The Sampul tapestry is an ancient woolen wall-hanging found at the Tarim Basin settlement of Shanpula (Chinese: 山普拉) also known as Sampul, in Lop County, Xinjiang, China, close to ancient city of Khotan. The object has many Hellenistic period features, including a Greek centaur and diadem, linking it to the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom (formed after the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire by Alexander the Great of Macedon and establishment of the Seleucid Empire).
The full tapestry is 48 cm wide and 230 cm long. The centaur fragment is 45 cm by 55 cm, warrior's face fragment is 48 cm by 52 cm. The recovered tapestry only constitutes the left decorative border of what would be a much bigger wall hanging.
Made of wool, it comprises 24 threads of various colours.
The tapestry depicts a man with Caucasoid features, including blue eyes, and a centaur. If lost fabric is accounted for, the soldier would be about six times as tall as the centaur. The subject is identified as a warrior by the spear he is holding in his hand as well as a dagger tucked on his waist. He wears a tunic with rosette motifs. His headband could be a diadem, a symbol of kingship in the Hellenistic world – and represented on Macedonian and other ancient Greek coinage.
The tapestry was, curiously, fashioned into a pair of man's trousers (all the other trousers found in Sampul had no decoration).
It is uncertain where the tapestry was made, although the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom in Central Asia has been suggested to be a possibility. The technique used for the tapestry, with more than 24 threads of different colours, is a typically western one. The centaur's cape and hood are a central Asian modification of the Greek motif. The fact that he plays a horn also distinguishes him from the Greek prototypes. Flower diamond motif on the warrior's lapel are of central Asian origin. Certain motifs, particularly the animal head on the soldier's dagger, suggest that the tapestry originated in the kingdom of Parthia in northern Iran.
Rome has also been proposed as a possible source. Another suggestion is that it is locally made as Tang annal New Book of Tang mentioned that local people of Khotan were good at textile and tapestry work when Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141-87 BC) opened the Silk Road to Khotan during the first century BC. The tapestry may have been made roughly a century before the Han Chinese conquest of the Tarim Basin under Wudi. Hellenistic tapestries have also been found in Loulan by Aurel Stein, indicating a cultural link between Loulan and Khotan.
The existence of this tapestry tends to suggest that contacts between the Hellenistic kingdoms of Central Asia and the Tarim Basin, at the edge of the Chinese world occurred from around the 3rd century BC.
Centaur and head fragments of the tapestry have been a part of a major exhibition China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200–750 AD, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from 12 October 2004 to 23 January 2005.
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