brothers & cousins who sired Salors, Yomuds and Co.

Another point perhaps worth mentioning: If we remember that Turko-mongols were in general highly tolerant, curious, opportunistic and more syncretic in all religious matters than their imams would have desired and that the population (and artisans) of their empires were always of very mixed ethnic origin and religions, one could easily believe that some rather “heretic” religious symbols could from time to time “contaminate” decorative kufic script, to nobody’s real concern. The central motifs in your examples of “alef-min-lam” in the MET bowl and in the Seldjuk rug border, could even perhaps be reminiscences of fire altars (thus back on your Zoroastrian feet) and animist horns.

Just guessing of course.

Martin Andersen
July 7th, 2014 09:17 AM

Hi Pierre

No doubt that the continuos turkic/mongolian invaders, also in pre-islamic period, were both tolerant, culturally curious - and at the same time very destructive when they didn’t have it their way. And as such they are both responsible for the cultural syncretism, and the very big holes in survived material which leaves us guessing on what actually happened.

I take the liberty of going a bit south in my guessing around, here to the Kushan coinage. The Kushan like the Sogdian were direct inheritors of the Grecco-Bactrian culture, and also zoroastrians. Here a 4th.c. sassanid-kushan gold coin, to the left below the kings hand a small stylized fire alter:

Stylized zorastrian fire alters like this are also known from persian coins, 2th.bc:

The Kushan coins excel in tridents, and the Kushan kings have their individual trident-like “royal tamgas” (I suppose identified via the coins). Interesting that the trident are placed both in the hand of the king and separately on the fire alter, one could say its parallel to the king appearing on/as the fire alter in the sogdian coins.

Here a 2th.c Kushan coin only with tamgas and trident:

(and to the right the cintamani, but thats another story :) http://www.turkotek.com/misc_00126/cloudband.htm )

I am aware that i am going south and back in time, away from the rugs (and perhaps only pointing out the strange but kind of obvious that indian Shiva may have inherited the trident from the greek Poseidon), but one could take big leap in time and compare the Kushan trident to the still alive shia tradition of the religious standards called "Alams", present day and 16th c:

Some of the Safavid Alams show merger of trident, calligraphy and almost seldjuk-like dragons, 18th.c:

The Shia Alams today seem connected to the remembrance of the battle of Kerbala. The connotation of war banner probably directly links them to the turkic/mongolian war standards the “tughs”.

Here the profet with angel, warriors and alams:

and here mongolian "tuhgs"

Regarding the parallel Ottoman Tugh here a quote from TCF: “Along with the flags, the Turkish tugh reached its final form in the fourteenth century. They represented authority, especially of the military. The declaration of war was manifested by setting the Sultan's tughs in front of their saray. On the march, they would be sent ahead to mark camp sites. In some engravings, seven tughs were planted in front of the Sultan's tent, five in front of the grand vizier's, and three marked the place of a pasha's tent. In battle they marked the place of leaders as a rallying point for dispersed soldiers”

This could take us back to the topic of the cultural syncretism as not only something that marked the urban cultures, but also the nomadic turkic cultures. Plundering by the nomads were not limited to the artifacts, the artisans also went along. Gjengis Khan is famous for his massive relocation of persian and central asian craftsmen to mongolia/china. And the interesting 13th. Yuan dynasty rugs are probably a direct outcome of this, giving us the strange mongol version of the kufic border we see here:

note the added “Tughs”

best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 7th, 2014 04:32 PM

Here a Sasanian 6th.c pearl roundel stucco from Iraq:

The text is supposed to be parthian and unreadable, as its not arabic and the dating is pre-islamic I unfortunately can’t speculate that it says Allah  but I suppose its not far out guessing it could be the name of a king, the text crowned with horns/halfmoon pointing in that direction

Here Sasanian king hunting:

Well perhaps I have digressed a bit to much from the Sogdian topic. One thing quickly leads to another in this. So back to the silk roundels and another possible speculative connection to the Turkmen rugs:
One of the persons in the 8th.c sogdian Afrasiab frescos is wearing a dress with boar heads in the roundels, one of almost exact layout has survived:

The boars head is probably not the most common of motifs on the sogdian/sassanid silk, but they are there:

I am aware the specific names to patterns and details in the turkmen rugs are often questioned as the sources may be random, but anyway Moshkova is one of the few main authorities in actual fieldwork, and she have passed on specific names for some of the details in the Turkmen main gol. One of the names has always kind of bothered me: “Pigs snout” for a part of what I understand as “the animal trees branches”

a). bird, b). pig's snout, c). one who bites (scorpion?), d). cotton ball

We are kind of used to interprete all animals on the turkmen rugs as primarily birds or rams (unless there are specific figurative reasons pointing to something else) Actually one could ask why, and on what ground? well certainly a pig-animal-tree was not of limit in the Sasanian/Sogdian iconography, and the two pigs here do have their snouts up in the branches of the tree  boar-animal-tree is probably a more correct term, as domestic pigs probably haven’t belonged in central asia.

Not that I actually see a boar-figuration in the Turkmen gol, but rather that we perhaps could have an old linguistic “echo” of a the Sogdian boar and the animal tree motif. And calling the two composite winged mythological animals "boars" are perhaps an interpretive stretch, boar-headed Simurghs is probably more correct.

Best Martin

Filiberto Boncompagni
July 7th, 2014 06:20 PM

Hi Martin,

Your work demonstrates that the more one digs in the art of contiguous cultures, the more echoes, reflections and citations - from each culture - he is likely to find.

Speculations are always welcomed if they have reasonable basis and plausibility.



Martin Andersen
July 8th, 2014 07:40 AM

Hi Filiberto

I better correct myself, trying to keep the chronology in order.
Implying that the “Tughs” were added to the kufic border in china/mongolia might not be right.

The almost identical border also exists on the anatloian/caucasian/seldjuk(?) animal rugs, at least 4 rugs/fragments which has been c14 also to the 13th.c.

The c14 dating on this one says 1190-1300, a 110 years is rather vide timespan, a lot of rugs/patterns could have traveled back and forth the silk road from anatolia to china. But subjectively from the point of view of stylistically development I would give the anatolian/caucassian/seljuk version the credit of being the oldest in a comparison between the animal rugs and yuan rugs.

(as far as I understand some of the animal rugs fragments have been found/bought in 1990 in Tibet, but them actually originating from there to me seems totally unlikely)

Best Martin

Pierre Galafassi
July 8th, 2014 09:54 AM

Hi Martin,

Quoting you: "the strange but kind of obvious that indian Shiva may have inherited the trident from the greek Poseidon".

This seems indeed a credible hypothesis, given the huge, long lasting prestige of “Iskander” in Central Asia and beyond, of which his local Greek/Macedonian successors have reaped the benefits for quite a while and also given the obvious B.C. influence of Greece in the regional art, coinage etc…of which several of your pics show good examples.

However, I’d rather put my 50 cents on another hypothesis which is that all Asian “tridents” may have derived from an important and even more antique symbol of local shamanism, as might be suggested
- by the modern Mongol shamanic altar shown below,
- the top motif (“surmon”) of many mongol tough poles (illustrated in one of your previous posts),
- early Ottoman surmons (1) (Pre-empire Beylick period)
- official Ottoman standards (1) (Empire period)
- the Buddhist “vajra” (1)(2), (a three pronged ceremonial weapon or scepter symbolizing the ‘Three Jewels’ text).

Bronze surmons with various figures (real or mythical animals, animal heads, abstract “tamga”-like motifs etc..), as old as the fifth century B.C., were found in Central Asian tumuli generally attributed to the Scythes. They probably had a totemic, clan-identification and shamanistic function.

(1) I’ll try to retrieve the pictures (in my messy data-bank), scan and publish them.
(2) By the way, a propos “vajras”. In his excellent 2005 paper “Mongol Tamgas”, Richard E. Wright illustrates several dozens of mongol tamgas (1) of which one obviously derives directly from the design of the vajras (or is it the other way around?) and many others are close variations. I can’t help but thinking that the “trident” must have been a strong and long-lasting (well over two millenaries) cultual and/or power symbol adopted and somehow integrated by several religions thanks to the Turko-Mongol talent for syncretism.

Ooops, I realize that this post is a digression of your own digression. Sorry indeed. My only excuse is that it re-enforces a little bit more your starting hypothesis of a cultural/cultual link between antique and recent Central Asian population (Sogdians, Sassanians, Scythes, Turko-mongols) a link which amazingly extends way over 2000 years.
Best regards

Pierre Galafassi
July 8th, 2014 10:09 AM

Hi Martin,
I fully agree with your last post.

The identification of these "animal-rugs" as "Seljuk" is (to my limited knowledge) only an hypothesis, to which the C14 datation adds credibility.
I suppose that nothing can stop us from thinking that another Central Asian ethnic population might have been the authors. But Seljuk is both convenient and credible.

Please note that a thin Tugh-pole ending with a "trident"-surmon also hangs down from each horse's mouth.

