We welcome this year speakers whose special knowledge from years of study and work ‘in the field’, will shine new light on the Silk Road and the nomadic and settled cultures along its path. Traders in antiquity along what we know as The Silk Roads included Bactrians, Sogdians, Syrians, Jews, Arabs, Iranians, Turkmen, Chinese, Indians, Somalis, Greeks, Romans, Georgians and Armenians! The extent of the trading routes both geographically and chronologically, was extraordinary. In the last millennium, Europe, Africa and even the Americas were directly or indirectly transformed by the heart beat of this great highway.

Nogay trellis tents, cart tents and bow-top vans in the Volga Steppe, late 18th century, by Geissler


Our symposium will take a look at examples of the settled and nomadic cultures Silk Road traders would have encountered, how they interacted and the dramatic effects on humanity across half the world both then and now.

Friday 22nd March
‘From luxury to everyday commodities: carpets and porcelain in British domestic life’

Blue and white plate with a scene depicting the destruction of a house during the Rotterdam Riots of 1690, China, Qing Dynasty, Kangxi reign, 1662-1722

Detail of the so-called Kinghorne table carpet, English, possibly Norwich, c. 1620.











‘A tour with Senior Curator Friederike Voigt through the Decorative Arts and World Cultures galleries at National Museums Scotland, discussing art and objects traded from China, India and the Middle East during the 17th and 18th century. Highlights will include the so-called Kinghorne table carpet.’


There will be two sessions limited to 15 people.
Morning session: 11am
Afternoon session: 3pm

The fee is £12. Advance booking and payment via The Nomads Tent email or telephone is essential; thank you. Assemble at the Chambers Street Museum in reception on the ground floor at 10.45 and 2.45 respectively. Each session will last approximately 45 minutes.

Saturday 23rd March
Symposium: ‘Nomadic Life, Culture and Trade on the Silk Roads of Central Asia’
9.15: Doors open.
9.45: Welcome.
10.00: Professor Carole Hillenbrand: ‘The nomadic way of life’.

‘This talk will attempt to shed light on the nomadic peoples who lived along the Silk Roads – for there was never a single silk road – from ancient to early modern times. The umbrella term ‘nomad’ includes the founders of major empires from the Huns of antiquity to the Mongols who established the largest continuous land empire in the history of our planet.  It will cover language, social structure, clothing, diet and the key role played by women. Both peaceful and violent interaction between nomadic and settled society will be examined, including the great mass migrations that changed the face of history.’

11.00 coffee and biscuits.
11.30: Dr Peter Andrews: ‘A Migration of Tents; Evolution and diffusion of nomadic tent types across Central Asia’.

‘The present divergence in tent forms among Turkic and Mongolian nomads, and in their material culture generally, result from distinct cultural impulses that arose separately, and continued, to combine here and there, but often to retain their identity. The earlier evidence for their appearance has to be assembled carefully from a few reliable texts, and the rather rare pictorial evidence, from the Sogdian period onwards, that has survived, but this can be augmented by inference backwards from present survivals, now far apart but once united by a common tradition. The differences between Türkmen, Noğay, Qazaq, Qaraqalpaq, Özbek, and Qırgız tent forms, with their varying decorative schemes, on the one hand, and the Mongolian forms on the other, can then be related to the historical interaction, or lack of it, between these peoples.’

12.30: Lunch*
2.00: Professor Robert Hillenbrand: ‘Central Asia as a bridge between East and West’

‘This talk will try to define the crucial role of Central Asia in the operation of the Silk Road over the centuries. It will focus on the whole region as an effective bridge between eastern and western Asia and on the area as a meeting place for Turks and Persians, Chinese and Arabs, and will explore their various interchanges, including the presence side by side of multiple faiths – Zoroastrianism, Nestorian Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Shamanism. But perhaps Knowledge transfer, from silk production to paper-making to maps, deserves pride of place. Last but not least are the personalities that populated the Silk Road over the centuries – Genghis Khan, Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, and a rich cavalcade of other personalities.’

3.00: Noorah Al Gailani: ‘Silk Road influences in Uzbek embroideries from The Burrell Collection’.

‘From the day a girl is born in a traditional Uzbek society, her mother, aunts and grandmother would work together to prepare a worthy dowry for her later marriage. The Suzani embroideries that make up this dowry are imbued with symbols of wishes and prayers for their girl’s happy marital life. These embroideries were made as wall hangings and covers for the bride’s new home. The symbols and motifs that appear on them served to highlight a mother’s love for her daughter.

Through a small group of Uzbek Suzani embroidaries belonging to the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, this lecture will explore the creativity of Uzbek women and their social and cultural environment – an environment filled with exposure to artistic influences that were carried along the Silk Road and appeared in the Khanate of Bukhara. It will also tell of the indispensable contribution of the Bukharan Jewish community, who were the principle dyers of the silken threads used in embroidering Suzanis.’

4.00 Tea and cake.


– The fee for the symposium is £40. Advance booking and payment via The Nomads Tent email (info@nomadstent.co.uk) or telephone (0131 662 1612) is essential; thank you.
– There is no requirement to book both days but they are conceived as mutually complimentary!
– *Sandwiches including vegetarian options will be served. Please order when you book tickets and state if vegetarian or vegan; £4 each (payable in cash on the day please!).
– Coffee, tea biscuits and cake is served with compliments.
– Ticket proceeds from both days will go to Mercy Corps which continues to lead the way in imaginative and respectful support of communities around the world suffering trauma from war and natural disaster.