Name of Object:

Pilgrim’s flask


Aleppo, Syria

Holding Museum:

National Museum of Aleppo, Islamic Department

Date of Object:

Hegira 8th century / AD 14th century

Museum Inventory Number:

QH 2004 - X 227

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Moulded earthenware.


Height 23.8 cm, diameter16.5, diameter (of mouthpiece) 3.7 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Although this flask was discovered during an archaeological excavation at Aleppo Citadel, its place of production is unknown, but it was possibly produced in Syria.


One of the specialities of Mamluk Syrian potters was the unglazed moulded pilgrim's flasks for the transportation of cool water on long journeys. These sturdy flasks became extremely popular in the AH 7th and 8th / AD 13th and 14th centuries and were certainly produced by a number of Syrian kilns. They were all made in the same manner: the globular body with its flattened sides was created from two identical moulds; the two handles on the shoulders and the short slightly tapering mouthpiece were then added separately. The moulded decoration on the body is various, including hunting scenes, mythical creatures, floral motifs, knotted designs, inscriptions and heraldic emblems which, no doubt, were meant to identify the ownership of the Mamluk officers who carried them.
This well-preserved pilgrim's flask from the National Museum of Aleppo was uncovered during the course of recent Syrian-German excavations at Aleppo Citadel. Its decoration is highly unusual: it shows a large crescent on top of a solid triangular base, flanked by a pair of swords inscribed in a roundel. The background is covered with small impressed circles. The upper segment of the roundel is separated and decorated with foliage. Knotted bands run along the outer edges of the body.
The unusual central composition is obviously meant to represent a Mamluk blazon, albeit the emblem depicted here is completely unknown in the canon of Mamluk heraldry. It might possibly be the result of a misunderstanding or indeed an inspired fantasy of the potter who mixed the crescent with the more popular cup symbol. It is possible that these decorations were only meant to look like heraldic emblems without actually being such. The piece has not been produced very carefully: although the same mould was used on both sides as usual, the impression on the back is seriously off centre.

View Short Description

This pilgrim's flask from the Mamluk period was found during recent excavations in the Citadel of Aleppo. Although its shape is typical, its decoration is highly unusual as the emblem is unknown in the repertory of Mamluk heraldry.

How date and origin were established:

The flask was dated by stylistic considerations and by comparison with similar flasks.

How Object was obtained:

The flask was brought to the Museum in 2004.

How provenance was established:

The flask was found during archaeological excavations in the area of Aleppo Citadel.

Selected bibliography:

Riis, P. J., and Poulsen, V., “Hama: Fouilles et Recherches de la Foundation Carlsberg,1931–8, IV/2” in Les verreries et poteries médiévales, Copenhagen, 1957.
Sarre, F., Keramik und andere Kleinfunde der islamischen Zeit von Baalbek, Berlin–Leipzig, 1925.
Sauvaget, J., Poteries Syro-Mésopotamiennes du XIVe siècle, Damascus, 1932.

Citation of this web page:

Julia Gonnella "Pilgrim’s flask" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2024.;ISL;sy;Mus01_A;50;en

Prepared by: Julia Gonnella
Copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez

Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.

True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.

MWNF Working Number: SY 82


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Water | Water Usage: Drinking and Washing


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