Ērān ud Anērān
Webfestschrift Marshak 2003


A Note on Sogdian Coroplastics:
Two Ossuary Fragments from Afrasiab

Aleksandr Naymark *

A few words about Boris Marshak

"Marshak takes the most plain common material which everybody kicked around for ages and by some magic trick turns it into a truly magnificent historical source." This perfect description of the most important aspect of Boris Marshak’s scholarly personality belongs to Vladimir Livshits, who dropped it during our rather casual chat on a dusty lane of Khivan Ichan-qaleh in 1997.

On a less romantic and more scholarly plane, however, the words "magic trick" have to be substituted by "research methodology." Indeed, Marshak belongs to the generation of scholars that was very much aware of the methodological challenges posed by the great advancement of positivist studies in both archaeology and art history. This was the generation that by and large turned to the statistically significant quantities of regular plain materials and tried to transform these unimpressive artifacts into historical sources of the first class.

Yet Marshak stands out even among the scholars of his generation as a person who preoccupied himself with the methodological issues, for he enhanced analytical techniques in the study of virtually every artistic medium and every category of material culture, that happened to become a subject of his investigation. To be sure, Marshak is by no mean a theoretician who tries to solve ontological problems of archeology as a sciencia or to advance archaeological terminology, but rather very practical scholar who preoccupied himself with the development of standard algorithms applicable to various categories of artefacts and art objects.

To start with, Marshak was one of the two archaeologists (the other one was his senior colleague Oleg Bol’shakov) who in the late 1950s early 1960s led the local scale "revolution" in the famous Penjikent expedition. It resulted not only in significant improvements in excavation techniques,1 but in a new approach to the interpretation of data as well. This local "revolution" broke the then existing perception of Panjikant as a "single-stratum monument" and finally led to the study of the history of this étalon site as a sequence of chronological cross-sections sliced by the several contemporary events which were known to affect seriously the town or Sogdian society in general. It was this new, truly historical approach that turned the murals of Panjikant into the best dated Central Asian paintings, that allowed for the attribution of quite a few Sogdian coin series to particular time periods, that brought a new understanding of the social stratification and social dynamics of the Early Medieval Sogdian city, and altogether brought Sogdian archaeology to a new level.2

In addition to his part in the development of the new detailed chronology of the monuments dated to the 7th and 8th century, Marshak did a magnificent work on the pottery from the so called lower stratum of Panjikant (5th to the first half of the 7th century). I honestly believe that this work still remains (40 years later!) the most methodologically advanced study of Central Asian pre-Islamic ceramics ever done.3 One aspect of it makes it stand out among all the contemporary studies involving statistical applications - it actually attempts to formalize the approach to the individual factor by involving such important categories of analysis as the master (individual craftsmen) and the school (tradition). Unfortunately, except for the formalized code for the description of the pottery,4 this work remains unpublished in its final, advanced form, so that students of Sogdian ceramics are still forced to refer to several separate intermediary studies, that neither cover the entire bulk of the used materials nor exhaust the variety of methods utilized and developed within this project.5

A side outcome of this work with pottery was Marshak’s participation in a joint project with the two other most innovative "Soviet" archaeologists of the time, Kamenetskii and Sher. The three of them published a wonderful manual "Analysis of Archaeological Sources", which actually became the first Russian monographic work promoting and developing the ideas consonant (but not identical) with those of the New Archaeology.6 Published in a ridiculously small edition this book immediately became a bibliographic rarity even in the former Soviet Union; and despite its obvious merit, it had almost no impact on western literature of this sort (to the best of my knowledge), with the single exception of "System of Analytical Archaeography," by Iaroslav Malina.7 In Russia, however, it was well known and widely used. I remember how reading of this book (which was not, by the way, an assigned reading in any of the courses) became a must for the students of the archaeological department of Moscow University who were interested in the new analytical methods, and what efforts we made to obtain a copy in the still pre-Xerox era of Soviet history when I studied.

I allow myself to omit here a discussion of Marshak’s exploits in the field of oriental toreutics - both the specific studies and his method of building stemmata based on the study of the lines of mechanical reproduction are known much wider, especially after the publication of the "Silberschätze des Oreints"8 - a version of his habilitation dissertation developed from the earlier brilliant book on Sogdian silver plate.9

Marshak’s numerous studies in Sogdian paintings and in Sogdian iconography in general look more traditional and less technical, but they also involve a highly of formalized approach on one side and a lot of non-traditional thinking on the other. This became very obvious with Marshak’s very first works in this field. Once more I would like to site an opinion of a major scholar who closely worked with Marshak. In the spring of 1991 I visited long retired Alexander Belenitskii, director of the Panjikant expedition from 1954 and until 1977, when he passed the reins of government to Marshak. The old man was in a good mood, and shared with me some memories about the "past times" with the wonderful kind smile of a dignified senior scholar. Among other things we talked about his works on Sogdian paintings, and when I mentioned his joint articles10 and a huge section in the book on Sogdian paintings which he wrote jointly with Marshak,11 the old man said: "These were already more Boris’ work than mine. It is perfectly clear from the absolutely different and innovative approach which is employed in them." Indeed, in these studies Marshak principally shifted the weight given to the different aspects of the problem - he made the questions of attribution his main priority, and, using the unique opportunities of archaeological dating provided by the long-term stationary excavations of Panjikant, elaborated a chronological sequence of paintings that for the first time allowed him to talk authoritatively about the evolution of the style, the development in the range of subjects, etc. etc.12 Altogether, Marshak raised our understanding of the development of Sogdian paintings and Sogdian art in general to a higher level,13 and opened new avenues for advanced fundamental research in the field of Sogdian iconography.14

One can also say that the last decades of Marshak-led excavations in Panjikant have turned Sogdian paintings into a truly historical source - meticulous recording and advanced understanding of the archaeological contexts of the paintings opened opportunities for the cultural-sociological analysis of this rich pictorial material. Given the volume of data obtained, one can say that paintings turned into a mass material that can be studied with the help of almost statistical methods.15

Marshak’s study of Sogdian terracotta

It is very difficult, if possible at all, to list all the achievements of such a versatile scholar as Boris Marshak, and I certainly do not plan to do it here. Yet, my own little research piece with which I would like to honor Boris Marshak in accordance to the rules of the Festschrift genre, has grown out of and is actually a reaction to another methodologically important study by Boris Marshak, which for a long time remained mostly unknown to the wider circles of specialists in Central Asian art and archaeology. I mean Marshak’s study of Sogdian molded terracotta figurines of horsemen. Since the results of this study were presented only in an abstract of the paper delivered at the all-Union archaeological session in 1972,16 i.e. in a volume which is virtually unobtainable in the West and which is hard to find nowadays even in the Soviet Union, I have allowed myself to translate it here in full with the sole omission of the first paragraph, devoted to the now irrelevant organizational framework of the never completed project:

"2. The talk discusses the methodological aspects of the study of Sogdian terracotta using as an example the group of "molded horsemen figurines" of the 7th-8th century (88 specimens in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum).

3. Figurines of different sizes often reproduced each other’s appearance, repeating even the defects that owed their origin to a mere chance. This fact can be explained in the following way: the porter who had no molds for production [of figurines - AN], pressed a [purchased - AN] figurine [made by another porter - AN] against a lump of clay, and then dried and fired the mold obtained by this operation, subsequently using the latter while producing [his own- AN] statuettes. The drying up and the firing shrinkage were responsible for a 1% to 12% contraction in the size of each clay manufacture: the differences in linear dimensions of figurines, which reach a maximum of 1/3 among the specimens of our museum collection, could appear within two-three "generations" of the terracotta figurines.

4. Potters were unable to manufacture new [high quality - AN] matrices. They preferred to reproduce even defective and unclear molds, genetically connected to several [original - AN] works, by professional sculptors. Sometimes potters corrected figures and molds. The corrected figurines have altered faces and headdresses, usually characterized by low relief and crude modeling. The corrections on the molds are responsible for a harsh relief and slipshod modeling which gives an impression of a "grotesque." The originals of the mechanically reproduced, corrected figurines could then be recognized by the shapes of their hands and bodies.17

5. The mass production of the terracottas involved an only rare and occasional influx of new sculptures. Series formed by the dozens of specimens belonging to at least four-five "generations" can be traced back to one original sculpture. Under these circumstances, coroplastics could not become a profession. The originals were produced now and then by sculptors of wide specialization. This explains the stylistic monumentality of the best terracotta samples, as well as the neglect of the specific requirements of molded terracotta as an artistic medium, which can be seen on the best figurines as well.

6. The questions related to the meaning of the attributes, to the nature of portrait and to the physical anthropological type of the depicted people, as well as about the style of the terracottas, should be re-examined, as now we do not have, at least for the 7th and 8th centuries, a rich variety of small sculptures produced in one center, but rather fifteen or so different originals and their multiple replicas. Finally, the catalogue descriptions should be now done now in different way, so that the properties which reflect the place of the figurine in the series, may be comprehensively recorded."18

To be sure, Marshak was not the first to suggest that the true historical approach to the molded terracotta should be based on the study of such genetic lines. The importance of the reproduction lines had been noticed already in the 19th century,19 while in 1941 Jastrow insisted on the absolute methodological necessity of working with them.20 In early the 1950s, the book on pre-Tanagrian terracotta by Neutch,21 the methodological aspects of which were "translated" into English and enhanced by Nichols22 laid out the main principles of such studies. It should be, however, noted that by the 1960s this research "algorithm" was still not extensively employed in the studies of classical terracotta, and the major "representative" publications such as for example the otherwise quite comprehensive handbook on Greek terracotta by Higgins, made no mention of it at all.23 Consequently, this research method was practically absent from the Russian scholarly literature - no single study devoted to the figurines from the Greek and Roman settlements of the Northern coast of the Black Sea has ever utilized it, although it has been mentioned by some general Russian works devoted to Greek terracotta.24 Needless to say, this method remained absolutely unknown in both the art history and archaeology of Central Asia,25 which in the 1960s-early 1970s still retained a certain soupçon of provinciality even by the standards of the former Soviet Union.

In other words, Marshak’s discovery of this method in the study of terracotta figurines was something of a re-invention of the wheel in an uninformed, remote part of the world. Yet in some respects Marshak developed a better tool than the one elaborated earlier in the parallel universe of classical studies. Besides the practical results with the study of the horsemen figurines, one definite improvement were Marshak’s observations on the differences produced by the two types of alterations and clarifications made by potters: (1) retouching of the matrix (the negative image), and (2) alterations of the figurines that could eventually become "patrices" (the positive image) for the production of further matrices. Likewise, Marshak isolated the formal property (the shape of the shadow in the armpit depression), which could allow scholars to arrange terracotta figurines in stemmata.26 Even if we would leave aside the question of priority in the invention of the method as such, Marshak should be credited with its first application to the study of Sogdian and Central Asian terracotta.

