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Caucasus Rugs Are As Geometric As Geometry
About 1500 B.C. Egypt's Sesostris with his wagons of loot and his captives from Asia and India, galloped back through the Caspian Gates near present Teheran, turned north, and side-swiped the Caucasus. There, in Colchis, he left some weak and halt soldiers with their Indian captives to hoard as heirlooms the army road maps marked on boards, and cling to the ways of their homeland.
These, and other ancient army drag and lost tribes, taking refuge in the taller-thanthe-Alps mountains which fenced Europe from Asia, preserved their tribal signs and symbols in the many angled patterns
Bible maps show Cush, son of Noah, held Caspian land from the river Araxus to the Terek. Cyrus and his fire worshipers pushed the Persian Empire to Derbent (The Gates), where Alexander's men in turn built walls, gates and towers between mountains and sea to keep out the Northern barbarians. But the Cossaks (Kazaks) slipped through Dariel pass and settled south of the mountains.
China conquested toward the Caspian and the Caucasus adopted the Chinese sunwhorl, endless knot, and nine direction octagon--center, and the usual cardinal points. The Romans and Byzantines brought the cross and mosaic altars. The Arabs and Turks spread the prayer rug and Turkish knot. And Genghis Khan's golden tent spilled yellow through Caucasian rugs.
Colors and Patterns of Caucasian Rugs
Colors are clear, bold and harmonious in these rugs of the Caucasus. They include the deep blue of Persia, turquoise of Turk and Russian, reds of Turk and Turkoman, yellow of China and the Mongols, Indian or madder pink, and nature's green. Caucasian greens are very beautiful. Ivory and white everywhere, even used for the field of many Daghestan rugs, help produce a blending of colors. So does the ubi-. quitous latch hook.
This latch hook, an arm of the sun whorl or swastika, much like a square fish hook, is called the "mark" of Caucasian rugs. It surrounds all pattern, softening the bold angles. It reaches from one pattern into another, blending the designs, blending the colors, breaking up solid masses.
These solid masses are almost always triangular, or can be broken down into triangles, for the triangle too is called the "mark" of the Caucasus. But stars, effulgent and elongated; octagons, squares and diamonds, great crosses with two arms pointed and two rectangular, and other geometrical cousins, appear on these rugs in ordered pattern or scattered like dropped blocks in a child's play pen. All flowers are made of angles. Stems are blocky. Leaves have angular edges.
History in Caucasian Rug Patterns
David's six pointed star from Israel and Cush, revitalized by Mohammedan sword from Arabia, is as common as the eight pointed star of the Medes and Persians. The lattice field of Southern Persia shows often in old rugs. Rectangles, one above the other, and almost touching, fill the field of many a Shirvan.
Spaced geometrical figures in the old rugs indicated tribal seating for host and guests. But now geometrical figures fill fields and make up many borders. So does the reciprocal trefoil, characteristic of Daghestan rugs, some say a plant form, others say it represents head and shoulders of galley boat rowers. Also typical is the reciprocal saw tooth (rat tooth) border, seen on Chinese bronze mirrors from centuries B.C.
The Persian flame, with its tip reaching out into a latch hook, fills many a field. The triangle of piled fagot ends from Zoroastrian fire altars may show between the flowering trees of Daghestan prayer rugs.
The "stemmed wine cup" may be the Egyptian lotus; and the flower between sets of four blocky leaves, the Persian rosette, both adapted to Caucasian borders.
The "barber pole" border may be a "fish and water" motif, a row of galley oars, or the wood stack in the nomad's tent. The S, a Norse sun symbol, or an off shoot from India's snake cult, and the triangular design which some see as "ship's prow ram - rning ship's prow" each with grappling hook (latch) reaching into the white air, are favorite borders.
Typical Caucasian Rugs
Kazak and Therchess rugs, deep piled and heavy, to provide a century of warm seating and soft beds, have long braids at the ends for dragging them easily about or tying them at doorways. Bold crosses, squares, diamonds and many "little figures" of horses, birds and men, are strewn in the bold red, green and blue fields. The latch hook is everywhere. Rat teeth borders (also called rat tooth borders) are common.
Shemakha rugs with their crossed arms, two of which are pointed (typical tile shapes), may hail from ancient road signs for traders moved frequently between Colchis and Shemakha. The rugs have a flat weave (no pile) and long loose threads on the back, like Kashmir shawls. These threads add warmth and padding. Designs are put in by needle and thread and these threads are pulled from the needle when the yarn color is changed. The Western world at first called them Kashmir rugs because they were so like Kashmir shawls. Could these be an off shoot from the Indian captives of Sesostris?
Shirvan, Kabistan, and old rugs of Kuba and Baku show Persian influence, for the Parsees made centuries of pilgrimages ?c; the sacred grottoes of Baku where petroleum bubbled from the earth in eternal fires. So the "flame" filled with flowers and tipped with latch hook, makes its diagonal pattern in alternating lines of color. Or is this but the seed-filled fig with its symbolic promise of everlasting flowering?
Old Kabistan grave rugs, made for the family to sit on between the graves, are of fine weave, generally with the flame or effulgent stars. They are long and narrow, say 4 by 10 feet. Some have a niche touching the border. Many grave rugs have dark backgrounds.
Derbend, where Turkomen cross the Caspian to neighbor, makes rugs with Daghestan patterns plus Yomud elongated stars, Yomud heavier pile, and Yomud stronger blues, reds and yellows. Chichi rugs, made by Daghestan mountain shepherds who may be descendents of Cush, are dark, small and squarish-say four by five feet. They favor blue, the tree of life, the six pointed star, and the flame design as finely detailed as inset bits of mosaic. Many borders close in the field.
Daghestan prayer rugs of fine weave, with their Caucasian arch like the upper half of an octagon, sometimes have tiny geometric flowering trees in all over trellis effect. One is alternated with six balls in triangular pile-fagot ends from Zoroaster's fire altar, perhaps. Mohammed's comb, and the patterned spot for the ball of Mecca earth, show near the arch.
Caucasian Rug Sheen, Side Finish and Ends
Sheen is characteristic. Lift the corner of a Caucasian rug and undulate it so it glimmers with its silvery sheen. Some say this sheen comes from rubbing under the coarse woolen socks of the mountain people. Others say the yarn is dyed without washing the natural oil from the wool, so the yarn ravels and spreads out into a cluster of fibers which reflect the light. This sheen is a beauty mark of Caucasian rugs.
Rug sides are overcast, some with several colors of yarn. Rug ends are finished with a narrow web and fringe, except the Kazaks and Therchess with their braids, and the Derbends which often borrow the wide web of their Turkomen neighbors.
Old Caucasian rugs were woven by people who stayed safe in their mountains, taking what they wanted from the invader, but preserving their ancient customs and symbols. Until the 20th century, they lived much as they did when Artaxerxes in his robe of gold and purple and his jewels worth hundreds of thousands, got off his horse, and quiver at his back, shield on his arm, led his army into the Caucasus after the rebelling Cadusians.