Ērān ud Anērān
Webfestschrift Marshak 2003


Sogdian Influences Seen on Turkic Stone Statues
Focusing on the Fingers Representations

Toshio Hayashi1


Sogdian influences penetrated through various aspects of the Turk Khaghanate. In the aspect of politics and diplomacy they played an active part as the persons close to the khaghans and in the aspect of economy they developed the so-called silk-horse barter trade. And in the cultural aspect the Sogdian language and letters had been adopted officially during the early times of the Turk Khaghanate.

We can find the Sogdian influences also on the Turkic stone statues. A costume with turn-down collar, and a hemispherical type of cups might have been introduced by the Sogdians (Kubarev 1984: 29, 35). In this paper I would like to pay an attention to the other Sogdian influences on the statues, the fingers representations, and to study the route of the penetration of the influences.

Fingers Representations

Ya.A. Sher is one of the first authors who had systematically studied the origin, the classification, the chronology and the semantics of the Turkic stone statues (Sher 1966). His book titled "The Stone Statues of Semirech'e" basically deals with the statues of Semirech'e, Southeastern Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, but taking consideration into those of Southern Siberia and Mongolia, too. So I would like to evaluate it as a general work of the statues of the Eurasian steppes.

He classifies the statues into two types: type I - the statues holding a vessel in one (mostly right) hand2; type II - the statues holding a vessel in both hands (Sher 1966: 29). There are several forms of vessels: a goblet-like cup with a stand, a cup with a round bottom, a bottle with a little round handle, and so on. The manners of holding a goblet and a round-bottomed cup of the type I statues show stylistic characteristics. Some of them hold a goblet stand (or sometimes a round bottom) with a thumb and a forefinger (and sometimes a middle finger) (Figs. 1, 2, 3) [manner I], others hold a round bottom on a palm of a hand (Fig.4) [manner II], and the rest hold a body of a vessel [manner III].

Concerning such characteristic manners of holding, A.N. Bernshtam, who investigated the statues around the lake Issyk, was the first to point out the genealogical relations from the manner of fingers representations of the Sogdian and Eastern Turkestan art (Bernshtam 1952: 81). Ya.A. Sher thought that "a sculptor intended to represent a kind of aristocratism3 of a portrayed person by the softness of lines and the somewhat elaborate curve [of fingers ----- H. T.]" (Sher 1966: 67). Furthermore, following Bernshtam, Ya.A. Sher judged that those elaborate representations were "not characteristic for the Turkic art and those roots are traced to the Sogdian and Buddhist art of Central and Inner Asia" (Sher 1966: 68).

Ya.A. Sher gave several examples in evidence: mural paintings of Bamiyan (Godard, A. et Y., Hackin 1928: pl.XX, a-3), two panel paintings from Dandan Uiliq near Khotan (Stein 1907: pl.LXI, LXIV), and mural paintings of Pendzhikent and Balalyk-tepe (D'yakonov 1954; Belenitskij 1959; Al'baum 1960). Now I would like to examine these cited evidences.

First, the manner of holing a round-bottomed cup of a sitting figure (a-3) in the dome of the 35 meters-high Buddha statue resembles a little to the manner II. Except this, we can see many Buddha images which show a kind of mudra joining two fingers tips (Fig.5) on the mural paintings of Bamiyan and Kakrak in Afghanistan (Bussagli 1978: 38-39). This pose bears somewhat resemblance to the manner I. However, it is a mudra, but not a holding manner4.

Secondly, the holding manner of pl. LXI of Dandan Uiliq (Fig.6) has not a resemblance to the manner I. On the other hand, the seated four-armed figure of pl. LXIV (Fig.7) holds something in one left hand, of which fingers representations look like the manner I at first sight. M. Bussagli also interpreted that the figure has "the cup" in one left hand (Bussagli 1978: 61). But when we look at it in detail, we discern that it shows an elongated vajra or mystic thunderbolt (Stein 1907: 280, 299). The figure does not hold a cup on the hand, but grasps a vajra in the hand.

