Transoxiana Journal

Transoxiana 11 - Julio 2006

On the Religion of the Samanid Ancestors*

Prof. Dr. Shamsiddin Kamoliddin

(Uzbekistan Academy of Sciences, Tashkent)

In medieval history of Central Asia the special place belongs to the dynasty of the Sāmānids whose numerous representatives ruled during 9th - 10th centuries in Buxārā and other cities of Xurāsān and Mā warā' an-nahr. In textual sources there are many information on a political events, economic and cultural life of that period. However, about an origin of this dynasty there are only some scanty and discrepant data and their origin till now remains unknown.

The ancestor of the dynasty Sāmān-xudāt has appeared on a political arena for the first time in early 8th century AD when he has arrived from Balx to Marw to the Arabian amir of Khurāsān Asad ibn 'Abd Allah al-Qasr (or al-Qushayr)1 and asked him to help against his enemies in Balx. Having got the required help and having restored his position, Saman-xudat, who was a Zoroastrian priest [Gardizi, p. 62], accepted Islam with his assistance and has named his son Asad in his honour. Later together with his son he took part in the movement of Abu Muslim in Xurāsān. Subsequently Asad served at a court yard of al-Ma'mūn2 during his stay in Marw. The sons of Asad - Nūh, Ahmad, Yahy and Ilyās took part in suppression of revolt of Rāfi ' ibn al-Layth (190 - 195/806 - 810) in Central Asia, and have persuaded him to stop uprising. For this service al-Ma'mūn before his departure from Marw to Baghdād, has ordered to appoint them as governors and in 204/819 they have been appointed as rulers in the cities of Mā warā' an-nahr: Nūh in Samarqand, Ahmad in Farghāna, Yahyā in Shāsh and Ustrūshana, and Ilyās in Herat [Frye, 1993, p. 136 - 161].

Sāmān-xudāt was the founder of a settlement named Sāmān located, according to sources, in the region of Balx or its region [Hamzae Ispahanensis, p. 237]. Concerning ethymology of this name various opinions have been stated. According to the legend on the origin of the Sāmānids, name Sāmān occurs from a word sāmān that means "accomplishment" [Semenov, 1955, p. 4]. In Persian the word sāmān means "order", "well-being", "riches", and in Pahlavi it means "border", "region" [Anthologie, p. 424 means; Dencard, p. 160, 164; Dadastan i Denig, p. 244, 281]. There were name Sām (ān) [Dencard, p. 24, 160; Dadastan i Denig, p. 107] and people of Sāmān (Thamanaois), who inhabited in the district named Harahvatiš [Herzfeld, 1947, vol. 2, p. 708]. The origin of name Sāmān can be connected also with the čigil word sāmān that means "straw" [Kašγarli, p. 348]. However, all of these ethymologies, in our opinion, are not convincing enough and, most likely, are not correspond to reality.

Origin of name Sāmān was explained also in connection with the word shāmān [Gunaltay, 1938, p. 77]. Among Ural-Altaic people of Central Asia, Ural Mountains and Siberia there are some people named saman/shaman/samay/samar whose origin connected with southern regions, from where they arrived in ancient times [Vasilevich, 1965, p. 139 - 145]. Al-Bīrūnī mentioned in Central Asia a religious community al-shamaniyya, which followers were idolaters, but did not like the Brahmans [Biruni, 1963, p 66 - 67]. The people of Khurāsān named the Buddhists shamaniyin or shamanān (plural of shaman) [al-Biruni, p. 206]. Ibn an-Nadīm named the Buddhists as- samaniyya [Ibn an-Nadim; Flugel, 1862, p. 76, 105, 385]. In the Indian mythology šamana means " a governor ", one of names of Yima, and in Buddhist tradition šramana means "one who makes efforts", who borrowed the second step in Buddhist hierarchy [Louis, 1977, vol. 8, p. 41, 344].