Unfortunately, Marshak’s study had rather limited impact on the field. Taking into consideration that his work has not been properly published, and the relative "complexity" of the suggested research algorithm as well as the burdening necessity to study all known terracottas belonging to each stemma, it is easy to understand why the majority of scholars who published on Sogdian terracottas preferred to ignore Marshak’s research method.27 Besides Marshak’s own later works touching upon the terracotta theme,28 this method was taken into consideration by only a few Central Asian scholars who personally worked with Marshak,29 and then by those who worked with them.30 Recently, however, the importance of Marshak’s contribution has been, finally recognized in a survey of approaches used in the study of Central Asian terracotta: "The necessity of studying the representational rows of terracotta statuettes in connection with the particularities of their production, which has been recognized by Marshak, is only a part of the complex approach, and yet it allowed the outlining new perspectives in the study of this material."31 I would, however, formulate it differently: since the laws governing the production of molded terracotta have been understood, no conscientious scholar should study this artistic medium without taking into consideration all available statuettes or reliefs belonging to one stemma. Since during the process of repeated reproduction the physical characteristics of image changes (for example relief flattens, little details become lost, other details being added by potters, etc.), no stylistic analysis can be done prior to the building of the stemmata. The same applies to the iconographic analysis, because in trying to clarify degraded images potters often altered significant details and even changed main attributes in accordance to their level of understanding of iconography and artistic skill. It is noteworthy, that the general principals which should be applied to the study of molded terracotta are very similar to those used in the manuscript analysis, with stemmata and critical editions, or in numismatics with its die analysis. In other words, only the building of stemmata based on all known statuettes/reliefs turns molded terracotta into a readable historical source.

Two Fragments of Hand-Modeled Reliefs from Afrasiab

Although Marshak’s study incorporated only one group of Sogdian terracottas - the figurines of horsemen, it allowed him to recognize a similar pattern in many other series, and these observations led to a crucially important conclusion about the nature of Sogdian coroplastics as an artistic medium. Most fascinating, however, is its "social" aspect - that there were no special "coroplasts" specializing in this area, and the molds were produced from time to time by artists working in different media. The figurines which were manufactured in relatively significant numbers32 were the side production of potters, only few of whom bothered to order high quality molds from professional artists, while the majority were satisfied with the molds (matrices) made from terracottas (patrices) sold by these few.

There were, however, exceptions to this rule. Two such exceptions that will concern us here are constituted by the two fragments of terracotta reliefs found in the first quarter of the 20th century on the site of Afrasiab and presently kept in the Samarqand museum.33 Viatkin, who published them first, did not pay any attention to the technology of their production;34 but already Pugachenkova and Rempel noticed their special significance as terracotta objects with reliefs modeled by hand, without the use of a mold.35

The first of the pieces is a fragment of thin terracotta slab with an elaborate scene executed in low relief (Fig 1-2). Unfortunately, only small fractions of the original composition survived: the head of a ram - apparently the animal support of a divine throne; the finger-board of a lute and the hand of a musician playing this instrument; and the hand of a divinity with some kind of shaft or scepter (?). These look to belong to a scene showing an enthroned god entertained by musicians, in very similar iconography to the one found on the ossuary from the environs of Shahr-i Zabs.36 The scale of the images on the Afrasiab fragment, however, is smaller, which implies that the image of the enthroned god entertained by musician was only a part of a larger composition, like the one in a scene in the upper left corner on the ossuary from Sivaz.37

This fragment would not deserve special attention except that all the major sculptural volumes of the relief are modeled by hand and then retouched with a knife. A round dip in the middle of ram’s twisted horn is made by the rotation of a small pointed tool (a little stick?). There are no traces of the use of mold or any stamped decoration except for the impressions of a hollow tube found on two small adjoined clay tablets, remotely resembling barbotine decoration, which are situated near the edge of our fragment. It is clear that the artist responsible for the relief on this fragment used a number of technical devices documenting his good knowledge of clay as an artistic medium and revealing a very professional, sure and fluent hand.

The image on the second fragment represents a man and a woman sitting in an arched niche (fig. 3-5). The figures are partially modeled by hand and partially carved from the clay wall, which in this place was originally thicker. It is possible that the head of the female personage, of which only lover part survived, was modeled from an additional adjourned piece of clay. The torsos of both personages and their hands down to the elbows are shown in a relief, but the forearms are modeled by pulling clay from the wall and stretching it to form a cylinder. There was, however, not enough clay to pull out and this shortage of material led to the obvious disproportion: the forearms are twice shorter than the upper part of the hands between the shoulder and the elbow. In order to model the fists, the artist flattened out and then rolled up the ends of forearm cylinders.The fingers on these fists were cut-drawn by a sharp object. Folds on the sleeves were made by knife cuts, while in order to reproduce the elaborate drapery outline of the hem of the female dress the artist used a knife and some additional pointed instrument (a little stick or awl). All jewelry on the female figure, as well as some kind of dumb-bells held in her hands, are represented by small balls rolled separately. The dagger in a sheath with two scabbards for suspension, which lies on the man’s lap, was modeled separately as well. The carpet with its design of a multi-petal rosette-star is all carved, with the exception of six circles in the central field made by pressing the hollow tube. Although the artistic level of this fragment appears to be somewhat lower than the one displayed in the previously described relief, it also betrays a professional hand using sorts of technical know-how very similar to those employed in modern Samarkand pottery-shop specializing in the production of small hand-modeled terracotta souvenirs.

Since the fragments are hand-modeled, it is absolutely clear that both the design of their reliefs and their production were the work of a single person. Yet the artistic level of both reliefs is much higher than the usual one displayed by figurines and other examples of hand-modeled terracotta produced by simple craftsmen. In other words, we have here the work of professional artists working in clay, i.e. the coroplasts. Does this contradict Marshak’s statement that Sogdiana had no artists specializing in this medium? I believe that it does not; but in order to explain why not, we need to place both artifacts in historical context, investigating the social environment of the original objects they belonged to, the locus of their find and the historical framework.

