Dragons, Padlocks and Tamerlane's Balls, with Robert Chenciner

Multi-faceted journey of scholarship and boots-on-the-ground exploration through the hidden treasures of Daghestan & the Caucasus, Turkey, Iran and Russia


Part auto-biography, part art & cultural history, part ethnographic travelogue, Robert Chenciner's twelfth book, Dragons, Padlocks and Tamerlane’s Balls, celebrates some of the most singular and obscure areas of the world and their peoples. Never one for the main-stream, Robert is perhaps best known and loved for his seminal Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan, as well as for his ground-breaking work on the culture and traditions of the Caucasus Robert speaks about book titles with John Humphrys on Today

This lecture is informed by over 50 years of exploration, commercial & cultural interaction and first-rate writing. It is sprinkled with surreal tales and animated by many colour illustrations taken from nature, from paintings & drawings, from manuscripts, carpets, silks, velvets, embroideries, felts, carved stone and wood, ceramics, metalwork and the armourer’s and jeweller’s art. Here is material culture in all its romance, variety and disarray. Some very particular items will be on display at this lecture, including Robert's own Daghestani spoonbox.

The title of the lecture - just in case anyone was wondering - reflects the author’s evolving curiosity about the meaning of signs: Dragons from the folklore of the Caucasus; Tamerlane’s Balls found in China, Central Asia, Turkey, Iran & Russia; and – in a gentle aside and satire on Art History - medieval padlock key-hole covers from Sweden! for which Robert won a major scholarship at Cambridge.

The Ebenezers eagerly look forward to this introduction to the beautiful, bizarre and heterodox world of Robert Chenciner.


Robert Chenciner

Robert has been a Senior Associate Member of St Antony’s College Oxford since 1987 and an Hon Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences since 1991.

He is much occupied as a country expert witness for UK and Netherlands asylum tribunals on people from Former Soviet States. He has written over 800 expert reports and/or given oral evidence since 2000, instructed by over 100 firms of solicitors and NGOs.

Robert's commercial ties to Daghestan and the former USSR have supported, and sometimes failed to support, his research. Ventures include exporting kishke sheep intestines and constructing mountain village fruit-drying tunnels. He luckily refused the caviar monopoly from the brilliant finance minister Gamid Gamidov who was assassinated soon after. Robert has arranged exhibitions of Architecture of Baku and his collections of Kaitag embroideries are exhibited worldwide.

Selected Bib:

Embroidered Flowers from Thrace to Tartary; Architecture of Baku; Daghestan Today, 1989 (mysteriously on Amazon for over £1590.09 – surely a record for a slim volume? Ed.) ; Kaitag Textile Art of Daghestan; Daghestan: Tradition and Survival; Madder Red: A History of Luxury and Trade; Kaitag Daghestani Silk Embroidery.

2013Martin Keeley