Learn the History of Fine Oriental Rugs

About Oriental Rugs

By the strictest definition, Oriental rugs are carpets hand knotted only in Asia. Iran, China, India, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, Tibet and Nepal are some of the biggest rug exporters. Persian rugs also are Oriental rugs but they are made only in Iran (formerly known as Persia). Characteristics of a Persian rug include an unusually thick pile (up to 160 knots per square inch), extremely rich color combinations and unique designs, and a very distinct knot. Persian carpets are traditionally known for their tremendous variety in design, color, size, and weave. Moreover, they are known for the uniqueness of each and every rug produced. Rugs are generally named after the village, town or district where they are woven or collected, or by the weaving tribe in the case of nomadic pieces.

Tibetan Knot
Persian Knot
Tibetan Knot
Persian Knot

The History of the Oriental Rug

The art of carpet weaving existed in Iran in ancient times, according to evidences and in the opinion of scientists, the 500 B.C. Pazyric carpet dating back to the Achaemenid period. The first documented evidence on the existence of Persian carpets came from Chinese texts dating back to the Sassanid period (224 - 641 CE).

Historical records show that the Achaemenian court of Cyrus the Great at Pasargade was decked with magnificent carpets. This was over 2500 years ago. Alexander II of Macedonia was said to have been dazzled by the carpets in the tomb area of Cyrus the Great at Pasargade.

Antique Persian Rug Example

The advanced weaving technique used in the Pazyryk carpet indicates a long history of evolution and experience in this art. Pazyryk carpet is considered as the oldest carpet in the world. Its central field is a deep red color and it has two wide borders, one depicting deer and the other Persian horseman. However, it believed that the carpet from Pazyryk is not likely a nomadic product, but a product of an Achaemenid carpet production centre. By the sixth century, Persian carpets of wool or silk were renowned in court circles throughout the Middle East.

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The Meaning Behind the Patterns and Colors of Oriental Rugs

Each rug's particular pattern, palette, and weave are uniquely linked with the indigenous culture, and weaving techniques are specific to an identifiable geographic area or nomadic tribe. Typically, the more floral or formal the pattern, the more urban the area in which it was made, where as a more geometric pattern would be more likely to be from a tribe. Patterns that distinctly flow in a single direction were designed as "Prayer" rugs.

Each family of weavers would place elements in the rugs design to record their history. The use of color also added to the record. White for wedding, whether it be to signify a death, a hunt, or a famine, it is these elements that make each Oriental rug unique.

Some of the common symbols and colors and the meanings behind them:


Ram Horns - male fertility
Deer - well being
Bats - happiness
Dogs protector of noble places
Stag - long life
Duck - faithful marriage
Camel - wealth
Crab - invincible knowledge
Elephant - power
Butterfly - happiness
Lion - victory
Crane - longevity
Fish - abundance & prosperity
Phoenix - Empress
Dragon - Emperor
Dove - peace
Tarantula - prevents bad luck
Horse - speed
Peacock - divine protection


Bamboo - wealth & honor
Chrysanthemum - long life
Pomegranate - fertility
Iris - liberty
Cyprus Tree - immortality
Lily - purity
Weeping Willow - meditation
Carnation - wisdom
Tree of Life - heaven or eternal paradise
Lotus - purity
Peony - rank & wealth


Red - happiness, joy
Orange - devotion, piety
Yellow - power, glory
Green - paradise, sacred, "Prophet's color"
Blue - solitude, truth
Black - destruction
Brown - fertility
White - purity, peace, grief

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The Making of an Oriental Rug


The natural dyes in an Oriental rug are derived from plant materials and insects such as indigo, madder, oak, sumac, pomegranate, cochineal and larkspur. Before the 1870s, they were the only source used to dye wool. Since the invention of synthetic dyes, there has been much debate about which type of dye produces a more beautiful and investment-worthy rug. Natural dyes tend to gently fade with time and therefore produce a much sought after patina.

Weaves and knots:

Most consumers know about "counting knots" to judge if the rug they are considering is of a high quality. Below you will find procedures to counting knots, but please be advised...The simple counting of knots is not a true test, but a guideline. The actual knot count needs to take into consideration the material used in the individual rug. Example: It is much more likely to accumulate an extreme knot count when the material used is silk, where as if you were to come across a rug woven from a thick wool, such as an antique Heriz, your count will be much lower than the silk, but the value of the carpet could run near $35 - $75,000.00.

A consumer needs to take into count the entire carpet, the design, the dyes, the material used, as well as the emotional value they receive from a rug. If you purchase your carpet from a reputable dealer, then the only thing the average consumer need to know is if they appreciate the appearance of the carpet and if the carpet fits into their budget.

Knot density (knots per square inch) is an important indicator of rug quality. Most weaves are measured simply by counting the number of knots per linear inch along the warp (i.e., along the length of the rug) and the number of knots per linear inch along the weft (across the width of the rug) and multiplying to get the number of knots per square inch (or per sq. cm.). Unfortunately, this simple concept can be tricky to apply in practice.

How do you know when to count one bump on the back of the rug as one knot? It's easy... Look carefully at the individual areas of color across the width of the back of the rug. If you only see colored elements in pairs, you need to count each pair as one knot. If you see lots of single colored elements, the rug has offset warps and each element should be counted as one knot. Many country rugs from Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iran show both knot elements on the back of the rug, as do Bokharas from Pakistan. Most rugs from India and China have strongly offset warps, and so show only one knot element on the back of the rug.

In the Varanasi area of India, rugs are graded using two numbers, like "5/40," "9/60," or "12/60." The first number represents the knots in 9/10 of an inch of the rug's width. The second number represents the knots in 4 1/2 inches of the rug's length. 0.9" x 4.5" equals 4.05", almost four square inches, so an easy conversion is to multiply the two numbers together and divide by 4 (sq. in.) to get the approximate weave in knots per sq. in. For example, with a "9/60" quality rug, 9 X 60=540 and 540/4=135 knots per sq. in. Note that most rugs from India have strongly offset warps, so you will only see one element of the knot on the back of the rug.

In Pakistan, indicated qualities like "16/16" or "16/18" for rugs in Persian design represent the number of knots per linear inch across the warp and weft counted in the normal way. For example, a "16/18" quality Kashan has 16 X 18 weave, or about 288 knots per sq. in. Note that these rugs have strongly offset warps, so you will only see one element of the knot on the back of the rug.

So-called "double" Bokharas from Pakistan in qualities like "9/18," "10/20," "11/22," and "12/24" are different. In this type of rug, warps lie side-by-side and are not offset, so both elements of the knot show on the back of the rug. Be sure not to double-count the weave across the width when examining a Bokhara.

China uses a completely different nomenclature, with "line counts" like "70 line," "90 line," or "120 line." The line count equals the number of knots in a linear foot measured across the width of the rug. Thus a "90 line" rug has 90 knots per linear foot across its width. A "90 line" Chinese rug has about 56 knots per sq. in.; a "SINO-PERSIAN" (a Chinese rug in Persian design) in "160 line" quality has about 177 knots per sq. in.; a "240 line" rug has about 400 knots per sq. in. Chinese rugs have strongly offset warps, so you will only see one element of the knot on the back of the rug.

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