Russia became aware of Turkmen carpet art not long after the empire's
expansion across Siberia and then south into Central Asia. The first
instance was a folio (1879) compiled by N. E. Simakov, the product
of a typical Russian "scientific" expedition into new
colonial territory -- comprised of engineers, an hydrographer, botanists,
a geologist, a zoologist, an art historian, and two painters --
which among other things included the artists' rendition of Turkmen
carpets as observed in Samarcand. (Thus demonstrating that they
were in trade in Central Asia at that time.) Accompanying text characterized
the Turkmen carpet as having "designs [which are] almost heraldic
arms". 1 Figure 1 reproduces a tent band illustration
from the folio.
made the same point, only in the context of Central Asia: "..the
tamga and presentations of their hereditary knowledge of
the divisions of families and tribes." 2
In this particular
folk art, one possible ingredient could well be the tamga:
"...the symbol of a subclan...a group of families affiliated
by blood...whose livestock, whether reindeer, horses, or dromedaries,
are marked by this symbol. The tamga also appears on various
belongings, as well as on the graves of deceased members of the
clan." 3 The history of this matter is rather deep;
tamga are listed in an 11th century compilation 4
of the main Oghuz clans, the mother lode of the Turks including
the modern Turkmen, who loosely may be viewed as the Oghuz who stayed
behind in western Central Asia. 5
also had official use. The Novgorod Chronicle of 1251 worried: "Evil
news came from Russia, that the Tatars desired the tamga
and tithe on Novgorod," payment 6 of customs tax
certified via a seal on merchandise. (Subsequently to enter the
Russian language as tamozhnya.) Modern era Kazaks, progeny
of these Turko-Mongol overlords of southern Russia, used the tamga.
Some scholars say it appeared on their yurts. (Figure 2)
also employed the markings. Baber -- the last of the Timurid rulers
in Central Asia -- mentioned a local beg who had his name inscribed
on the tamga (royal seal) and the sikka (coinage).
7 The Mongol khan Kuyuk's seal survives on a letter to
the Pope. 8 A device of wavy lines below three dots forming
a triangle, alleged to have been Timour's seal, is well known. 9
Others are known. (Figure 3)
in somewhat the same vein is that one Yacoub Artin studied western
Asia coats of arms, drawing upon various 19th century sources having
to do with the wesm, Arabic for an identifying mark, and
mentioned its presence in wool carpets. 10 Western and
Central Asian royal seals and coats of arms, however, probably are
best viewed as separate from their latter day Turkmen equivalents,
albeit the functions are the same and the symbols similar. Together
they well may suggest a common, old source.
An early modern
era compilation of Oghuz clan brands is that of Abul Ghazi Bahadur
Khan, 17th century ruler of Khiva. 11 Accompanying text
gives the brands a somewhat narrow function: "..each of which
has a distinctive brand (alama, sima) on its animals by which
it is known from the others." Abul Ghazi also names the ongons,
the totemic bird of each clan, almost always a raptor, per Figure
the earlier Russian carpet literature cited the tamga as
inherited marks of tribal and family subdivisions as elements of
design, it did so in a less than thorough manner. In Soviet period
literature Moshkova (1946) spoke of clan ongons (not quite
accurately termed "eagles") and put them into the gols
of Turkmen carpet design. "Here are known the marks of families
(tamga) and heraldics known of several tribes ... in the
designs of primary principal motifs of medallions of Turkmen rugs
To see anything
therein resembling birds of prey, however, requires a major effort
of the imagination. Indeed, recognizable feathered creatures, such
as those in some asmalyk, favored by Moshkova, resemble domestic
fowl. (Two ongon are quail.)
The clan association
also appears in the posthumous (1970) Moshkova piece. An accurate
albeit clunky rendition of the text would be: "Elements of
heraldic meaning. Here come together designs (tamga) of clan
connotation and heraldic meaning of certain tribes, being condensed
to principal carpet medallions of the Turkmen..." 13
That is, within the gols. The gol/tamga link
has become standard in western writings about Turkmen carpets. "Carpet
design is based on tribal emblems, so-called tamgas."
14 But there clearly is a difference between the ongon
and the tamga; the latter are brands.
A good deal
has been said about the tamga in considerable detail; a statement
much closer to their home, one with an interesting twist, appears
in Tikonovich, 1930. 15
symbolic ornament it is possible to regard the tagma, i.e.,
seals or brands, so as to know the tribal ownership of 'household
animals, articles of every day home life, accoutrements, arms, even
people'...And the tagma, like ornamental forms, as such,
can be divided into separate groups --- daily homelife articles,
herdsmen's implements, and latterly up to the Arabs (which led to)
tracings of the marks "elpp" from the Arabic alphabet,
[thus] its adaptation since the Turkmens do not have their own lettering...in
the distant past [they] naturally hied to the copying of such images
which were larger aspects in the everyday life of the nomad."
