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7.3.10 Textile Fragment with Hunting Scene

Silk woven textile fragment

8th century

Textile Fragment with Hunting Scene, 8th century, Syria or Iraq, Metropolitan Museum of Art, # 51.57, Rogers Fund, 1951,

This silk fabric was woven in Egypt or Syria in the eighth century. The artist wove the design of a hunter on a horse and a panther inside a circle decorated with a scroll of plants. The artist borrowed this design from Byzantine art (the art of the eastern Roman Empire). The Byzantines had already borrowed the design from the Sasanian Persians, who were its inventors. The artist wove the fabric with silk threads that were made in the Abbasid lands, not in China. For a long time, only the Chinese knew how to make silk. But around 550 CE, two Persian monks smuggled silkworms to Constantinople. Soon there was a thriving industry of silk production in Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia. What two types of interaction does this source show?
This fragment of a silk fabric shows the sharing of an artistic design — the hunter with the bow and arrow on horseback – from Sasanian Persia to the Byzantine Empire to the Abbasid Caliphate, or from Zoroastrian Persian to Christian Byzantine to Muslim Middle Eastern cultures. It also shows the spread of technology — silk manufacture — from China to the Muslim world (particularly Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia, which became large centers of silk cloth production.) Silk culture had already spread overland from China to India by the second century CE. Byzantine, Syrian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman weavers first learned how to dye and weave silk by unraveling silk thread from old fabrics that came from East Asia.