Function of Afrasiab fragments and their social context

It is not by a mere chance that the closest analogies to at least one of our fragments are found among Sogdian ossuaries. Indeed, the main physical parameters of the fragments, such as the thickness of the straight (non-curving) walls and the scale of the reliefs would fit an ossuary quite well. On the other hand, no other category of Sogdian ceramic objects is known to be decorated with reliefs depicting such complex compositions. In other words, it is more than plausible that both Afrasiab fragments are the parts of the side walls of ossuary chests.38 This means that we should interpret extraordinary features of these reliefs with regard to the special functions of ossuary decoration. We know that ossuaries were established in mausoleums39 and were fairly regularly visited by relatives of deceased.40 In other words an ossuary combined the functions of a receptacle for the human remains and those of a funerary monument.41

This combination of two functions calls to mind sarcophagi, in particular, Roman ones. Such a parallel with a distant, but much better studied, category of the objects of material culture may help us to understand some of the salient features of Sogdian ossuaries. As a funerary monument, both the Roman sarcophagus and the ossuary at least to some extent reflected the particular tastes and interests of the people commissioned them for their deceased relatives. In order to satisfy an individual demand, the mass production of sarcophagi often involved two different principal stages. For example, in the second and third centuries A.D. some large shops prepared semi-fabricates, which were sufficiently diversified to satisfy the most common variations in public taste. These partially finished sarcophagi carried completely executed reliefs belonging to one of the several popular iconographic schemes, but also included an unfinished section where a superior artist of the shop would make a portrait of the deceased person after the sarcophagus was purchased.42 For example, in the iconography representing the birth of Venus, Ichteocentauri and Nereids surrounding the central shell would often be completely finished, while the space inside the shell itself would be left untouched until the very moment of the purchase, so that the bust of Venus could be given the features of the deceased woman.43

Something quite similar happened during the production of Sogdian slab-molded ossuaries, such as those found in the necropolis of Durmen-tepe.44 The sidewalls of the rectangular chests of Durmen ossuaries and the slopes of their pyramidal covers were decorated with impressions from large slab-molds designed by a professional artist.45 Yet the three dimensional image of girl’s head surmounting one of the covers, which undoubtedly meant to represent the deceased person, was modeled by the potter who actually produced this ossuary - it displays much lower level of artistic professionalism than the molded images on the side walls of the ossuary chest itself.

If the head on the top of the cover reflected an individual order, then it would be only natural to expect that some clients had preferences in terms of the themes of the reliefs decorating sidewalls of ossuaries as well. It is very likely that an attempt to satisfy such demands by providing several choices is reflected by the different types of ossuary reliefs found in Biya-Nayman46 - they include at least five distinct designs forming one coherent stylistic group undoubtedly betraying the hand of one and the same artist.47 This latter example reflects approximately the same sort of relations between craftsman and patron as the one suggested by the existence of the aforementioned prefabricated sarcophagi with several standard iconographic schemes.

We can further say that the two hand-modeled ossuary fragments from Afrasiab were different from both previous cases in that the artists who produced them could freely create compositions responding to the individual requests of patrons. Such a work was certainly more time-consuming, and required much higher qualifications, than the work of an ordinary potter who simply used in his work acquired (or copied) slab-molds. Thus, too, the individual hand-modeled ossuaries ought to have been more expensive.

This consideration explains why we find hand-made reliefs of high quality only on ossuaries out of the entire corpus of Sogdian terracotta: these bone receptacles greatly ranged in quality, material and consequently price. A Chinese chronicle tells us about the golden urn containing the remains of the parents of Chach ruler, which once a month was set up on a throne and venerated.48 Rapoport showed that the Khorezmian silver plate found in the village of Bartym carries a depiction of this latter rite.49 The complex figural finial surmounting the ossuary depicted on this dish is certainly made out of metal - judging by the way it is adjusted to the cover and its complex form, which no other material would keep, both testify to it. Given that the ossuary on the Bartym dish is shown as resting on a lion throne, it too ought, like the one which Chinese chronicle mention in Chach, to be made out of a precious metal. These few mentioned facts testifying to the existence of bone receptacles made out of precious metals imply that the weighty corpus of terracotta bone ossuaries presently known to us represents only the cheapest sector of the once existent broad spectrum of such objects.

Some ceramic ossuaries seem to imitate the decoration of more expensive metal receptacles. For example, a crowning element very similar to the one shown on the dish from Bartym, appears on slab-molded ceramic ossuaries from Biya-Nayman, where it is added "by hand" to the very top of the pyramidal cover.50 A similar conclusion can be derived from the very "metallic" treatment of the drapery on the reliefs of the ossuary found at Durman-tepe. This earliest of the Sogdian slab-molded ossuaries appears to be derived from a metal model, most likely made of silver, which in turn was a replica of a Bactrian chest loosely based on a Byzantine model.51

Once we establish the fact that ossuaries greatly varied in material and price, we can try to estimate the position of the ossuaries with hand-made reliefs. Most likely, these occupied the middle of the spectrum, above most ceramic ossuaries, but below metal ones. The latter consideration could also explain why ossuaries with such high quality hand-made reliefs were so much rarer than the more primitive bone receptacles and mass-produced slab-molded ossuaries. Which, in turn, explains why only two fragments with such hand made relieves have been found up to date. On the other hand, it makes clear why the only case of the high quality hand-made reliefs are not found among the terracotta figurines, which were apparently the cheapest of all the "idols," and why so far this technique have been recorded only on ossuaries.


