by George O'Bannon

This article originally appeared in Oriental Rug Review, Vol.8, #1

At the May 30, 1987, Sotheby's Oriental rug sale, there were three Saryq main carpets. Lot 40 had the Temirchin gul, was pictured in color in the catalog, and was listed as circa 1800. Estimated at $10,000-12,000, it sold for $9,350. Lots l23 and l33 had the Saryq gul and were not pictured. Lot 123 (Illustration 1) was listed as last quarter of the l9th century, Lot 133 (Illustration 2) as circa 1850. They were estimated at $2,500-3,500 and $6,000-8,000 and sold for $2,530 and $4,400 respectively.

All three were bought at or near their reserves. The dates for Lots 40 and 133 are early for Turkoman rugs. It is surprising how little interest they generated. The reasons may be that Saryq rugs are scarce and not well known, that descriptive data are inadequate, and they are incorrectly attributed to tribe or period or both.

A review of the Turkoman literature shows a sparceness of information on Saryq weavings. In Moshkova's monumental Carpets of the Peoples of Central Asia, one of her weakest chapters is on the Saryq. Tsareva's Rugs and Carpets from Central Asia has no Saryq main carpets. The Russian collections are the basis for much of the research on Turkoman rugs; if Saryq carpets are weak in those holdings, this may explain why they are not better represented in published material.

The purpose of this article is to present the results of a survey of published examples of Saryq main carpets, to sharpen the distinction between two groups of Saryq main carpets, to present characteristics of the earliest known examples, and to reconsider the present tribal attributions of some of these.

Thirty-five Saryq main carpets were identified in a recent literature search. Visual data from color and black/white photographs and published data were recorded. Cited publications are listed below. The main focus is Lots 123 and 133 from Sotheby's May 30, 1987, sale.

The characteristics of Saryq weavings as described by Jon Thompson are: ivory wool warp; grey, brown or ivory wefts, two shots and slight warp depression; Turkish knot; wool pile with use of cotton and silk highlights; flat selvedge normally in a two-colored check; and long plain kelim end finishes.

Reds vary from clear through red-brown, purple-red, to dark brown or deep purple. Dark blue, mid-blue and bluegreen are standard. Small amounts of yellow are found. Brown undyed natural wool is used for outlining. A varying secondary color is an apricot to orange-tan. White is from natural wool or cotton or both.

Illustration 1. A Saryq main carpet, Lot 123.

Age distinctions in Saryq main carpets are based on a combination of several characteristics:

Color. Purple, purple-brown and chocolate brown are considered late, e. g. last quarter of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Generally, the browner the color the later the rug. Rugs from mid-19th century and earlier have a definite red field with a brownish cast and sometimes a second bright red.

Cotton and Silk. The oldest rugs are believed to have neither. Silk and, occasionally, cotton are found in mid-century weavings. Their use increases dramatlcally late in the century and in early 20th century rugs. Neither are common in mid-20th century Saryq rugs from Afghanistan.

Orange. An orange shade is used in the quarters of the guls. In early rugs the oldest have a color near apricot and in later ones the orange has a browner tone. In many late rugs it is a synthetic red.

Sariq Border Patterns: A generally accepted principle of Turkoman rugs is that the oldest weavings have the simplest borders, and youth is indicated by increased number of borders and design complexity. One sees this clearly in Saryq carpets. The oldest have one main border and two flanking guard borders. In the late purple-brown rugs, there may be two main borders and as many as seven minor ones.

Saryq border patterns are fairly standard and limited in variety. The most common main border is the "naldag" pattern (Illustration 1). It is the main border design on late rugs. A second early design is a cartouche with a cruciform element in the center (Illustration 4). The secondary borders consist mainly of checkered triangles, diamonds, and tegbent patterns. There are a few exceptions.

Illustration 3. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Sariq Guls.

The Saryq main carpet guls are divided into three types:

1. Gul-i-Gul (Illustration 3)

2. Temirchin Gul (Illustration 4)

3. Saryq Gul
a. Square in quarter of gul (young) (Figure 1)
b. Zoomorphic trefoil in quarter of gul (oldest) (Figure 2).

The secondary gul on Saryq carpets is a version of the Juval gul. It may vary slightly in drawing from rug to rug (Illustration 2).
Gul-i-Gul Carpets

This small group of rugs is best known by the McMullan fragment, Islamic Carpets, Plate 127, and in Thompson, Plate 17. Three other examples were identified. The technical data are fragmentary. Sizes are published on only two of the pieces. Two -- McMullan and Sotheby's Lot 75, May 18, 1985 -- may have white cotton. A Jones rug and Sotheby's Lot 69, October 30, 1982, do not. In two the cluster of three trefoils emanate from one point in the S-group manner (Illustration 5) and in two they emanate in a two/one Ersari manner (Illustration 3). Lot 69 has a Saryq type Juval secondary gul, but the Juval secondary gul of the Jones rug is of the S-group type. The McMullan and Lot 75 rugs have a kurbaghe secondary gul variant.

