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Textiles in Cross-Cultural Encounters: The Case of the Umayyad Palace at Khirbat al-Mafjar

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Stucco panels and paintings resembling textile carpets totally covered the walls of the Umayyad palace at Khirbat al-Mafjar (724-748) near Jericho. These carpets-like coverings, on two of which the present article will focus, present an interweaving of geometrical patterns populated by images of objects, human busts, animals, and fantastic creatures. The origin of these patterns lies in the portable textiles woven from silk, wool, and other precious materials which were brought to the Umayyad palace as gifts, goods, or booty from cultures with which Islam had contact through conquests, trade, or diplomatic relations. They represent and express cross-cultural encounters and a network of exchange between the Umayyads and China, Sassanid Iran, Sogdiana, Central Asia, Byzantium, and Coptic Egypt. I shall contend here that textiles constituted far more than simply functional objects and were rather a prime luxury item, imbued with a shared vocabulary of power and prestige.
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Keywords: Central Asia; Khirbat al-Mafjar; Sassanid Iran; Silk Road; Sogdiana; portable textiles

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 3, 2020

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