The consistency of ceramic mass, form, manufacturing technique and decoration of ossuaries found in each of the known Sogdian cemeteries shows that in most cases ossuaries were produced locally. This fact leads to an important conclusion. We know that the majority of Sogdian potters were oriented toward the needs of settlements of a rather modest size. With the exception of the capital Samarqand and, possibly, Bukhara,52 the known Sogdian cities had an area of between 10 and 25 hectares.53 Partial archaeological excavations and demographic extrapolations based on them have allowed scholars to suggest population figures between 3000 and 8000 for Sogdian cities of these sizes.54 Taking the average life expectancy in medieval society at 30 years,55 we may calculate that such a city needed 2 to 5 ossuaries per week, with the exception of such troubled times as when a town was devastated by an epidemic or warfare.

Several factors would certainly work towards the further reduction of this already insignificant figure: (1) not all the people were buried in ossuaries: in some cases large storage vessels were utilized, while in others the burials were made without any receptacle at all; (2) very often remains of more than one deceased were placed in one ossuary; this was especially common case with infant burials (although there is little doubt that the infant mortality rates were very high,56 very few children ossuaries have been found to date); (3) as we could see earlier, the nobility apparently used ossuaries made of more expensive materials than pottery; (4) certain sections of the Sogdian urban population consisted of foreigners and practitioners of non-local confessions who followed different funeral rites.57

In other words, the population of an ordinary Sogdian town could not support a sufficient demand that could call to life a specialized ossuary production. We can suggest, then, that ossuaries were manufactured by potters along with storage jars, tableware and other types of ceramics; and this conclusion is strongly supported by the quality of decorum found on known Sogdian ceramic ossuaries, which in the vast majority of cases testifies to the very low artistic skills of their producers.

The one, if not the only, exception could be the capital city of Samarqand. By the middle of the 7th century this city spilled over the third wall protecting the territory of 70 hectares58 and it is very likely that by the early 8th century it reached the lines of once abandoned ancient fortifications (the so called fourth wall), thus embracing an area of 220 hectares.59 Even if we keep to the first of these two figures (70 hectares), we can suggest a remarkably high population figure somewhere between 17, 000 and 27, 000 inhabitants. This concentration of human mass may have been sufficient for generating a demand for the specialized ossuary production. On the other hand, since an ossuary, as we could see earlier, combined the utilitarian function of bone receptacle with one of a funerary monument, it would be only logical to expect such a specialized shop to employ a professional artist. Thus, the locus of the finds themselves could be used to explain, at least partially, the exceptional features of our two fragments.

Time frame

The iconography of the composition depicted on the first relief finds close parallels in the scenes decorating two aforementioned ossuaries from the Kashka-darya valley.60 These two ossuaries should be placed in the very end of the stemma of the development of slab-molded ossuaries,61 and thus can be dated to the end of the 7th century at earliest.

As to the second fragment, the earliest instance of similar composition, with the frontal representation of the sitting male-female couple can be found on the famous Tokharistian bowl with the deeds of Hercules, which was found in Perm province, which can be securely dated to the 6th or even more likely, to the 7th century.62 Another instance is found on the coins of one of Chach principalities (Kabarna-?),63 which on paleographic grounds can be dated to the second half of the 7th century at earliest. In Sogdian art very similar compositions are known in a Panjikant painting of the early 8th century64 as well as on an ossuary fragment that can tentatively be attributed to the same time.65

Furthermore, a dating based on these iconographic parallels is supported the depicted realies, in particular by the dagger sheath which belongs to the well known type with two scabbards for suspension.66 Yet the design of the "carpet" narrows this date down to the very end of the 7th century at earliest.67

Accepting these dates, we place both ossuary fragments into a very dynamic period of Sogdian history, that is characterized by rapid economic development evidenced by the

dramatic increase in the number of centers having independent copper coinages in the second half of the 7th and the first half of the 8th century. While this fact alone could be explained in various ways, it relates to the great increase in the saturation of the archaeological strata with coins. Together these two facts prompt a conclusion that in the second half of the 7th and the first half of 8th century the development of Sogdian monetary circulation reached its highest point in pre-Islamic times. And since Sogdian copper coins circulated mostly locally and were undoubtedly intended for the daily retail trade, the numismatic point testifies to the significant development of internal trade. The scale of economic growth in Sogdian craft and internal trade was so significant that it was not even interrupted by the hardships of the Arab conquest, during which some Sogdian towns, like Paykand, were razed completely and had to be rebuilt from scratch, while others, like Panjikant, were partially abandoned by their inhabitants.

As, by the end of the 7th century, Sogdian society reached its new high level of development in craft and internal trade, it is reasonable to suppose that its ceramic production could also approach a new stage requiring a higher degree of specialization. In other words, it could well happen that certain ceramic shops began concentrating on ossuary production at this very moment. Such a process, documented to date only by the finds of the two ossuary fragments, may eventually have led to the appearance of separate coroplastic craft, like the one that in Rome was concentrated on the via sigillaria. This development, however, was interrupted in the very beginning; for with the Arab conquests and subsequent Islamization of the society, the need for coroplastic production certainly dramatically declined. By the end of the 8th century we find neither ceramic figurines of Sogdian gods nor elaborate ceramic ossuaries, although the production of figural vessels with molded designs greatly developed in some towns, such as Paykand in the Bukharan oasis, and production of ceramic figural toys continued. In fact, figurines of animals and fantastic creatures never completely ceased to exist in Central Asia. The wording used in a description of the Makh bazaar in Bukhara, where twice a year "idols were sold,"68 shows that the very fact of the existence of ceramic figurines, which once constituted the most common type of portable devotional sculpture, had been completely forgotten at least by the 12th century.69


