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Ancient civilizations of Central Asia

Chronological framework of the history of ancient Central Asia

The wider the study of the past of Central Asia is developed, the more clearly the prominent role of this region in the history of world culture becomes.

Golden bull's head. Central Asia. 3 thousand BC

Golden bull’s head. Altyn-Tepe. III thousand BC.

The achievements of scientists, writers, artists, and architects of Middle Asia during the Middle Ages have long been recognized, but it has only recently become clear that the foundation on which this brilliant civilization arose was the local cultures of the ancient era. Parthia, Margiana, Khorezm, Sogd, Bactria, Chach, Ferghana-the culture of all these ancient regions was practically not studied a few decades ago, and was perceived by many historians as a distant periphery of Iran (“outer Iran”), devoid of cultural originality. The discovery of the original cultures of ancient Central Asia raised the question of their origins, and again the answer was given by archeology — the Central Asian civilization of the Bronze Age was discovered.

At present, the periodization of the historical development of ancient Central Asia can be represented as follows:

  • end of the III-turn of the II-I millennium BC-Bronze Age civilizations;
  • the turn of the II-I millennium BC — the beginning of the early Iron Age and the formation of a local class (slave-owning) society and statehood;
  • VI century BC-the conquest of a significant part of Central Asia by the Achaemenids;
  • The end of the IV century BC — the conquests of Alexander the Great and the beginning of the Hellenistic era, the end of which in different areas falls at different times (in Parthia-the middle of the III century BC, in Bactria-the 130th BC, etc.). The subsequent period was the time of the formation of local statehood and the flourishing of the culture of the peoples of Central Asia within the emerging major powers, primarily Parthia and the Kushan kingdom.
  • In the IV-V centuries AD, a crisis unfolds, marking the end of the slave-owning and the beginning of the feudal era in the history of Central Asia.

Geographical conditions of Central Asia in ancient times

The civilizations of Central Asia arise in various historical and geographical regions. The natural conditions here are characterized by significant contrasts. Desert-steppe landscapes, and above all the deserts of Karakum and Kyzylkum, are adjacent to the fertile oases irrigated by the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, a number of their tributaries and less significant waterways. The high mountain massifs of the Tien Shan and Pamir are very peculiar. Under these conditions, in different ecological situations, the formation of crops, different in their appearance and methods of farming, took place.

  • The interaction of various cultures is one of the specific features of the ancient history of Central Asia.
  • Another feature of the origin of local civilizations here is the early and close ties with the ancient centers of other civilizations of the East, primarily in Front Asia.

The oldest civilizations of Central Asia

Jeytun culture

These two main distinctive features were clearly manifested already at the initial stages of the history of the tribes and peoples of Central Asia. In the VI millennium BC in the south-west of Central Asia, on a narrow sub-mountain plain between the Kopetdag range and the Karakum desert, the Jeytun Neolithic culture developed. The Jeytun tribes were sedentary, cultivated wheat and barley, and raised small livestock. The agricultural and cattle-breeding economy ensured the rise of prosperity and the development of culture. The settlements of the Jatun tribes consisted of solid mud houses. The center of such a village was a large house-a communal sanctuary with walls decorated with paintings. The best preserved painting is in Pessedjik-Depa, where a hunting scene was depicted. A number of features in the construction business, pottery with simple paintings and in other areas indicate close ties with the sedentary agricultural cultures of Iran and Mesopotamia, primarily with the Jarmo culture.

A bracelet from the Amu Darya treasure. 5th century BC

Bracelet from the Amu Darya treasure. Gold, turquoise. V century BC.

In the V-IV millennium BC, there was a further development of Central Asian agricultural and pastoral communities. They master the smelting of copper, begin to raise cattle, and then camels. Small canals are used to irrigate the fields. This was the beginning of irrigation agriculture, which gives high yields.

Altyn-Depe Culture

The process of economic and cultural development led to the formation of the first cities in the south-west of Central Asia and the formation of proto-urban civilization. Its most studied monument is called Altyn-Depe (studies of V. M. Masson). The Altyn-Depe civilization, dating from about 2300-1900 BC, is characterized by some features inherent in the developed cultures of the ancient East. Its centers were two urban-type settlements-Altyn-Depe and Namazga-Depe. These “cities” were surrounded by fortress walls made of mud bricks, and the gates leading into the built-up space were framed by powerful towers-pylons.

