View our current selection of antique Seljuk rugs and carpets that showcase designs by the Seljuk Turks:
Learn More About antique Seljuk Rugs
Who were the Seljuks?
The Seljuks were a prominent Turkic and Sunni Muslim dynasty that played a significant role in the history of the Middle East and Central Asia. They were of Oghuz Turkic origin and rose to power in the 11th century, establishing a vast empire that encompassed a considerable portion of the Islamic world.
The Seljuk Empire was founded by a chieftain named Seljuk, and it was his descendants who became the rulers of this powerful realm. The Seljuks initially migrated from Central Asia to Transoxiana (present-day Uzbekistan) and later settled in the Iranian plateau. From there, they expanded their influence and conquered neighboring territories.
Key points about the Seljuks and their empire include:
- Seljuk Conquests: The Seljuk Empire experienced its most rapid expansion under the rule of Alp Arslan (reigned 1063-1072) and his successor, Malik Shah I (reigned 1072-1092). Alp Arslan’s victory over the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 opened the gates for the Seljuks to capture Anatolia (present-day Turkey).
- Cultural Contributions: The Seljuks embraced and patronized Persian culture, art, and literature. They contributed to the flourishing of Persian literature, architecture, and scholarship during their reign.
- The Great Seljuk Empire: The core of the Seljuk Empire was centered around Persia, Mesopotamia (Iraq), and Anatolia, but its influence extended from Central Asia to parts of the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula. The empire was divided into various provinces governed by Seljuk princes or sultans.
- Decline and Fragmentation: Following the death of Malik Shah I, the Seljuk Empire gradually fragmented into smaller, regional states. Internal conflicts, external pressures from the Crusaders and other forces, and the rise of other Turkic dynasties contributed to their decline.
- Legacy: Despite the fragmentation of their empire, the Seljuks left a lasting impact on the history and culture of the regions they once ruled. They laid the groundwork for later Turkic dynasties, and their influence can still be seen in the architecture of historical sites such as the Great Mosque of Isfahan in Iran and the citadel at Aleppo, Syria.
It’s important to note that there were different branches and offshoots of the Seljuk dynasty, and the term “Seljuks” is often used to refer to the broader group of Turkic tribes and dynasties that emerged during this period.
Who were the Beyliks?
The Beyliks, also known as Turkish beyliks, were small, independent principalities that emerged in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) during the 13th and 14th centuries. These beyliks were Turkic in origin and played a significant role in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Seljuk Empire.
After the decline and fragmentation of the Great Seljuk Empire in the 12th century, various Turkic tribal groups began migrating into Anatolia. These tribes were originally part of the larger Oghuz Turkic confederation. Over time, they established their own small states, which came to be known as beyliks. Each beylik was ruled by a Bey, which is a title for a chieftain or tribal leader.
The four most prominent beyliks that emerged in Anatolia were:
- The Sultanate of Rum: The Sultanate of Rum was the most significant and long-lasting Beylik. It was established in the 13th century and controlled a large portion of western and central Anatolia. The sultans of the Sultanate of Rum claimed to be the rightful heirs to the Seljuk dynasty, and they continued the Seljuk tradition of patronizing Persian culture and literature.
- The Beylik of Karaman: This Beylik was situated in the southern part of Anatolia, with its capital in Karaman. It was one of the major rivals of the Sultanate of Rum and played a crucial role in the political landscape of the region.
- The Beylik of Aydın: Located in western Anatolia, the Beylik of Aydın had its capital in Aydın. It was known for its maritime strength and controlled several coastal regions.
- The Beylik of Dulkadir: This beylik was located in southeastern Anatolia, with its capital in Elbistan. It bordered the Mamluk Sultanate to the south and the Turkmen principalities to the east.
These Beyliks often engaged in both cooperative and conflictual relationships with one another and other neighboring powers, such as the Byzantine Empire, the Mongols, and the Mamluks. Over time, some of the Beyliks were absorbed by larger states, while others continued to exist as independent entities until the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the late 14th century.
The Beyliks played a crucial role in shaping the political landscape of Anatolia during the transition from the medieval period to the early modern era, and their existence marked the beginning of the rise of the Turks in the region. The Ottoman Empire, which emerged from one of the Beyliks, eventually went on to become one of the most powerful and influential empires in history.
Carpets of the Seljuks Turks and Beyliks: the Roots of Modern Carpet Design
Antique Seljuk Rugs – The Seljuk Turks are a branch of Oghuz Turks, who ruled Central Asia and the Middle East from the 11th to 14th centuries. They originally migrated from what would later be the northern Iranian provinces and into the mainland of what would become the Persian Empire and modern-day Iran. We do not have many surviving examples of carpets from the Seljuk Turks, but they still play a significant role in the development of the designs that became iconic in the Ottoman Empire and modern Anatolian tribal designs. There is no doubt that these designs are some of the most beautiful in the world and some of the most recognizable among carpet collectors.