The Pahlavi word saman (Sāhmān) is originated from the Sanskrit word, which means "paying attention, care" [Dehkhoda, 1993, vol. 8, p. 11769]. In Zoroastrian religious literature name Sāmān is mentioned alongside with names of such demons and persons, as Akataš, Akoman, Arastāy, Waran, Nanhais, Sabuk, Taurec, Hyon and Zarec [Anthologie, p. 395, 414, 430; Dencard, p. 24, 160; Dadastan i Denig, p. 107]. In opinion of Zoroastrians "demons" might be Buddhist gods and priests, and in structure of names of some of them we can see Turkic words and peoples names: taš, tay, kuman, avar, tur and xion.

From these data follows, that origin of the name Sāmān, probably, was connected with the Buddhism, and Sāmān-xudāt, consequently, was not a Zoroastrian priest, as the sources informed, but the Buddhist, and this corresponds to situation in pre-Islamic Balx, where the Buddhism was dominated [Barthold, 1945, p. 48]. It is not also excluded, that Sāmān-xudāt could be a Manihean. In Balx or near to it some time (during 3rd - 8th c. AD) there was a strong Manihean community. In 6th century AD here has been written one of magic Parthian-Manihean texts reflecting close contacts of the Maniheans and the Buddhists [Staviskiy, 1977, p. 178]. It is known, that a role of Maniheans in 7th - 8th centuries in Tuxāristān, in particular in Chaganiyan, was very significant. The Buddhism and Maniheism in Central Asia coexisted during long time, and influence of the Buddhism on east branch of this religion was so strong, that Mani in Manihean texts was called as the Buddha [Vostochniy Turkestan, p. 526]. According to Ibn an-Nadīm, the first who besides the samanians (as-samaniyya), i.e. Buddhists, has moved from Tuxāristān to Mā warā' an-nahr, belonged to the Maniheans [Flugel, 1862, s. 76, 105, 385].

Balx was also a place where doctrine of the founder of Zoroastrianism (Zoroastr) for the first time has been recognized, and early stage of his activity has been connected with this city [Pyankov, 1968, p. 55 - 68]. Inhabitants of Balx, as well as all Bactria, originally worshipped to fire that proves to be true by archaeological data. On site of ancient settlement Djarqutan (the middle of the 2nd millennium BC), located in 60 km to the north from Termidh, was discovered a proto-Zoroastrian temple of fire, devoted to a cult of the Sun. Altars for fire have been found there and in some other synchronous monuments of ancient Bactria [Askarov, Shirinov, 1993, p. 128 - 132]. However, after disintegration of Ahemenids power the city has been more closely connected with India, and in Kushans period has turned to one of the main centers of the Buddhism, rendering cultural influence and on east areas of the Sāsānids empire. Despite of a policy of prosecution of non-Zoroastrians, in particular the Buddhists and Brahmanists, spent by the Sāsānid authorities, monuments of that time fixed reverence of the Buddha in east areas of Iran in IV century [Lukonin, 1969, p. 43]

Available data allow to assume, that in early medieval period in Balx the coexistence and merge of two various cultures - Buddhist and Zoroastrian took place. Here were equally esteemed as Buddha, as Axura-Mazda [Bartold, 1971, p. 470]. On the images of the Kushan-Sasanid coins of Tuxāristān (4th c. AD) are presented as the Buddhist gods Shiwa and Mitra, as Axura Mazda [Lukonin, 1967, p. 26]. Therefore medieval sources give rather inconsistent data on character of a cult in temple Nawbahār. According to some sources, the temple has been devoted to a cult of the moon [Macoudi, vol. 5, p. 6 - 7], according to another ones - to a cult of fire [Biruni, 1963, c. 66 - 67; al-Balxi, c. 20, 37], and according to the third - it was a Buddhist monastery [Ibn al-Fakih, p. 323 - 324]. According to a legend, the regional kings ( mulūk at-tawa'if) of Balx, i.e. the Kushan Arshakids, were not Zoroastrians, and professed religion of the Sabies and esteemed the sun, the moon, fire and seven stars [al-Ja'kubi, 1883, vol, 1, p. 179].

