This Week’s Featured Object: Echoes of a Very Different Middle East – Clothing from Iraqi Kurdistan

Our featured object this week hearkens back to a time when the Middle East was quite different demographically than it is today. For more than 400 years, large parts of the Near and Middle East were governed by the expansionist Ottoman Empire. Under the Empire’s authoritarian rule, the many ethnic and religious minorities of the region, particularly in the border areas of modern Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, coexisted though not always peacefully.

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All of these groups, including Kurds, Turkomans, Armenians, Assyrians, Yazidis and others, were strongly influenced by Ottoman culture. This was certainly true of fashion. The satin and silk embroidered waist jacket for a girl or young woman featured here this week is a good example of this. Using a technique known as Sarma, which made extensive use of metallic thread for embroidering, this item was acquired around 1930 in Iraqi Kurdistan by a Christian Iraqi family that later emigrated to the United States in the 1960s. This style of embroidered clothing was adopted in the later part of the 19th Century by ethnic and religious minorities throughout the region described above. Even after the Ottoman Empire collapsed following the First World War, its cultural influence remained and this style of clothing remained popular for decades, only gradually fading as the European colonial powers that had stepped into the Ottoman power vacuum relinquished their grip in the face of rising local nationalism.

Clio Ancient Art, Clio Antiquities

It is difficult for most modern viewers, without the benefit of learning the region’s complex history, to think of the Middle East as anything but a monolithic Islamic region. The horrors of the Armenian Genocide, the less well known Assyrian genocide, the huge population transfer of Greeks out of what is now Turkey following more than 2,500 years there, all unleashed by the emergence of post-Ottoman Turkish nationalism, were huge events that fundamentally transformed the region and made it much less diverse than it had ever been. Compounding those events of a hundred years ago are the population shifts seen since the rise of Islamic State, with many Kurds, Assyrians, Yazidis and others deciding to seek a better life in Europe, Canada, Australia or the US. Our little jacket is a reminder of a more diverse, complex and perhaps even happier side of life in the Middle East early in the previous Century.

Below are a few recommended works to help readers investigate further the diversity and complex relationships among different groups in the Near and Middle East during and just after the last decades of the Ottoman Empire.

  • Aboona, Hirmis, Assyrians, Kurds, and Ottomans: Intercommunal Relations on the Periphery, 2008
  • de Bellaigue, Christopher, Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town, 2010
  • Braude, Benjamin, and Bernard Lewis, eds.Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire. 2 vols., 1982.

This item may be found in our Etsy shop here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/507209757/womens-or-girls-hand-made-embroidered?ref=shop_home_active_3

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A Stroll Through Herculaneum

Rather than offering an overview of a particular class of antiquities, archaeological site or museum, this entry in Clio’s blog consists of some the writer’s favorite images compiled from visits to the ancient Roman seaside resort town of Herculaneum, which was buried, like it’s more famous neighbor, Pompeii, in the famous eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. Each image includes a brief descriptive caption. Some useful online resources about Herculaneum are listed at the bottom. Enjoy!

Fourth Style fresco, back wall Hall of the Augustals, Herculaneum

Fourth Style fresco, back wall Hall of the Augustals, Herculaneum

Hall of the Augustals, Battle of Hercules & Acheloo, Herculaneum

Hall of the Augustals, Battle of Hercules & Acheloo, Herculaneum

Hall of the Augustals, Entrance of Hercules into Olympus, Herculaneum

Hall of the Augustals, Entrance of Hercules into Olympus, Herculaneum

Hall of the Augustals, inauguration dedicatory plaque, Herculaneum

Hall of the Augustals, inauguration dedicatory plaque, Herculaneum

A Taberna, or cook shop. The large pottery jars set into the counter top contained hot and cold foods that could quickly be dished out to customers. This was basically the "fast food" of the time.

A Taberna, or cook shop. The large pottery jars set into the counter top contained hot and cold foods that could quickly be dished out to customers. This was basically the “fast food” of the time.

The interior or back room of the Taberna. The huge ceramic vessels sunk into the floor, called Dolia, held large stocks of staple goods needed for food preparation.

The interior or back room of the Taberna. The huge ceramic vessels sunk into the floor, called Dolia, held large stocks of staple goods needed for food preparation.

Black & White Mosaic Floor in a Corridor, House of the Alcove, Herculaneum

Black & White Mosaic Floor in a Corridor, House of the Alcove, Herculaneum

Frigidarium (cold room) plunge pool in the Forum Baths at Herculaneum. The roof above the pool has collapsed and vegetation now grows in profusion above.

Frigidarium (cold room) plunge pool in the Forum Baths at Herculaneum. The roof above the pool has collapsed and vegetation now grows in profusion above.

Marine Mosaic Floor, women's section, Forum Baths, Herculaneum

Marine Mosaic Floor, women’s section, Forum Baths, Herculaneum

Men's changing room of the Forum Baths, Herculaneum. The surviving stucco and painted decoration is superb.

Men’s changing room of the Forum Baths, Herculaneum. The surviving stucco and painted decoration is superb.

Mosaic floor, Women's changing rooms, Central Baths, Herculaneum

Mosaic floor, Women’s changing rooms, Central Baths, Herculaneum

Interior Fresco with Architectural Fantasy, House of the Wooden Screen, Herculaneum

Interior Fresco with Architectural Fantasy, House of the Wooden Screen, Herculaneum

Mosaic Panel, Neptune and Amphitrite, House of the Neptune Mosaic, Herculaneum

Mosaic Panel, Neptune and Amphitrite, House of the Neptune Mosaic, Herculaneum

Nymphaeum opposite the Neptune Mosaic, House of the Neptune Mosaic, Herculaneum

Nymphaeum opposite the Neptune Mosaic, House of the Neptune Mosaic, Herculaneum

House of the Mosaic Atrium, garden enclosed by portico. Most of the plants and trees currently growing on the site are the same as those in antiquity.

House of the Mosaic Atrium, garden enclosed by portico. Most of the plants and trees currently growing on the site are the same as those in antiquity.

HERCULANEUM RESOURCES

1. Friends of Herculaneum Society – Engaged in raising awareness about Herculaneum, supporting research and promoting conservation of the site and objects found there.The society funds projects at Herculaneum and offers site visits. The Oxford chapter’s website includes a link to the US branch of the Society: http://www.herculaneum.ox.ac.uk/?q=Home%20Introduction

2. The British School at Rome Herculaneum page:  http://www.bsr.ac.uk/research/archaeology/ongoing-projects/herculaneum

3 . the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei (the local Italian governmental heritage authority) http://www.pompeiisites.org/# . Their site, which covers Pompeii, Herculaneum and other sites around the Bay of Naple, is available in English and includes information on admission prices and times to the sites.