History and Development of Seljuk Rugs
The Seljuk Turks are regarded as the ancestors of the western Turks and the present-day inhabitants of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Turkmenistan. One of their major accomplishments was creating a barrier to Europe that protected Europe from the Mongol invaders from the east. By the end of the 13th century, the Empire was on the decline and would later make way for the Ottoman Empire. By the middle of the 13th century, the Empire was invaded by the Mongols and divided into smaller Emirates that became known as the Anatolian Beyliks.
After the Mongolian invasion, the Beylik tribes settled in northern Anatolia and took on a nomadic lifestyle. Their history is dotted with tribal warfare and the harsh realities of living in the mountains surrounding the Black Sea. For the most part, Beylik rulers controlled small regions and never again established the vast Empire that was occupied by the Seljuks.
As time went on, the Beylik tribes became more isolated and cut off from each other. It was during this time when the tribal designs developed their own individual styles. However, all of them have their roots in the designs of the Seljuk Turks, which continues to connect them as a group of Seljuk rugs. This is one of the reasons why you will find common symbols throughout Anatolian tribal carpets. Yet, they take on their own regional and individual characteristics.
Surviving Seljuk Rugs
The world only has a few surviving carpets by the Seljuk Turks. Many of them are only small fragments, but what they can tell us about the development of Ottoman Turkish design provides a wealth of information. Unfortunately, the are made from organic material, which eventually deteriorates, even with our best efforts to preserve it. These few Seljuk and early Anatolian Beylik carpets are a world treasure.
So, what can these Seljuk rugs tell us about the development of modern carpet design? First off, these early carpets show the design element of a clearly delineated field and border was an established concept by this time. This carpet group tells us that all-over designs with repeating geometric patterns were also quite common. For the most part, the main border may, or may not have been, surrounded by guard borders. It appears that this design concept became more prominent as one reaches the time of the Ottoman Empire. However, we begin to see its early development in these early Seljuk and Anatolian Beylik examples.
By the 13th century, the carpet contained large geometric borders, but they lacked the intricate designs that one would later see in the Ottoman and Persian Empires. They are large scale geometrics that seem to lack the resolved corners and stylized borders that we later see in the carpets from the carpet-producing centers of the Ottoman Empire. From a design standpoint, the geometric designs used in the border were rather simple and sometimes included familiar tribal patterns, such as the star.
One of the more famous groups of rugs is called the animal rugs and contains animals rendered in simple geometric forms and bright colors. They are placed in rows and seem to face each other, as if in combat. The designs are of a large scale, compared to the overall size of the rug. These animal rugs would later be captured in the paintings of Renaissance painters, but there are only a small number of these rare carpets left.
One important thing of note is that you began to see some of the more common tribal symbols that are still used in carpets today. For instance, in this early group of rugs, you can see the symbol for water, the star, and birds. They are often rendered as simple geometrics at this time, but they later developed into more complex themes and detail.
Seljuk Turks Influences on Today’s Carpets
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Seljuk surviving artifacts is that you can begin to see the development of geometric, angular, stylized forms that remained throughout the carpets of the Ottoman Empire. This style would become considered the “brand” of the Ottoman rulers that distinguished it from their arch rivals, the Persians. By comparison, in Persian design, you tend to see more free-flowing florals, but the angular geometric simplicity of the carpets of the Ottoman Empire remained throughout the early 20th century. These designs have their beginnings in the rugs of the Seljuk Turks.
From a design perspective, the colors that you see are as bright and vibrant as today’s modern area rugs. There are predominantly blues, reds, yellows, ivories and darker midnight blues. The midnight blues almost look black but are easily distinguished from modern synthetic blacks by their organic hue. In this group of carpet artifacts, you also see a range of browns and earth tones. Of particular note, is the occurrence of a turquoise color that was produced by over-dying an indigo blue with green, such as weld. This is a highly desirable color because it was difficult to produce during this time.
There is no doubting the beauty of these rare, existing carpet examples from an empire that is long gone. However, in today’s carpets, we still have the essence of the designs that grew into prominence during the Seljuk Empire. You can still see the essence of the rugs produced by these early tribal people in the symbols used in Anatolian and tribal carpets of the Caucasus mountains. The angular design of the motifs remained throughout the history of the Ottoman Empire. One thing of note that does not appear to have been present in this group of carpets is the medallion design carpets. They would develop a few centuries later. A majority of them are based on all-over repeating geometric designs.
Nazmiyal has a beautiful collection of carpets from the Ottoman Empire and later tribal carpets from the Caucasus mountains. We invite you to look around and enjoy them and perhaps find that special one that is the perfect addition to your home. As you look around, see if you can spot some of the characteristics that echo these early carpet fragments and the carpets that are the ancestors of today’s modern designs.