The center of Altyn-Depe was a monumental religious complex with a four-stage tower. It included numerous vaults, the house of the chief priest, and the tomb of the priestly community. During excavations in the tomb, a golden bull’s head was found with an insert on the forehead of turquoise in the shape of a lunar disk. The entire temple complex was dedicated to the moon god, who in Mesopotamian mythology is often represented in the form of a bull of fiery color. Another line of cultural ties leads to the Indus Valley, to the cities and settlements of the Harappan civilization. Harappan ivory products were found in Altyn-Depa among the items placed in rich graves, and as part of the hoards of valuable items immured in the walls. Harappan-type seals were also found there.

According to the materials of the excavations, three different social groups can be distinguished in the population of the cities of the Altyndepen civilization.

  • Ordinary community members, artisans and farmers lived in multi-room houses consisting of cramped cells.
  • The houses of the communal nobility are more respectable: necklaces of semiprecious stones, silver and bronze rings and seals have been found in the tombs of wealthy community members.
  • The property and social differentiation is more noticeable on the example of the third group of the population— leaders and priests. Their large houses had the correct layout and occupied an area of 80-100 sq. m.

In the tombs, located in the “quarter of the nobility”, placed a variety of jewelry, including gold and silver. Here were also found ivory products, clearly imported. Perhaps, in the economy of the nobility, slave labor was already used. It is possible that the latter belong to the graves, devoid of any objects and located near the rich tombs.

The successors of the Altyn-Depe civilization in the Murgab Delta

In the middle of the second millennium BC, the suburban settlements of this ancient civilization of Central Asia fell into decline and the main centers were moved to the east. In the delta of the Murghab River, along the middle course of the Amu Darya, new oases of settled farmers are being formed. Along the middle course of the Amu Darya, a number of fortified settlements of ancient communities have been excavated, but no large settlements have yet been discovered. Settlements are fortified with walls with towers, and military weapons made of bronze are widely distributed. This may indicate constant wars. Many features of the culture allow us to conditionally consider the inhabitants of these oases as direct descendants of the creators of the Altyn-Depe civilization, but at the same time there are a number of new, fundamentally different phenomena in their culture.

These are, in particular, the flat stone seals, which depict with extraordinary skill dramatic scenes of fighting bulls and dragons, snakes attacking a tiger, and a mythological hero defeating wild animals. Some of the images depicted on them indicate the strengthening of ties with Mesopotamia and Elam, the cultural impact of which is constantly increasing. By the beginning of the first millennium BC, the south of Central Asia was a zone of highly developed cultures of the Ancient Eastern type.

Akinak's scabbard. Ivory. 5th century BC Central Asia

Akinaka scabbard with the image of a lion and a deer. Ivory, carving, engraving. VI-early V centuries BC.

Simultaneously with the creation of new oases in the south of Central Asia, tribes of steppe pastoralists are settling in the northern regions. In the peculiar conditions of interaction between the steppe peoples of the north and the sedentary farmers of the south, the process of developing class relations and the formation of the state in Central Asia took place intensively. Technical progress at this time was primarily associated with the spread of iron. In the X-VII centuries BC. e. iron products appear in the south of Central Asia, and from the VI-IV centuries BC. e. iron is widely used for the manufacture of tools already throughout its territory. In the south-eastern Caspian region and in the Murgab Delta, complex irrigation systems are being created. The consequence is a gradual complication of the social structure of society, which is expressed in the creation of an oasis settlement system (which implies the existence of a clear system of management of the labor efforts of society within the oasis), as well as the emergence of various types of settlements. In particular, the centers of the oases were large settlements with citadels located on powerful platforms built of mud bricks. In the citadels were the monumental palaces of the rulers. Such, for example, is the Yaz-Depe settlement excavated by archaeologists in the Murghab Delta, in ancient Margiana.

A similar type of culture was widespread in the territory of Bactria and, as the latest archaeological research has shown, also in the valleys of Zeravshan and Kashkadarya, i.e. in the territory of the country, which in ancient times was called Sogd.

Central Asia as part of the Achaemenid Empire

When Central Asia partially became part of the Achaemenid empire, the Achaemenids faced fierce opposition from a powerful alliance of nomadic tribes, which in ancient sources are called Massagets.

Eventually, the main nomadic areas remained independent, but the main settled oases became part of the Achaemenid empire and were united into several satrapies. At the head of the Bactrian satrapy, probably as one of the most important, was often a member of the ruling Achaemenid dynasty. The satrapies paid taxes to the central government and supplied military contingents, and the local aristocracy became an intermediary in conducting such events. This contributed to the strengthening of social differentiation and the growth of class contradictions. Thus, when Darius I ascended the throne in 522 BC, uprisings and separatist movements swept the state, including Central Asia. Particularly violent were the clashes in Margiana.