Definitely, this symbol must have had a great importance.

Martin Andersen
July 8th, 2014 12:21 PM

Hi Pierre

Sure no doubt that the Tughs may go back in probably obscure shamanistic origin. The Luristan bronzes and especially the bronze standards also springs to mind as a possible source:

Most of the Luristan bronzes seems to have appeared to the western marked without any archaeological context, but to my knowledge they are generally accepted to date c. 12th-6th.BC. A timespan in which I supposes its also generally accepted that the nomadic migrations went from south to north, and not the other way around.

And of course symmetrized animals is an almost universal motif, but I would still think the Luristan bronzes probably along with Scythians material are interesting possible rather direct sources to the animal tree motif as we see it in the central asian versions.

In all of this I am 100% for into looking for merger of multiple sources, something which I generally think is what happens when motifs gets reduced to signs: translations and mistranslations are productive in the cultural migration back and forth. Digressions is not something we have invented here on Turkotek - its a very basic cultural activity

best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 8th, 2014 03:01 PM

I will try to pursue the Royal trail in this a bit longer, there are some possible interesting points in it.

The various artifacts we are looking at here silk, representational frescos, bronzes, silver, gold and large presumable workshop rugs were in their time undoubtedly high class luxury items for powerful elities. And the coins are surely plain direct claims of royal power and dominion. Regarding the coins its also important that their value was based on a widespread accept of their standardized weight in gold and silver, and not on the mint and realm which issued them. As currency they reached far beyond their local origin both geographcally and in time.

In pre-islamic cultures, and in most ancient cultures, royal power is directly connected to, or even identified with divinity. As the Sasanian and Sogdian coins exemplifies in their simplified iconography.

Gods, mythological figures and kings in mesopotamian culture in general are crowned identically. The Sasanin Kings strangely composite crowns are no exception (and note the also strange resemblance to the Luristan bronze standards):

In arabic the title of “King” is “Malik”. But with islam the climate regarding this title fundamentally shifts. Islamic rulers did not claim the title of King until early 20th probably inspired by western imperialism. Islamic rulers chooses anything else than “Malik” as title: Caliph, Sultan, Emir, Shah, Khan ext. but not King. The reason for this is interesting and of course originating in the Quran and the Hadeeths (and one could speculate related to aniconism, the Kings of preislamic religions identified with idols and gods).
The title “Al-Malik” The King (including the prefix definitive “Al”, often freely translated “King of Kings”) in the Quran is one Allahs names, and solely his name. A hadeeth in Saheeh Bukhari states that “the worst name near Allah on the Day of Judgment is one named: Maalikul Mulk, King of Kings”. The title “Malik” becomes a slightly derogative title for non-muslim rulers. But “Al-Malik”, “Al-Mulk” (kingdom) and variations of this becomes highly venerated poetic and calligraphic terms symbolizing the power and glory of Islam.

And this once again brings me back to my favorite speculation.
To me the High-low-high pattern in the Animal rug border is obviously an ornamented simplified Kufic border, even more than in the other Seldjuks rug. The two “highs” in the pattern clearly resembling foliated Kufic Alef and Lam, with the white being braided by the black outline, generating a kind of relief:

Here foliated Kufic, stylistically by far the dominant calligraphic ornamentation of the period in mosques and architecture:

But as we saw on the Seljuk bowl there is something else than foliated kufic going on in the middle, here all 3 seldjuk samples:

One could of course in the first two see the “low” as a schematic depiction of a tent (in the first flanked with Tughs) or as a mosque (in the first flanked by two minarets). But certainly one could also see it as highly schematized royal paraphernalia as we have seen it on the coinage, horned crown and tridents. My suggesting is that we with these seljuk border patterns are looking at a merger of arabic calligraphy and central asian schematized royal iconography, a merger which simply constitutes an in its time easily understandable turkic/arabic ideogram for “Al-Malik”, giving credit to both Allah and whatever ruler with turkic or central asian origin that ordered the pieces done.

I know some will find this far too speculative, but at least in the moment I myself feel rather convinced

best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 9th, 2014 10:58 AM

There are exceptions regarding islamic rulers not being called “Malik”, I suppose partly because “Malik” is ambiguous in being both the title of King and a male proper name (also today).
One interesting exception directly related to the Seldjuk conquests/migration from central asia to anatolia is the Seljuk ruler Malik Shah I (1072 – 1092). The Seldjuks were rather liberal regarding the Qurans aniconism, this liberalism perhaps extended to the title:

Here his father and predecessor Alp Arslan (1063 – 1072) - and in the background the kufic “high-low-high” ornament

and doesn’t the sitting posture, the green kaftan and the pointed hood look almost ridiculous close to the “low” in the kufic border of the animal rug? It might of course be a strange coincidence, but still…

One could interpret the Tughs as turning into royal arms raised in the position of prayer.

I am totally aware that none of this is provable (or unprovable), but looking at the seldjuk border pattern as an ideogram in the complexity of a possible merger of “Al-mailk” and older Turkic stylized iconography is a lot more fun than just seeing border as birds, dragons, camels or plain simple pseudo-kufic

best Martin

(Unfortunately I only have wikepedia as source for the two miniature details, I suppose they are not from originally Seldjuk miniatures, but Timorid ? Pierre, perhaps you have seen them before in your archives?)

Martin Andersen
July 9th, 2014 02:35 PM

as no one are stopping me I will just continue

A common motif on the Seldjuk ceramics is a sitting or throned almost sanctified or divine ruler, and of course often with kufic inscriptions and ornaments in the border:

Here four other 13th. c. persian Seldjuk plates or bowls:

In a simplified schematized version of the chair or thrones vertical construction they could for me easily turn into the kufic Alefs of the “high-low-high”:

Trying to reconnect to the Sodian topic, one could look at the crown of this Syrian Seldjuk ceramic (I suppose it is a crown - and not a very fancy haircut :))

The morphology of crowns could probably in itself be large topic, in which central asia would also play a large role (for ex The Tillya tepe gold). But here just a comparison to the Sogdian 8th.c crown:

To me they look very close (and as an addition we even got pearls around the neck)

My point in this would perhaps be that it seems the Seldjuks/Oghuz Turkmen from Central Asia kind of re-imported pre-islamic Sasanian notions of royalty, or at least aspects of its iconography, into the persian/arabic/islamic culture.

best Martin

Pierre Galafassi
July 10th, 2014 06:41 AM


Originally Posted by Martin Andersen (Post 17593)
(Unfortunately I only have wikepedia as source for the two miniature details, I suppose they are not from originally Seldjuk miniatures, but Timorid ? Pierre, perhaps you have seen them before in your archives?)

No Martin, I can't remember them. But then, since these miniatures did not feature any rug, perhaps they did not get my attention (:-)).

The design of the crowns on the last Seljuk bowl and on the Sogdian / Sassanian mural are indeed surprisingly similar.
Your interpretation of the low in the Seljuk rug border is creative but, to me quite credible.
By the way, did you notice the distinctly Chinese or Turko-Mongol face of the (supposedly Sogdian-Sassanian, thus Indo-European-) royalty featured in the mural? Perhaps a ruling visitor?

Martin Andersen
July 10th, 2014 02:38 PM

Yes Pierre you right the facial features does bring in the slightly contentious issue of ethnicity in the region. Most of the facial features on the Sogdian frescos seem clearly turkic so in that sense the King doesn’t necessarily have to be a guest.

But at the same time the frescos also kind of excel in what seem to represent different ethnicities:

I am not sure if there is a final and conclusive interpretation of the frescos at Afrasiab and Penjikent, I suppose its still discussed.

The Sogdian language is derived from persian, language and ethnicity is of course also a contentious subject, personally I will probably just see the Sogdian culture as an also ethnical melting pot, the Sogdian being mulity-etnical cosmopolitans of their time (and Alexanders gene pool not being the largest in the mix ). The Turkic part could spring from nomadic origin, or probably more simply pointing towards the obvious trade connections to the east to east turkestan, the Uyghur and the Tarim Bassin (which I see you have been around lately here on turkotek http://www.turkotek.com/VB37/showthread.php?p=13057 )

In the frescos of the Xianxiu Xu tomb from the mid-6th.c there are also what appears to be sasanian/sogdian pearl roundels on the dresses:

The Sogdian manichaean texts found in Turphan are lovely syncretic in the few illustrations they have - and the figures are surely sitting on textiles (whether its pile weave I suppose is difficult to tell)

In the Bezelik murals 9-12th. c. The Uyghyr Kara-Khojas are parading on what to me looks like rugs:

I suppose this could bring us on to the Karakhanid, and the Karakhanid Khanate the first Turkic dynasty to convert to Islam, and who also ruled in Central Asia. Looking at some of the octagon ornamented ceramics of the 11-12th.c Aisha Bibi mausoleum I would suspect that if the Karakhanid were carpet weavers (and why shouldn’t they have been) that their rugs would be aesthetically very close to the seldjuk rugs, but once again of course nothing but speculation.

best Martin
(who find it rather dizzyingly to look into china)

Martin Andersen
July 12th, 2014 06:34 AM

I have in this also been looking around for early Centrel Asian (or related) octagonal layouts, but they are actual a bit more sparse than one should think.