Illustration 4. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Temirchin Carpets

Eight Temirchin gul carpets were identified. Although only twice the number of Gul-i-Gul carpets, they show greater consistency of characteristics. Only one piece was fragmentary, Thompson, Plate 16. One is late, Edelmann, Lot 121, March 10, 1979. It has a large quantity of silk, is the second largest of the 37 surveyed carpets (8'11"x7'11"), has the greatest number of guls (5x12), and the most number of borders (7). It was correctly cataloged as early 20th century.

Of the remaining seven pieces, all are probably first half of the l9th century. Six are very squarish (8'1"x7'10" to 7'8"x7'6"). Guls vary from 4x8 to 4x12. Secondary guls are the Juval gul or the memling gul.

Sariq Gul Carpets

The Saryq gul is the most common and heraldic form for the Saryq. In the quarters of the gul there are three elements. The middle one is variable. In late pieces it is a square. In early pieces it is a trefoil which, like the other elements, was more birdlike earlier as is the comparable element in Tekke carpets.

Illustration 2. A Sariq main carpet, lot 133.

Sotheby's Lots 123 and 133 are now presented in detail.

Technical Data

Lot 133
Warp: Ivory wool, Z2S
Weft: Brown wool, Z2S, two shots
Knots: 15 vertical, 9 horizontal, 135 per square inch, pile thread of three strands
Colors: BRICK RED, dark blue, blue-green, orange, ivory, dark brown, lilac (silk)
Size: 8'9"x7'10"
Field: Guls 5x11; 8 1/2"x11"; minor gul, Juval type Border: 8 l/2" wide; major border, Naldag; minor border, Triangle (2), Tegbent (4)
Selvedge: Red and blue checkered, six bundles of two warps, grouped in threes by color; inner group of two warps wrapped in blue-green
Kelim: 2" remaining, originally 10"

Lot 123
Warp: Ivory wool, Z2S
Weft: Brown wool, Z2S, two shots
Knots: 12 vertical, 9 horizontal, 108 per square inch, pile thread of two strands
Colors: RUBY RED, dark blue, green, orange, yellow, white, brown, lilac and blue silk
Size: 9'1"x7'11"
Field: Guls 5x11; 9"x11 1/2"; minor gul, Chemche gul
Border: 11" wide; major border, Naldag; minor border, Triangle (2)
Selvedge: red, blue and blue-green checkered, four bundles of five warps, grouped in twos by color
Kelim: Missing

They are similar in several respects: size, 5x11 guls, some silk, no cotton, checkered selvedges, and brown wefts.

They differ in the following respects.
Lot 123 is ruby red, while Lot l33 is rust red.

Lot l33 has the Juval secondary gul, but Lot 123 has the chemche gul. Lot 133 has six minor borders, while Lot 123 has two.

Lot 123 has a clear yellow while Lot 133 does not. The orange of Lot 123 is pinkish, while that in Lot 133 is brownish.

Lot 133 has a blue-green; the comparable color in Lot 123 is decidedly green. Lot 133 is similar to the McCoy Jones rug published in Schürmann, Plate 10; Lot 123 is closer in color to the Meyer-Muller Ersari in Schürmann, Plate 57, one of the earliest known Turkoman rugs.

Illustration 5. A Sariq main carpet, courtesy of Sotheby's

In the survey, 23 carpets with the Saryq gul were identified. Of these, 15 were considered to belong to the third quarter of the l9th century or earlier, e.g. without the purplish coloration and square in the gul. Including Lots 123 and 133, there are a total of 25 Saryq gul carpets. Their characteristics are as follows, with exceptions noted:

Major Gul. The early pieces had from 4x8 to 6x13 guls. Later pieces ranged from 3x13 to 5x15. With two exceptions, the middle ornament in the quarters of the gul was the trefoil (Figure 2). Two pieces, Lot 133 and Milhofer, contain a simplification of this ornament (Figure 3). This could be a transition stage in the simplification of this ornament to the square which occurs in the late pieces or the rhombus in the Wher carpet, Thompson, Plate 18.
Minor Gul. In all instances but one, the minor gul is the juval gul. The exception is Lot 123 with the chemche gul.