In the region of Balx near to Baghlān was discovered a temple (Surx-Kotal), established by Kushan king Kanishka (1st - 2nd c. AD), who has spread the Buddhism in Bactria. In the temple of Kanishka has been dug out the altar, which testifies that people worshipped here to fire [Schlumberger, p. 13]. Altars have been found also in some other Buddhist temples, what means, that the cult of fire could be adapted by the Kushans and included into the Buddhist ritual [Staviskiy, 1977, c. 196]. In the wall paintings of the Buddhist cult center Kara-tepe (1st - 2nd c. AD) in Termidh were found the images of "Fiery Buddha" (Buddha-Zoroaster), i.e. Buddha surrounded by a frame of a flame, which later have widely spread in Toxaristan and Central Asia [Staviskiy, 1987, p. 105]. On the coins of the Kushan kings Kanishka and Xuvishka there is an image of a mail god with 4 hands named Farro, that means "fire" [Trever, 1958, p. 142]. Images of altars are found also in wall paintings of Buddhist temples in the East Turkistān. Burning of fire at the certain ceremonies was ordinary for many religions, therefore images of altars in Buddhist paintings is not wonderful [Shkoda, 1985, p. 87].

In our opinion, temple Nawbahār during different periods of time was a place of worship of various religious communities [Bartold, 1971, p. 469 - 472], including followers of Zoroastrianism, Mazdeism and Maniheism. However, neither Zoroastrianism, nor Mazdeism have been never officially recognized in Balx, and since the Kushan period at least there always dominated the Buddhism [Staviskiy, 1977, p. 179]. It is proved by the data of Chinese pilgrim Huean Tsiang (630) who named the main temple of Balx "new sangharama", and by the data of medieval authors [Ibn al-Fakih, p. 323; Hudud al-'Alam, p. 108] and archeological materials [Mizuno, 1968, p. 93 - 96, 109 - 112; Mizuno, 1962].

Some data indicate that the Samanids kept memory of the Buddhist past of their ancestors and with sympathy concerned to the Buddhism. Silver drahmas, minted by the Sāmānids in 300 - 351/912 - 962 in area of Kābul and Ghazna, contain the image of a bull and horseman (Av), and also Indian inscriptions (Rv) which were read as "in the name of (the god) Sri Khudavayaka". Other type of these coins contains the image of a bull, sitting god Sri Khudavayaka (Av) and the horseman (Rv) [Mitchiner, 1977, p. 132]. At some cities under the Samanids power were minted with images of Islamic rulers, while it was not allowed in other parts of the Arabic caliphate. On the coins of Sāmānid ruler Bilkā-tigīn, issued in 320 - 326/932 - 938 on the mint Burj Qishm in north-east of Tuxāristān is represented sitting Bilk ā-tigīn, and on the coins of Sayf ad-Dawla Mahmūd, which are issued in 385/995-96 in Andarāb, is represented sitting Nūh ibn Mansūr [Mitchiner, 1977, p. 133, 146]. Image of a bull and sitting god or king was typical for the Buddhist iconography.

In the museum of the Institute of archeology in Samarqand is stored a copper fils, minted in 359/969-70 in Farghāna on behalf of the Sāmānid Mansūr ibn Nūh and his son Ahmad ibn Mansūr by the Sāmānid ruler Qilich al-Hājib Ahmad ibn 'Alī [Kul'tura i iskusstvo, vol. 2, p. 102]. On Av of this fils there is an image of classical Buddhist mandala, as a symbol of the sun, which was accepted in northern schools of the Buddhism, such as the Mahayana, Vajrayana and Tantrism, widely spread in Middle Ages in China, Tibet, the Central Asia and East Turkistan. Classical mandalas with the 8-petal socket in the middle, was also a symbol of the Buddha, and its occurrence is took place on 8th - 9th centuries AD, i.e. the period of formation of Buddhist school of Tantrism [Arapov, 2002, p. 12 - 16]. Similar mandalas we can see on some of coins of the Qarāxānids of the numismatic collection of NBU (41, 42, 43), stored in the Gallery of Arts in Tashkent.

Another monument showing connection of the Samanids with the Buddhism, is a symbol represented on the walls of the Sāmānids mausoleum in Buxara.. This symbol represents the complex geometrical composition consisting of squares built in each other and a circle in the middle. Precisely same symbol is represented in wall paintings with images of scenes of the Buddhist legends in cave complex Dun-xuan, which was one of the largest Buddhist cult centers of Central and East Asia in early medieval period [Arapov, 2002, p 120 - 125].