Here a Seldjuk silk Kaftan (auctioned Sotherbys 2012, I only have this low-res photo) with pearl roundels in Sogdian/Sasanian style. The secondary filling pattern is octagonal:

The Aisha Bibi mausoleum, Karakhanid 11-12th.c. its architectural layout is directly derived from the Samanid mausoleum in Bukhara:

Stylistically its of course well within islamic tradition, but its ceramic ornamentation has an as far I can see an unique strong emphasis of the centers of the octagons. The octagons themselves are of course an inherent part of the general islamic geometrical patterning, but at Aisha Bibi the centers of the octagons are lavishly emphasized with “ramshorn-crosses”

The Karakhanid were early Turkic adopters of Islam, and though Aisha Bibi is late in the Karakhanid timeline one could see the strong ramshorns motifs in the islamic geometry as a proud expression of their Turkic origin.

This again brings me to the Anatolian Seldjuk rug (tiem no 689?). This is the one of the Seldjuk rugs which to me always aesthetically have seemed different from the rest of the Seldjuk rugs. Surely directly related to the others, but at the same time very different:

Here the Karakhanid and the Seldjuk octagons compared:

The ramshorn-cross layout is surely very generic in pattern making, but at the same time also almost emblematic of Turkic/Altaic culture (and crosses don’t have to be christian as we know from the Pazyryk rugs and felt from 600th.bc. ).

If one were to describe the rug in a few word, something like “octagonal geometric field design with kufesque border” it sure falls within islamic tradition. But on the other hand looking at rug it is an odd bird: the Kufic certainly having been questioned a lot, and the geometry is kind of pseudo-geometric as the octagons are not placed in a geometrical grid, rather as dots on rows. Aesthically the rug kind of mimics both geometry and writing without any understanding of whats beneath the visual appearance. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly think this rug is the one of the most interesting - and most beautiful rugs in the world. Its difficult to point to specific older turkic/altaic sources sustaining it (they probably don’t exist anymore) but for me the rug clearly represents a kind of almost brutal and grand in the face direct hybrid of turkic and islamic aesthetics.

I suppose the tiem no 689 has been c14 to the same 13th.c. as the other early Seldjuks, and structurally I also suppose they are almost identical. If this wasn’t the case I would surely see this rug as substantially older than the others. One could of course speculate that it in design stylistically represents an older tradition. For me this rug sure makes a lot of sense as a possible hint on to how the rugs of early central asian adopters of islam may have looked.

That the Seldjuk rugs represent a direct ancestral branch related to the later turkmen rugs to me seems self-evident. And this to me also means that the turkmen rugs and their aesthetics are unthinkable without the influence of the urban cultures, pre-isalmic and islamic. To me its kind of logically that the nomadic cultures were in continuos direct contact with the urban cultures in Central Asia, we know the nomads were consumers of the urban trade goods, dyes stuff, metal and so on, and that this contact of course also had consequences for their aesthetics. But for some this probably challenges the notion of the Turkmen rugs as springing solely from a mystical and secluded archetypic shamanistic origin (at least while writing here I certainly do get a continuous stream of hate-mails from a certain person some of you here know well )

Best Martin
(and as always kind of sorry for my broken english, hope the meaning gets across it)

Steve Price
July 12th, 2014 01:05 PM

Hi Martin

Your meaning is perfectly clear, and is never fuzzy. Your English is just fine. Your closing line reminded me of an incident in my student days. We had a German guest deliver a seminar. He opened by saying, "I will present my talk in the universal scientific language: broken English."

Regards, and thanks for sharing your insights with everyone.

Steve Price

Martin Andersen
July 13th, 2014 09:40 PM

Thanks Steve

Its interesting that already F.R Martin who published the first Sjelduk rugs in his fantastic 1908 “A history of oriental carpets before 1800” probably had an idea of a possible relation between the Seldjuk rugs and the Sasanian style silk:

(sorry have to re-check at the library if he writes something specific on the topic, or he if simply puts this illustration up as an general example regarding the kufic ornament)

Best Martin

ps. by the way the book is in itself an artwork and kind of a colossal monument of the early reception of the rugs in the west

Martin Andersen
July 14th, 2014 01:45 PM

The Sogdian silk found in Moshchevaya Balka burial 8th-9th.c. north west of the Caucasian Mountains shows that the Sogdian silk design went directly into local use also along the northern route of the silk road. Here applied to at wooden leather helmet:

And the dress, both from the Hermitage Museum:

best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 15th, 2014 08:36 AM

Not many Sogdian borders have survived, here the border pattern on the Afrasiab camel cover (its restored, and must admit I found the restoration rather hard when I say it in Samarkand, but hopefully the details are true to the original)

The border pattern on this silk horse cover 8-10th.c. is in itself interesting:

As a floral border it looks much in family with classical coptic borders.Though it is a big stretch it is tempting to compare it to Ersari/Beshir borders or embroidered Suzanis. One could simply see it as an early sample of central asian version of the curled leaf border, which we have in many turkmen versions (they of course certainly doesn´t have to originate directly in the sogdian silk, there could have been many other sources for this widespread border motif). A long stretch but still fun to compare, here to Ersari and Tekke:

Perhaps one could say it like this: through its Grecco-Bactrian origin the Sogdians maintained (or introduced) the curled leaf floral border in Central Asian textiles, and that might have been how a classical border like the curled leaf could have ended up in Central Asian Turkmen nomadic weaves

best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 17th, 2014 09:21 AM

Here another saddle cover from the Arasiab murals - on an elephant. It looks to be a kind of very elaborate floral curled leaf border ornament:

Though birds, Simurghs, dear and horses seem the most common, boars and elephants on textiles are a part of Central Asian history:

Sogdian 9th.

Byzans 9th.

When I now here look at a highly speculative possible origin of the curled leaf border in rather close proximity of Sogdian pearl roundels with elephants I might have to revise my skepticism about Jim Allans elephant theory http://www.sfbars.org/ja/eleph.html Jims suggestion of an elephant in the curled leaf border to me looked highly imaginative but to be fair it certainly isn´t much more impossible than any of the other connections I am looking at here :) (and I am happy to give Jim some kind of credit in this, because without his very imaginative interpretations of the Turkmen patterns I probably wouldn´t have looked detailed into the Seldjuk Kufic border)

Byzans 12th.

Stretching any comparison from the Sogdian material to the Turkmen rugs is of course a very far stretch (but I will probably move a bit on along the royal line of the coinage, just have to look a bit more into the notion of Tamgas)

best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 17th, 2014 10:15 AM

here just a small visual reminder to myself that all of this course is a stretch - but not a totally far out stretch :)

Ersari rug and Taskhent suzani 19th + Byzans silk 12th.

best Martin

Chuck Wagner
July 19th, 2014 03:15 PM

Hi Martin,

A really interesting discussion with which I have had almost no time to participate. That said, I think the elephants imply a strong link to south Asian connections - India and the like, rather than Turkmen links. That makes sense from a trade perspective. Aside from wool, cotton, stolen horses, and possibly opium poppies and their derivatives, there wasn't much of a Turkmen economy.


Steve Price
July 19th, 2014 03:46 PM


Until the Soviet Union took over the area, Turkmen had a reputation for being honest slave traders.

Steve Price

Martin Andersen
July 20th, 2014 12:42 PM

Hi Chuck and Steve

No doubt that the trails in this also leads into India and Southeast Asia, but I can’t manage to look into that now, its as dizzyingly as China

And I suppose the economic status of Central Asia kind of depends on which historic period we are talking. Before the European seafaring nations found the way around Africa Central Asia obviously where in the heart of the trade exchange between Europe and China. But sure in the time of our later Turkmen rugs that sure was over - probably giving our beloved Salors, Saryks, Yomuds and Tekkes a slightly more isolated role in which they developed their own particular aesthetics.

best Martin
(who is now trying to get a hold on the related mongolian coinage, will post later, its rather interesting)

Pierre Galafassi
July 21st, 2014 10:51 AM

As rightly pointed out by Martin, from the sixteenth century onward the Silk Road lost good part of its “raison d’être”, due to the commercial sea lines established by Portugal, later by Holland, England and France, between Europe and India / Indonesia, and further-on, China and Japan.

As a logical consequence, the influence of the Turkmen, (which presence near the Silk Road, in Transcaspia and Transoxiana pre-dated the Mongols by many centuries, thus making them indeed good candidate as carriers of some old Sogdian-/ Sassanid- and Greek traditions, as suggested in this thread) must have decreased too.

The minor trafic certainly impoverished them and probably motivated a change of business plan, converting most of the tribes, eventually, into providers of Persian slaves for the Bukhara-, and Khiva- Uzbek Khanates (Teke, Yomud, Salor,…), some of them into hired irregular cavalry for the same Khanates (Yomud, Saryk, Ersari,…) or for Persia ( Göklan,…) or into rather unruly frontier “buffers” for Persia ( Afshar, Qajar..). Some others apparently converted early into pacific, semi-settled populations in northeastern Persia ( Alieli?)

Linked or not with this economical aspect, the Turkmen tribes also lost their outstanding conqueror-drive during the sixteenth century. They even had to give-up some of their richest pastures in the North to the Kazakh tribes and satisfy themselves with the barren Qara-Qum desert and the shores of the Amu-darya, lower Murghab-, lower Teshen- and Attrek Rivers.

Certainly a dramatic change of life style for them, since, during the previous centuries, the Oghuz Turkmen tribe had been the cradle of most successful invasions and new empires established in Persia and Western Asia. Indeed, the ruling classes of the Great Seljuks, Seljuk of Rums, Akh- and Kara-Koyunlu and Ottomans, as well as several leading tribes of the Qizilbash (foremost supporters of the first Safavid Shahs) all shared an Oghuz Turkmen filiation, even though they developed sometimes into bitter enemies and some converted quite early to Shia Islam.

Surely all these numerous, well weaponed and motivated conquerors were no poor hill-or rather “desert-billies” but competent horsemen and warriors with some political acumen.

It is documented that even during this most effervescent period of expansion some Turkmen units or clans kept moving back from the conquered territories to the ancestral Transcaspian homes. For a while there must have been a flow of people keeping the Transcaspian cousins up to date and the local demography buoyant. A flow which later might have decreased to a trickle.

Surely one can subscribe to Martin’s reasonable hypothesis of a much more isolated Turkmen civilization developing specificities after the sixteenth century, including its wonderful rugs.

Best regards

Horst Nitz
July 21st, 2014 01:33 PM

Hi Martin and All,

you may find this drawing of a felt shabrack (Pazyryk, Kurgan V; S Rudenko 1970, plate 162) not very distantly related to the rug on the mural as well as to the shabrack on the bull:

As to the meaning of the motifs within the rhomboids I can only give a guess: a prophetic announcement of coming Christianity perhaps, or the four-leaved clover symbol of the pre-migration period Irish made for luck on their way? I am open for other suggestions.



Martin Andersen
July 21st, 2014 03:32 PM

Hi Horst

Your right the Pazyryk saddle cover is very interesting, didn’t know it before, but found a photo of it here:

The Scytians/Kungans sure is a part of the background in the south-north migrations we are looking at in this.

And the curled leaf border on the saddle cover sure is precise, and I suppose it must be the oldest existing clearly curled leaf border on textile.
Here another Pazyryk fragment which perhaps could be relevant in a compassion with the Sogdian elephant saddle cover:

Best Martin
(and the prophetic 4-5th.c before Christ Pazyryk crosses are as always good to have in mind :) )

James Blanchard
July 22nd, 2014 12:18 AM

Hi all,

Sorry I'm jumping in late.

How about the following as a more recent example of an "adopted" version of the animal in the roundel?

(from Barry O'Connell's site - http://www.spongobongo.com/yomud.htm)

We might be seeing this reflected in "Baluch type" designs as well, probably taken from the Turkmen version.


Martin Andersen
July 22nd, 2014 09:22 AM

Hi James

Yes and come to think about it, the rare eagle group pieces with this motif seems to be the only Turkmen rugs where there clearly is a central singular animal in the octagon (and not a "tree")

Exactly which animal it is I suppose is open to interpreation, aren’t they often called chickens in in the Baluch rugs? To me Chicken is kind of strange as an “elevated” rug motif like this. To me it looks like birds or dragons, so I in this thread in the context of Sasanian/Sogdian motifs I would say the it could be the composite Simurgh, which is a common motif both in the textiles and other materials, Here the Afasiab murals 7th.

And certainly a motif which were held high also later in central Asia.
If we say the central motif in the eagle group octagon is a Simurgh, then the flanking smaller animals could be its preys. All of course just an interpretation. Here Nadir Divan-Beghi Madrasah, Bukhara 16th.

best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 22nd, 2014 09:58 AM

It’s also interesting to compare the dears on the Pazyryk felts and rug to the Sogdian dears.
Looking at the interior half abstract drawings/fillings of the dears its almost hard to believe there is a millennium between them


best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 22nd, 2014 12:40 PM

Hi All
This will be a rather long post, actually to long for the software here on the forum so I will have to make it as 2 post.

Here 1. part:

Hope you will bear with me and have the patience to look into it. It’s a bit complicated, as history and its realities always is, and I will have to cut some corners to get to a hopefully clear point. I will have to go back to the coinage again, I have found some coins which I think supports the interesting correspondence between the notion of “Al-Malik”/“The King” and the Seldjuk border.

Not many visual remains or artifacts has been left from the great northern turkic khanates, I suppose a direct consequence of their basic nomadic structure. The history of who dominated who and when in all of this is rather complicated, so please forgive me I will mainly look at the iconography of the visual remains in an attempt of illustrating the possible connections. There surely may be some errors in the details of the following but I think the overall picture is fairly correct.

The Hephalite / White Huns, contemporarily with the Sogdians (and in periods their rulers) though their ethnicity probably have been mixed like the Sogdians in portraits have clearly Turkic facial characteristics. Here a beautiful Hephalite clay seal, with the inscription “The Lord (Yabgu) of the Hephthalites" 5-6th.c

They also issued Sasanian styled copies of the Bharam V silver dirham, and developed their own variations of it, including Khusan like royal tamgas.

Here a Bharam V styled coin where the fire altar on the reverse is reduced to something that looks almost like a tamga:

Hunnic Tribes, Nezak Huns, Uncertain King, time of Shahi Tigin?, Circa. 710-20 AD.

As with the Khusan royal tamgas in Hephalite there is a strong element of anthropomorphism in the tamgas, kind of signature as stylized portrait. Either has highly stylized crowned heads or as here the entire body.

Termez Shah 7th.

The tamgas are also related to the old turkic runic alfabeth and this takes us to the Göktürk khanate, and the oldest turkic larger text on the Orkhon Inscriptions in Mongolia. One of the Orkhon steles is in remembrance of Kül Tigin, of whom there exists a fine portrait. Whether one should call his hat a crown or not I suppose is debatable, but to me it looks comparable to the Sogdian crowns:

In the excavation of the Bilgä Qaghan/Köl Tegin memorial site from the 8th. c. this crown/diadem was found. The peacock motif is predominant, but I would still see it as having an overall direct relation to the Sodgian/Sasanian crowns:

Historical written Chinese sources mentions that the Göktürks used Sogdian merchants as diplomats in their encounters with China. Gökturk coinage shows ruler portraits on one side and tamgas and Sogdian script on the reverse, here 6th.c.:

The Kül Tigins Orkhon stele is also topped with a tamga, perhaps anthropomorphic if one can accept an interpretation of it as a mounted ruler on a horned horse (and horses decorated with extremely long wooden/golden horns are known from the 8th.c Issyk kurgan culture):

And here just to keep in mind that this is a rug forum a “petroglyph depicting Turks” 6-8th (sorry don’t know exactly from where) :

Later Mongolian coins from Gjengis Khan and on (after the relocation of cental (central asian/persian artisans ) uses arabic script mixed with highly stylized images and tamgas. Here the Arabic word “A’dl”/”justice” above a stylized bow, and the reverse mounted ruler on horse (perhaps with spear/trident/tamga in hand)

Bow type AE Jital. Date less. Qunduz mint. 618AH.1221AD.
Obverse: mint name. A'dl. bow and arrow.

Here the Arabic “A’dl”:

Regarding the Arabic on the coins I better try to clarify a bit: I relay on the interpretations of the numismatic descriptions of coinage, which in some cases I suppose are debatable interpretations. Even very simple Arabic words can be tricky, for example the individual letters shifting visual appearance according to the letters before and after, with great stylistically variations (this certainly also is the case today, visual appearance of the Arabic words change rather dramatically with different Arabic font types installed on our computers).

Here an example, an inscription which according to the numismatic description reads “Khan / Justice / Toqtu”

TOGTU KHAN (712-742AH/1312-1341AD)
AR dirham. Qrim mint. 698AH. Obverse: Khan al-adil Togtu. Reverse: Batu Khan Tamgha.

It’s the middle part of the inscription which is interesting here. If it reads “Justice” the it’s the definitive version of it “THE justice” / “Al-adl”
The visual appearance of “Al-adl” and “Al-malik” are very close, here in contemporary Arabic fonts, “Al-adl” left and “Al-malik” right:

Most numismatic translations of this type of legend would actually translate it to “Al-malik”, but this just to show that the interpretations are debatable. And one could in this case ague the meanings of the words “the Justice” and “the King” in this context are overlapping.

