Palmyra Embroidery

Palmyra, Syria, before the civil war. Palmyra, Syria, before the civil war.

The ancient city of Palmyra, Biblical Tadmor, lies in an oasis to the northeast of Damascus, in Syria. It was an important caravan city for goods being transported across the Syrian desert to and from the Eastern Mediterranean and Iran, Central Asia and China. The decline of Palmyra started in the early third century AD and by c. AD 800 much of the city had been abandoned. By the medieval period it was reduced to an oasis village. The site was seriously damaged by ISIS in the mid-2010s.

Since the late nineteenth century, the site has attracted archaeologists who were interested in the grand monuments, such as the temple of Bal. Gradually, however, more attention focused on the material culture of the city, including the textiles. The surviving textiles and garments from Palmyra are notable for their use of a wide range of materials from the west as well as the east.

In the 1930's and 1940's, for example, the textiles from Palmyra were published in detail by the French textile historian, Rudolf Pfister. The textiles included both locally produced items as well as Chinese, Iranian, Roman and Tyrian forms. He also described numerous fragments of silk decorated with embroidery, which were all made on a silk ground material (patterned damask weave) of Chinese origin. The embroidery was carried out in coloured silk, namely blue, green and yellow, and the embroidered patterns may be Chinese or Central Asian.

Pfister identified three types of embroidery stitches, namely chain stitch, split stitch and slit chain stitch. In addition, it would appear that stem stitch was used. Several small fragments (T14; T15 and S17) were embroidered with gold thread. The thread was made with an undyed silk core (s-spun) and narrow strips of flat gold that were wrapped around the silk (a technique called passing).


  • PFISTER, Rudolf (1934). Textiles de Palmyre, Paris: Les Éditions d’Art et d’Histoire, pp. 51-54.
  • PFISTER, Rudolf (1937). Nouveaux Textiles de Palmyre, Paris: Les Éditions d’Art et d’Histoire.
  • PFISTER, Rudolf (1940). Textiles de Palmyre III, Paris: Les Éditions d’Art et d’Histoire, pp. 62-63.
  • VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD, Gillian (2016), 'Embroideries from archaeological and historical sources from the Eastern Mediterranean and Iraq,' in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 71-77, esp. p. 74.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 3 June 2016)


Last modified on Tuesday, 18 April 2017 12:57