Persian and Oriental rugs are arguably the most popular rugs in the world. The most exquisite rugs adorn the walls of wealthy homes, and are displayed in museums across the world. An original hand tied Persian or Oriental rug can sell for tens of thousands of pounds (or more!), and a good rug will last for many generations without losing its lustre. But the history of these rugs is more fascinating than you may realise, with ancient riddles, wartime messages and rare patterns.

Ancient mysteries

The oldest rug in existence is the famed Pazyryk rug, which dates back to the 5th century BC. It was found in the grave of a Schythian prince, and its design offers some tantalising clues to life 2500 years ago. At the centre of the rug is a symbol of the sun, surrounded by winged griffins and antlered deer. A variety of horses border the rug, along with another row of griffins. Experts believe that this may have been a funeral rug, as griffins were once seen as guardians to the afterlife.

War rugs

In 1979, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan led to ten years of fighting between Soviet forces and the Mujahideen. In this pre-internet time, it was difficult for the Afghanistan people to get their message out, so they began to weave subtle patterns of tanks, guns and scenes of massacre into their exported rugs. The trend was quickly co-opted by the Mujahideen, who used the rugs as propaganda and sold them to fund their campaign.

Prized art

In 2008, Sotheby’s New York sold an early 17th century Persian rug for $33.8million, making it the most expensive rug in the world. The Kerman rug contained a very rare pattern on a red background, and was in near perfect condition, despite its age. The sale price places the rug on a par with famous art works by Van Gogh, Picasso and Monet.