The Richard E. Wright Research Reports; a Compilation of Notes Concerning the Nature and Origins of Textiles
Reports Table of Contents
Print Version

Timur and the Uzbegs

March 2015

Research Report has gone on for a long time.  Since its inception, gallons of ink have been spilled by all manner of authors on the subject of the Turkmens and their carpets.  RR’s explorations seem to boil down to: 1) carpet-making always had a commercial component, be it small or large, and be it either local, regional, international, or all three at the same time; and 2) carpets and carpet-like objects always were part of a city/countryside trade -- with each party having something of value to the other.

This note pulls together into one place the pieces of argument in the notes, Bukhara and Its Ersari, The Khiva Khanate and the Chodor, and The Southern Rim.   The conjecture is that a vestige of Timurid textile style might be seen in a particular Turkmen carpet type.  

There is, however, a rule to remember -- correlation does not mean causation; and, this conjecture is based on inference from circumstantial evidence.  On a spectrum of possible, probable, proved, possible is as far as one can go.


Timur’s mausoleum was a popular tourist stop during the period of Russian control.1 Count Palen, on official business, 1908-09, claims to have walked on a large carpet (white ground, arabesques and flowers) 2 in the Timur mausoleum, a carpet now apparently lost.  About that time Hughes Krafft 3 also visited the same site and photographed a room full of furnishings, no space for a carpet. Such places had numerous chambers and caution in giving the photo much weight is a good idea. The carpet backdrop in the painting of Timur poorly reproduced in Bukhara… does seem to echo the Palen description.  

The Timurid empire was home to a flowering of science, art, and literature. By then Central Asia was overwhelmingly Turkic; both Samarcand and Herat were among the world’s premier cities.  Timur introduced Persian culture, in part through the forced relocation of artisans from conquered regions.

A visitor to Timur's court in 1405 mentioned all sorts of textiles including that slippery term "carpet".  Most are described as embroidered (some with silk cloth and gold thread); some were on the floor (together with mats) and some of these were silk. 4

The royal manufactory, influenced by Chinese art, employed a large number of weaving techniques and produced many types of fabric.  There was frequent replication on decorated cloth of architectural forms.  Surviving textile fragments with a rather fine-line grid with rosettes, or with cartouches that touch with blossoms at the point of contact, are evocative of Sassanian style. 5

Although there are no reliably attributed Timurid carpets, they seemingly do appear in paintings, and some students of such matters think they show "remarkable similarities" to a certain class of later carpets thought to originate in Anatolia.

The royal textile studio’s designs seemingly were of two types, the one, an essentially geometric style, the other, curvilinear, with circles, arabesques, circles, and cartouches.  An article in Ars Islamica 6 reviews Timurid textiles at considerable length. Of particular interest is its discussion of the geometric style.  Two illustrations of this appear in The Khiva Khanate….

The Amy Briggs article is old and scholarship has moved on, but the article remains pertinent.  It is amply illustrated, footnoted with references to carpet and other authors, particular paintings showing textiles, and so forth.  There are in the text and in its notes occasional speculations about a Turkmen/Timurid connection.

Another cautionary note is in order.  An all-over repeat pattern of oval or squarish cartouches could, and did, arise independently at dissimilar times and in multiple places, and seemingly almost everyone used flowering vines.  It is important to view motifs as part of a repertoire. That is, a broad view that recognizes that any given motif and design could serve different mediums. Viz., parallels of carpets with architectural design (noted above) or with ceramics (see below). One gets the feeling that there was no sharp distinction being made among objects in terms of with what to decorate them. 

The Journal Asiatic also has an article on Timurid Textiles: 7

Carpets and Textiles

“Often velvety, carpets of the Timurid epoch have an ornamentation which recalls that of our carpets of high polish; it usually includes a large central medallion, with corners and base covered, except for the borders (panneaux), which present forests of vines [lianes] in parallel lines, orbs or arabesques being substituted for by objects along the sides (sujets lateraux).  Sometimes one notices individual [motifs] resembling (offerant) the Indian or Chinese type.  Colors consist of all shades of blue, rose, and green, combined with copper-colored red and blue lapis on a woven base of gold.

“Various fabrics present an ornamentation of the same type.  The most common are the baldaquin, 8 [with] silk highlights and brocade of gold, which came originally from Baghdad: baldacchino or baldakino is the corruption of Baghdad, but they were made also in Abvaz, and which were exported as far as France and England; the kimkha, another silk damask and brocaded with gold, of Chinese invention, but often made at Herat, Nichapour and Tauris [Tabriz], and known in Europe under diverse names: camocao, comocan, camocas, and [Greek term]; the damaschino, of Damascus introduced later at Yezd; this was a heavy fabric with designs woven in the body of the work, and finally the siglaton or siklat (from the Greek), a textile of the same type, the most frequent color red, and of which the principal center of manufacture was Tauris.  In this city they also made some brocade of gold, nakhkh or nacchetto: the nassit or nassith from the Arabian, nasidj, differing only in the shading of color.”

