Seriously - not a nomad's art?

Sometimes one has to write down positions that evolved in decades long discussions. The trigger to do this is an article of David Lantz „Not a nomad's art“ in the new HALI magazin, where he refers to several articles in the catalogue of the Textile Museum's Megalli exhibition of Anatolian Kilims. - The discussion begins now and I just want to describe from which point of view I look at it. - It is a kind of updating extension of „Kilim studies -how they started...

The bias:
Present research shifts the period when weaving started towards earlier periods. Whether it was spread from one origin or whether it was several times inventend independent from the other sources is not known. All design elements known from present „nomadic“ or traditional weaves appear first in the Neolithic and have been in use since then. This is true for the West (Europe and the Near East), the East (Middle and Far East), for North- and South America and for Africa (to a minor extent). They were in common use from Babylon (Assyria, may be even before that in Sumer), in the late antique Byzantine culture. So theoretically Turkic nomadic people could have copied them from the Byzantines. But how likely is this? 


The Göktürk people and other people close to them (before they appear I would not use the term „Türk“) appeared in the 6th century from the Eastern end of the huge Eurasian steppe belt. They had a unique material culture of pastoral nomadism, which never was autark. They always had to deal with settled agriculturalists for carbohydrate type of food: by exchange or by war/tribute. Their religions was kind of shamanistic. But no other material culture could develop so many material essentials products only from the kept animals like this Central Asian nomadic culture, evolved between ca. 1500 B.C. till ca. 500 A.D., from the house (felt tent) to the tiniest household things (ropes, garments etc.), including the necessary skills, of course.

Where they achieved political power they came under the mutual influence of city-based cultures. In the T'ang period they were actively involved in Silk Road tradings, for the manual works. Quite early after the Arab conquests of the Western fringes part of them came under the influence of the Islamic ecumene. The earliest strong influence I guess was with the Kara Khanids.


„Kara-Khanid is arguably the most enduring cultural heritage among coexisting cultures in Central Asia from the 9th to the 13th centuries. The Karluk-Uyghur dialect spoken by the nomadic tribes and turkified sedentary populations under Kara-Khanid rule formed two major branches of the Turkic language family, the Chagatay and the Kypchak. The Kara-Khanid cultural model that combined nomadic Turkic culture with Islamic, sedentary institutions spread east into former Kara-Khoja and Tangut territories and west and south into the subcontinent, Khorasan (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Northern Iran), Golden Horde territories (Tataristan), and Turkey. The Chagatay, Timurid, and Uzbek states and societies inherited most of the cultures of the Kara-Khanids and the Khwarezmians without much interruption.“

In the period between nomadism-only in the far away Eastern steppe and the rise to conquer Iran, Mesopotamia and Anatolia there was a highly intercultural change and ethno-neogenesis in the area of Kwaresmia (Greater Khorasan). The famous Nişapur pottery is unique, but significantly Asian in character, not just post-Sassanidian. But also no copy of Chinese materials at its time. This most likely was the shaping epoch.

The move to Anatolia was a very long process, not a sudden rush. They arrived in smaller numbers, not yet able to shape anything, as local herdsmen, as mercenaries and slaves before Manzikert. They left Turkic runic scripts in caves near Erzurum and on grave-stones north of Malatya.

The first state was that of the Karamanogullari. The people, shamanistic, started to adopt Christian religion, kept their language but wrote in Greek letters, the tribal aristocrats more and more Islamic. With the conquest of Malazgirt the Turks could also bring their utensils (paraphernalia) from Khorasan to Anatolia, the tools necessary to set up an own political identity which should be visible as well. Their artisans were part of these utensils.

Therefore there is no gradual shifting from Byzantine art to Turkic/Selcuk art. As far as I know. The new art was „ready“. Late Byzantium was most likely full of artwork from the leading regions. These were in the 11th-13th century the Northern African Islamic countries, with Egypt (pre-Mamluk) being in the lead. - The weaves of the Selcuk period (not only from Anatolia) were a complete different thing, in comparison e.g. to the Fatimid weaves (that incorporated the heritage of Egyptian late-antique Coptic weaving). The latter being a city-based job-sharing artisanry of very high level concerning skills. No comparison to Selcuk works. - The animal carpets (from Tibet and/or from Central Asian graves) are finer than Selcuk carpets or Fustat fragments but cannot hold the candle for Fatimid weaving skills. Their „face“ is unique, new, no amalgam with Byzantine or known Iranian weaves.

One cannot use design elements as tools for detecting developments in these fields. From reasons I have to formulate at another place. In short: all key elements are known since Neolithic times but were in use in the East and in the West. It is highly unlikely that they contained conscious religious-kind of content in the 10th century and later.

Not to get disturbed one has to differentiate different weaving „cultures“ in the period after the Turkish conquest of Anatolia, Egypt and the Balkans:

- tribal weaves

- city-based artisanry, garments and normal home textiles

- traditional local weaving (garments, home textiles) of the local population which was always the majority in all those areas from Hungary through the Balkan to Mesopotamia and Egypt. At the Eastern fringe of the steppe belt as well.

But with the time a job sharing system evolved where the pastoral nomads and semi-nomads gained the heaviest weight in all wool processing jobs and objects. The process of absorbing people from a nomadic life-style and culture to a settled one has been a permanent one, from the arrival of the first Turkic people around Karaman till the end of the Ottoman empire. Even later, but on a minor scale.


From this point of view I would not get a blackout if it comes up that the Balkan kilims were shaped from local city-based artisanry under Ottoman political power, eventually floating back to Anatolia, e.g. if „Ushak“ Ottoman kilim design were shaped from fine city-based upper middle class elegant weaves brought in from the Balkan and copied there. Or if it will be shown that they were woven in the Balkan and that some Ushak and Kula carpet design was inspired from there. The shaping period of the Ottomans there I guess was the 14th till 16th century. - And this view fits also to the „mystery“ of this comical* „Tibetan group“ thing.  

For me there is a shaping period (1) from Göktürk till Kara Khitan, a ruling (2) period from then to the end of the Timurids and a (3) fading out period thenafter. The Isfahan vase carpets and the whole Mughal art mean a total different concept of design, in which only second-ranked details remain from the former period. But in tribal and township environments design and types of (2) remained intact till the introduction of synthetic dyes. Formalized, misunderstood, unintended mistakes that grew to stable elements of unknown content, ok, but continued as a still living art.  - Known Anatolian kilims are nearly exclusive from the end of (3). In (1) and (2) we have a huge Turkic belt or a Turkic ecumene from the Balkan to the gates of China. I call this the Golden Belt to use another name. Uigurs could be, theoretically, within this textile belt.

* In Tibet any kind of fragmented pile weaves surfaced in Lhasa (hearsay from friends) from any known source of carpeting, the youngest material being about end of 19th century. Most likely except from Spain or Morocco, but this is not yet researched according to what I know.


Further reading

Links I recommend to read within this context:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turk_Shahi and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xiongnu

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Türgesh and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artuqids

The Alevi Tahtaci Turcomans in the Elmali high plain establish graves so that the deceased look not to Mecca but to Khorasan, claiming this is their aboriginal homeland: