Volume VIII Number 3
May 1990

Smyrna was long a commercially robust place. Thevenot (1656) mentioned voluminous trade. (1) Galland (1672) noted a large traffic with France. (2) Le Brun (1678) marked Smyrna as the first city for commerce in the Levant. (3) A judgment at the very end of the 17th century held that "Smyrna and Aleppo are now the chief Places in the Levant." (4)

"Smyrna is one of the biggest and richest cities of the Levant", said Tournefort in 1700, noting the continual arrival of caravans of silk from Persia, and of goat yarn from Angora. Its exports were cottons and wools, and various natural products, together with "...Rugs large and ordinary". (5)

The 18th century seems to be the story of the rise of the trading importance of Smyrna, and of the decline of Aleppo, in considerable part because of the Persian wars. Disruption of the Persia trade was noted at Aleppo in 1738 by Pococke, who mentioned the large amount of Persian silk which was shipped through Aleppo, with some diversion, however, of trade to Smyrna. Pococke also identified Smyrna's exports, among them raw silk, "Angoura", unwrought cotton, and "Turkey carpets". (6)

Pococke not only was in Smyrna but also travelled through the Anatolian interior from Smyrna to Angora, and furnished a fairly detailed description of the sources of the weaving which funneled through Smyrna: "In the country between this (Kara Hissarj and Smyrna, they make most of the Turkey carpets, particularly the largest at Oushak, three days journey from Carahissar, and at Goula two days further, and about a place called Goirdus twenty miles to the south west of Goula, and towards Akissar, the old Thyatina; but further east they make mostly that sort, which are called Turcoman carpets, without nap, and in broad stripes and figures." (7)

De Tott (1755) accorded Smyrna flat-out trade primacy. (8) The Hollander, Flachat (c. 1760) characterized the city as the port which brought Asian goods to Holland, was the manufacturing site of plain cotton cloth, and was a locale for considerable madder cultivation. (9)

Flachat also provided a statistic which helps keep the rug trade in perspective. The ten Netherlands ships which sailed from
Smyrna on October 17, 1755 contained "44 bales of rugs and 1 bale of striped rugs" out of a total cargo of 6991 bales, or less than 1% (10)

One of the best of the summaries of the Levant trade was submitted by the returning British ambassador, Grenville, in a manuscript report rendered in proper French and dealing in concrete particulars with English trade for the period 1762--1766. He commented on the "complete devastation" of Persia and the drying up of the Aleppo trade; he mentioned the importation of cochineal and indigo through Smyrna, and listed its principal exports of stuffs, yarns, satins, silks, including the shipment of carpets, and something of their origins: "In the neighborhood of Smyrna, at Magnesia are made many Rugs, which they sell a very large Quantity in Turkey, and many go to Christianity..." (11) Pococke gave Magnesia's contemporary name as "Guzelhissar "; this city was earlier, c. 1680, identified as "great, populous, and rich, from the Trade it driveth in Cotton." (12)

St. Priest's summary review of the manuscript reports of French ambassadors over the period 1525--1770 included Smyrna imports and exports, and described the then current situation of about 1780. Cochineal was among the imports; cottons and wools were a Smyrna product and principal export, among them "wools in herringbone pattern", more extensively than at Aleppo, which because of "the troubles of Persia" was not exporting many of them. Also on the Smyrna export list were "covers and rugs". (13) Sonnini at the same time listed as exports: spun cotton, silky Angora fleeces, Persian silk and carpets, drugs, and dry raisins. (14)

Smyrna trade primacy continued in the 1780's. Lusignan, writing from there on December 6, 1785, remarked that "Commerce is carried on with great alacrity and spirit..." (15) Sauveboeuf, in the East from 1782 to 1789, termed Smyrna "the most brilliant entry port of the Levant". (16) D'Ohsson, Armenian Ottoman and long-time secretary in the Swedish embassy, wrote his great work on Turkey when he left in 1784, and on two occasions cited rug manufacture at Smyrna. (17)

