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Every rug trader in the world knows for a fact that without Persian rugs, the entire carpet industry will not exist, especially in the United States and Europe. It’s therefore paramount to any historical discussion about rugs and carpets to trace its origins to Iran or what was known in the ancient world as Persia.
Persian weavers are considered one of the pioneers of artistic rug making which is not an unfounded claim. In 1949, Russian archaeologists discovered a perfectly-preserved hand knotted rug inside the tomb a Scythian nobleman in the Pazyryk Valley of the Altai Mountains in Kazakhstan. The site was about 2,500 years old which essentially made the rug one of the oldest surviving specimen from an ancient civilization. The discovery solidified many historians’ claim that Persian rugs were already in circulation as early as the 5th century BCE.
Ancient recorded Chinese text dating back to the time of the Persian Sassanid Dynasty (224-641 CE) also made mention of carpets as part of the bounty from Emperor Heraclius’ conquest of Ctesiphon which is part of modern-day Iraq. The city was previously the capital of Sassanid rule which lasted for over 800 years.
Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian empire, was a big fan and collector of carpets which according to historical accounts adorned royal courts during his reign. Even in his death, majestic rugs were created to cover his tomb. It is believed by many experts that ancient Persian nomads were already making rugs before conquering noblemen discovered them along their way and sent them as gifts to their rulers.
As colorful as the Persian carpet history may seem at this point, the height of its fame came about during the Safavid Dynasty in the early 16th century. The country was slowly emerging as an economic powerhouse which attracted the attention of European merchants and traders. Shah Abbas recognized the opportunity and transformed the city of Esfahan as the new capital of Persia. It became a commercial hub and housed carpet weaving workshops where workers were tasked to create the most beautiful of Persian rugs. There are over 1,500 of these carpets still in existence today preserved in museums as well as in private collections.
Looking closer at the history of other rug producing countries in the world, one will no doubt notice a pattern of Persian influence such as India whose greatest ruler had Persian lineage. And this fits perfectly with the narrative of Persian nomads wandering across the Middle East to Central Asia with their precious flock of sheep and goats providing them with necessary tools to survive such as rugs that ultimately became of a symbol of beauty and luxury.