Back to the Tamgas of the Khans, as I am here more interested in the iconography of the coins than the underlying complex history, I take the liberty of not differentiate of the Mongolian empire and its breaking up in Khanate’s like “the Golden, Blue or White Horde”. Ichnographically on the coinage they are close related, the various Khans issuing coins with anthropomorphic Tamgas and Arabic legends. Here Berghe Khans Tamga, I would say head and body highly stylized

BERGHE KHAN (654-665AH/1256-1266AD)
AE pul. Qrim mint. ND. Obverse: Tamgha of the Khan Berghe. Reverse: Nusrat ad_Dunia v ad-Din (Help of Peace and Faith).

And again Togtu Khan, with Al-malik (or Al-adl) on the reverse :

GH.Togtu_966GOLDEN HORDE. TOQTY, AH 689-712/1290-1312.

Here 3 coins of Möngke (Mengu)Khan 1209 – 1259. His tamga a mirrored trident. The legend on the lower left ”Mengu-kaan-TAMGA-Supreme” and to the right a beautiful coin with mirrored braided ornament on the sides of the mirrored tamga and arabic script around:

Martin Andersen
July 22nd, 2014 12:49 PM

Part 2. (continued from part 1.)

The Chagatai Khanate 1225–1340 issued coins on which the central inscription undoubtfully is “Al-Malik” They are simply minted in the site called Almalighe/Al-malik located in northwestern Xinjiang. Putting the mints name as a central motif on a coin is totally unusually, and of course probably only occurs because the name is what it is.
Here two versions with beautifully caligraphied “Al-Malik”:

On the right coin with monumentally braided “Alefs” and “Lams”, and between them the Chaghataids tamga:

This brings me a bit back in time to pre-Gjengis Khan Khwarezm. There is a special coin from the city Kurzuwan, a so called siege-coin which has a kind of touching story:

I quote: “Al-Malik ("The King") in the central circle, tarikh tabi al-akhar sanat thaman asbar wa sin mi'at ("dated to Rabi II, of the year 618") / Mint name and Kalima in three lines. 19mm, 2.88 grams. Tye 324.1; Nyamaa 31; Album 1971.
This fascinating type was minted in May/June 1221 AD in the city of Kurzuwan, when it was besieged by Ghengiz Khan. The coins were minted in the name of the "Malik of Kurzuwan" - an enigmatic title (it is not certain who it belonged to). This is a siege issue - one of the very few such Islamic issues ever issued. There are two types of this coin, one type dated Rabi II, and one dated Jumada I. This is the more common, and earlier month. Going by the scarcity of the coins, it is reasonable to suspect that the city fell sometime in Jumada I, literally weeks after the minting of this coin. Ghengis Khan completely destroyed the city and slaughtered the population.”

Personally I find it unlikely that a temporary leader during the siege should have proclaimed himself “Al-malik”. I find it more likely that the city (while their Shah fled and later died on an island in the Caspian Sea) laid its faith in the hands of the greater king, Allah.

The reverse inscription on the coin being “Kalimah” - Islamic standard phrases mostly taken from hadiths.

This might be an interpretive stretch but the small ornamentens above and below the ”Al-malik” could be floral or not. They can be seen a crowned head above the kufic . It is consistent on the siege coins that the upper small circle/flower is drawn hollow, making it appear like a head as it is often seen on the coins, while the lower is not.

Staying in Khwarezm, here a slightly older coin that unfortunately isn’t numismatically well described. On the one side a monogram (I suppose it’s not fair to call this a tamga, as this is a Persian not Mongolian ruler) of Mohamed Khwarezmshah and on the reverse what some translate to “Al-sultan”

To me this seems almost as a translation on the two sides of the coin between the pictographic monogram and the legible Arabic script.

The reduction of royal portrait to monogram/tamga has a long history in Khwarezm as this simple pre-islamic 5th.c. coin without any legend illustrates :

In Anatolian Seljduk/ Seldjuk of Rum coinage one sees a parallel development going from figurative reprensentations of rulers to purely caligraphyic coins.
Some of the early Seljdjuk coins very appropriatly reprensents the new normadic conquerres as mounted on horsebacks.

Here Qilich Arslan II (1155-1192), the oldest Anatolian Seldjuk coin I have found.

And here two coins of Sulayman Shah (1178 –1236) with tamga-like trident,

Regarding the headgear of the mounted Sulayman Shah there are other types of this coin, one where he is wearing some kind of turban, and a Hethumid version where Hethum of Lambron obvious is wearing a Byzantine diadem (with christian crosses on the side of it, and fleur de liss replacing the trident), Adaptivly borrowing and copying iconography is certainly frequent in the coinage. I would say that in the two samples above we are looking at the horned/winged crown in Sasanian/Sogdian iconographic style. Perhaps directly or indirectly borrowed from the widespread Bharam V silver Dirham which circulated in countless versions in Central Asia:

A sidenote but these mounted rulers may be directly inspired by Shahi coins (which the Seldjuks as far as I understand also encountered/defeated on their route out of central asia. The Shahi are also thought to be of Turkic origin, another possible trail into India)

Other figurative representations on the Anatolian Seldjuk coins are the Sun, Tiger/Lion and Double Headed Eagle, all images which I suppose could be said to be symbolic representations of the rulers. In less than a century the later calligraphic coins are strictly relying on script in their representation: rulers names, mint names, kalimahs – and the extended calligraphied version of “Al-Malik”: “Al-Mülk'ü lillah” “The Kingdom is Gods” replacing the figurative representation of the ruler (apart from the very first Umayyad coins this is of course in accordance with Islamic coinage in general)
As seen on the two Kay-Khusraw III (1265–1284) coins here, at the first coin in rather plain kufic, and at the second coin symmetrized with braided ornament on top. "Al-malik" placed as a central ornament replacing the ruler:

And with this I find it fair to look at the TIEM no 689 Seldjuk rug border once more:

Rugs and coins of course are not the same, but when it comes to reproduction of images and signs at least the primitive coinage share the technical limitations of the rugs regarding depiction (the coins struggling with miniscule scale, and the rugs struggling with weft and warp)- they share a tendency to reduce complexity into schematization.

By its sheer size the TIEM 689 Seldjuk rug is not an ordinary rug, calling it a palace rug could have been appropriated if it hadn't been found in the Alâeddin Mosque in Konya. The Alâeddin Mosque served as the “Mosque of the Throne” for the Seljuq Sultans of Rum and contains the dynastic mausoleum.
It has been debated whether the border of the rug is at all kufic or something entirely different (birds or dragons have been suggested). When seen in relation to the borders of the other Selduk rugs I personally find it totally obvious that the border is ornamentalized Kufic (or at least so-called pseudo-kufic), seeing it as something completely else is for me neglecting to recognize its general aesthetics and cultural context. On the other hand it’s also clear that the kufic border of TIEM 689 is not plain legible kufic script, and I would say that the iconography and calligraphy of the coinage clearly supports the fact that the border in its time has been perceived, by illiterate and literate alike, as the amalgamated kufic ideogram of “Al-Malik”- and certainly an appropriate border for a rug of the “Mosque of the Throne” for the Seljuq Sultans.

One could in a broad cultural perspective say that the notion of “Al-Malik” paradoxically iconographically showcases the power struggle between secular and religious supremacy. The Turkic nomadic hordes usurping the thrones of the Islamic world, while on the other hand the Islamic religion usurped the title of The King - and the new rulers quickly adapted, using the unifying authority of Islam in their further expansions.

Best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 24th, 2014 03:02 PM

And one could bring this a bit further up in time and closer to the rugs, and still find the reminiscences of the interesting ambiguity of the royal/religious “Al-malik” motif . The Timorid version of the Kufic border is well documented on rugs in the miniatures, and in multiple existing architectural decorations . Here an interesting miniature where we both have the Timorid kufic rug border, and what might be the oldest depiction of a Saph with multiple mihrabs decorated with lamps. The miniature depicts a school, and a school would I suppose in this context be a Madrassa, the basically religious schools which were often equipped with for example mihrabs on par with the mosques.

“Layli and Majnun at School” Nezami, Kamsa Bagdad or western 1461

Here a miniature from the Šāh-nāma-manuscript, the old persian historical record of the kings. The portraited king here is funny enough Bahram V, the Sasanian king whos portrait is by far the most reproduced on all the silver dirhams far beyond his own time.

I want take a guess on that the “high-low-high” script/ornament on the textile behind him could be read as (it is surely a variation of kufic letters)., but the inscription above the doors I am rather certain is repeated ornamental “Al-Malik”

The Timorid kufic border doesn´t survive in Persia , its seems to disappear together with the Timorid dynasty. But it turns up again rather intact on for example the rugs in European paintings as Pierre and Filiberto have thoroughly documented here on turkotek in their extensive mini-salons. And here Pierres excellent timeline of the kufic borders: http://www.turkotek.com/old_masters/timeline/essay.html

The Kufic border turns up as a still living border on the Caucasian rugs, were the oldest extant to me seems to be prayer/niche rugs.