There can be seen the figures of the manner II on the mural paintings of Qizil caves in Eastern Turkestan (Fig.8) (Zhongguo waiwen chubanshe 1981: pl.53).

As a result, we cannot find the directly related evidences of the manner I in Afghanistan and Eastern Turkestan, but find only the evidences of the manner II in Eastern Turkestan.

On the other hand, we can find many examples of the manner I in Western Turkestan. On the banquet scene of Balalyk-tepe5 in Tokaristan there are depicted 22 banqueters, of which nine are holding a small stand of cup with right fingers (Fig.9), ten are holding a stand with left fingers, one is holding a flat bottom with left fingers, one is grasping a body of vessel with right hand, and one is grasping a body of vessel with left hand (Al'baum 1960: ris.96, 105, 112, 121). So 20 of 22 are holding a stand (or a bottom) like the manner I.

In Sogdiana, the manner I representations can be seen on the banquet scene of Pendzhikent (Fig.10) (Belenizki 1980: 42, Abb.39). One figure is holding a miniature model of a winged camel6 with the manner I (Fig.11) (Belenizki 1980: Abb.52). The Manner I representations are also on the mural painting of Varakhsha (Fig.12) (Shishkin 1963: tabl.XIV).

The manner I representations can be seen on the Sasanian and Post-Sasanian silver vessels, too. A seated couple (a bridegroom and a bride) is depicted on the silver bowl probably found in Perm', the Urals. A bridegroom holds a small stand of a cup with two fingers of his right hand and a bride holds something7 with two fingers of her right hand like a man (Fig.13). According to B.I. Marshak, this bowl was dated to the almost same age as Balalyk-tepe, the end of 6th – first half of 7th century, and made probably in Northern Tokharistan or Southern Sogdiana (Tokyo National Museum 1985: commentary of No.127 by B.I. Marshak; Marschak 1986: 428).

We can see the manner I representations also on the painted pottery from Merv, Margiana. A bride holds a flower in her left hand and something missing, maybe a vessel, with two fingers of her right hand (Fig.14). V.G. Lukonin dates this vase to the 6th (or possibly the 7th) century (Lukonin 1986: 142).

The dancers on the gilted silver bottle from Limarovka, Khar'kov, hold a flower, a fruits bowl and a ossuari-shaped box with two fingers of their right and left hands (Fig.15). K.V. Trever and V.G. Lukonin date it to the 5th – 6th century (Trever, Lukonin 1987: 112).

A woman in the medallion of silver bowl owned by the Iran Bastan Museum holds a flower with two fingers (Fig.16). The same representation (but of a man) is depicted in the medallion of silver bowl from Mtskheta (Fig.17). These two bowls are dated to the second half of the 3rd - the first half of the 4th century (Harper 1981: 24; Trever, Lukonin 1987: 53).

Summing up the above-mentioned examples, the representation of the manner I of holding a vessel or something is not an influence from the mudra of Buddhism, but has a close relation with the Iranian art tradition and probably originated in the ancient Orient, Assyrian and Achaemenid art tradition.

The representation of the manner II might have been also possibly related with the ancient Orient art tradition. However, Present Mongolians in fact hold a cup (ayaga in Mongolian) on an open palm just like the manner II. The manner II of holding is not so strange but natural. So I cannot judge the origin of the manner II now.

Contacts between the Turks and the Sogdians

When and through what route did the representation of the manner I enter the territory of the Turk Khaghanate? Ya.A. Sher noticed the difference of frequency of statues holding a goblet-type cup with a stand between Semirech'e and Southern Siberia. In Semirech'e and the Tienshan, 57 of 136 statues hold a goblet, while only 9 of 79 statues hold a goblet in Southern Siberia (Tuva and Northwestern Mongolia). Considering that goblet-type cups were brought from Persia, probably from Sogdiana, he concluded that this difference might have been caused by the closer relations between Semirech'e and the settled farmers of Western Turkestan (Sher 1966: 43-44). If we accept his view, the manner I of holding a goblet also came from Iran, Sogdiana through Semirech'e to Mongolia.