The two fragments of terracotta reliefs from Afrasiab stand out from the rest of the known Sogdian coroplastic production in that they were made by highly professional artists working in clay. On first glance, their very existence seems to contradict the most important "sociological" conclusion reached by Marshak in the course of his study of Sogdian terracotta figurines, namely that there was coroplastic in Sogdiana, but there were no coroplasts. Yet the the social and cultural context of these reliefs (which once constituted the front walls of ossuaries), the locus of the find (the Sogdian megapolis of Samarqand), as well the chronological framework (the period of the rapid development of trade and craft) of these two "exceptions," show that they appeared as a result of rather specific conditions and probably mark the beginning of never completed process - the separation of coroplasitcs from the general pottery production and its development into the independent art/craft.


Figures 1 - 2
[Missing Image]

Figures 3 - 4 - 5
[Missing Image]


Al’baum 1960

L.I. Al’baum. Balalyk-tepe. K istorii material’noi kul’tury i iskusstva Tokharistan [Balalyk-tepe. On the History of Material Culture and Art of Tokharistan]. Tashkent: Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk UzSSR, 1960

Ambroz 1971a

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AA - Arts Asiatiques, Paris

AO - Arkheologicheskie Otkrytiia, Moscow

ART - Arkheologicheskie raboty v Tadzhikistane, Dushanbe

BAI - Bulletin of the Asia Inistitue, N.S., Bloomfield Hill, Michigan

GRVL - Glavnaia Redaktsiia Vostochnoi Literatury, Moscow

JDA - Jahrbuch des Deutschen Arcahäologischen Instituts, Berlin

IMKU - Istoriia material’noi kul’tury Uzbekistana, Tashkent

KSIA - Kratkie Soobshcheniia Instituta Arkheologii, Moscow

MIA - Materialy i issledovaniia po arkheologii SSSR, Moscow-Leningrad

SA - Sovetskaia Arkheologiia, Moscow

SIr - Studia Iranica, Leiden

SRAA - Silk Road Art and Archaeology, Kamakura

TOVE - Trudy Otdela Vostoka Ermitazha, Leningrad

TGE - Trudy Gosudarstvennogo Ermitazha, Leningrad

USA - Uspekhi Sredneaziatskoi Arkheologii, Leningrad


* Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York

1. See for example: [Marshak 1964, 183-4; Raspopova 1970]

2. Belenitskii, Marshak and Raspopova 1979; Belenitskii, Marshak and Raspopova 1981; Raspopova 1990; Raspopova 1993

3. Marshak, 1965

4. Marshak 1970

5. Marshak 1957; Marshak 1960; Marshak 1961; Marshak 1964, 227-236

6. Kamenetskii, Marshak and Sher 1975

7. Malina 1977

8. Marshak 1986

9. Marshak 1971

10. Belenitskii and Marshak 1971; Belenitskii and Marshak 1976

11. Belenitskii and Marshak 1981

12. Belenitskii and Marshak 1979

13. Marshak 1987; Marshak 1999a; Marshak 1999b; Marshak 1999c; Marshak 2002.

14. See for example: Marshak 1987; Marshak 1989; Marshak 1994; Marshak 1999a; Marshak 2002

15. See for example: Marshak 1987; Marshak and Raspopova 1991; Marshak 1996; Marshak 1999a

16. The results of this work were presented only in a brief publication in the genre known in Russia as "tezisy doklada." The literal translation of this word combination is an "abstract of paper." One should, however, keep in mind, that because of the limited publication opportunities in the former Soviet Union, this genre of short publications developed in a very specific way - "tezisy doklada" were fairly brief (2-3 pages) coherent texts containing all the major ideas of a talk, all supporting materials and even brief references to the necessary literature, which could be easily understood by those working in the field. Not only the participants of a particular conference, but the entire scholarly community would read them and would normally use the scholarly results presented in this abbreviated form with appropriate references to such short publications. In other words, "tezisy doklada" were quite different from the very short "abstracts of papers" as usually understood by conference organizers in Europe and the USA, although similar qualifications are observed by the organizers of some conferences such as, for example, the Annual Byzantine Studies Conference and the Annual Central Eurasian Studies Conference.

17. Explaining this methodology of terracotta studies in the early1980s, Marshak suggested to me a more precise "formalized" method of tracing the genetic connections between the terracotta figurines, one based on the observation that the armpit depression is the only part of the figurine that is "never" altered by the potters. It is, however, rather hard to formalize this property, for the armpit depression is undoubtedly one of the most amorphous elements in a figurine. Yet Marshak proposed that it still could be recorded by putting the figurines under the light of a lamp established under a certain angle and by registering the shape of the shadow in the armpit depression. I can personally testify that this rather amusing labor-intensive and equipment-requiring method worked perfectly within the Hermitage collection. I suspect that nowadays this property could be better recorded with the help of a laser, although it would still be time-consuming and tedious.

18. Marshak 1972, 276-277

19. Martha 1880, xxiii

20. Jastrow 1941

21. Neutsch 1952; cf. Kübler 1952, 139

22. Nichols 1952

23. Higgins 1967

24. Britova 1969

25. By the time when Marshak did his work, two books [Trever 1934; Meshkeris 1962] and several dozen article-length studies on Central Asia terracotta had been published.

