Collectors often justify their obsession with handcrafted Oriental and Persian rugs by explaining their desire to own a small piece of the rich history and beauty behind this art form.

Rug weaving is a tradition that spans over centuries within a number of cultures. Though there is no specific reference to pile carpets, there are several references to the art of weaving (flat weaves, Kilims) found in ancient scriptures and classical writings.

On the evidence of fragments found in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian tombs, we know that various forms of flat weaving were well developed more than 4000 years ago. Other evidence suggests that weaving of pile rugs existed in the Middle East and other parts of central, northwest, and eastern Asia long before 2000 BC.


It is certain however, that Asia was the first continent to produce rugs and that is was the nomadic wanderers who created them.

The rearing of sheep, the prime source of carpet wool, is by tradition a nomadic occupation. Add to this the necessity of thick coverings for people having to endure extreme cold and it’s likely the craft of weaving developed to replace the use of rough animal skins for warmth.

The oldest pile rug ever discovered is known as the Pazyryk Rug. Preceding this, the first pile rug fragments of ancient times were found in East Turkmenistan in an area known as the Tarim Basin. This area includes parts of northwest India, east Turkmenistan, southern Russia, Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan, western China and Mongolia.

The art of pile rug weaving appeared in Europe some time after 1000 AD, and likely in Spain because of its proximity to Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Iran.

Other European countries soon imitated the craft and by the 20th century weaving rugs was prevalent in almost all of Europe. However, even with Europe producing their own rugs, we can still see through classic paintings that almost all the rugs depicted appear to be of the Persian or Anatolian types.

Rug weaving in Europe never became as important as it did in Asia and as a result, many Asian nations built enormous rug exporting industries over time. The Pazyryk Rug: The Oldest Rug Ever Discovered.

The Pazyryk Rug: The Oldest Rug Ever Discovered

In 1947, Russian archaeologist Sergei Rudenko made a major discovery that had a dramatic impact on the rug industry. He found what is now considered the oldest rug in existence.

This pile knotted rug, referred to as the Pazyryk rug, was discovered in a Scythian burial mound dating from the 5th century BC. This rug used the Ghiordes (Turkish) knot and had an average of 200 knots per square inch. 

This carpet resembles later Oriental rugs, with a central field surrounded by major and minor borders. The central field has a madder red ground upon which are rows of squares containing schematized floral motifs. The squares are themselves contained within a border of octagons resembling later Turkoman weavings.

The first major border contains a procession of Elks; there is then a minor border of floral motifs, which follows the designs within the field of squares, but with reverse coloring. The second major border is filled with a procession of horses and their riders on a madder field. Each horse has a richly embroidered saddlecloth with the design that closely resembles that of the Pazyryk rug itself. 


The Pazyryk rug shows a mixture of Assyrian, Achaemenian (ancient Persian empire), and Scythian motifs, and it is believed by some to be of Persian origin. Most believe it was woven by nomads who migrated to this area from the region known today as Mongolia, or they wove it in farther east regions and brought it westwards. 

Before the discovery of the Pazyryk rug, the oldest known specimens of carpets were found in the Tarim Basin of East Turkmenistan, west of China and Mongolia. Many rug scholars believe that pile rugs originated in Mongolia and moved westward to Persia and Anatolia, although others believe that the Persians were weaving pile rugs long before Mongolians had learned the art.

??We can never be sure where rug weaving originated because carpets are perishable and could not last four to six thousand years unless they were preserved in ice, as is the case with the Pazyryk rug. 

What we do know is that even if Mongolians had been the first to weave pile rugs, it was the Persians that took the craft and made it into an art form.

How Persian Rugs are made

See two million knots turn into a carpet