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Volume VII Number 5
November 1989

There was a strong American missionary interest in the Nestorian Christians living in Kurdish territory to the west of Lake Urumiah. Several ministers and their families lived there during the 19th century. Others visited; one of these was Horatio Southgate, on tour for several months during 1838 and 1839. His trip account provides textile manufacture, trade, and use information at a time well in advance of the late 19th century carpet export boom. Southgate is a good observer, for he spoke not only Persian, but also Turkish and its Azeri variant.

There is a minor observation made at journey's outset in Constantinople, one which bears upon prayer practice: "... it belonged to the soldiers to carry back the mats which had served them in their devotions." (1) Southgate also described mosque interiors: "The rest of the floor is clear...and is covered with carpets or mats." (I, p. 129) These comments show a continuing religious use in Turkey of mats, including, apparently, that of individual prayer space.

Shortly after crossing the Arax River and entering Persia he describes a Kurdish tent: "The covering was of a cloth of fine black wool, impervious to the rain. This was supported at the corners by poles five feet high, and, in the center, by one nearly double that height, giving to the roof a slope in every direction. The interval between the lower edge of the cloth and the ground was filled up, on three sides, by a lattice of light reeds painted in figures." (I, p. 189) Thus, another reed screen employed by Kurds, and perhaps decorated in a non-thread technique, although Southgate easily could have been reporting an appearance rather than a reality.

In Armenia, the small city of Bitlis was a place of some commercial consequence: "The bazaars are extensive, covered, and well filled ... and the different parts of' the interior show some management in the separate disposition of the various kinds of merchandize and trades." (I, p. 221) The principal economic activity consisted of dye establishments and the manufacture of cotton cloth. The situation at Van was less robust: "The bazaars also are very small and mean. There are but two khans [caravanserai] in the place, one of which was occupied exclusively by Persian merchants, who reside here as at Bitlis." (I, p. 269) The locale's leading product was cotton cloth.

Southgate spent seven months in Tabriz, and described one of the city's specific products: "In another part of the enclosure, a company of workmen were engaged in the manufacture of shawls. They were from Kerman and had been brought hither by Abbas Mirza for this same purpose. The process was so difficult that they accomplished only half an inch daily and six months, they said, were necessary to complete a shawl of one and a half yards in length. They said they had been brought from their native country against their will..." (II, p. 6) Southgate here reveals a shawl source in Persia additional to Kerman but linked to it.

The imports of Tabriz were "chintz, cotton, and woollens"; its exports were "the silks of Ghilian, the great silk country of Persia", nut-galls of Kurdistan, Shiraz tobacco, yellow berries for dyeing, and gums of various kinds. Textiles were among the lesser exports: "Persian shawls are sent to Constantinople, and a few carpets to Europe, where they are sold under the name of Turkey carpets, because they are brought into Europe from that country." (II, p. 12) Southgate is by no means the only European traveller of the period to make this comment about carpet origins versus carpet trade nomenclature.

He passed through the Persian town of Mianeh, famous for its rice and its allegedly deadly bedbugs. He marked Kasvin as a place of consequence ("best-looking town I had seen in Persia") with a bazaar possibly larger than that of Tabriz. (II, p. 46) The same commercial presence was also evident in Teheran: "Its bazars are extensive and are roofed with tile, so as to present a succession of small domes. They are filthy, however, and less attractive, in every respect than those of Tabriz." (11, p. 70) Southgate's account of Teheran is very brief, a likely result of his being sick with fever while there.

The Hamadan description, however, is more robust: "But its bazars, its numerous caravanserais and the bustling throng which fill them, gave it in our eyes importance and interest. The bazars are extensive and well-furnished, and present unusual order in the arrangement of the different crafts. Shoe makers, saddlers, blacksmiths, silversmiths, and workers in cotton, occupy separate parts, as is the custom in the bazars of Turkey." He noted both an extensive trade and extensive manufacturing:
"The principal manufacture of the place itself is leather....There is also a considerable manufacture of coarse carpets, besides woollens and cotton stuffs." (II, p. 103/4) This comment puts carpet manufacture in Hamadan city in 1839, for Southgate's diction involves the terms mats, nummuds (felts), and carpets.

The dangers of evidence used to underwrite negative conclusions in re carpet-making are underscored by this observation, for Morier in Hamadan in 1811 noted only "nummuds" as a city product. To infer from this -- as Research Report once did -- an absence of carpets looks very untenable in light of the Southgate comment. Also, Southgate has company. T. C. Armstrong was in Hamadan ten years earlier, in 1829, and said about it: ". . .this place being celebrated for the excellent manner in which they dress and dye skins, [i.e., leather] and also for the manufacture of various articles of iron, beautifully painted nummuds of felt, carpets, etc." (2) The Armstrong account represents the firm footing of independent corroboration. A much later Hamadan resident, A. Cecil Edwards, evidently did not know the Southgate and Armstrong observations: (3)

"Carpet weaving in the town of Hamadan is a comparatively recent development. There is no evidence that it ever existed before 1912; nor is there any tradition (in a country where traditions persist) which might lend support to a speculation that it might have existed there in the past. Certainly when I first came to Hamadan in 1912 there was not a single loom in the town."
One moral here is that conclusions about the absence of carpet weaving based on anything other than a knowledgeable observer's negative comment are unsound. Be it Edwards' inference in re the silence of tradition, or Morier' s silence about carpets while mentioning felts -- things unwitnessed are too soft to stake a position on. Edwards on c. 1912 status is, of course, impeccable. Another lesson in all this is that of the fact of discontinuity. Rug manufacture is probably as much an on again, off again phenomenon as it is a continuous one. Assumptions of gradual and unidirectional design change, when seen in this light, are suspect.

Southgate also places carpet manufacture in Kermanshah: "The city has some celebrity for the manufacture of carpets.. ." (II, p. 137) Ferrier put village and nomadic carpet making here at exactly the same time. There have been occasional doubts about the existence of carpet-making in Kermanshah; for the first half of the 19th century, at any rate, these seem unfounded.

Southgate follows the same bazaar, trade, manufacture rubric in describing Baghdad. "....its bazars are small and inferior in appearance... In point of trade it is chiefly a thoroughfare for the traffic between Bagdad, Syria, and Constantinople. It has, however, a considerable commercial intercourse with the interior of Kurdistan....The principal manufactures of the city are napkins and other cotton stuffs, such as chintz, shawls for turbans, and calicos." (lI, p. 241)

The Southgate trip represents a significant tour through that area where Persia, Turkey, and Transcaucasia converge. He visits most of the urban places, and through his descriptions one acquires a sense of their commerce. He places carpet manufacture in the towns of Kermanshah and Hamadan, and shawls in Tabriz. All in all, he presents a picture of what things were like before the great export boom of shipments to the West in the century's last two decades.

  1. Southgate, Horatio, Narrative of a Tour Through Armenia, Kurdistan, Persia arid Mesopotamia, London, 1840, Vol. I, p. 118. Subsequent Southgate page references are identified parenthetically.
  2. Armstrong, T. C., Journal of Travels in the Seat of War, London, 1831, p. 141.
  3. Edwards, A. Cecil, The Persian Carpet, 1953, p. 96.
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