During ruling of one of the last Samanid emirs Nūh ibn Mansūr ar-Ridā (ruled in 365 - 387/976 - 997) which was the second son and the successor of the above mentioned Mansūr ibn Nūh, one of his official 'Amīd al-Dawla Fā'iq al-Khāssa has issued in 368/978-79 in Balkh a copper fals, on which Vers side in the middle is represented the six-pointed star - hexagram, made of two opposite triangles, in a combination to the Arabian letters [ coin 20649]. On other copper fals, issued in the same 368/978-79 year in Balkh by the same Fā'iq al-Khāssa, in a floor of the Vers is represented the five-pointed star - a pentagram constructed of lines [ coin 20654].

The six-pointed star (hexagram) which is known also as "a seal of Solomon" or "a star of David", was widely used in Middle Ages in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Now it is a symbol Iudaism though in this religion this symbol was used only since XII century3. Its presence on the Samanid coin is the earliest case of use of this symbol in these three religions4. It is possible to assume, that its occurrence has been connected with strengthening of the Judaic community existed in X century in Balkh and its area. In X century one of city gates of Balkh referred to Bāb al-Hadīd (the Gate of Judas) [al-Istakhri, p. 278]. In the area of medieval Balkh is mentioned a settlement named Jahūdanak that means Small Jahūdan or Small Yahūdan [Jakut, vol. 2, p. 167]. Nearby of Balkh in Gūzgānān on a way from Tāliqān to Fāryāb was situated a city named Jahūdān [Hudud al-'Alam, p. 107] or Yahūdān [al-Jakubi, p. 287] which referred to also al-Yahūdiyya, i.e. the Judaic city [al-Istakhri, p. 271; al-Moqaddasi, p. 347, 348].

However, the origin of hexagram was connected with Buddhism and India where this symbol for the first time has been fixed in the temples functioned long before new era. In Tantrist schools of the Buddhism and Induism the hexagram is a symbol of the classical mandala personifying the god Naru-Narajana. Corners of the top and bottom triangles making hexagram, personify six faces of the god Shiva and the god Shakti. It is possible to assume, that this symbol was borrowed in religions of the Near East from the Buddhism where it had deeper roots. In the modern Buddhism hexagram it is considered as the scheme of achievement of the highest step of Chakra in which a man becomes a part of the Universe. In six ends of this scheme are represented the symbols of all world religions - a swastika, a hexagram, a cross, a half moon, nine-pointed star etc. In the center of this scheme is located a flower of lotus in the form of a swastika, personifying the highest seventh step of Chakra.

The five-pointed star (pentagram) was used by various people all over the world since very ancient times. It was the most widespread magic symbol of an antiquity. Probably, that this symbol has been invented independently by many civilizations and expresses any deep laws of the device of the world, the person and a society. Its images have been found on the walls of the Neolith cave parking, among the picture inscriptions of ancient Egypt, on clay tablets of Mesopotamia (IV millennium BC), and on walls of temples of the Indians of Maya in the Latin America. The pentagram was a symbol of followers of Pithagor (586 - 506 BC) in the ancient Greece, and it was a symbol of Jerusalem in the IV century BC. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam it is also known as "a seal of Solomon" or "David's star". The pentagram was used also in the Buddhism and other ancient religions of India and China as one of symbols of a mandala. In the doctrine of Taoism it symbolizes the five elements of the Eastern cosmology - wood, metal, earth, fire and water.

Thus, this sign also can be considered as one of symbols of the Buddhism. Occurrence of these Buddhist symbols on the Samanids coins could be connected with opposition and response of the Samanids to actions of the Buids, which, having captured in 334/945 actual authority in Bagdad, have declared themselves successors of the Sasanid kings and began to esteem and revive some pre-Islamic and Zoroastrian cultural values.

