Royal tents were potent symbols of authority, wealth, and power throughout the greater Middle East. Rulers owned thousands of tents. They were used for shelter, shade, and innumerable functions in tent compounds that were essential for imperial ceremonies, travel, and military campaigns. Distinguished by size with elaborately decorated interior walls and ceilings, tents could be as large as castles. Opulent tents were also presented as imperial gifts.
Tents are only known through documents before 1600. For example, in Baghdad in 809, Caliph Harun al-Rashid owned 4,000 ceremonial tents and 150,000 camping tents that were stored in the imperial Abbasid treasury. An astonishing variety and quantity of tents were housed in the royal Fatimid tent storeroom in Cairo in 1068-69, including "military tents, fortress tents, and castle tents, manufactured of . . . gold-brocaded stuff embroidered with designs of elephants, wild beasts, horses, peacocks, birds."
Since 1600, Ottoman Turkish tents with elaborate floral decoration have been preserved in Istanbul in the Topkapi Palace Museum and Military Museum, and in European collections as war booty, primarily from the Ottoman Turks' attempt to conquer Vienna in 1683.
In contrast, royal tents from Iran are extremely rare. This spectacular ceremonial tent is embroidered with the name of its owner, Muhammad Shah, who ruled Iran from 1834 to 1848 during the Qajar dynasty. The radiant jewel-like interior features exuberant flora, blossoming vines, and robust birds made with colored wool embellished with silk-thread embroidery.