King Darius in the Behistun inscription says: “The country of Margiana has become rebellious. One man named Frada, a Margian, they made (their) chief. After this I sent (a messenger) to a Persian named Dadarshish, my servant, a satrap in Bactria, (and) said to him thus: “Go, defeat the army that does not call itself mine.” Then Dadarshish went with the army and gave battle to the Margians.”

The decisive battle took place on December 10, 522 BC. In it, the Margians were defeated. In the battle, 55,243 people were killed and 6,972 of the rebels were taken prisoner. The report on the number of dead and prisoners clearly shows that the uprising in Margiana was really popular.

Beginning in the fifth century BC, there was a period of relative calm. Cities are developing, of which Marakanda, the capital of Sogd, which was located in the Zeravshan Valley (on the site of the modern era), becomes a major center. Samarkand). Crafts are achieving significant development, and regular international trade is being established. One of the most popular was the route through Bactria to India. Although local features remain the main ones, but the strengthening of ties with other countries leads to the emergence of foreign traditions. Following the canons of the imperial capital — Persepolis, local rulers build monumental palace buildings. Such a palace, for example, was discovered at the Kalalygyr settlement in Khorezm. The building was almost completely built (obviously, at the turn of the V-IV centuries BC), but did not settle down, as the political situation changed. Khorezm achieved independence, and the residence in which the representative of the Achaemenid administration was to settle was abandoned.

Alexander the Great’s Conquest of Central Asia

Badge. Takhtit-Sangin. 2nd century BC.

A badge with a female head. Silver, casting, coinage. Takhtit-Sangin. II-I century BC.

The weakening Achaemenid Empire suffered a crushing defeat from the army of Alexander the Great, but the successful commander had to defend his conquests by force, and perhaps the greatest difficulties he faced were in Central Asia. The last Achaemenid satrap of Bactria — Bess-hastened to declare himself “king of Asia” and tried to create a new state on the basis of the eastern satrap. However, at the approach of the Greek-Macedonian detachments, Bess fled and was soon handed over to Alexander by his own associates. The Greek-Macedonians met serious resistance in Sughd, where popular uprisings led by the energetic representative of the Sughd nobility, Spitamen, shook the country for almost three years (329-327 BC). Alexander the Great suppressed this popular movement with brutal methods. According to sources, 70 thousand Sogdians were killed.

Alexander included Sogdian and Bactrian contingents in his army, and his marriage to Roxane, the daughter of the Bactrian nobleman Oxyartes, was as romantic as it was political. Much attention was also paid to urban planning — in Bactria, Sogd and Parthia (the region of modern Russia). The cities of southern Turkmenistan and northeastern Iran were founded, which received the name of Alexandria.

Seleucid Rule

The altar of Silenus. Takhti-Sangin. 2nd century BC

Votive altar with sculpture of Silenus. Stone, bronze. On the altar is an inscription in ancient Greek. Takhti-Sangin. II century BC.

After the death of Alexander the Great, Central Asia became part of one of the states formed on the ruins of a new empire, which never had time to get stronger. It was a Seleucid state that extended its power to Bactria around 305 BC. The early Seleucid kings viewed the eastern part of their empire as a very important region, and sought to raise its economic potential and strengthen their control over it. This policy had to be implemented by the son and heir of the founder of the power of Seleucus — Antiochus. In 292 BC. he was appointed co-ruler of his father, with the transfer to him of the satrapies that lay east of the Euphrates. The capital of his viceroyalty was Baktra (Balkh). Antiochus vigorously undertook the restoration of the economy. In Margiana, he rebuilt the capital of the region, which received the name of Antioch of Margiana, and the entire oasis is surrounded by a wall with a length of 250 km in order to protect it from the raids of nomads.

Under Antiochus, a silver coin was minted in Bactria. Central Asia has entered a period of relative stabilization. However, as under the Achaemenids and Alexander the Great, political power was alien to the majority of the local population. The trend towards political independence has intensified with the rise of the local economy. And the Seleucids considered the Eastern satrapies only as a source of new forces and means for the wars they waged in the West. The combination of various interests and aspirations led to the creation of independent states in Central Asia. Around 250 BC. The Bactrian satrap Diodotus declared himself an independent ruler. Almost simultaneously, Parthia fell away from the Seleucids.

