Rug-making is an art that pre-dates modern history. The history of rugs encompasses an ancient trade that has evolved considerably in materials, methods, subjects, and even uses.
Though modern rugs serve their function perfectly well, there is something to be said about the beauty and skill that went into producing the carpets of ancient times.
History of Rug Making
The earliest rug we have discovered dates back sometime between the 4th and 5th centuries BCE. Named the Pazyryk Carpet, its exact origin is unknown. It was found in the largest Pazyryk burial mound in 1949. Though it is the only intact rug we have, evidence points to the first rugs being made earlier in history.
The Oldest Rug
The Pazyryk Carpet is the oldest known pile carpet. And while historians can only speculate about who made it, the carpet was preserved remarkably well, leaving us many clues about its origin.
This carpet has an intricate design that includes depictions of griffins, fallow deer, and men on horseback and dismounted. Though the colors have faded over the past two millennia, the composition is remarkably striking.
The weaver(s) used a symmetrical double-knot technique (known as the Turkish knot) that made the pile very dense, with over 1,000,000 knots in the entire thing.
While no pile carpets found pre-date the Pazyryk Carpet, there is considerable evidence that carpet making was already an established craft by 400 BCE. Unfortunately, no archeological evidence has been able to pinpoint the exact moment we started making carpets.
The Birth of Carpet Making
There is archeological evidence of other forms of carpet making being present by 7,000 BCE. Kilim carpets made by the people of Çatalhöyük, a neolithic proto-city, have been found represented in art excavated from the site. And more findings in Azerbaijan support an established culture of carpet making several millennia before the Pazyryk Carpet.
The Gultapin excavations discovered carpet-making tools dating to 4,000 BC. Further archeological studies in the mountains of Azerbaijan have provided conclusive evidence of a well-developed culture that was already skilled in carpet weaving by 2,000 BCE.
Carpet Making in Historic Eastern Societies
In the common era, Islamic cultures began to turn carpet making into an industry in the 16th century. The Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal dynasties morphed the craft from a generational practice into a business large enough to produce rugs to trade with European countries.
Instead of patterns passing down through generations, they began to be created in court workshops, allowing for a production boom.
Iran also began to produce carpets on an industrial level at a similar time as part of an economic restructuring plan meant to attract European traders to the country. Common motifs began to shift during this time, veering away from figural depictions common in previous centuries.
Ottoman carpet designs also changed with the conquest and integration of Egyptian and Persian cultures in the early 1500s.
India appears to have been later to adopt the craft of carpet making but had begun producing by the 17th century. Indian rugs spread into east Asia and England with the help of European traders.
Historic European Carpets
European cultures picked up rug making much later in history than Middle Eastern or Asian societies, with many countries not having an established carpet-making industry until the 1600s.
Spain is one of the earliest European countries to begin the industry, starting at around 900 CE. Carpet production increased in Spain in 1,100 CE, with the industry becoming dominant in the 17th and 18th centuries. The first royal carpet-making factory opened in the 18th century and maintained dominance through the 20th century.
Modern Carpet Making
With the invention of modern machines and synthetic fibers, carpet making has evolved to meet the high demands of current society.
Consumers can choose between inexpensive, factory-made carpets and expensive hand-woven, natural fiber carpets.
The use of carpets has changed considerably as well. Older cultures would rarely lay carpets on the floor, as the artwork was too costly to walk over and damage. Carpets in the modern day are scarcely used as a piece of art unless commissioned as such.
Cultural Rug Histories
Each culture has its style of weaving, pattern, or design. And each type of rug has a slightly different history. Oriental rugs are a name given to most rugs created in the Rug Bell and are an umbrella term referring to several cultural rugs rather than a specific type.
Persian carpets were first mentioned in 400 BCE by Greek author Xenophon. It is unknown what technique was used in the construction of these carpets.
Flat-woven carpets were most popular during the first several centuries CE.
Various accounts from past historians and conquerors of the Persian region from the 7th to 15th centuries mention copious usage of rugs as decorations, floor coverings, and clothing.
In the 15th to 16th centuries, during the Safavid dynasty, Persian art—including rug making—saw one of its greatest periods.
The 15th century contained the design revolution. The art of Persian rugs became more complex. Designs were symmetrically mirrored across the vertical and horizontal axis. Modern rug makers use templates to achieve this, but it is unknown how Safavids were able to achieve this.
Traditionally, from the BCE era up through the 20th century, Moroccan rugs were made by tribal people.
Historically, the nomadic Moroccan people made rugs for function rather than ornamental decoration like other cultures. Rugs were suited to the varying climate of the regions these people traveled through, woven with a heavy pile for use in the colder mountains or thin and flat-woven for traveling through the desert.
Moroccan people used several rug-making techniques, such as pile, flat woven, or knotted. Rugs were used as bed coverings, sleeping mats, adornments, and other utilities.
Designs on these carpets are traditional and old, passed down through generations from weaver to weaver.
Major Moroccan cities often have their own unique designs. Two large carpet-producing cities are Fes and Rabat. The rugs made in Rabat are famous for their floral and diamond-shaped elements, as well as Turkish motifs and large fields.
Common motifs in Moroccan rug design are related to fertility or birth. Narratives often appear in these rugs. Many depict a woman's life from birth to the birth of her child.
Own a Piece of History
After learning about the rich cultural history of rugs, and those most commonly sought after, you may be inspired to find a carpet that reflects the beauty of these designs.
Here at Resonnaire, we offer a variety of rugs inspired by many different cultures, including Persian-inspired, Moroccan, and more traditional or modern styles. Our catalog also contains handmade carpets, so you can truly experience the beautiful craftsmanship of this ancient art.