Hunter's 1792 list of Smyrna exports consisted of cotton, sheep and goat wool, yarn, mohair, silk, madder roots, yellow berries, and carpets. (18) Cotton and local madder not unsurprisingly came together: "Cotton at Smyrna is dyed with madder in the following manner:--The cotton is boiled in mild alkali, and then in common olive oil; being cleaned, it will then take the madder dye: and this is the fine colour we see in Smyrna cotton-yarn." (19)

A year later Oliver drew up a typical list of Smyrna exports -- wool in herringbone weave, camel wool, dyed and undyed spun cotton, rabbit pelts -- and noted that prior to "the troubles" of Persia there was a considerable inflow of Gilian, Shirvan, and Azerbaijan silk to Smyrna and Constantinople, but that for some time this material had been going up the Caspian to Russia. (20) He also talked about rug origins, mentioning Konya as the source of "rugs like those of Persia", along with the city of "Asheer", which he thought was ancient Antioch: "The things which they export from this city, and which pass to Smyrna, consist of wool, wax, "adragaut" and walnut galls; several quite handsome rugs also pass through." When at the village of "Cara Hissar" he observed, that "Here they make rugs, several fabrics..." (21)

Another glimpse of the carpet production in the hinterland behind Smyrna is that of Dallaway (1794), who remarked that "cotton is the chief article" of such places as Magnesia and Pergamus, and that "Ushak is situate near Apamea, and the source of the Meander. In that district the asion [sic], or liquid opium, is made in great quantities. It is likewise the seat of the manufacture of carpets, which are so considerable a branch of merchandize at Smyrna; and the excellence of Phrygian tapestry is continued to the present day." (22)

Both Smyrna trade and Smyrna as a rug source were still in evidence at the end of the 18th century. Eton, c. 1795, characterized Smyrna as the sole Ottoman city which had not lost population and as the "only place of considerable trade in Turkey". Eton also recorded a low opinion of Turkish weaving: "Is it not matter of astonishment, that since the first establishment of their manufactory of carpets, they have not improved the designs, and particularly as they are not forbidden to imitate flowers? The same may be said of their embroidery, and of the stuffs made at Prusa [Bursa], Aleppo, and Damascus. Their carpets owe their excellency only to the materials they are made of." (23)

Writing of his experiences at Constantinople in 1800, Clarke grumbled about the poor quality of its bazaar and remarked, "Ask for a Turkish carpet, you are told you must send for it to Smyrna." (24) Trade and rugs continued through the first quarter of the 19th century, but the Napoleonic Wars caused some shifting of trading partners. Hobhouse wrote, for the years 1809 and 1810, that English direct trade had "nearly ceased", (25) and that American ships had begun to trade at Smyrna, still the "most considerable" city of Turkey. (26) By 1811 Americans ships were supplying the Smyrna market. (27)

The Englishman, Allom, writing of the 1820's, commented on Smyrna's strong export and import trade with the French, the importation of indigo and cochineal, and the arrival of caravans from Persia with raw silk and various drugs. (28) At about the same time an anonymous American author had a good bit to say of US trade with Turkey via Smyrna, citing the chief U.S. imports as opium and drugs, madder, raw and manufactured silks, and, recently, wool. He commented on the "Turkey carpets which he had seen in Smyrna, "principally manufactured at Oushah, or Hisshah, about 140 miles west from Smyrna." Indigo and cochineal were still among Smyrna imports. His report indicated that during the year 1831 U.S. trade with Smyrna had involved 27 ships with an import value of $3.5 million and an export value of $8.0 million. (29)

That Smyrna was entrepot for the West is not of great consequence. What is helpful, however, is the fact the trade is described at intervals over a long period of time with the rug component regularly mentioned. An overall context -- a rug export worthy of notice over a 130-year period -- is established. Along with this, the trade commentary quite adequately identifies the weaving area producing the rugs. Amid the descriptions there are numerous details, several from multiple sources. The array of information permits weeding out of likely errors, such as Smyrna itself being a weaving site (d'Ohsson), or the port's being involved with Persian carpets (Sonnoni). Interesting, as well, is the lengthy importation of insect red dye.

