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a gold crown made of lots of small pieces

Tillya Tepe gold crown – Afghanistan, ca. 100 BC-100 AD

Art you can carry around

Because the people of Central Asia started out as nomads, riding their horses and camels and herding cattle, they began by making art that they could carry with them. The earliest Central Asian art we know about is wool carpets. Yamnaya people in Central Asia were knotting wool carpets by about 2000 BC.

History of carpets
Where does wool come from?
All our Central Asia articles

People carried these carpets in their wagons and could lay them out quickly on yurt floors and walls when they stopped to camp. By 100 BC, Central Asian traders were selling these wool carpets east to China and west to Mesopotamia along the Silk Road.

Gold jewelry and the Scythians

cloth with red background and image of a white person

Sampul Tapestry, probably made in Afghanistan by Greeks, found in Urumqi (ca. 300 BC)

Central Asian artists also made small pieces of jewelry, belt buckles, and horse harness. We know some of these pieces as Scythian art. All along the most northern trade routes, these pieces share a common style. For instance, many pieces of jewelry from this time, from Korea to Poland, have dangly bits of gold hanging off them.

More about Scythian art
The history of gold

Cities and Buddhist art

By about 500 AD, though, thanks to the Silk Road, there were cities in Central Asia. In and around these cities, artists created large sculptures, carvings, and paintings. The spread of Buddhism to Central Asia in the 600s AD brought Buddhist art forms from India as well.

What is Buddhism?
Indian art and Buddhism
Chinese T’ang Dynasty art

very tall statue carved into a cliff

Bamiyan Buddhas (Afghanistan, ca. 500 AD, now destroyed by the Taliban)

Christian religious icons

In the western part of Central Asia, about the same time, many people converted to Christianity, and artists there began to create Christian art, merging Central Asian styles with those of Byzantium. The most important of these forms was the religious icon.

Medieval Russian art

white plate with black writing on it

Plate showing a yin-yang in the center (Khurasan, 1100s or 1200s AD – Louvre Museum).


Painting on paper

By 1100, the Mongol empire, extending from Russia to India and China, allowed artists to travel freely all across Asia and many new ideas emerged. Artists in Central Asia began to use the new art material, paper, to paint beautiful miniatures.

History of paper
Medieval Islamic art

Islam and pottery

These artists merged eastern and western styles, as in this plate, which uses Arabic calligraphy to write “In the beginning the taste of science is bitter, but it is sweeter than honey in the end.” At the center of the plate, the tiny dot is a Chinese yin/yang sign, and the whole plate imitates Chinese porcelain.

Medieval Islamic pottery
More about Chinese porcelain

Learn by doing: knotting a carpet
More about Central Asian music

Bibliography and further reading about Central Asian art:

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