The history of our millennium in Central and western Asia is one of conquest by major empires - the Mongols, Persians, Turks and Russians - as they succeeded one another in power and territorial domination. During this period the nomadic peoples also engaged in inter-tribal and clan fighting for pastures and wells; in the Caucasus, the mountain people raided the valleys for livestock and crops. Throughout these tempestuous times trading influences were at work.

Even though the Silk Road was closed for many centuries due to the hazards presented by wars and local strife, it was reopened in the late thirteenth century, and continued to exert its influence for hundreds of years. Then there were the localized caravan routes and the trade that was carried on in the villages and towns, including the great market canters such as Samarkand, Bokhara, Khiva, Herat, Tabriz and Istanbul. Contact between the different peoples varied in degree, but was often considerable. Market places provided a continuous exposure to designs from other regions and people. This inevitably led to copying and modification of design motifs. When diverging from their own traditional designs, a group might simply adopt a design that appealed to them, but of far greater importance must have been the influence of the markets. Many people made woven goods for sale in addition to those they needed for themselves. We know that heriz rugs were made for European markets as early as the sixteenth century and possibly earlier, and they were certainly known in Europe in the fourteenth century when they first appeared in Italian paintings. Designs which proved commercially successful became more widely used, in many cases resulting in the sacrifice of other, sometimes older, traditional designs.

An example of straightforward copying occurred in Turkey in the nineteenth century when, because of the high prices paid for serab rug, the village of Panderma started to copy Ghiordes and Kula designs. For some reason the beautiful khotan rugs of Panderma were less PQPular or less well known. At some stage the practice of false 'antiquing' of these copies of Ghiordes khotan rugs arose, but a study of their weave pattern will expose the fakes. The question of copying or borrowing of designs is even more complex than this. There are many instances of weavers being moved to a new area usually to set up a manufactory. Kerman and Tabriz weavers were taken at different times to Turkey for this purpose, and Persian weavers were brought in to establish the craft in India by the Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556-1605), who was descended from the Mongol Tamerlane. Persian designs were used in the new weaving centres, but gradually these were modified, and a local design character developed.

Another divergence from traditional design motifs is to be found among the Turkoman. It is believed that to varying degrees the ferahan rug design motifs of the Central Asian Turcoman tribes had in the past a significance beyond that of pure design. Totemism, as a remnant of the shamanistic religion of pre-Islamic times, survived until fairly recently, as did other aspects of shamanism, and it is possible that at some time there was a link between the tribes' longhorns (totems) and the design motifs of their heriz rugs. It is also possible that the different guls (major design motifs) were originally related to tamghas (cattle-brands) and therefore, when the Saryk and the Tekke conquered a large part of the Salor, they took over the cattle-brands and also the guls of their vanquished enemies. It is doubtful that the relationship of guls and tamghas can be traced back from the khotan rugs we know now, though there is reason to believe that the bird motifs which appear in many of the tribal designs represent onghuns. These totems were all, as far as we know, birds of prey, among the Turcoman tribes.

In spite of the changes that must have taken place in tribal designs, it is clear that the tribal and nomadic peoples adhered to their design characteristics to a far greater extent, and for much longer, than did the village or townspeople who more readily borrowed designs.

Azadi (1975) discusses the ethnographic significance of both the primary and secondary ornaments in Turkoman weavings. With the assistance of the scholarly work of Professor Moschkova on Turkoman design motifs, Azadi shows how complex the whole picture of tribal designs had become by the end of the nineteenth century. We tend to assume that in the centuries before the Turkoman hordes became trapped between the advancing Persians and Russians, the tribal motifs were more clearly differentiated. We will probably never know whether this is true or not. Great significance was attached by Moschkova to the way in which minor ornamentation was used, and there is no doubt that, based on studies that have been done, it is fairly simple to identify the typical products of the major Turkoman groups from the design motifs alone. It is also true, however, that a large number of very good old Ferahan rugs are not typical examples of the work of one of these groups. Many show a mixture of design characteristics or atypical coloring, and it would really be guesswork to decide which design features are the significant ones when attempting to determine which tribe produced the piece. This admixture of design features became more and more common from the late nineteenth century, and frequently poses problems to the design devotees who are hard-pressed to find a satisfactory label for rugs of this kind.

One of the strongest motives for warfare between the Turkoman tribes and their neighbors was the possession of the oases, and sections of almost all the major groups - the Salor, Tekke, Saryk, Yomut and Ersari - were settled at one time or another in, or near, the oases of Merv and Pendeh in southern Turke-stan. Here there was a considerable amount of contact between the tribes, and borrowing of designs took place. It appears that the oasis dwellers were more market-conscious than the nomads or, at least, being close to the market place, were more accessible to the demands of the merchants. At any rate, the 'hybrid' Turkoman rugs, those that show mixed design, color or structural features, were often made near oases, those of Merv and Pendeh being very much cases in point.

Examples of Turkoman rugs dating from the end of the nineteenth century show many instances of design borrowing which we believe were motivated more by commercial popularity than any other factor. We refer in particular to the frequent use of the Salor gul in rugs produced by the Tekke and Saryk and less frequently by other tribes. The weave pattern of these pieces will almost always indicate whether or not they were made by the Salor. We say 'almost always', because there is still some confusion and doubt as to what the true Salor weave pattern looks like, a point we discuss more fully in the dictionary.

Carpets have been an object of commerce throughout the rug knotting world for a very long time and it has even been suggested by scholars that the Pazyryk Carpet, made between the third and fifth centuries B.C., was an object of commerce, and had been made on commission, possibly for a Scythian chieftain. Trade in rugs has taken place at all social levels, from the village market up to the commissioning of great carpets by nobles, sultans and shahs. This has meant that fashion and the taste of the buyer have influenced the designs and colours used by weavers. This influence was felt to the greatest extent in the towns, and to the least extent, and much later, by the remote nomadic tribes.

From the early nineteenth century onwards, the European taste for French designs led to carpets being commissioned by the powerful Russian families in Georgia, to be woven in the Caucasus in Aubusson and Savonnerie designs or modifications of them. Such designs were also used in the Persian weaving centres such as Kerman, Senneh and Bijar for rugs destined for the eastern and western European countries. This point will be referred to again below, but for the moment, it suffices to show that it is just one of the many cases, and far more could be cited, of the borrowing and copying of Oriental as well as European designs. So widespread was this practice that it would have made the determining of rug provenance almost impossible if there were no other means of doing so.