The Tikonovich description, its speculation about an Arabic alphabet
source, and the curious spelling, tagma, in turn, is based
on an exposition by G. Karpov, 1929. 16
owe a debt to the Arab alphabet as a result of the 7th/8th century
Arab incursion into Central Asia seems to require evidence, not
offered. The contention ignores matters such as the then whereabouts
of the Oghuz (east of the Arab sphere), the rather prompt ebbing
of the Arab tide, the correspondence of some Timurid (16th c.) fabric
patterns with some motifs used in Turkmen carpet design, and the
8th century Koshno-Tsaidan and Orkhon Turkic inscriptions, the first
The Karpov material is, nevertheless, most interesting. He lists
the Abul Gazi Oghuz clans, illustrates the there depicted tamga
somewhat differently, and records the "meaning" of each.
(Figure 5.) There is considerable exposition concerning shepherd
crooks as they appear in brands and in livestock ear-notching. The
attempt to show a relationship of some Turkmen tamga with
those of the Golden Horde in order to link the Oghuz with the Mongols
is not unreasonable: tamgas on coins of Batu, Bereke , and
Mangu do resemble those of Turkmens. 17
The gist of
the Karpov message is : (1) there is no information on Tekke tamgas;
(2) tamgas are still (1920's) in use by some families for
livestock -- among both Atabei Yomuds and Saryks, who in particular
have "preserved family brands"; and (3) the tamga
continues to be used by coastal Caspian Yomuds, along with Saryks
and Salors. Although household objects are cited -- these would
include woven items -- as having been marked, no examples are given.
The message is that to a limited degree the practice continued here
and there in the 1920's at the family level. Figure 6 portrays tribes,
families, and marks per Karpov.
prospects of the tamga still being present in late 19th to
early 20th century carpets and carpet-related products are slim,
it might be useful to look more than casually at Yomud wedding camel
trappings, door surrounds, interior storage items such as spoon
or spindle bags, and tent bands. A caution here is that it must
be remembered that Yomud tent bands were in the export market as
chair back covers, and family identifiers may not appear on such
The photo (courtesy Caroline Jones and HALI magazine) of a shirt
(looking good to be Bukhara Arabachi) appearing in Figure 7 bears
a motif quite like the tamga at the far end of those illustrated
in Figure 8, taken from Felkersham (as is Figure 3, both unsourced).
It is easy to make too much of such correspondences and hard to
for the ongon within the gol does not appear to be
strong. The argument for the tamga within a gol even
weaker. Best to look for the tamga nowadays and best to think
that the ongon lies in the past, where Moschova thought it
1 Simakov, N. E., L'Art de L'Asie Centrale,
St. Petersburg, 1883, Sheet 4.
2 Felkersham, Baron A., Starye Gody, oktyabr' - dekabry,
Starinye kover Srednei Azii, 1914, p. 88.
3Czaplicka, M. A., The Turks of Central Asia, London, 1918,
4 Al Kashgari, Mahmud, Compendium of the Turkic Dialects,
ed. Dankoff and Kelly, Sources of Oriental Languages and Literatures,
7, Turkish Sources, Part I, Harvard University, 1982, pp. 40-41.
5 Peter Golden, Rutgers University, in conversation, somewhat reluctantly,
a number of years ago.
6 The Chronicle of Novgorod (1016 - 1471), trans. Mitchell,
Robert and Forbes, Nevill, Camden Third Series, Vol. xxv, London,
1914, p. 95.
7 Memoires of Baber, trans. Leyden, John and Erskine, William,
Vol. 1, p. 305.
8 Pelliot, P., Revue de l'Orient Chretien, Vol. 23, 1922-23,
9 Felkersham, Baron A., op. cit., p. 88, p. 95.
10 Yacoub Artin (Pacha), Contribution a l'Etude du Blason en
Orient, London, 1902, p. 188 ff.
11 The chart appearing as Figure 4 is taken from Kononov, A. N.,
Rodoslovnaia Turkmen, USSR Academy of Science, Moscow and
Leningrad, 1958, pp. 53-54.
12 Moshkova, V. G., Plemennye 'goli', v turkmenskikh kovrakh,
sovetskakya etnografiya, Moscow and Leningrad, 1946, pp. 160-61.
13 Moshkova, V. B., Kovry narodnov Crednei Azii, kontsa 19 --
nachala 20 vv., Tashkent, 1970. p. 43.
14 For example, Brodsky, Boris, The Art Treasures from Moscow
Museums, Moscow, 1980, p. 325.
15 Tikhonovich, V., "Kul'tura ornamenta turkmenskogo kovra",
Turkmenovedenie , Apl/May, 1930, p. 27.
16 Karpov, G., Turkmenovedei, #3/4, 1929, "Tagma".
17 Lane-Poole, Stanley, Catalogue of Oriental Coins in the British
Museum, Vol. VI, The Coins of the Mongols, p. 65.