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9th century C.E.

Accession Number



length: 140 cm


Eran (post-Islamic)


The State Hermitage Museum



Object Type


"Created: Syria. Early medieval culture of the Adygo-Alanian tribes. 9th century (silk)

Found: Moshchevaya Balka Burial Mound. North-western Caucasus, Karachayevo-Cherkessk Republic

This caftan is of great interest to researchers – a warm outer garment lined with squirrel fur and covered with a silk fabric that has a pattern of medallions containing depictions of the fantastic creature from Persian mythology known as the Senmurv. (At the present time, that identification has been rejected. Apparently, the image is the symbol of a constellation.) Only a few examples of silks with a comparable design are known, they have been found in Europe in reliquaries, the shrines of saints and papal robes.

The caftan from the Moshchevaya Balka burial ground used up a whole length (around 4 metres) of luxurious silk. The cut of the caftan is specific to the region, repeated in many far more modest examples: divided at the waist between a close-fitting top (with several braid fastenings) and a broad, non-fastening lower part with two long slits at the sides. That design was convenient for getting about in the mountains, especially on horseback. The fairly harsh climate required the use of fur or leather for warmth, as well as fur trimmings at the neck and the ends of the sleeves. This caftan fastened right over left – an ethnic marker that set Iranian peoples apart from the Chinese or Turkic ones.

When the caftan was being made some strips and small pieces of other silk fabrics were used for purely practical reasons: the flaps and bottom were reinforced on the inside with Sogdian silk; the braids were made from Chinese silk, while among the small remnants that remained unseen beneath the left flap was a rectangular piece of a distinctive Byzantine silk. Thus, the whole of the Northern Caucasus branch of the Silk Road is represented in the unique caftan of a chieftain from Moshchevaya Balka."

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