The history of woven textiles stretches back to the earliest period in human history, to the Neolithic Age, when clay weights to hold threads taut were already known. In many pictures from Antiquity and on many archaeological finds we encounter depictions of yarn making, sketches and reliefs showing rudimentary forms of weaving, and depictions presenting the use of woven textiles.
The oldest relic is a scrap of woollen cloth from 7000 B.C.”p “The oldest figural depictions referring to the beginnings of weaving are from the 5th to the 4th millennium B.C. The oldest known cotton textile in the world was found at Mohendjodaro in the Indus valley, in what is now Pakistan. It was uncovered along with a number of other archaeological finds, including artefacts used in spinning and weaving (e.g., spindles, reels for thread, etc.), from 4500 B.C.
The earliest scraps of flaxen material are from the time of the Old Empire in Egypt, and date from the period 5500-5000 B.C. The production of flax there was so important that in the Book of Exodus account of the Plague of Hail it is specifically said that the “flax and barley were destroyed”. “In the list of the most important products on a stele of Hamurapi, king of Babylon, from 2000 B.C. wool occupies fourth place, after oil, precious stones and wheat. Indicative of its value and quality is the fact that in Rome woollen cloth was called babilonka, and Nero purchased a single woollen blanket for 4 million sesterces.
In Egdtvedt, Denmark, fragments of textile woven from wool from 2700 B.C. were discovered. In China, stuck to a bronze jug from 3300 B.C., in the Sang Yin period, the first traces of silk were found.” “On the basis of cotton remains in Peru dating from 1200 B.C. researchers have established that 190 different hues were employed in cotton weaving there. In Dorak, in Turkey, were found fragments of a fine, kilim-woven cotton carpet dating from 2500 B.C., which was originally used to cover the floor of a house at that time. On the fragment, rhombus-shaped, geometrical motifs can be seen. In the 2nd millennium B.C.
In the tomb of the pharaoh Thotmes IV (ruled 1412-1402 B.C.) fragments of finely woven tapestry were found. On the largest tapestry fragment were woven the names of the pharaohs Amenhotep II (ruled 1438-1412 B.C. and Thotmes III (ruled 1503-1449 B.C.), on a base textile bestrewn with papyrus lotus flowers depicting the symbols of Lower and Upper Egypt.
Another very old kilim-woven relic of Egyptian textile art was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen (ruled 1347-1339 B.C.). This contained the most characteristic Egyptian decorative elements (the Sun depicted with wings, the hieroglyphic symbol for the pharaoh). “In Sanskrit literature from the 1st millennium B.C., in the Rig-véda (the oldest Indo-Aryan linguistic survival, from the 11th-10th century B.C.) can be read a description of sheep’s wool textiles from Punjab, as well as descriptions of cotton and silk textiles. The epic poem Mahabharata, written down in the second half of the 1st millennium B.C., also mentions cotton, silk and woollen textiles, which were woven by nomadic tribes living in the northwestern regions of the Himalayas. “On the basis of ancient records, the carpets of King Solomon (1029-986 B.C.) could be among the earliest textiles woven using the kilim technique. King Solomon married one of the pharaoh’s daughters, who brought him the city of Gozer as a dowry, and probably many costly things.”-LK-SZ Reference to this occurs as follows: “I have covered my bed with coloured linens from Egypt” (Proverbs 7:16). “Mention is also made of the purple tapestry woven from bissus (snail silk) which hung in the Temple at Jerusalem. In the central part of the former Phrygia, in the western part of the Anatolian plain, fine textiles woven using the kilim, sumak and zili techniques have been found which date from the 7th century B.C.
Athenaeus (6th century B.C.), in his work on Sardes, the one-time capital of Lydia, tells of the costly tapestries made there (Sardes was mentioned by the Greeks as the place from where the very best tapestries came).
In accordance with ancient religious practice, a dead person was buried with his favourite possessions and most prized treasures. It was because of this that favourite carpets found their way into the Pazyrik and Basadar kurgans, to rest next to the prince’s sarcophagus.”- For the present author the incredible similarity of some finds, e.g. felt ornamentation, to Hungarian folk ornamentation is quite astonishing.
Of the fragments of textile the most valuable is considered to be the so-called Pazyrik tapestry, which was made using the knotted technique. With regard to the valuable carpet Professor Rugyenko (like many other scholars) claims that it probably came from Persia.
The first written documents to give accounts of woven carpets and tapestries are to be found in the Old Testament, in the Book of Esther. Esther was the wife of the Persian king Xerxes (485-465 B.C.). In the enclosed garden of his royal palace at Susa there were “…hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars”.
In the reliefs on surviving enamelled bricks from the palace at Susa can be seen figures of lions marching in line similar to the motif on the strip of kilim found at Pazyrik. Xenophon (434-355 B.C.), in his works Anabasis and Cyropedia, writes about the way of life of Middle Eastern peoples, making mention of the artistic tapestries produced by these peoples. In Kercs, on the northern shores of the Black Sea, were found woollen tapestry fragments woven from very finely shaded threads dating from the 3rd century B.C. The overall effect of this textile resembles that of a relief. On the steppes of Mongolia – near Noin-ula in the Urga region – were found tombs dating from the 1st century B.C. which yielded numerous carpets, blankets and curtains woven from wool. These textiles were embellished with stylized motifs of turtles, fish and aquatic plants.
We can learn about the woven fabrics and carpets of Ancient Greece from descriptions written at the time. In the homes of the Greeks there were furniture covers, curtains and wall tapestries. These textiles were woven from purple, scarlet, lilac, saffron, yellow, brown, sea green and green threads. In his work on Agamemnon Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.) writes about a wonderfully beautiful purple carpet, which was spread before the feet of the warrior when he returned home victorious from a battle, but which he did not dare to step upon, saying that this should be the right and privilege of the gods only. Athenaeus wrote in 280 B.C. of two purple Egyptian kilims, the patterns of which were the same on the right and reverse sides.
In the 3rd to 4th century many woven carpets, wall tapestries and curtains were made. A mosaic in the famous Church of San Vitale in Ravenna depicts the Empress Theodora (508-548) and her retinue at the moment at which they enter the door of a room embellished with woven curtains and tapestries. The mosaic was made in the 6th century. The mosaic in Ravenna’s New Church of San Apollinare dates from the same time, and shows the Emperor Theodoric (the Great) and his palace, where coloured hangings and tapestries are hung between the pillars. In this period hangings and tapestries woven from wool were hung as embellishments between the pillars in the naves of churches. From the 6th century onwards, when the Emperor Justinian (482-565) permitted the breeding of silkworms, as well as woollen thread costly and decorative silk thread was also used in the weaving of these. Later on, however, tapestries were embellished with threads made using precious metals (gold, silver). To begin with, these metallic threads were made of animal gut thinly coated with precious metal, or were strips of the metal itself, around a thin silk core (thread).
Later still, from the 15th century onwards, the switchover was made to the use of Italian silver-gilt or copper thread a hairës breadth in thickness.