There is a final observation: Chinese influence was an “essential characteristic” of Timurid art, and “Timourid traditions penetrated into Persia and the Uzbeg states, where they continued for a long time.”

The same volume has a brief blurb about ceramics,9 as follows:

“Introduced into Persia by Chinese ceramics makers set up in Tauris and at Maragha by Houlagou [a Ghengis grandson], Chinese traditions were preserved there for a long time.  In Persian faiences [stoneware] of the Timourid epoch, one finds bhuddist characteristics and motifs of Chinese ornamentation reproduced with such fidelity, that one could be tempted to assign attribution to a far eastern origin.  We have seen what an important role they played in architecture, where generally blue -– a blue lapis alternating with a blue turquoise – the small square of faience had replaced vernissee (glazed) brick.  The ceramists moreover at that time [d’alors] took for models the makers of carpets, reproducing their designs and conforming to their methods, which eliminated, with the greatest rigor, all defective motifs.”

More design data appear in a fairly recent monograph on Turkish motifs. 10  Its argument is that scattered Turkic clans had many contacts with other cultures over a long period of time and “were carried away” by some of its elements, but although adopting a great deal they gave a new direction to this art, thus maintaining traditional Turkic design elements. The review runs from the Uigurs down to the Turkish rococo of the 18th c. and names and illustrates motifs.  One – a composition with rumis and hatais, large octagonal motifs framed by a mesh of flowering vines, closely resembles the so-called ortmen gol attributed to the Chodor. 11

A somewhat rudimentary version of this motif appears in Khiva…

The Uzbegs

Circa 1500 nasty Shebani Khan drove out nice Baber, the last of the Timurids; although the attempt to conquer Persia failed it did not take long for Uzbegs to become Central Asia’s ruling house.

It frequently was the case that victors would adopt much of the art of the conquered.  Two of America’s principal Central Asian scholars have made comments in this vein.  The one noted that Shebani Khan revered Timurid art and poetry.12  The other noted that Turkmen carpets were woven to an “Ozbeg taste” but that there is “little direct evidence of their origin”. 13 Amen to that qualification.

At the beginning of the modern era Mangishlak was Turkmen territory.  In 1558 one Jenkinson by name was there.  “All the land from the Caspian sea to this Citie of Urgence, is called the lande of the Turkman…” He visited “Timor Soltan, governour of the said Country of Mangoslave…in his little rounde house” complete with carpets. 14

 “Urugendj, a big and densely populated city”……by “the Uzbeks and Sarts”, 15 was the major urban center of the area known as Khwarezm (Khorezm) until the Amur river changed course on its way to the Caspian, and Khiva became the area’s urban center.

Travel accounts of the 1740’s contain some economic activity 16 observations, viz. -- from the journal of George Thompson and Reynold Hogg on Khiva: “The place itself produces little more than cotton, lamb furs, of a very mean quality; and a small quantity of raw silk, some of which they manufacture.” 17

Before the 19th c.  “all” Khiva was populated by settled Uzbegs; feudalism was the basis of governance, agriculture was the dominant activity, other economic activity was all home based; there was a Khiva-Bukhara trade in manufactured products; Russian merchants were present before the conquest; at the turn of the 19th c. the population probably was about 30% Turkmens; New Urgenj was becoming a commercial center with outside commercial factors present and a Russian-Asian bank.18  

By the early 19th c. Khiva appeared to have become cosmopolitan – with a population of Armenians, Indians, Nogai, Sarts [read, Uzbegs], Arabians, Ouigurs, Kajars, gypsies, and negroes – and was at times a powerful khanate, for example advancing militarily on Merv in 1832. 19

The following statement about textiles was made in the first decade of the 1800’s: “As for its inhabitants they exported (enlevent) vers [??] of silk , and made stuffs [fabrics] of silk, of cotton, and of cotton and silk mixed together.  It is the women who work these materials in their houses, there is no manufacturing at all in the European manner.” 20

The Turkmen confederation located closest to Khiva city, the Chodor, “only since the 1840’s”… “almost all” in Khorezm were becoming sedentary farmers. 21 In 1845 Khiva was importing Persian carpets, carpets of Meshed, Turkomania, and Khorassan. 22

A newspaper reporter, on the heels of the troops in 1872, remarked on the many textiles: “beautiful carpets” coverlets, cushions, pillows, khalats, and shawls, all in disarray due to the khan’s “hurried departure”. 23 In 1877 24 other English visitors to Khiva noted the presence of rugs in the palace;

The Southern Rim note discusses the military railroad which was key to the Russian conquest of Akhal, Tejend, and Merv, and then extended to Bukhara.  The note also point out the subsequent opening up of the European market and the prompt creation of a European taste for Turkmen carpets.