Greco-Bactrian Kingdom

A special place among the independent Central Asian states was occupied by Greco-Bactria. Here the typical Hellenistic structure of society was preserved — the power belonged to the conquerors: the Greeks and the Macedonians. Until recently, there were almost no archaeological materials that allow us to judge the culture of this peculiar state formation. However, in 1964, a large Greek-Bactrian city was opened — the ancient settlement of Ai-Khanum (on the territory of the modern Republic of Azerbaijan). Afghanistan), the materials of which allowed us to get a clear idea of many features of the Greco-Bactrian culture.

Interesting monuments of the Greco-Bactrian culture were also discovered in Tajikistan. It is primarily a Saxonohur hillfort. In the center of it was a large palace complex, a kind of reduced copy of the palace in Ai-Khanum. Even more convincing are the finds made at the settlement of Takhti-Sangin (Stone settlement). Here, a temple built according to the canons of “Iranian” sacred architecture is revealed: a square cella surrounded by corridors, in the cella — four columns. A significant number of magnificent works of art were found — they were brought to the temple by believers as donations. Among them are ceremonial weapons and statues; the former, in most cases, of a purely Greek character, with exceptional reliefs. There is also a small altar with a bronze figure of Silenus Marcius and a Greek inscription on it — a dedication to the god of the river Oka.

Based on all available sources, it can be argued that in the 80s of the second century BC, the Greeks of Bactria began to move south — they crossed the Hindu Kush and undertook the conquest of the regions of India. But at the same time, another political event occurred, which had important consequences — the military commander Eucratides rebelled against the legitimate kings of the Euthydemus dynasty. In the interaction of these trends-the gradual expansion of the possessions of the Greco-Bactrians in the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent and the constant fragmentation of the once unified state into separate small possessions-the entire subsequent history of Greco-Bactria unfolds.

The Parthian Empire

The head of a Hellenistic ruler. Takhti-Sangin. 2nd century BC

Head of a Hellenistic ruler. Clay, alabaster with polychrome color. Takhti-Sangin. II century BC.

In contrast to the Greco-Bactrian kingdom, the history of Parthia followed a different path. Initially, the independence of Parthia from the Seleucids was declared, as it was in Bactria, by a local satrap named Andragoros. But soon the country was captured by nomadic tribes nearby, whose leader Arshak in 247 BC took the royal title. After the name of the founder of the dynasty, the subsequent rulers of Parthia adopted the name Arshak as the throne name. Initially, the new state was relatively small and united, in addition to Parthia proper, the neighboring Hyrcania, a region in the south-east of the Caspian Sea. But already under Mithridates I (171-138 BC), an active expansion began to the west up to Mesopotamia. Parthia becomes a world power. The ancient metropolis, now located in the north-east of the Parthian empire, retained its importance only as one of its centers.

In the middle of the second century BC, Central Asia experienced serious events. The movement of nomadic tribes led to the death of Greco-Bactria and almost destroyed Parthia. In a difficult struggle with the nomads, two Parthian kings fell, and it was only under Mithridates II (123-87 BC) that this threat was localized, and the invading tribes were given the province of Sakastan for settlement. Sistan). Embroiled in a protracted confrontation with Rome, Parthia often suffered military and political defeats in the struggle with a highly experienced and strong rival, who also claimed the primacy in Front Asia.

Since the end of the I-beginning of the II century AD, the Parthian power has been weakening, accompanied by the growth of the independence of individual provinces, headed by members of the Arsacid family or representatives of other noble Parthian families. Hyrcania, aspiring to independence, sends its ambassadors directly to Rome; a special dynasty is established in Margiana, the first representative of which, by the name of Sanabar, calls himself on coins by the same title as the ruling Arsacides— “king of kings”. Perhaps the power of the Margian ruler extended to the territory of Parthia proper, or Parthiena. In the 20s. Arsacid Parthia completely loses its independence under the blows of the founder of the new powerful dynasty, Artashir Sasanid.