The silver medallion which has been issued in 358/968-69 by the Samanid amir Mansur I ibn Nuh (ruled in 350 - 365/961 - 976) is stored in the numismatic collection of the Oxford university5. On its face sheet the portrait of the governor to the right with two middle Persian inscriptions on each side is represented. The right inscription is read as MLK " n MLK ', that means " king of kings", i.e. shāhan shāh, and the left one - GDH ' pzwt, that means "Victory, expansion of territory"6. On the Revers in the middle is the Arabian inscription in 6 lines in the form of a square, simulating a square opening. In it after usual Muslim formulas ( L ilāha ill ā-Allah wahdahu wa l sharīka lahu Muhammadun Rasūl Allah) it is mentioned name of the caliph, and then the name of Mansur ibn Nuh with a title al-malik. In a circular legend the data of issue is cited7.

Special interest represents a portrait of the governor. The anthropological type of its person represents a mix of the Europeoid and Mongoloid attributes with prevalence of the last. A nose convex characteristic for the Western Turks, in particular for the Oghuz Turks of Khurāsān. In the top part of his face is an outstanding bone that is typical for Mongoloid Qipchaqs. An eye is big and long, like an almond with strongly swelled up eyelids. On a head a specific headdress, reminding a crown. In the right ear hangs down spherical ear-ring. Behind from under crown hangs down dense wavy plait, falling for a back.

The ikonography of the portrait has a close similarity with portraits of the Turkic governors of Tuxāristān, Kabul and Gandhara of the 7th - 8th centuries AD, which are represented on the coins minted by them in imitation to drachmas of the Sasanid king Xurmazd IV []8. Imitations to the Sasanid coins were connected with the beginning of the Kushan-Sasanid monetary circulation which has generated between 368 - 388 after gain of Tuxāristān by the Sasanids [Lukonin, 1967, p. 26]. The reason of imitations to the Sasanid coins was that on separate princedoms and absence of uniform monetary system could not provide dissociation of Central Asia to local monetary issues of that visible generality of wide monetary circulation to the monetary signs had the international circulation [Pugachenkova, 1981, p. 260]. Among all Sasanid shāhanshāhs the Turks with special preference concerned to Xurmazd IV Turkzāda who was the grandson of the Turkic kagan on his mother line and the patron of Turks in the Sasanid empire.

But a full similarity with it has the memorial medallion which has been issued nearby 625 in Qunduz by Tardu-shad, the son of the Supreme Turkic kagan Tun-yabgu and the founder of a dynasty of the Turkic yabgu of Tuxāristān and Gandhara on the occasion of a final victory above the Ephthalites and connection of their lands to the Turkic kaganat. The ikonography of the medallion as well as some coins of Turkic yabgu of Tuxāeristan, on the one hand are imitation of the drachmas of shāhanshah Xurmazd IV, and on another hand - are similar to the Indian religious tradition [Harmatta, 1982, p. 168]. On this medallion the portrait of the governor to the right, on the right and to the left of which the same middle Persian inscriptions jeb MLK " n MLK', i.e. "yeb King of Kings", and GDH ' pzwt - "Victory, expansion of territory " are represented. It was supposed, that on this medallion is represented Tun-yabgu kagan [Harmatta, Litvinsky, 1996, p. 370].

It seems, that the face sheet of this medallion has been used as a prototype of a face sheet of medallion of Mansur ibn Nuh. Similarity of two portraits is expressed almost in all details - the same big eye like an almond and the plait falling for a back, the same suit and a winged crown with horns of the bull. Difference consists only that the portrait represented on the Samanid medallion has more expressed Mongoloid features, and the ear-ring in an ear consists of one stone instead of three on the portrait of Tun Yabgu kagan. On the right and to the left of a portrait are the same middle Persian inscriptions. On the Revers of the medallion of Tun-yabgu kagan are represented an altar and two priests, and also the god Shiva with hair in the form of a flame. On the Revers of the medallion of Mansur ibn Nuh all these symbols have been replaced by the Arabian inscriptions in the form of a square simulating a square opening, same, as on the Chinese coins.

Another medallion has been issued in 616 - 617 by the Turkic kagan Zik (Jik) after a victory above the Sasanids when his army entered deep into the territory of Iran and has reached up to Rey and Isfahan. On a face sheet of a medallion the portrait of the governor to the right, on the right and to the left of which are represented pahlavi inscriptions. The left inscription is read as GDH ' pzwn zyk - "the Victory, increase, Zik ", and right - MLK " n MLK ' - "Tsar of tsars". On a underside of a medallion the altar with fire, and on the right and to the left of it two priests who are making a sacrifice to fire [Gobl, 1987, p. 276 - 277, pl.39, fig. 2] is represented.