There results a rather consistent picture. Two carpet types -- large and common -- are in the export trade in 1700, and rugs from Ushak and Kara Hissar are still a factor in 1831. Magnesia and Ushak make regular appearances, with the rugs of the latter bearing Pococke's 1738 notation, "the largest", giving Ushak, perhaps, a bit more interest than the other place names. Pococke's description is a seemingly thorough listing of origin points, and the "Turcoman" -- a then current generic term for nomad -- carpet description is an apt characterization of Anatolian kilims.

The various accounts show the effects of events -- both the Persian and the Napoleonic wars -- and suggest that events preceding the War of 1812 may have influenced what comprised American rug imports, for it is hard not to speculate, given all the Ushaks at Winterthur and those underfoot in some of the paintings portraying the founding fathers, how a portion of these carpets might have arrived in America.

Eton's complaint at the end of the 18th century may be a significant clue. The assertion is that designs did not change. The regular export of carpets over the period seemingly rules out production stoppages and revivals, one of the ways designs change. Thus it may be possible to speculate that early 19th century carpets may have had much the same appearance as those of the early 18th century.

While Smyrna trade descriptions do not reveal rug appearances, this record does provide a quite clear view of the origins of Turkish rugs exported during the 18th and early 19th centuries, and offers food for thought concerning their nature.

  1. Thevenot, Jean de, The Travels of M. de Thevenot into the Levant, trans. A. Lovell, London, 1687, p. 92.
  2. Journal d'Antoine Galland, ed. and annotated, Chas. Schefer, Paris, 1881, Vol. II, p. 152.
  3. Le Brun, Corneille, Voyage au Levant, Paris, 1725, p. 84.
  4. Wheler, George, A Journey Into Greece, London, 1682, p. 245.
  5. Tournefort, Relation d'un Voyage du Levant, Lyons, 1727, 2nd ed. revised and corrected, Vol III, p. 370 ff. Research Report translation.
  6. Pococke, Richard, A Description of the East, London, 1743, Part I, p. 151; Part II, p. 38.
  7. ibid., p. 82.
  8. de Tott, Francois, Memoires, Amsterdam, 1784, p. 170.
  9. Flachat, Jean-Claude, Observations sur le Commerce et sur les Arts, Lyon, 1766, p. 326, p. 338.
  10. ibid., p. 430.
  11. Grenville, Henry, Observations sur l'etat actuel de l'Empire Ottoman, ed. A. S. Ehrenkreutz, Ann Arbor, 1945, p. 48--68. Research Report translation.
  12. Wheler, op.cit., p. 238.
  13. Saint-Priest, L'Ambassade de France en Turguie, ed. and pub. Chas. Schefer, Paris, 1877, p. 336, p. 341.
  14. Sonnini, C. S., Travels in Greece and Turkey, London, 1801, p. 328.
  15. Lusignan, S., A Genuine Voyage to Smyrna & Constantinople, 2nd ed., London, 1801, p. 30.
  16. Ferriers-Sauveboeuf, Memoires de Voyages, Paris, 1790, Vol. II, p. 232. Research Report translation.
  17. Mouradgra d'Ohsson, Ignatius, Tableau General de L'Empire Othoman, Paris, 1788, Vol. III, p. 172, p. 227.
  18. Hunter, William, Travels, London, 1798, p. 194.
  19. Eton, William, A Survey of the Turkish Empire, London, 1798, p. 227.
  20. Olivier, G. A., Voyage dans L'Empire Othoman, L'Egypte et la Perse, Paris, 9 (1800), Vol. 2, p. 345.
  21. ibid., Vol. VII p. 393, p. 396/7, p. 402. Research Report translation.
  22. Dallaway, James, Constantinople, London, 1797.
  23. Eton, W., A Survey of the Turkish Empire, London, 1799, p. 214/15, p. 271.
  24. Clarke, Edward, Travels: Russia, Tartary, & Turkey, Philadelphia, 1811, p. 553.
  25. Hobhouse, John C., Journey Through Albania, London, 1833, Vol. II, p. 652.
  26. ibid., p. 631/2.
  27. Galt, John, Voyages & Travels, London, 1812, p. 373.
  28. Allom, Thos., Constantinople, London and Paris, n.d., Second Series, p. 5.
  29. DeKay, James, Sketches of Turkey in 1831 and 1832, New York, 1833, variously, but especially pp. 191, 491, 494, 497.
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