Riton. Ivory. Nisa. 2nd century BC

Rhyton. Ivory. Nisa. II century BC

Economy and social structure of Parthia

For a number of regions of Central Asia, the Parthian period was a time of intensive development of urban life, the rise of handicraft industries and the expansion of the sphere of monetary circulation. In Parfiena itself, the most famous city was Nisa, the ruins of which are located near modern Ashgabat. Near the city proper were the royal residence and the tomb of the elder Arsacids. Long-term excavations of Soviet archaeologists have revealed remarkable monuments of architecture, sculptures and, as already noted, the Parthian archive-its study is engaged in the famous Soviet orientalists V. A. Livshits and I. M. Diakonov. About 2 thousand documents of the primary economic reporting of the tsarist economy were found. Thanks to the documents found, new data on the administrative structure of the Parthian Kingdom, on the system of taxation and land use were obtained. The analysis of numerous names and the calendar system is of great interest. One of the shards is a “memorial note” about the ascension to the throne of the king. The study of these documents allowed us to restore the “family tree” of the first Arshakids.

The social structure of Parthia was influenced by the conquest of Parthia by the nomadic Parnians. The nomads made the local settled population dependent, which, according to ancient evidence, was “between slavery and freedom”. The peasants of Parthia, united in communities, were attached to the land, the cultivation of which was considered by them as a state duty. They had to pay significant taxes. A large role in the economy was played by the labor of slaves. The existing management system required a clear work of the administrative and fiscal apparatus, as, in particular, the Nis economic documents show. They carefully recorded the natural income from communal lands, temple and state farms.

Parthian Culture

The most distinctive phenomenon is the Parthian culture. The synthesis of local and Greek principles is much stronger in it than in the culture of Greco-Bactria. The excavations carried out in the sacred center of Parthia, on the ancient settlement of Old Nisa (it was called Mithridatokert, which meant “built by Mithridates”), clearly highlighted this feature of the Parthian culture. The buildings erected here typologically reflect either Iranian or even more ancient traditions. A typical example is the so-called square hall, which is a typical Iranian “temple of fire”.

Coin with a portrait of Demetrius. 2nd century BC Central Asia

A silver coin with a portrait of Demetrius. The first half of the second century BC.

The “Round Temple” goes back to very ancient concepts of funerary architecture. This building has a peculiar layout, which is a combination of a circle with a square: the inner room is round in plan, the outer plan is square. However, all the buildings of the Old Nisa bear the obvious features of the influence of Hellenic architecture. Their decor constantly contains elements of the Greek order, although it is not used as it was done in the Greek world, but only to enliven the interior. A particularly interesting new feature in the architecture of Parthia is the desire for vertical development of the interior, the breakdown of the internal space of the building into a number of tiers.

The sculpture of Mitridatokert is also striking in its diversity. Here were found small marble sculptures brought from the Mediterranean, most likely from Alexandria. Especially famous was the statue depicting Aphrodite (the so-called Rodoguna),- an example of Early Hellenistic sculpture, as well as a majestic statue of a woman, made in an archaic manner. Along with the marble sculpture in the Old Nisa, fragments of clay were also found. Some of them are presented in the generalized manner that is characteristic of the Central Asian school of the first centuries of our era, some were created under Greek influence, and perhaps even by the Greeks themselves.

Buterol with the image of a Hippocampus. Takhti-Sangin. 2nd century BC

Buterol with the image of a Hippocampus. Ivory. Takhti-Sangin. II century BC.

Remarkable examples of Hellenistic art are the ivory rhytons found during the excavations of the treasury of Mithridatokert. The treasury is similar in its structure to the treasury of Ai-Khanum (unfortunately, both of them were looted in ancient times). However, during the excavations, things were found that were not taken by the robbers. Among them are the already mentioned marble statues, rhytons, a number of fragments from the ceremonial furniture, small silver gilded statuettes depicting Athena, Eros and other gods.

One of the most striking features of the Parthian culture is the clear cultural gap between the major urban centers and the village (district). Recent studies of rural settlements in the foothill area of Kopetdag have shown that the community members lived in very simple, small-sized dwellings made of raw materials, devoid of even the slightest decorative elements. In everyday life, they used simple ceramics. No works of art have yet been found in any of these settlements.

Thanks to the excavations and research of Parthian documents, it is possible to trace the gradual strengthening of the role of Zoroastrian beliefs in the spiritual life of Parthia. As the Nisian ostracists have shown, the Zoroastrian calendar was used in Parthia, and there are many names associated with the Zoroastrian tradition. Gradually, the Greek inscriptions on the coins are replaced by Parthian ones, and Zoroastrian religious symbols begin to appear on them. In the late tradition, there is information that the first codification of the “Avesta”was carried out under the king of Vologda (Valarsh).

The scene in the garden. Takhti-Sangin. Central Asia. The first centuries

The scene in the garden. Ivory, carving. Takhti-Sangin. The first centuries AD.

