Textile Fragment with Pearl Roundels with a Flower

[Summer Olsen’s Object Study]

This silk fragment with pearl roundels containing geometric flowers interspersed with cross shaped floral motifs, dated as being manufactured before 722 C.E. is one of the earliest known patterned silks in which the pattern is repeated in both directions. It was uncovered in the 1935 excavations of Mount Mug led by D.I. Vasilyev and is part of a collection of approximately one hundred textiles and textile fragments recovered there made of local and imported silks, wools, and cottons (Kageyama 2003, 1, Arnoud, and Boelens 2015, 200).

 Etsuko Kageyama identifies the weave structure of this fragment as brocade, a heavy woven fabric with a raised pattern emphasized by use of contrasting  weave structures on the pattern versus the ground or with contrasting use of color. (Kageyama 2003, 1, Tortora and Merkel 1996, 74). The Hermitage Expedition Silk Road: journey to the West identifies the weave structure as samite (also spelled samit) a technique using a weft-faced compound twill (or tabby) weave that allows the weaver to make complex decorations. In the warp-faced compound twill weave two warps are used, a weft on the surface of the cloth, biaojing, and an inner warp, jing. The outer weft floats on the surface of the weave to show the pattern or the ground color while the inner weft hides the warp strands of the other colors of the pattern. This weave structure preserves the clarity of patterns even in textiles with complex multi color patterns (Arnoud, and Boelens 2015, 200, Comparetti 2003, 1 Wu 2006, 216-217).

Central Asian textiles with pearl roundels reached China from the west, carried by Sogdian and other western merchants, in the fifth or sixth century, The pearl roundel as a decorative motif is first depicted in Panjikent murals in the late 6th century. These textiles had patterns of animals, fantastic beasts, and birds in pearl roundels with geometric or floral motifs in the interstices between the medallions. Once the pattern reached China Chinese wavers made it more Chinese (Sinicized it) by using smaller medallions consisting of pearl roundels with floral patterns in their centers and cross shaped patterns or cross shaped floral patterns in the interstices between the medallions (Kageyama 2003, 2, Arnoud, and Boelens 2015, 200).

 Chinese textiles with patterns similar to those on this fragment have been uncovered in a number of archeological excavations of sites from the seventh and eighth centuries C.E. in the territories connected by the: silk roads”: Astana burial ground, Turfan and Turfan Oasis, and Xi’an (Arnoud, and Boelens 2015, 200).


Kageyama, Etsuko. "Use and production of silks in Sogdiana." Webfestschrift Marshak 2003 Ērān ud Anērān: Studies presented to Boris Ilich Marshak on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday. http://www.transoxiana.org/Eran/Articles/kageyama.html

Tortora, Phyllis G, and Robert S Merkel. Fairchild's Dictionary of Textiles. 7th ed New York: Fairchild Publications, 1996.

Bijl, Arnoud, and Birgit Boelens. Expedition Silk Road: journey to the West : treasures from the Hermitage. Amsterdam: Museumshop Hermitage Amsterdam,

Wu Min . “ The Exchange of Weaving Technologies between China and Central and western Asia.” in Otavsky, Central Asian Textiles and Their Contexts In the Early Middle Ages. Ed. Regula Schorta Karel Riggisberg: Abegg-Stiftung, 2006

Compareti, Matteo. “The role of Sogdian colonies in the diffusion of the pearl roundels pattern.” Webfestschrift Marshak 2003 Ä’rān ud AnÄ“rān: Studies presented to Boris Ilich Marshak on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday.



7th century




Textile fragment


10×14.5 cm


Polychrome silk, samite


State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Inv. SA–9169

Additional Research Metadata


In the 5th or 6th century ornament formed of pearl or bead roundels reached central China from the west (see cat.122). Originally these roundels were large, with birds or beasts in the centre, and they were found in regions with a foreign population, but within China they were transformed and sinicised or made more ‘Chinese’: the roundels were reduced in size and the images within them were now flowers or rosettes, while cross-shaped patterns filled the spaces between the circles. This is one of the earliest known patterned silks in which the ornament is repeated in both directions. Yellow is used for the ground, blue for the area within the medallions, white for the pearl beading and the borders. Textiles with similar patterns have been found in different places along the Silk Road, at Astana burial ground, in the city of Turfan and the Turfan oasis, and at Chang’an (now Xi’an) in Central China, in burials dating from the 7th and 8th centuries.


Mount Mug, Sogdiana; 1935 from excavations by D. I. Vasilyev.


Oxus 1993, pp.66–67



“Textile Fragment with Pearl Roundels with a Flower,” Telling the Sogdian Story , accessed April 20, 2019, http://sogdians.nyufasedtech.com/items/show/393.