The same kagan issued a seal for administration of the won territory, which is stored in the private collection of Forughi in Iran [Frye, 1971]. There is a Pahlavi and Runic inscriptions on it. The middle Persian inscription is read as zyk hhn GDH - "Zik kagan, a victory", and the Runic inscription - as b(a)q(e)šeb qiy(ū)g(o)nkū - "Protect partners, the house, settlement, find for itself a good name" [Harmatta, Litvinsky, 1996, p.369]. The iconography of the portrait in this medallion is similar with the portraits in the medallion of Tun Yabgu kagan and the medallion of Mansur ibn Nuh.

Thus, the ethymology of the name Sāmān shows, that it could be connected with the Buddhism from what follows, that high ancestor of the Sāmānids before accepting of Islam probably professed not Zoroastrianism as the sources informed, but the Buddhism. The Sāmānids kept memory of the Buddhist past of their ancestors, what testify some of their coins, on which are represented the Buddhist gods and symbols, and a medallion with portrait of one of the yabgu of Tuxāristān with imitation of the square opening.


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ZENO.RU - Oriental Coins Database

Prof. Dr. Shamsiddin Kamoliddin - Tashkent, Uzbekistan

1* This work is executed as a result of the scientific researches lead by the author in the British library (London) and the library of SOAS (London university), owing to the special grant, given to the author in 2004 - 2005 by the Committee for Central and Internal Asia of the Cambridge university (Great Britain), for what the author brings to this university and its committee his sincerely gratitude.

Abū Munzir Asad ibn ' Abd Allah al-Qasrī (al-Qushayrī) - the ruler of Jurjan in 98/716-17, and then amir of Khurāsān in 106 - 109/724 - 728 and 117/735; 120/737-38

2 al-Ma'mūn in 182 - 198/798 - 812 was the amir of Khurāsān with a residence in Marw, and in 198 - 218/813 - 833 - the caliph with a residence in Baghdād.

3 The first of Judas who have started this symbol to use were the Khazars in XII century AD

4 David's six-pointed star ( najmat Dāwūd) or seal of Solomon ( xātim Sulaymān) as a symbol used the Ayyubit dynasty of Syria (XII - XIII centuries AD) and the Mamluks of Egypt (XIII - XIV centuries AD).

5 This medallion has been found out recently and not published yet. Its image has been kindly given to us by English researcher Luke Tredvell (Oxford University) to whom we express our sincerely gratitude.

6 Reading of the Pahlavi inscriptions is carried out by the help of Russian researcher Pavel.Lure (Sankt-Petersburg), for whom we express our sincerely gratitude.

7 ". . . duriba hādā-d-dirham bi-buxārā sanat thmaniya wa khamsīn wa thulth-miya . . ."

8 These coins contain legends on the Bactrian, Middle Persian and Indian (Brahmi) letters. Especially close analogies find out coins of Hindu Shahi-tigin (20999, 21384), coins of Vasudeva (12962), coins of the yabgu of Tuxāristān (15170, 21382) and governors of Arakhosia (20783, 26690, 22922). See also: Nikitin, 1986, with. 82 - 88; Gobl, 1967, vol. 1, p. 25, 26, 140 - 143, 164, 167 - 173.


Image of Samanid Coin
Fig. 1. Саманидский медный фельс с именами эмира Мансура ибн Нуха и Ахмада ибн Мансура. ([3], C.102).

Mandala Design
Fig. 2. Samanid Mandala Design in coin.

Signo derecho en el mausoleo de Ak-Astana Baba
Fig. 3. Правый знак на фасаде Мавзолея Ак-Астана-баба (Сурхандарьинский вилойат, Узбекистан).

Mandala Design
Fig. 4. Samanid Mandala Design on wall

Signo izquierdo en el mausoleo de Ak-Astana Baba
Fig. 5. Левый знак на фасаде Мавзолея Ак-Астана-баба (Сурхандарьинский вилойат, Узбекистан).

Mandala Design
Fig. 6. Samanid Mandala Design on wall

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