History of Handmade Rugs

The hand-knotted pile carpet probably originated in southern Central Asia between the 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE, although there is evidence of goats and sheep being sheared for wool and hair which was spun and woven as far back at 6000 BCE. The earliest surviving pile carpet in the world is called the "Pazyryk Carpet", dating from the 5th-4th century BCE. It was excavated by Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko in 1949 from a Pazyryk burial mound where it had been preserved in ice in the valley of Pazyryk in Siberia. The origin of this carpet is attributed to either the Scythians or the Persian Achaemenids. This richly colored carpet is 6'6" x 6' and framed by a border of griffins. It is remarkable to see how highly developed the carpet is and to realize that carpet weaving must have been going on for many centuries prior to having reached the level of expertise the Pazyryk carpet displays. It has lots of interesting details, especially the men riding horses along the border.


Pazyryk Rug: the oldest pile rug still in existence. Photo taken from the Hermitage Museum image collection.

The earliest group of surviving knotted pile carpets was produced under Seljuk rule in the first half of the 13th century on the Anatolian peninsula. The 18 extant works are often referred to as the Konya Carpets. The central field of these large carpets is a repeated geometrical pattern. The borders are ornamented with a large-scale, stylized, angular calligraphy called Kufic, pseudo-Kufic, or Kufesque.

Ancient Hebrew, Roman, Babylonian, Persian, Chinese, Turkish, Pakistani and Indian cultures all valued carpet weaving as fine art. One rug from the Sassanid Dynasty in Persia, "Spring of Khosrows" measured 100' x 400' and weighed several tons due to jewels and pearls worked into the weave. However, when the Arabs invaded Persia, they slashed the carpet into sections and this great work of art was lost forever. The Chinese, dating back to the Sung Dynasty (960 to 1279 CE), created rugs with Buddhist and Taoist designs in factory workshops under the domain of the emperors. Marco Polo brought many of these rugs back to Europe during his travels. When Cleopatra was presented to Julius Caesar, emperor of Rome, she was rolled up in a carpet. The Romans prized rugs for their own floors and walls.

Click on an image below to read more about the early history of rugs by region.