After the publication of Sher's book, the general situations of the Turkic statues in Russian Altai, the northern part of Xinjiang Uigur District (Eastern Turkestan) and Mongolia have been clearer gradually.

V.D. Kubarev published 256 statues in Russian Altai, 94 of which hold a vessel (Kubarev 1984: 33). He did not distinguish a cup with a stand from a cup without a stand. Anyway he counted 14 statues with a cup, 7 or 8 of which seems a cup with a stand. This proportion of the statues with a goblet-type cup to the total of the stattues with a vessel is near to that of Southern Siberia.

The statues in Xinjiang were compiled by Wang B. and Qi X. (Wang, Qi 1996). I have discerned about 10 of the manner I representation, 10 of the manner II, and 6 of the manner III. The proportion of the manner I is very high like Semirech'e.

I compiled the statues in Mongolia (Hayashi 1996). The manner I representation is counted about 10, while the manner II is counted 36 and the manner III is counted 15. The proportion of the manner I is very low in Mongolia. But many statues were worn out. Above all, I regret to say that the elaborate statues of Bilge khaghan, Kyol Tegin, Tonyuquq and the ruling class of the Khaghanate are so much damaged artificially to discern the manner of holding. So the proportion might have been higher than now. At the same time I would like to point out that the elaborate statues made of marble often hold a goblet in Mongolia (Fig.18).

Anyway the proportion of the manner I representation in Semirech'e and Northern Xinjiang is certainly higher. This fact might have been related to that trade route ran through these regions and that the Sogdians themselves resided at the cities in these regions: Ak-Beshim, Kostobe, Kyrktobe (Kyzlasov 1959; Baipakov 1992).

Moving east, it is well known that a Sogdian colony was built in Dunhuang (Ikeda 1965). How about further east? In Ningxia Province there have been found several Iranian goods, for example, the silver vase from Li Xian's tomb (constructed in 569) in Guyuan Prefecture (Marshak, Anazawa 1989). And one more interesting tomb was excavated on the eastern bank of the river Qingshui in Guyuan (Guyuanxian 1984).

From the Guyuan tomb there was found a lacquered painted coffin, on which are depicted various motifs: the Chinese motif of legendary "Dongwangfu (Eastern King)" and "Xiwangmu (Western Queen)", the Bodhisattva images, the western motif of palmette ornament, and the interesting motif of banquet scene (Fig.19). A seated man holds a flower-like object8 in his left hand and a round-bottomed cup with two fingers of his right hand just like the manner I. A standing woman on the left side also holds a cup with the manner I. A silver coin of Sasanian king Peroz (r.457-483) was discovered from this tomb. This tomb is dated to Taihe era (477-499) on the basis of the resemblance to the mural paintings of No.125 and 126 caves of Dunhuang which were constructed in the eleventh year of Taihe era (487). So I suppose that this tomb was constructed under the influence of the Sogdians at the end of the 5th century.

Literary sources also show that the Sogdians came to the present Gansu Province for the commercial purpose in the 5th century. When Northern Wei conquered Northern Liang in 439, many merchants who had come from the Sute state to the territory of Liang were captured by the Wei troops (Weishu 102: 2270). F. Hirth identified the Sute state with Sughdag in the Crimea (Hirth 1900: 256-261), but it has become clear that the Sute state should be identified with Sogdiana, as Shiratori K. pointed out in detail in 1924 (Shiratori 1971: 65-68).

According to Beishi 92, An Tugen, whose great-grandfather had come from Anxi to Northern Wei and whose family had resided at Jiuquan in Gansu, frequently went to the Ruanruan (Rouran=Juan-juan) as an envoy and an intelligencer of Eastern Wei in 530s-540s and died in 577 (Beishi 92: 3047).

In the Chinese histories Anxi means Arsacid Parthia (247 B.C. to A.D. 224), but in the 5th – 6th century they often confused Anxi with An state (Bukhara). Therefore the ancestor of An Tugen must have been a Bukharan Sogdian (Kuwabara 1968: 315).

