Tiraz and Other Inscribed Textiles
Inscribed textiles record valuable information concerning broad historical trends. They document increasing government control over the textile industry, names of officials and rulers associated with these prestige items, the spread of Arabic language, the phenomenal popularity of the written word, as well as the special economic force of gift giving. The strictest government controls were reserved for a garment decoration called "tiraz," which is an inscribed arm band, given by the caliph as a badge of honor, favor, and distinction. The word "tiraz" originally meant embroidery, especially a robe with embroidered bands with writing on them. It came to mean an inscription--embroidered, woven, or painted. "Tiraz" was also used to designate the royal factories that manufactured such work and the operations of these factories. The word is of Persian origin, but the practice of bestowing special garments and cloths was an ancient one, mentioned in the Old Testament and Roman histories and important in the Byzantine empire. The most significant precedent for Arabic Islamic custom, however, seems to have come from the beginning of Islamic history, when the Prophet Muhammed gave his mantle to the poet Ka'b b. Zuhayr. To medieval Middle Eastern bourgeoisie, royal tiraz garments were status symbols as well as valuable property. Tiraz were also bestowed privately among Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Examples of early Islamic inscribed textiles from the Kelsey Museum's collections provide unique insights into the tiraz collections of named individuals as well.
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