Kuba Konagkend early 19th (?)

Locally in Konya it to my eyes look like the Seldjuk kufic border motifs in a fascinating transformation in a relatively short time ends out as the mihrab of the Anatolian niche/prayer rugs.

And one could bring this into relation of the Turkmen Kejebe motif and the Peikam border, but that has to be another,time, this thread is already to long.
Sorry for these very long posts (and my digression ending up in the Kufic, once again the title of the thread has gone slightly wrong), I am simply fascinated by the possible strings of pattern and motif connections – and none of them are of course provable

Best Martin

Martin Andersen
July 24th, 2014 03:51 PM

I just realize that with this Il-Khanid silk kaftan there is a possibility of a slightly more elegant ending regarding the Sasanian/Sogdian topic of this thread: The overall layout of the silk is clearly in Sasanian style, big roundels intersected with floral crosses. But there are no animals or other figurations on it, there are simply the “high-low-high” pattern instead - personally I would say a silk kaftan for an islamic prince decorated with kufic ornamentation in the “Al-malik” style.

best Martin

Horst Nitz
July 25th, 2014 09:28 AM

Hi Martin,

I can’t keep up with you in pace and scope, so its partly self-defence if I stick to a comparatively narrow focus.

The shabrack on the image I posted was excavated from Kurgan V in the Pazyryk valley, the same kurgan as the famous rug. The Skyths had gold and held power, and their death was the most important thing that could happen to them in life. This can be read from the efforts the aristocrats at least made in preparation of their funerals, hence the great number of kurgans at various places, most of them robbed within a few generations after their erection – and not for nothing. The Pazyryk rug survived undisturbed, so did the shabrack. Like the rug, it probably represented the state of the art in textiles, the best money could buy. Saying this, I imply that the shabrack was not made in the Pazyryk valley.

The result of a comparison of the designs of the Egyptian bull’s shabrack and of the (felt ?) Sogdian picnic rug raises the question of a production area somewhere between the distant locations. Bagdhad, Northern Iraq and thereabouts spring in mind, not only because of the long established links in both directions, and the fact that the Sassanid rulers resided in Bagdhad. We can call that region the cultural and artistic pivot point of the near East over a very long period. The Pazyryk rug was probably made there (Rudenko, Schürmann); trying to be more precise, possibly somewhere between Urmia and ancient Nineveh. Kelims with a design like the shabracks and the Sogdian ‘picnic’ rug were made there until the last century. After the commercial centre where they were traded, they are often called ‘Van Kelims’ although the best pieces seem to have come from across the Iranian border.

I’ll send an image of such a piece later (limited technical means right now). It was in the Kurdish tent at Harald Boehmer’s Rotterdam exhibition a few years ago. In my opinion, kelims in this design were probably made by Kurds and by the indigenous population alike:




Martin Andersen
July 25th, 2014 09:39 AM

Hi Horst

Perhaps we should start a separate thread on the topic of the Pazyryk rug and felts? (I were actually thinking about doing it yesterday). The Pazyryk material certainly is a series of benchmarks both in time and design. I am sure we could have a very interesting and productive discussion about both the actual pieces and their cultural context  and it might be nice to have a specific thread on the topic also as a reference for further discussion.

best Martin

Steve Price
July 25th, 2014 01:18 PM


The software won't let me edit Horst's post this morning, but here's the image that belongs in it:

Steve Price

Filiberto Boncompagni
July 25th, 2014 05:16 PM

Hi Horst,

and the fact that the Sassanid rulers resided in Bagdhad.
Yeah, and I am sure they were great readers of your “Georgian Kufic” as well.

The Sassanid Empire lasted from 224 CE to 651 CE. Baghdad was founded in the second half of the 8th century CE

Horst Nitz
July 28th, 2014 08:54 AM

Hi Martin, Filiberto,

I don’t think it needs a full discussion of the Pazyryk finds at this stage to understand, that, with regard to the rug design we are discussing (Sogdian ‘picnic rug’, Egyptian bull’s shabrack, Kurgan V shabrack), the Sogdians and the Skyths at their time have independently drawn from the same source in the Wider Upper Mesopotamia, and that the Sogdians very probably were not the principal influence to the development of rug designs in Turkestan. This doesn’t exclude the possibility, that in their trading on the silk route the have seeded designs, those from the western production centres of the empire they belonged to, as well as their own. Between the ‘picnic rug’ and the Pazyryk rug lay one thousand years.

The image shows a detail of the 19th c so called Van kelim I previously posted. It demonstrates, that even in detail an almost identical solution as in the textiles mentioned above, has been realised, in a production area, that is only around hundred miles away as the crow flies from the suggested production centre of the Pazyry rug (Schürmann), and from ancient Nineveh and Khorsabad; Seleucia Ctesiphon, the old Parthian and Sasanid capital, is not far away either.

Filiberto. Bagdhad, within sight of Seleucia Ktesiphon, became the new capital of the Kaliphat, and the old site was given up. My mistake was to think that the foundation had happened before the end of the Sasanid era. Thanks for reminding me, apologies for my slapdash formulation.



Filiberto Boncompagni
July 28th, 2014 09:49 AM

Hi Horst,
Your image is in place, now.
As for discussing your theories, I learned from earlier experiences that discussing with you is as fruitful and gratifying as discussing with a wall.
I have no time for that and for the foreseeable future I will limit myself to point out your factual errors.

Horst Nitz
August 1st, 2014 08:33 AM

Hi Filiberto,

Originally Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni2 (Post 17714)
I will limit myself to point out your factual errors.

This is a brillant idea. Enjoy the moment.



Pierre Galafassi
August 17th, 2014 05:18 PM


Hi Horst and all,

Quote: I don’t think it needs a full discussion of the Pazyryk finds at this stage to understand, that, with regard to the rug design we are discussing (Sogdian ‘picnic rug’, Egyptian bull’s shabrack, Kurgan V shabrack), the Sogdians and the Skyths at their time have independently drawn from the same source in the Wider Upper Mesopotamia, and that the Sogdians very probably were not the principal influence to the development of rug designs in Turkestan.

Why Horst! You know, I do indeed agree with you, I do! The people who in this thread are still discussing alternative sources of inspiration, other than Mesopotamia at large, for the design of Turkmen rugs, (and this even after you have been teaching them the truth) are obviously wasting their time and, worse still, yours. Especially since you did indeed overflow us with illuminating examples of antique (18th BCE to 18th AD!) Wider Upper Mesopotamian rugs and with striking comparisons with traditional Turkmen design.

It is therefore conscious of my innate lack of understanding and with the nagging suspicion that I am perhaps doing something stupid, that I’ll propose below some more reasons (other than design and motifs, a topic better ascribed to Martin’s sins), for an hypothetical Sogdian influence on Turkmen rug design.

My note will concentrate on where the Sogdians lived, what they did best for a living and what happened to them after their names ceased to make the headlines in the News (1).

FIG A: Sogdian Satrapy in Achaemenid Empire ca. 500 BCE:

FIG B: Sogdiana in ca 640 AD

The Sogdian traditionally settled part of the Transoxiana region, northeast of the middle Amu-darya (does rings a Turkmen bell ), around cities which became later known as Samarkand and Bukhara. There was already a Sogdian Satrapy during the heydays of the Achaemenid Empire (5th century BCE), with a local army quite able to teach a lesson to any unruly Scythian neighbor (the famous “Pointed-Hat-Scythians” discussed in another thread ).

Alexander’s soldiers had quite a few cats to skin when he toured the region around 327 BCE. But he did the (surviving-) Sogdians a big favor, making them understand that trading- and creating high value goods was a much safer and more enjoyable way of life than confronting Central Asian rogues. Henceforth they increasingly concentrated on getting rich, leaving politics and bruises to other people (successively the Greco-Bactrians, Great Yuezi & Kuchans, Hephtalites, Uyghurs, Qarakhanids, Arabs, Samanid Persans, Mongols, Timurids, Uzbeks etc…)

Much to his immediate western neighbors’ delight (The Yuezi, Tokarians), Emperor Wuedi of the China’s Han dynasty decided in 138 BCE to try and jump-start his country export-business and sent a certain Zhang Qiang westward to perform a much needed market-analysis. After an eventful 13 years-long journey, spoiled by two long periods of captivity, this soldier & diplomat returned with precious informations and a wife. Emperor Wuedi thus decided to open a new commercial route to the west, henceforth famous as the Silk Road.
At this stage the Sogdians were already in their starting blocks. Progressively, they organized an efficient, direct commercial system, with expats everywhere, between China and the important potential markets and suppliers, starting obviously with Persia. India was next and on-line before 400 AD, then Constantinople around 540 AD. Their dialect became the lingua franca of the Silk Road and “Sogdian” the generic name for any Silk Road businessman. They reaped most benefits of the Silk Road, and not, as erroneously recently claimed :D the Scythians, who, in 100 BCE-100 AD, had anyway already been largely absorbed or eliminated by other nomad ethnic groups.

