Afshar Carpets & Rugs

The Afshars are a tribe of Turkmen/Azeri origin who presently occupy an area within Southeast Iran, near modern day Kerman. They are a Turkish speaking people who came south from Azerbaijan around the early 16th century.[1] Historically, the Afshars have been a key group in the establishment of the Safavid dynasty in 1502, forming part of a wider group of tribes known as the Qizilbash federation. [2]Due to a later failed revolt, the power of the Afshar tribes were severely weakened by the later Safavid rulers especially Shah Abbas I (reigned 1587-1627). In order to reduce their political power and mobility, the Shah had the tribe scattered around various parts of the Persian Empire.


The tribe later saw a resurgence in power when the Afshar military commander, Nadir Shah, deposed the last member of the Safavid dynasty in 1736 and proclaimed himself King of Iran. Inevitably, his subsequent death, saw a decline in the power of the tribe. The dynasty was finally overthrown by Mohammad Khan Qajar in 1796, the founder of the next Qajar dynasty. Nowadays they occupy a territory in South East Iran and southern Azerbaijan. Being pastoral nomads their main source of income is through animal husbandry which gives them access to amazingly high quality wool which is used in their textiles and weavings.


Afshar Rugs possess deeply saturated colours as a result of their dyeing techniques and they are usually finished at either end with intricate flatweave The rugs are usually small sized are traditionally crafted from wool, more contemporary examples  include the use of cotton for the  foundation of the rug. Afshar textiles usually show stylised versions of city designs with medallions or ‘botehs’ (pear shaped medallions). Others have repeating geometric figures.[3] Afshar weavings have some resemblance to Kurdish textiles as well as coarse versions of Senneh and Feraghan carpets. In their use of dark colours (blues, reds, aubergines, greens) they can be compared to Baluchi weavings. This diversity in Afshar design is due in partly to a history of constant migration which has resulted in the adoption of various carpet weaving customs.[4] The great carpet expert A Cecil Edwards, observing and writing in the 1920’s, remarked that the Afshars were capable of having a range of original and unique designs drawing particular attention to the 'morghi' or hen design. Ironically the historical decline of the Afshar and their semi-nomadic lifestyle has contributed to the increase in value of Afshar textiles.


This particular rug encapsulates many of the above facets of Afshari weavings. It has an extremely finely cropped pile and displays a beautiful contrast in the use of colours which serves to elevate the design in the eyes of the collector. The design of the rug draws upon styles of other tribal contemporary weavings. The use of the sprouting vase has often been used in rugs though on a much smaller scale. However, this unusual example has that motif displayed to a much larger scale. The rug is in an immaculate condition with its original ends and purple bindings on the side cords. Collectors who tend to have an affinity for tribal rugs always tend to include Afshar rugs like this one as centrepieces in their collections.


[1] Ed David Black, The Atlas of Rugs and Carpets: Comprehensive Guide for the Buyer and collector’, pg 150

[2] Nobuaki Kondo, ‘Qizilbash Afterwards: The Afshars in Urmiya from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century’, in Iranian Studies , vol 32, No 4 (1999), pp.537-556

[3] Murray Lee Eiland III, Starting to Collect Antique Oriental Rugs, ((Suffolk, 2003), pg 66

[4] Ian Bennet (ed.) , Rugs and Carpets of the World, (London, 1981) pg 241