Judging from that An Tugen was in activity in 530s-540s and died in 577, he must have been born approximately in 500-510. If that is the case, his great-grandfather must have entered Northern Wei before 450, possibly at the end of 430s when Wei conquered Liang and sent the envoys to invite the missions from Central Asian states. Consequently the Sogdians had resided Northwestern China since the middle of the 5th century and some of them had had contacts with the northern nomads in the first half of the 6th century.

When An Tugen was in activity, the Tuque=Turks appeared for the first time in the stage of history. It was the 11th year of Datong era of Western Wei, A.D. 545. Their leader, Tumen who was under the control of the Ruanruan but would soon become the first khaghan, sent the mission for trade on the border, and wished to enter into diplomatic relations with China. In response to their wish, in 545 Yuwen Tai, who held the real power of Western Wei, sent a hu (Sogdian or Persian) named An Nuopantuo, who resided at Jiuquan, as an envoy. All the people of the Tuque state were pleased and said, "Now an envoy came from a great country. This shows that our state will rise." (Zhoushu 50: 908)

The envoy must have been Bukharan Sogdian, because his surname was An. Consequently the Sogdian whom the Tuque met first resided in the Gansu region and played a diplomatic role for the Chinese court. And after that the Sogdians would make inroads into the Tuque and would have influence on the political, economic and cultural aspects of the Tuque.

Another interesting tomb was excavated in the old capital, Xi'an in 2000 (Shaanxi 2001). The buried man was named An Jia whose home town was Guzang (Wuwei in the Gansu), and played a role of Northern Zhou's sabao, the general leader of the Sogdians in China9. In the tomb chamber there was found a long stone screen bed. The internal side of the screen shows in relief twelve scenes of traveling, hunting, feast, dancing and everyday life of the Sogdians. On the feast scenes we can see the representations of the manner I and II (Fig.20, 21). An Jia died in 579, just 27 years after the foundation of the Turk Khaghanate. Analogous on is now kept in the MIHO Museum, Shiga Prefecture, Japan (Fig.22) (Sugimura 1997).


We have confirmed the following points: 1) the unique manner of holding a cup of the Turkic stone statues originated from Iranian and Central Asian art tradition; 2) in the 5th – 6th centuries a lot of the Sogdians resided in the cities along the Silk Road of Western China and also in the capital; 3) they brought Iranian and Central Asian objects of art and constructed their tombs in the mixed style of Chinese and Sogdian traditions; 4) the Sogdians whom the Tuque=Turks met for the first time were the Sogdians who resided in the Gansu region.

Summing up these four points, we will be able to conclude that the Turkic statues with the unique fingers representations appeared after the Turks had a contact with the Sogdians who resided in the Gansu region.

However, here is a serious problem before us. There are no statues in the earliest Turkic memorial sites of Mongolia: Bugut and Deed-Tsetuuh10. The former was constructed for the late Tatpar khaghan who died in 581 (Vojtov 1996: 28; Yoshida, Moriyasu 1999: 123). The latter might have been constructed just before the former. Based on this, V.E. Vojtov concluded that there were no stone statues during the First Turk Khaghanate (Vojtov 1996: 107).

Here is another serious problem. There is the earliest Turkic statue in Zhaosu, the Ili district, Xinjiang (Hayashi 2001: 227). On this statue there can be read a Sogdian inscription dated to the second half of the 6th century (Fig.23), according to the Japanese Iranist, Yoshida Y. (Yoshida 1991: 76)

If the dating is right, there is a possibility that the Turks moving westward were influenced by the Sogdians who resided in the colonies along the northern slope of the Tienshan.

So I am very sorry to confess that we cannot decide whether the statues appeared during the First Khaghanate or nor, and from where the fingers representations were influenced: from the Gansu Sogdians or the Tienshan Sogdians.