FIG C: Map of the Silk road.

The Sogdians became the dominant players in exporting Chinese silk, paper and copper, as well as in importing into China superior Central Asian war horses (the famous Celestial Horses), alfalfa seeds for growing horse fodder, Baltic amber, Persian silverware, Roman wool textile, Takla-Makan jade etc.. . They never neglected to deal as well with their own production: As a Chinese visitor, called Xuangzang, dully reported in ca. 630 AD, they produced mainly paper (2), glassware, carved wood and oyez,oyez Turkotekers, also carpets.
Rug production can be inferred also from the clearly Sogdian rugs, featured in a number of Afrasiab (Samarkand) and Pendjikent murals. FIG D, E, F.

IMHO, the silk lampa in FIG G is quite interesting too, with its motifs reminiscent of the minor- and major guls on Timurid (3) and Turkmen rugs.

FIG D: Sogdian. 7th AD. Afrasiyab mural. Detail of the Zoroastran procession.

FIG E: Sogdian. 7th-8th AD. Pendjikent mural. The party.

FIG F: Sogdian. 7th-8th AD. Pendikent mural. Tigers attacking a hunter.

FIG G: Sogdian. 8th AD. Silk lampa with major and minor “guls”.

After the 10-11th century AD, the Sogdians’ role, as a main conveyor-belt for goods, fashions, design (4) and religious ideas (5) in Central Asia, gradually decreased. Their ethnic group became more and more “diluted” with neighbors and new (eager- or reluctant- ) immigrants. The Sogdians though, remained an important part of what came to be known eventually as the Farsi-speaking “Tajiks” of Samarkand and Bokhara. People who, typically, like the Sogdians, never really bothered to contest the political / military power of their various successive masters, but kept instead the leadership in religious- (by then Islamic), intellectual- and especially in commercial matters(6).

The Sogdians were installed, for more than 1500 years, very near to the place, (just east, north and west of the Aral Sea), where the Oghuz Turkmen initially settled when they arrived from the eastern steppe, between the 9th and 10th century AD.
Thus they became their most immediate northwestern neighbors (7).

From their new territory, many enterprising Turkmen launched wave after wave of horsemen towards Persia and beyond, and created a number of successive Empires starting with the Great Seldjuk Empire (11th-12th century AD).
Their most stay-at-home brethren first moved a bit further to the west till the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea (did they mind the Mongol lack of manners?), before dispersing their tribes all around the Qara-Qum desert. Most of them opting for places inside- or just to the West of the Bukhara Khanate. (8)

TO be continued in my next post.
It appears that I have reached the legal number of words

Pierre Galafassi
August 17th, 2014 05:33 PM

Second part ,

In short (so to speak):

The well traveled, sophisticated Sogdians of Samarkand and Bukhara and their descendants, seem, IMHO, to be the most likely vectors of information and inspiration for these Turkmen newcomers.

The products sold in their bazaars, their skilled artisans were without comparison in Central Asia (9) and must have fascinated (10) both the Turko-Mongol tribes aiming at ruling the region (Uyghur, Oghuz Seldjuks, Mongols, Barlas Timurides, Uzbeks etc..) and those who instead preferred to stick to a nomadic- way of life in the nearby steppe and desert (like “our” Salor-, Ersari-, Teke etc.. Oghuz tribes).

It seems well documented, confirmed both by old travelers’ reports and by modern archeology (extant murals), that the Sogdians were active in weaving and selling rugs. (Is there any proof too of an early rug-weaving activity, for example, in Mesopotamia, which some are advertising as the model for Turkmen weavers?).

The Sogdians had the opportunity (geographic closeness), the communication and commercial skills and the prestige needed for being (directly- or through the Timuride civilization) an inspiration for the Turkmen.

During the Timurid period (ca. 1370-1510 AD), Sogdia became the heart of the Empire and Samarkand its prestigious capital, enriched, like Bokhara, by thousands of artisans and intellectuals forcibly transferred there from all over Asia by Timur. The capital and Bokhara must have been a truly fascinating pole of attraction for anybody, including the Turkmen nomads living nearby.
It is documented (11) that even the fiercely independent 19th-century Teke of Merv and Akhal had part of their elite educated in Bokhara. We also know that most 18th-19th century Ersari and about half the Salor lived on the khanate territory. During the 18th century the Saryk- and during the 19th century the Ersari played a relevant role in the khanate army, while the Ersari and the Chodor were both active in organization and protection of Bokharan caravans. (12) (13). The Chodor were specialized on the Bokhara- Khiva-Russia route.

Therefore,It seems to me that Martin’s hypothesis of a stylistic influence of the Sogdian weavers and artists on the nomad Turkmen is very far from being harebrained, considering especially the wealth of thought provoking artistic material which Martin provided in this thread.


The informations summarized in this paper were mostly compiled from the following sources:
M. Compareti. The role of the Sogdian Colonies in the diffusion of the pearl
rondel pattern http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Art/SogdianPearl.htm

M. Compareti. Sogdiana. Iranian Culture in Central Asia

History of Silk. http://www.silk-road.com/artl/silkhistory.shtml

Court Art of Sogdian Samarqand in the 7th century AD

Sogdia, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sogdia

From Sogdian to Persian to Sart to Tadjik & Uzbeck: The reformulation of
linguistic and political identity in Central Asia

Zhang Qian, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhang_Qian

(2) From ca. 780 AD onward, Samarkand was the largest producer of paper in the Islamic world.

(3) About Timurid rug patterns see Turkotek: http://www.turkotek.com/VB37/showthread.php?t=1391

(4) Martin, do I err or did the typical Sogdian roundels became popular in Sassanian Persia and in the Roman / Byzantine empire too ?

(5) The Sogdians’ main religion was Zoroastrianism, until the Islamic conquest. But they were tolerant and curious in religious matters. They played a role in translating and diffusing Buddhist texts. This latter religion as well as Manicheism and Nestorianism are said to have converted some Sogdian expats, but never did succeed in their homeland.

(6) Acccording to J.F Baddeley and others, all 17th-18th century AD Central Asians business-travelers were called “Bukharans” in Russia and China, irrespective of their true origin.
Cahiers d’Asie Centrale, Marchants et négociants Boukhares, pages 37-62.

(7) Yuri Bregel. An Historical Atlas of central Asia. Pages 21-24.

(8) See Turkotek Salon 132 about “Location of major Turkmen tribes”:

(9) The only places in Central Asia which could (barely and during limited periods only) compare with the prestige of Samarkand and Bokhara were Meshed ( heretical from a Salor or Teke point of view) and Herat. 19th century visitors reported that the business-minded Tadjik from Bukhara & Samarkand were able polyglots, speaking both Farsi and the local Turkik dialect (Djagataï) intelligible for all Turkmen tribes. The 7th century visitor Xuangzang was impressed by the high degree of literacy of Sogdian kids, one can therefore assume that also the very business-minded Sogdians, could well communicate with the Turkmen newcomers.

(10) Babur, a late offspring of the Timurid, who eventually won the jackpot when he created the Moghol Dynasty in India, was a perfect example of the fascination of Samarkand on a Turko- Mongol, even a very sophisticated one. Young Babur fought stubbornly and without standing a chance, during many years, for its possession, against a far superior enemy.

(11) E. O’Donovan. The Merv Oasis. Five months residence among the Tekes of Merv. Vol II.
Tekes appointed as cadi were generally educated in Bokhara. Several clan leaders as well.

(12) See for example A. Burnes. “Voyage into Bokhara” and J. Wolff. “Narrative of a mission to Bokhara”.

(13) The Saryks (and some Salors) were probably an important part of the Bokharan expedition which in 1788 fully destroyed Merv and transferred its surviving population to Bukhara. They may have used this opportunity to occupy the oasis, shifting (nominal) allegiances, back and forth, and dealing with the rival Uzbek khanates of Bokhara and Khiva. Saryks and some Salors were still there in 1832, until the Tekes kicked them out in 1857.
The Yomud were traditionally reporting (nominally) to the Khiva khanate instead, and provided military and caravan-protection services too. The Chodor also “reported” to the khan of Khiva, but billed caravan services also to Bokharan merchants.

Chuck Wagner
September 1st, 2014 02:41 AM


I'll add a reference that I think has value -certainly more than I can add with text at this point - I don't think I can catch up on content before everyone loses interest.

I found, and purchased, a quite interesting book entitled "Pre-Islamic Carpets and Textiles From Eastern Lands" by Friedrich Spuhler, Thames & Hudson 2014, ISBN 978-0-500-97054-6.

It's a partial catalog of a collection of Sassanian and Sogdian textiles currently held by the Al-Sabah family of Kuwait. Weak on structural analysis but long on excellent imagery and commentary on design.

If there is sufficient interest I'll scan and post, but it's late in this thread and may not add anything other than more stuff for Steve and/or Filiberto to archive (HINT).