Margiana Culture

The culture of Margiana in the first centuries of our era was quite different from that of Parfiena. The most striking difference is that in Margiana, small terracotta statuettes were popular, apparently representing images of the deities of the local pantheon,while in Parthien these statuettes are not. The most common were images of female deities, and in the first centuries of our era there is a significant transition from the types inspired by the pictorial canons of Hellenism (the naked goddess, rendered in a free pose), to the more hieratic types: a motionless, straight body, clothes richly decorated with stripes, a majestic face. Gradually, however, the quality of reproductions deteriorates, the figurines degenerate into purely artisan products.

The second feature of the historical and cultural development of Margiana is the more complex nature of religious life than in Parthien. It was dominated by Zoroastrianism (a typical Zoroastrian necropolis was explored by archaeologists near Munon Depe). Here, in the first centuries of our era, Buddhism began to penetrate. At the very end of the Parthian period, a Buddhist stupa was built within the city walls of Merv (the site of Gyaur-Kala). The culture of Margiana, as in earlier times, tended more towards the culture of Bactria than that of the Parthians.

Kushan Kingdom (on the territory of Bactria)

The history of Bactria after the fall of the power of the Greeks and the conquest by the nomads (40s of the second century BC) conventionally “breaks up” into two stages. At first, there were several small possessions on its territory, created by the leaders of nomadic tribes. These nomads of yesterday soon adopted the traditions of the settled culture and proved to be diligent owners. In the first century BC, they built new canals on the territory of Bactria, created agricultural oases, and built cities. Soon, one of these rulers, named Gerai, places his image in the form of an armed horseman on large silver coins and accompanies it with an inscription made in the Greek alphabet, as if symbolizing the connection of two principles — the traditions of the nomadic steppe and Hellenistic statehood. Even more revealing is the very name of this ruler — he calls himself a Kushan. The further growth of this small domain of Gerai eventually led to the creation of the Kushan empire. This was the beginning of the second stage in the history of Bactria — already as part of the Kushan kingdom.

Ayrtam frieze. 1-2 century AD Central Asia

Ayrtam frieze. I-II centuries AD.

Its founder was Cadfiz I, who subdued four small principalities located on the territory of Bactria. As a result, the whole of Bactria was united under a new ruler, who assumed the magnificent title of “king of kings”. These events presumably fall in the first century AD. The new power turned its eyes to the traditional ways to the south, beyond the Hindu Kush, where Kadfiz I managed to establish himself in a number of areas. The issue of coins with Indian inscriptions shows that the Indian population also became part of his possessions. Under Cadfiz I, the center of the Kushan state was Bactria, the capital was most likely the city of Bactra. Further expansion of the Kushan borders took place under the son and successor of the founder of the state, Cadfiz II. He annexed a large part of northwestern India to the Kushan empire.

The most famous of the Kushan rulers was Kanishka, but there are significant differences among researchers on the question of the time of his reign. The main center of the Kushan power is moving towards the Indian possessions. The capital of the state was the city of Purushapura (modern. Peshawar).

Loss of independence

Later, the Kushans were defeated in a clash with the Sasanian state that replaced Parthia. Especially important were the events of the mid-fourth century AD, when the Sasanian troops invaded the territory of Bactria, and the Sasanian governors in the East bore the titles of “king of the Kushans” or even “great king of the Kushans”. Such was the decline of a once mighty empire. Separate Kushan possessions were still independent, but a single Kushan state, extending its borders from the Ganges to the Amu Darya, no longer existed.

A man's head. Mural of Central Asia. Fayaz-Tepe

A man’s head. A fresco from Fayaz-Tepe. II-IV centuries AD.

Economy and trade

The Kushans inherited many traditions of Bactrian culture, including material ones. The basis of the economy was irrigation agriculture, the intensive development of trade and crafts contributed to the further rise of urban life, and monetary relations became increasingly important in trade.

Kushan cities formed a whole system connected by roads and caravan routes. One of the first places was trade relations with the western countries — the Roman Empire, and above all with its eastern provinces. This trade was conducted both by land and by sea-through the western ports of Hindustan. The land road went north through the Ferghana Valley to China. A variety of goods were transported along these trade routes. Spices, incense, precious stones, ivory, and sugar were brought to Rome. Especially important was the trade in rice and cotton products. Silk, leather, and other articles were brought in transit from China. The largest international trade artery of that time was sometimes even called the Great Silk Road. Fabrics and clothing designed for local tastes, glass and precious metal products, statues and various wines were delivered from Rome. Gold and silver Roman coins were imported in large quantities.