Major Border. The major border is the naldag. An exception is the famous Wher carpet, where the border is of the cartouche type found on S-group and Saryq Temirchin gul carpets. Several late carpets had two naldag borders flanked by numerous minor borders.

Minor Borders. There are two arrangements of minor borders on early carpets. A few rugs have the main border flanked by two. The most common pattern is multicolored triangles. Less frequent is a diamond pattern. Singular instances of small florets, stars and squares were noted.

When more than two minor borders are used, four narrower borders with the tegbent pattern are used (Illustration 3).

Edges. Most edges were a blue and red checked selvedge. Three were a solid brown wool selvedge. One late piece had a blue wool overcast. The selvedge of Lot 123 is unique.

Cotton and Silk. Of the early pieces, four had silk only (Thacher, Sotheby's Lot 81, Lot 123 and 133) and one cotton only (Franses). Of the late pieces, three had both cotton and silk and one cotton only. These data were recorded on only 11 pieces and are not conclusive but do conform to characteristics cited by most authors.

Size. Of the early carpets, the smallest was 7'x7' (Thacher), which coordinates with one of the smallest number of guls, 4x9. The largest is Lot 123 at 9'1"x711". In general the oldest were squarish in dimension. Later pieces were more rectangular, 10'3"x7' 11", 7'3"x4'8".

Knots Per Square Inch. Densities recorded were 108 (Lot 123), 112 (Grote-Hasenbalg, Plate 85, est.), 162 (Jones/Schürmann), 200-250 (Thacher but probably 125), 134 (Herrmann VI), 135 (Lot 133), and 144 (Franses).

Figure 1

Figure 2

In the center of the gul are two features which animate the static geometry of Turkoman patterns. These features affect one's subconscious response to the carpet.

The first feature is in the tendrils surrounding and defining the center of the gul. The usual drawing and coloration of the tendrils are illustrated in Figure 4. In Lot 123 the middle, angled segment of the tendril is wider than usual giving it an angle or articulation like an elbow (Figure 2). This articulation compliments the adjacent segment of color in the quarter of the gul and moves the eye in an arc around the center of the gul. In the bottom half of the rug, the color in these two areas is the same and the movement of the eye is dynamic. This effect is lessened when they are different colors in the upper half.

The second feature also results from the widening of the tendril segment. It redefines the center space of the gul (Figure 2). In all other carpets the shape is as in Figure 4. Figure 2 is a more refined outline than Figure 4. It is usually these minor changes in pattern which separate the great from the ordinary.

A final consideration supporting an early dating of the rug is the use of the chemche gul. Antique Oriental Carpets from Austrian Collections, Plate 101, illustrates a Salor (S-group) rug with the chemche gul. This rug "probably belongs to the earliest surviving Salor weavings," according to the authors. Having seen the carpet, I believe that conclusion is justified. A Saryq main carpet fragment published by Hoffmeister, Plate 60, is the only other known Saryq example with the chemche gul.

Although the chemche gul is thought of primarily as the property of the Tekkes, it was also used by the Kizil Ayaks, Yomuds, Salors, Ersaris, and apparently Saryqs on their oldest carpets and, in earlier times, was a more widely distributed tribal main carpet pattern.

Lot 133 belongs to the main body of early Saryq carpets of which the Jones and Herrmann pieces are prime examples.

When one contrasts Lot 133 and others with Lot 123, they seem selfconscious in their regularity and absence of idiosyncracies. There are no stripes across the "X" of the naldag. The silk is used exclusively in one or two pattern elements, such as the small tegbent motifs in the center of the juval guls. There are rarely pattern adjustments in the beginning end. The use of white in the main and secondary borders is unvarying. The whole impression is one of regularity and control, not individuality.

The Wher carpet presents interesting evolutionary questions from a pattern and aesthetic standpoint. The first row of guls has the standard cruciform motif and bird trefoil. The latter is replaced in the remaining guls by a rhombus, which is also found in the principal segment of the tendril motif. It seems not to be a zoomorphic element like the trefoil which it replaces. A widening of the middle segment of the tendril in the second and third rows of guls is noted. The chuval guls are crowded in the first row and are accompanied by two unusual filler motifs.

The "star within a box" in the center of the gul is unique as is the main cartouche border. The use of six minor borders qualifies the use of the word earliest for this carpet, despite these other features.

Most of these factors support including it within the earliest group but, comparing color and originality, not as early as Lot 123.