Chuck Wagner

Filiberto Boncompagni
September 1st, 2014 08:30 AM

Hi Chuck,

As far as I am concerned, you can go ahead!



P.S. - you can send the scan directly to me and I'll take care of them

Chuck Wagner
September 4th, 2014 12:52 PM

Greetings all,

Scanning and editing energy has been drawn down to 0.0%, but this is such an interesting collection of textiles that I think it has been worth it and I hope you agree. This is quite fortuitous - I found the book at our local art museum and bought it immediately - a few weeks later this discussion occurs - great timing.

That said, I have not yet read the entire thing nor have I fully digested the content - so I don't have a lot of high order thoughts to contribute at this point, other than to point out that:

a) the diversity of structural techniques in notable.

b) the flatweave designs and colors persist into modern times

c) the level of detail in the woven goods is very high, even though the actual rendering of the motif are sometimes a bit crude.

I have included the descriptive text for all the images - sometimes on an opposite page - and - I was unwilling to unbind the book in order to get the central shadow reduced - so live with it !!

I have made several close-up cut outs so you can see the detail. I have rotated one of the images (noted below) so that the pile is pointing downward, so we can see it in the same orientation as the weaver must have.

The colors look approximately correct on my machine - but not perfect - so buy the book to really appreciate them. Some of the groundcloth has a bit more of a neutral gray tone with less yellow tone, but I was unable to fix that without degrading the other colors.

Best regards,
Chuck Wagner

NOTE: Filiberto helped get these images organized - thanx ! - and so we can now take a look at some very interesting textile examples.

The image below has bee rotated "pile pointing down":

Filiberto Boncompagni
September 4th, 2014 01:11 PM

Hi Chuck,

You did a remarkable job with your scans, keeping the average file size under 100 Kb, congratulations!

Some of the images are - geometrically - too large for our standard but I did not resize them: most of them contain text that would be unreadable if resized. If you have a small monitor, you will have to scroll the page horizontally.

A way to avoid this is by "zooming out" your browser, pressing the “Ctrl” and the “-“ (minus) keys together. It should work on most of the browsers, I think.



P.S. - Of course, if you want to "zoom in" you have to use the "Ctrl" and "+" (plus) combination. At least, on Windows computers. Don't know about Apple computers.

Patrick Weiler
September 4th, 2014 06:34 PM

Apple zoom

Apple computers use the command+/- buttons to zoom in or out, instead of the control+/-.
As for the thread itself, the basic topic - Sogdian design - is rather obscure. They were hanging out 2,500 years ago, while the Sassanians were a thousand years later and were considered the fountainhead of Islamic culture and art, spreading out to Europe and Asia.
The influence of the Sogdians on Sassanian art seems to be substantial, just as Sassanian art was the foundation for much Islamic art. As with many cultures in the past, what preceeded them seems to have become incorporated into the DNA of the succeeding culture. Witness many pre-Islamic traditions (The Evil Eye for one) as an undercurrent in the practice of the modern religion - just as pre-Columbian/Christian traditions have been maintained in South American cultures.
There, summed it up in one paragraph.

Patrick Weiler

Filiberto Boncompagni
September 4th, 2014 07:49 PM

Hi Pat,

Thanks for the Apple input.

About the Sogdians: aren’t you mixing them up with the Scythians, perhaps?

The Sogdian culture was at its apex in the 6th century CE and, as I wrote elsewhere in this thread, the Sassanid Empire lasted from 224 CE to 651 CE.
I am sure that the famous ancient historian Petrus Galafassus would agree…


Pierre Galafassi
September 5th, 2014 04:44 PM

Thank you very much Chuck for these very interesting pictures, all of them new to me. Many pieces seem to be attributed to northern Afghanistan, slightly peripheral to Sogdiana proper, sure, but certainly included in their closest commercial & artisanal orbit. The number of surviving rug- and textile- fragments published is impressive especially when one considers their age and the extremely low percentage of surviving pieces which should be expected. It seems to prove, isn’t it, that rug- & silk weaving and textile trading was a pretty large business in the region during the first centuries AD and certainly not limited to Khosrau’s huge and famous woven extravaganza.

“Sogdian”, more than anything else, was designating a culture (mainly artistic and commercial), which heart was the region around the cities now known as Bukhara and Samarkand, north and east of the middle Amu-darya. Certainly it was not designating any kind of political power, nor any clearly defined ethnic group, although the bulk of the population and the elite spoke a dialect related to Persian and was probably, in its vast majority, of Indo-European origin. At least until the 9th century AD, when “Turkification” crossed the Pamir passes.

The historical period during which they would still be mentioned under the name of Sogdians goes roughly from the 5th century BCE (when there was a Sogdian Satrapy in the Achaemenid Empire) and the 10th century AD, thus significantly after the end of the Sassanian Persian Empire and even after the date when the last Sogdian principality was taken and destroyed by the Arabs (end of 8th century AD).

Their period of major success and influence goes from the 4th to the 8th century AD. The Arab conquest of Sogdiana was difficult and linked with a few blind destructions. It temporarily hampered business, which was later revived by the Uyghur Empire until its own fall, middle of the 9th century AD, when trade decreased again and the “indigenous” Sogdians were progressively assimilated by newcomers even in their own mainland. Or, at least, when they lost their aura as the paramount businesspeople of the Silk road. (Although one has to remember that several centuries later Chinese and Russian sources still used the generic name of “Bokharans” for traveling merchants & business people).

During these 15 centuries, the Sogdians had very rarely indeed a state of their own, although they frequently managed to enjoy a semi-independent status in a handful of micro-states, all ruled for a long time by members of the same clan, who claimed to have come from the region of Gansu (Tokharians?). There were many successive, sometimes very short-lived protectorates of these Sogdian puppet states. The main and most stable masters being of course the Tang’ Chinese dynasty and the Persian Sassanian Empire. But the Tokharians (or Yuezi) and their probable offspring the Kushan, the Western Gökturks, their offspring the Uyghurs etc..all controlled at least part of Sogdia at times.
It seems that most conquerors had the good sense of letting the Golden-Egg Hen live, prosper and lay.

The first Chinese mentions of Sogdians’ special commercial talent were probably made during the first century BCE. They may have learned the business from their Bactrian- and Yuezi neighbors, who successfully traded with China before them, but then they gradually took over and very much developed the business during the first centuries AD.

Next to “mainland Sogdiana” situated, as mentioned, around Bukhara and Samarkand, several other near-by regions were often considered by travelers as being Sogdian too and entered the Sogdian “monetary zone” at one time or another, especially after 200 AD, for example Ferghanah, (where most of the famous “Celestial Horses” coveted by the Han- and Tang dynasties came from), Bactria, Kwaresm, Northern Afghanistan (higher Amu-darya, present day Meymaneh & Kunduz areas) and Kashgar (western entrance to the Takla Makan).
Factors which have favored the Sogdian’s dominance of the Silk Road were probably the good commercial education which they gave to their kids and their very large, influential and well assimilated colonies of expats in all the strategic points of the silk road including at its terminals (The Chinese capital Chang’an hosted a very large colony) and hubs (Turfan, Kashgar, Anxi ..) etc… Experts even suggest that some rather frequent Chinese family names like Kang or Shi do reveal probable Sogdian ancestry. Colonies were implanted even in the Turko-Mongol northeastern steppe and in southern India.

Sogdian- and Sassanian art seem to be very often used as synonyms. Discussing whether the Sogdian were the inventors or merely a conveyor-belt for the “Sassanian” silk style for example, is far outside my competence, but we have an expert on site: Martin.

What seems clear however is
a) that the Sogdian merchants disseminated this style through the whole early medieval Eurasian world and thus clearly influenced foreign art.
b) that the Sassanian Kings considered that Sogdiana was their richest province.
c) that Sogdian influence went beyond the mere trade and production of luxury items. They were instrumental in the transfer of ideas & religions as well. They also are documented as playing sometimes an important parts in the diplomacy and chancellery of their political bosses. One of them even climbed so quickly the Chinese social ladder that he would lead an attempt at overthrowing the Imperial throne.

Best regards

Martin Andersen
September 14th, 2014 06:08 PM

Thanks a lot Chuck

Highly interesting and lots of totally new material also to me. Must admit my head is full for a lot else than rugs these days, but to me it looks like there are a lot similarities to the animal rugs Franses has presented in his talk/podcast as Bactrian, both in motifs and borders, And one of them, the stag rug, is identical, by Franses labeled Bactrian, which is also in accordance with the finding in Afghanistan:

I kind of wonder that is the reason for Friedrich Spuhler to assign all the rugs to eastern Iran? Well I suppose there will be a lot of discussions regarding all this new material in the near future.

In this rug fragment, unfortunately we miss the head, I find it hard not to see a “regal ram” marching towards the border, and I would say like the Sogdian silk (but Pierre: no no no, I am not an expert, just curious )

best Martin