Perhaps the most significant achievement of the Kushan period is the high level of culture. In the Kushan culture (with all its local and temporal differences), the achievements of the local civilization of the Ancient Eastern type, the best traditions of Hellenistic culture, the refinement of Indian art and a special style brought by nomadic tribes from the expanses of Asia were fused in creative unity. The initial stage of this synthetic Kushan art is well represented by the materials from the burials of the nobility, discovered by Soviet archaeologists in Southern Bactria at the settlement of Tillya-Tepe (modern day). Afghanistan).

Sculptural composition. Toprak-Kala. 3-4 centuries AD.

Part of the sculptural composition. Toprak-Kala. III-IV centuries AD.

There are several artistic traditions that influenced the early Kush culture. Thus, the plots and manner of execution of scenes of fierce confrontation of animals locked in a randomly woven tangle, animal figures full of intense expression, winged dragons introduce us to the world of artistic culture of nomadic tribes of Asia, echoing the works of Sarmatian art. Another group of subjects represents a purely antique line. Many images are complex and cannot yet be properly interpreted. Perhaps they reproduce local, Bactrian images, appearing in combination with Hellenistic and Indian yawns. According to the finds of coins, the burials can be dated to the first century BC — the first half of the first century AD.

Apparently, about the same time belongs to Halchayan, which was the dynastic center of one of the nomadic possessions in the north of Bactria (research by G. A. Pugachenkova). The sculptural decoration of this complex essentially has only one theme — the glorification of the local dynasty. The traditions of Hellenistic art are still extremely strong here, but the theme is completely new, inspired by the ideas of the emerging monarchical concept of power. In individual sculptures, individual portrait features are felt, but without revealing the inner world of the character. Before us is the early stage of cultural integration, the origins of the remarkable Kushan culture. Kushan cities are becoming carriers of new cultural standards that provide a stable set of household utensils to religious objects. The kind of urbanized culture that develops in them penetrates, as well as monetary relations, into rural settlements.

The head of the statue. Gyaur-Kala. 2-3 centuries AD.

The head of the statue. Clay. Gyaur-Kala. II-III centuries AD.

The spread of Buddhism

During the Kushan period, Buddhism became widespread in Bactria. Monuments are usually lavishly decorated with sculptures, reliefs, and paintings. Near Termez, the Buddhist cave monastery of Kara-Tepe was excavated (excavations by B. Ya. Stavisky). There were a number of open-type buildings and cave cells. Another monastery, also located in the district of Termez, — Fayaz-Tepe (research by P. I. Albaum), on the contrary, is completely ground-based. Its central part is formed by a courtyard, along the perimeter of which there were cells and oratories, and in the center there was a hall of general meetings. Fayaz Tepe is richly decorated with clay painted sculptures and paintings, in which the figures of donators (donors) are made under the obvious influence of Hellenistic portraiture. A Buddhist shrine with a plaster sculpture is open in the suburb of Dalverzin.

Of great interest are the inscriptions from Kara-Tepe and Fayaz-Tepe written in the Brahmi and kharoshtha script. They are written in Prakita — the so-called Middle Indian language. A study of the inscriptions, conducted by Soviet scientists and the Hungarian scientist J. Harmatta, showed that they mention the names of various Buddhist schools.

The Kushan rulers, patronizing Buddhism, sought at the same time to establish the authority of the secular power. Such a monument of the dynastic cult is the shrines of Surkh-Kotal, located in Northern Afghanistan to the south of Pul-I-Khumri. The main temple with the altar of fire was located on a high hill, fortified by a fortress wall. A multi-stage staircase led up. The inscription found here also contains the name of the entire complex-the Kanishka-Winner Temple. Perhaps, on the territory of Northern Bactria, a similar monument was Ayrtam, where in the 30s of the XX century. stone reliefs similar in style to Gandhara sculpture were accidentally found. In the course of archaeological research, a stone slab with a fragmented inscription was discovered here.

Folk beliefs

Along with the official cultures and religions in the Kushan state, there were also local folk beliefs. The most interesting monuments associated with these performances are numerous terracotta statuettes found both in cities and in rural settlements. Another characteristic feature of popular popular culture is the terracotta figures of horsemen, or even just saddled horses as a kind of memory of the founders of the Kushan state and a symbol of one of the foundations of its armed forces.