Figure 3

Figure 4


The early carpets have a redder coloration, larger guls, squarer dimensions, and some use of silk. The absence of cotton indicates an earlier date. Silk would appear to have been used early by Saryq weavers. Relying solely on number of guls or minor border stripes to validate age is risky; e.g. Lot 123 has 55, the Wher carpet 32, Lot 38 in Sotheby's London sale of June 15, 1983, had only two minor borders but had 65 guls coupled with the regularity of pattern elements of Lot 133.

Eleven vertical guls is the number most frequently used in the early carpets. There was one rug with eight, one with nine, two with 10, one with 12, and three with 13 guls vertically. Horizontally, there were seven each of four and five guls and two with six guls.

The relationship of Saryq carpets to the other Turkish knotted Turkoman carpets is not clear from this study. It does seem that the naldag pattern is uniquely Saryq. The fact that half of the Temirchin gul carpets have the naldag pattern indicates a strong relationship between the two groups.

The relationship to the Gul-i-Gul carpets is less clear. The four examples included in this survey point in a variety of directions.

The McMullan fragment and Sotheby's Lot 75, May 18, 1985, with kurbaghe guls point towards Ersari weaving based on the shape of the guls, interior motifs, placement of the trefoil patterns and filler design elements. The cartouche main border design is found not only on Saryq carpets but on the Saltiq Ersaris and others as well. See Plate 120 in Austrian Collections. The two other rugs pose questions in other directions. Lot 69, Sotheby's October 30, 1982, would appear to be Saryq. It has the naldag border and secondary border patterns common to Saryq carpets. The secondary gul and its interior drawing are Saryq. Except for the cruciform elements in the center of the gul -- a Saryq pattern -- the major gul is of the S-group type. The color is more S-group than Saryq.

The Jones carpet was published in color in HALI V, 3. This carpet is even closer to the S-group in style. The secondary gul is like that found on S-group rugs. The borders are unlike Saryq patterns. The motif in the center of the major guls is an "X", not a cruciform. And the red is more akin to S-group color than Saryq.

There are two implied assumptions which present problems in assessing these rugs. The first is: if they are Turkish knotted, they are Saryq. We know from past and current production that the Yomud Turkoman tribal groups used both the Turkish and Persian knots. The Saryq Turkomans in Afghanistan today weave rugs with both types of knots. They probably did so in the past. Because the Ersaris of today do not use the Turkish knot does not mean that some group in the past did not use it. Because the Salor Turkomans no longer exist, we know nothing for certain about what variety of knots they used.

The second assumption is: if the rugs have cotton in the pile, they must be Saryq. It is well documented that cotton appears commonly in Yomud tentbands, Tekke ak chuvals, and in the wefts of Chodor and Arabachi weavings. It seems obvious that cotton was available to many Turkoman tribes to be used in many ways. There is reason to assume that cotton may have been used in the pile by several different groups.

The Gul-i-Gul and Temirchin gul carpets may or may not be Saryq. More examples will have to be studied before a firm attribution can be made.

The two rugs presented here help to define some characteristics of the earliest Saryq carpets (Lot 123) and those that follow it in the l9th century (Lot 133). These were succeeded by the more numerous purple-brown rugs from the last quarter of the century. They show the use of a common gul with minor changes in drawing and color over time.

Saryk carpet fragment, formerly Joseph V. McMullen Collection, 0.23 x 0.26m
The Textile Museum, Washington DC,


A Saryk main carpet that appeared in Rippon Boswell, Dec. 7, 2010.


Butterweck, et. al, Antique Oriental Carpets from Austrian Collections.
Edelmann, Lot 121, March 10, 1979

Franses, The World of Rugs, Plate 38

Grote-Hasenbalg, Masterpieces of Oriental Rugs, I925, Plates 85 & 94

HALI V, 3; II, 4

Hoffmeister, Turkoman Carpets in Franconia

Mackie and Thompson, Türkmen, 1980, Plates 16 & 18

McMullan, Islamic Carpets, 1965, Piate 127

Moshkova, Carpets of the Peoples of Central Asia, 1970, English translation, Oriental Rug Review, Vol. III, No. 1 - Vol. IV, No. 9.

Schürmann, Central Asian Rugs, 1969, Plate 10

Sotheby's, Lot 11, March 19, 1980; Lot 69, October 30, 1982; Lot 75, May 18, 1985; Lot 40, May 30, 1987

Sotheby's/London, Lot 38, January 15, 1983

Thacher, Turkoman Rugs, 1940, Plate 6