26. Developing an English terminology suitable for the study of molded terracotta, Nichols suggested that all figurines or reliefs derived from one archetype should be designated by the term "series" [Nichols 1952, 219-220]. Yet, regardless of whether notion of progression is involved, the word "series" implies certain linearity: either linear vertical development from the archetype down to the last reproduction or linear horizontal "listing" (with or without diversification) within one generation. Meanwhile, the graph of terracottas derived from one archetype almost invariably looks like a fairly complex tree with multiple branches. This consideration forces me to use the term "stemma" rather than "series."

27. Among these are the only two books devoted to Sogdian coroplastics in general [Meshkeris 1977; Meshkeris 1989]. The same can be said about practically all article-length works devoted to the terracotta figurines of Sogd and Bactria-Tokharistan (never having to compile a full list of such works, I am consequently unable to count all of them; yet the figure mentioned in a survey article by Dvurechenskaia [2000, 153-4] - of about 250 publications and studies - looks right to me; roughly, some three quarters of these studies were published already after the appearance of the Marshak’s work). The only special general article on Khorezmian terracotta, by Vorob’eva, shows an acquaintance with Marshak’s conclusions [Vorob’eva 1981, 185], but does not employ his method of analysis. None among two dozens other studies discussing Khorezmian terracotta reveals any knowledge of (or interest for) the method introduced by Marshak.

28. Marshak 1985, entries 486-502; Marshak 1999a, 177

29. Zeimal’ 1983, 42; Mkrtychev and Naymark 1991, 64

30. Il’yasov and Mkrtychev 1991/2; Mkrtychev 2000, 162. Some aspects of Marshak’s methodology were also taken into consideration in studies of terracotta from the North Pontic area [Sazanov 1986].

31. Dvurechenskaia 2000, 154

32. According to the Tarikh-i Bukhara "twice a year for one day there was a fair" in the place called Bazar-i Makh and "every time there was this fair idols were sold in it. Every day 50 000 dirhams were exchanged (for the idols)." [Narshakhi-Rizavi 1939, 29; Narshakhi-Frye 1954, 20]. Even if the latter figure is a mere exaggeration of an early Islamic writer, it still conveys an idea that "idols" constituted a significant volume of merchandise and that there was much money in this trade.

33. Accession nos. A-45-1 and A-30-110

34. Viatkin 1928, 26-7, fig. 25-6

35. Pugachenkova and Rempel’ 1965, fig. 162

36. Lunina and Stoliarova 1993

37. Krasheninnikova 1993, fig. 6

38. All scholars who wrote about these fragments held the same opinion: [Viatkin 1928, 26], Pugachenkova and Rempel’ [1965, 162] and [Pavchinskaia 1990, catalogue entries 35 and 39].

39. A small mausoleum where ossuaries were established was called in Soghdian ’sks’k [Livshits 1979, 57, footnote 9; cf. Grenet 1984, 36]. Sogdian Christian texts used the word frwrtqty (literary the house of the dead) to designate burial structures [Gershvitch 1975, 208]. The modern scholarly literature, however, customarily employs Christian (Greek and then Syriac) word ‘naus’ derived from Arabic texts mentioning these Sogdian structures. About the history of the term ‘naus’ see: [Borisov 1940].

40. For example, Biruni relates that during several days at the end of the year the Sogdians "put out food and drinks for the dead like the Persians during the Farwardajan" [Biruni - Sal’e 1957, 255]. Meanwhile, describing rituals of Persians he says that Persians brought food "to the nauses of dead" [Biruni - Sal’e 1957, 236] and describing the same rites among the Khorezmian he also specifically mentions that these offerings were made in nauses [Biruni - Sal’e 1957, 258]

41 This found its reflection in the way, how the decoration is placed on Sogdian ossuaries. On many, if not on the majority, of Sogdian ossuaries images and ornamentation is limited to one long side, which implies that only one side was visible during the rituals connected to ossuaries - were the images and the ornamentation meant to be seen during the funerary processions, they would be found on all four sides of an ossuary. This interesting fact was noticed and correctly explained already by Poslavskii [Poslavskii 1903, 42].

42. Koch and Sichtermann 1982, 5

43. On a number of sarcophagi belonging to this type the portaits of the deceased remained unfinished [Rumpf 1939, nos. 57, 70, 72, 82; Koch and Sichtermann 1985, no. 242].

44. Mkrtychev and Naymark 1991, 66, no. 470

45. There were certainly ossuary reliefs molded with matrices, which were already two or three generation apart from their archetypes. On the other hand, there were some cases, where craftsmen with no artistic skills tried to imitate the work of a professional artist. One such instance is the second type of Ishtikhan molded ossuaries [Pugachenkova 1984, 81].

46. Staviskii 1961, pl.1-3

47. It can be clearly seen, for example, in the manner of the execution of drapery, in particular in the very specific crescent-shaped "incised" folds on the lower parts of caftans. Out of the entire corpus of Sogdian terracotta (or at least, as much as I know it), such a manner of depicting drapery appears on only one statuette -- unpublished -- from Tashkhodzhaev’s excavations on Afrasiab (1973 or 1974), which I saw in the vault of the Samarqand Institute of Archaeology in late 1980s.

48. Bichurin 1950, 272, 273, 282; Kriukov’s adjustments to Bichurin’s old translation see in: [Rapoport 1971, 114].

49. Rapoport 1962; Rapoport 1971, 113-115

50. Staviskii 1961, 170, tabl. 4, left

51. Mkrtychev and Naymark 1990; Mkrtychev and Naymark 1991, 64

52. Even the most optimistic estimates keep the area protected by the city wall of pre-Islamic Bukhara within 35 hectares [Naymark 1999, 45].