The mural. Penjikent. Central Asia. VI century AD

Fresco. Penjikent. VI century AD.

Kushan cultural standards have had a significant impact on neighboring countries and peoples. This, in particular, is observed in another important area of ancient Central Asia — Sogda, which included fertile oases in the valleys of Kashkadarya and Zeravshan. Sogd, apparently, was included in the Seleucid empire of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. In its capital, Marakand, the ruins of which are known as Afrasiab are located on the outskirts of modern Samarkand, the fortress walls and other structures of that distant time were discovered. The influence of Greek images can be seen in the culture.

The “old Sogdian letters” — documents originating from the Sogdian colonies in East Turkestan-are of great interest for judging the various aspects of Sogd’s life. They are written in the Sogdian language using Aramaic graphics. Despite the difficulties of reading them caused by poor preservation, they carry information about the social culture of Sughd society (for example, “free — noble” are mentioned), about the position of women in society, economic activities, etc.In the 80s of the XX century. Soviet scientists did a lot to study the Sughd culture of the first centuries of our era. The ruler’s palace of very considerable size (120×90 m), built on a powerful platform of mud bricks, was excavated at the Er-Kurgan settlement.


The ruler's head. Toprak-Kala. Central Asia. 3-4 centuries AD.

The head of the ruler. Toprak-Kala. III-IV centuries AD.

A special position in the ancient history of Central Asia was occupied by Khorezm, located in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya. This country was separated from the Achaemenid state in the IV century BC, and the Khwarezmian king Pharasman in 329-328 BC came to Alexander the Great for negotiations. Even then, Khorezm had a well-developed urban culture. Soon, perhaps during the advance of the nomadic unions to the south, towards Parthia and Greco-Bactria, Khorezm falls under the rule of nomadic tribes. It is interesting that, when in the first century AD. The first local coins are being issued, and the image of the ruler on a horse is already placed on their reverse side.

A typical urban center of ancient Khorezm is the Toprak-Kala settlement, which has been excavated by modern scientists for several decades. Its most important part was the citadel on a brick platform of many meters high. There was a palace complex with ceremonial halls and a number of outbuildings. The halls are richly decorated with paintings and clay sculptures. Along with the influence of the traditions of the Hellenistic art school, one can also see the influence of Kushan standards, and in the reliefs depicting grazing deer, even the influence of direct connections with the culture of nomadic tribes.

The city has a clear layout, the longitudinal and transverse streets divide the space inside the rectangle of the city walls into regular blocks, which in turn consist of individual households. In the palace complex, economic documents made in the Aramaic script, adapted this time to the Khorezm language, were found. In total, more than a hundred documents were found on parchment and 18 on wood. In particular, they record the members of “family houses” (apparently, large-family communities) who occupied individual households in Toprak-Kala districts. The number of such communities ranged from 20 to 40 people. There were also domestic slaves, and their number is quite large — up to 12 people were counted in individual households.

Achievements of Central Asian civilizations

The inscription is in brahmi. Central Asia

The inscription is in brahmi. Kara-Tepe.

The main achievements of the Ancient Middle Asian civilization were associated with the development of specific local cultures — Bactrian, Parthian, Sogdian and Khorezm. Perhaps, within these regions, there was a process of consolidation of ancient ethnic groups into separate nationalities — Bactrian, Parthian, Sogdian and Khorezm. In the IV-V centuries AD, the main urban centers in all regions fell into decline, they were replaced by fortified manors and castles. Historians believe that these changes were associated not only with the invasion of nomadic tribes-Chionites and Ephthalites, but also with the internal crisis of ancient urban civilizations.

The cultural heritage of ancient epochs had a significant impact on the subsequent development of Central Asian civilization. Many achievements in the field of material and spiritual cultures have been preserved and developed over the centuries.

The remarkable achievements of medieval Central Asian astronomy probably had their distant origin in the observations that were made in such structures as the Khorezm Koikrylgan-kala, which served both as a temple of the funeral cult and a primitive observatory. The heyday of medieval literature was prepared by ancient epic creativity. In particular, apparently, the plot of the popular cycle “Vis and Ramin” was born in Merv. The epic tales of the Parthian era became the basis of many later cycles. Thousands of threads connect the visual art of Central Asia of the ancient and early Medieval eras. The continuity of tradition, despite all the changes caused by new historical conditions, is also felt in the work of architects.

The impact of the ancient civilization of Central Asia on other regions of the ancient East and on the ancient world was significant.

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