Upshot: by the end of the 19th c.  Khorezm, once an important player in Central Asia, had been bypassed by history.  Its remnant, Khiva, was a minor khanate.  And as such somewhat sheltered from the European taste for Tekke type motifs driving the carpet trade, and possibly a little more prone to provide a market for some of the older patterns.  

The Brief 

The idea is that the Chodor ortman gol could possibly have originated in a Timurid motif.

This conjecture contradicts the Moshkova text which asserts that in the period after the Russian conquest the Khorezm Chodors were heavily involved in the intra-regional commercial market, supplying both Khiva and Bukhara, and that these trade considerations influenced the design of their carpets.  “All researchers” have noted a gradual loss of “artistic and everyday traditions”. The assertion, however, is based on a single reference, to the title, not the content, of a travel account describing the Russian conquest.25  Plus, this was an intra-regional trade, not an international one.  In brief, the argument has the following elements:

a.  close similarity in shape;

b. a similarity of format – cartouches inside a lacy network of flowering vine

c.  the device’s appearance not only on bag faces but also on main carpets

d. Khiva’s position as the khanate’s governing center

e. an Uzbeg upper crust taste for Timurid art  

f. the heavy Chodor presence surrounding the small urban center

In essence, the case asserts that proximity, timing, and economic activity history open up the possibility that some local group – Chodor or otherwise -- was making, and that another local group -- Uzbeg -- was purchasing carpet and carpet-like objects other than Southern Rim type gols so popular in the export market.

1 Similar data is in Bukhara…

2 Palen, K. K., Memories  of 1908—1909, trans. N. J. Couriss, London, 1964.

3 Krafft, Hughes, A Travers le Turkestan Russe, 1902, p.42

4 Narrative of the Embassy of Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo to the Court of Timur, Trans. Clements Macghans, Hakluyt Society, #26, Burt Franklin reprint, New York, p. 132, p. 137, p. 143, p. 144, p. 151.

5 Lentz, Thomas W., and Lowry, Glenn D., Timour and the Princely Vision, pp. 216—218, pp. 220—21.

6 Briggs, Amy, Timurid Carpets, Ars Islamica, Vol. VII, Pt., 1. P..20. ff.

7 Bouvat, Lucien, Essai sur la civilization Timouride, in Journal Asiatique  #2 April—June  1926, p. 253, p. 258, p. 265, p.637.

8 A canopy, either on columns or projecting from a wall, over an altar, or throne.

9 The passage comes from two sources. 1) Saladin, op. cit., I, p. 355, and 2) Gayet, Al., L’art persan, p. 201. These seem to be secondary sources and RR got lazy and did not go back to get a full citation.

10 Cahid Keskiner, Turkish Motifs, 1986, Library of Congress, NK1465.A1K47, Orien Turk.

11 Istanbul Library No.1422 from Shah Tamasp Album, XV c., p. 76.

12 Allworth, Edward, The Modern Uzbegs, 1990, p.61.

13 Frye, Richard W., Bukhara, the Medieval Achievement, 1965, p.184.

14 Early Voyages & Travels to Russia and Persia, ed. E. Delmar Morgan and C. H. Coote, Haklyut Society #72, #73, Vol. 1, p. 67, p. 72.

15 Desmaisons, Petr. I., Histoire des Mongols et des Tatars par Aboul-Ghazi Behadour Khan, 1970 reprint, (original 1871-74) p. 215, p. 219, p. 248.  The time period of the description would be circa 14th c.

16 More economic activity comments appear in the note Khiva….

17 Early Voyages, op. cit. 

18 Pogorel’skii, I. V., Ocherki ekonomicheskoi i politecheskoi istorii Khivinskogo khanstva do kontsa XIX I nachala XX vv, 1968, pp. 12—16.

19 Morier, Capt., Memoire, trans. Carl Zimmerman, 1840, p. 14.

20 Annales des Voyages, Nouvelle Description of Kharzmie ou Khwarezmie, ed. Malte-Brun, Vol. 4, 1809, p. 381/2.

21 Bregel, Yuri, Central Asiatic Journal, Nomadic and Sedentary Elements Among the Turkmens, Vol XXV, #1—2,1981, p. 35. 

22 Khanov, Nikolaus V., Bokhara, trans. De Bode, 1845, p.224.

23 MacGahan, Januarius, Campaigning on the Oxus.   

24 Burnaby, A Ride to Khiva, 1877.

25 Carpets of the People of Central Asia, ed./trans. By George W. O’Bannon and Ovadan K. Amanova-Olsen, 1996, p. 257.

Return to top Email this article

Reports | Print

Copyright � Richard E. Wright,  All Rights Reserved