There are various complicated problems about the Turkic stone statues: their date, meaning, relations with stone enclosures and balbals, relations with Kypchak and Mongolian statues, and so on. I hope future investigations, especially in Mongolia and Xinjiang where archaeological surveys have not yet progressed so much.


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Fig. 1. Statue found in Vannovka, Tyul'kubas, Chimkent. Kept in Almaty Museum.

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Fig. 2. Statue found in sovkhoz «Michurinskij», Zajsan, Eastern Kazakhstan.

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Fig. 3. Statue found in Kegety, Chu Valley. Kept in State Museum of Ethnography, St. Petersburg.

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Fig. 4. Statue in Bishkek Museum.

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Fig. 5. Buddha image on mural painting at Kakrak (Bussagli 1978)

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Fig. 6. Bodhisattva image on wooden panel from Dandan Uiliq, Xinjiang (Stein 1907).

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Fig. 7. Bodhisattva image on wooden panel from Dandan Uiliq, Xinjiang (Bussagli 1978).

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Fig. 8. Buddha image on mural painting at Qizil, Xinjiang (Zhongguo waiwen chubanshe 1981).

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Fig. 9. Mural painting at Balalyk-tepe, Uzbekistan (Al'baum 1960).

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Fig. 10. Mural painting at Pendzhikent (Tokyo National Museum 1985).

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Fig. 11. Mural painting at Pendzhikent (Belenizki 1980).

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Fig. 12. Mural painting at Varakhsha, kept in Bukhara Museum.

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Fig. 13. Silver bowl probably found in Perm', the Urals (Marshak 1986).

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Fig. 14. Painted pottery from Merv, kept in Ashgabad Museum.

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Fig. 15. Silver bottle from Limarkova, Khar'kov (Trever, Lukonin 1987).

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Fig. 16. Medalion of silver bowl from Gilan.

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Fig. 17. Medallion of silver bowl from Mtskheta, Georgia (Harper 1981).

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Fig. 18. Statue in Dadgyn Khoshoot, Arkhangai, Mongolia.

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Fig. 19. Painting on coffin from Guyuan, Ningxia (Higashiyama 1992).

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Fig. 20. Stone screen from Xi'an Shaanxi (Shaanxi 2001).

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Fig. 21. Stone screen found in Xi'an Shaanxi (Shaanxi 2001).

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Fig. 22. Stone screen kept in MIHO MUSEUM, Shiga, Japan (Sugimura 1997).

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Fig. 23. Statue in Zhaosu, Ili, Xinjiang.


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1 Prof. of Soka University
This paper is a revised version of "Tokketsu no sekijin ni mirareru Sogudo no eikyou," Soka Daigaku Jinbun Ronsyu 4 (1992), pp.27-44.

2 He includes also the statues only with the face representation and the statues with a bird in the right hand in type I.

3 Ya.A. Sher thinks that the statues with a vessel on the right hand and with a weapon incarnate "a nomadic military aristocrat", and the statues with a vessel on the right hand but without a weapon represent "a bureaucratic aristocrat" (Sher 1966: 57-58).

4 Ya.A. Sher used an unspecialized word "gesture" (Sher 1966: 68), but V.D. Kubarev, who followed Sher, used a Buddhism word "mudra" (Kubarev 1984: 100-101).

5 At first L.I. Al'baum dated the site of Balalyk-tepe to the 5th-6th centuries, but now most of scholars date the paintings of Balalyk-tepe to the end of the 6th or beginning of the 7th century (Belenitskij, Marshak 1979: 35; Azarpay 1981: 49, 88; Litvinsky 1996: 152)

6 Tanabe K. considers this model as a rhyton (Tanabe 1982: 54).

7 L.I. Al'baum considered this object as a mirror (Al'baum 1960: 177), but this seems like a flower.

8 The interpreter of the exhibition catalogue considers it as a fan (Higashiyama 1992: 95).

9 The various problems about sabao were recently discussed by A. Forte (Forte 1999).

10 V.E. Vojtov names this site "Ider" (Vojtov 1996). But in fact it lies on the bank of Deed-Tsetuuh, a tributary of the river Ider.

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