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Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition

March 14–July 8, 2012

Trade Goods

Textiles were only one of the many goods that moved along the trade routes that brought valuables from the east to Byzantium and later to the western Islamic world. Ivory from Africa and India was transported as tusks or carved luxury goods. In Byzantium's southern provinces and possibly elsewhere, ivory was carved into small boxes or plaques to decorate furniture; less expensive versions were made from bone. Various trade goods such as textiles, openwork censers, gold jewelry, and small clay lamps were decorated with popular motifs that remained in use as the Byzantine empire's southern provinces became part of the Islamic world. Animal motifs, often associated with the hunt, continued to encourage recognition of the common pursuits of the elite of the Byzantine and Islamic periods. Vine patterns—favored from the classical past through the Byzantine era—appeared, often in more stylized forms, in the Islamic period. Inscriptions became an increasingly prominent decorative motif, at times identifying the donor or providing auspicious wishes for the owner. Depictions of courtly pleasures, including female acrobats, dancers, and musicians, popular under Byzantine rule, were also popular during the Umayyad era.

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