53. Belenitskii, Bentovich and Bol’shakov 1973, 182-92, 219-56; Naymark 1999, 45

54. See for example: [Belenitskii, Bentovich and Bol’shakov 1973, pp. 256-68, esp. 259-61]. A passage about the realm Bi (the city of Paykand in the Bukharan oasis), found in the Chinese chronicle Beishi [Chavannes 1903, 136, n. 8], provides us with a good opportunity to check the results of such calculations. It gives the figure of 1000 families as the population of this polity. We do not have any information about the size of a Sogdian urban family of the time. Judging from the materials of tax registers, the medium size of a contemporary Chinese family at that time was five people [Kriukov, Maliavin and Sofronov 1979, 63]. Due to the existence of household slavery and the relative prosperity of Sogdian merchant class (which means lower infant mortality as well as the existence of associated family members and servants], a medium number of members in Sogdian urban household must have been higher than a number of members in the medium family, possibly as many as eight people. In other words, the population figure of 1000 families translates into somewhat between 5000 and 8000 inhabitants. One thousand families in the Chinese text certainly constitute a round figure, and since it most probably based on the information provided by Paykand "embassy" of 609 C.E., we can expect it to be somewhat higher then the actual number of families in Paykand. Meanwhile, we know that the external wall of Paykand surrounds an area of 21 hectares. From Arab geographers and detailed archaeological survey of the environs of Paykand, we know that this town, situated in a tiny oasis, had neither developed suburbs nor an agricultural zone around it [Naymark 1992, 170-7]. Taking the density of population at 250 people per 1 hectare, which was characteristic for Near Eastern cities with two-storey build up [Bol’shakov 1984, pp. 98-106, esp. 106], we can arrive at the figure 5250, which falls within the bracket provided by calculations based on the information of the Chinese sources.

55. Ohlin 1960-1, 190-7

56. In typical pre-industrial societies, no more then 50% of children born lived beyond the age of fifteen [Bol’shakov 1984, 138]

57. A Syriac inscription found in a dwelling [Paikova and Marshak 1976] and a pendant cross found in a grave [Belenitskii et al. 1977, 559; Belenitskii, Marshak and Raspopova 1988, 177-178] testify to the existence of a Christian community in Panjikant, while two Brachmi inscriptions [Vorob'eva-Desiatovskaia 1983, 47-48, nos. 51, 52] and a terracotta icon [Marshak and Raspopova 1997/8] register the presence of Buddhists. A separate shrine with a large sculptural image of Shiva holding Parvati on his lap and sitting on bull Nandi, which was set up in one of the rooms surrounding the external yard of Panjikant Temple II, has been interpreted as a Hindu sanctuary [Shkoda 1992]. We know of the existence of a Christian church in Bukhara [Narshakhi - Frye 1954, 53]. As to the capital city of Samarqand, it had a Christian metropolitan see [Barthold 1964a, 272, n. 52]; at some point was considered to be a major center of Manichaean faith; and judging from epigraphic finds, had some Indian population [Vorob'eva-Desiatovskaia 1983, 48, no. 58].

58. Anarbaev 1984, 206-213; Shishkina 1994, 92-93

59. According to Shishkina this happened already in the 7th century [Shishkina 1994, 93]

60. Krasheninnikova 1993; Lunina and Stoliarova 1993

61. Mkrtychev and Naymark 1990; Mkrtychev and Naymark 1991, 64

62. Al’baum 1960, 176-178; Staviskii 1960; Marshak and Krikis 1969, 72; Marshak 1978

63. Rtveladze 1997/8, 317 (group II, type 1), pl. II, no. 8

64. A painting on the western wall of the hall 3 in sector XXI [Belenitskii 1980, 118]; a more complex version of this composition with two additional male figures sitting behind the male-female pair was discovered on the eastern wall of the hall 6 in sector III [Iakubovskii and D"iakonov 1954, Pl. XXIV; Belenitskii 1980, 55].

65. It is kept in the Oriental Department of the State Hermitage Museum, inventory no. SA-3028. Only a very basic sketch of this most interesting fragment has been published [D"iakonov 1954, 133, fig. 5]. The molded image of the pomegranate tree depicted in the second square on this fragment is very similar (stylistically and technically) to the images on the pottery from Kafyr-Qala [Marshak 1961, 194-6, pl. 10-11; Belenitskii 1968, 79], which firmly dates to the very end of the 7th and early 8th century [Marshak and Krikis 1969, 58; Raspopova and Shishkina 1999, 72].

66. Ambroz 1971a, 98-9; Ambroz 1971b, 123; cf. Raspopova 1980, 97-8

67. cf. Belenitskii, Marshak 1979, 35

68. This account about the Makh bazar is found in the Persian version of the Tarikh-i Bukhara [Narshakhi-Shefer 1892, 18-19; Narshakhi-Rizavi 1939, 29; Narshakhi-Lykoshin 2003, 136; Narshakhi-Frye 1954, 21], in the section, which was compiled either by Qubawi (522 A.H./1128-9 C.E.) [Sukhareva 1958, 7-12] or by Muhammad b. Zufar b.‘Umar (574 A.H./1178-9 C.E.) [Frye-Narshakhi 1954, xii-xiii]. Whichever of the editors was responsible for composing of this description, he credits the information to the earlier, non-extant, work Khaza’in al-‘ulum, by Abu’l Hasan ‘Abad al-Rahman b. Muhammad al-Nishapuri, of whom we know literary nothing except that his book contained quite a few legends about pre-Islamic Bukhara.

69. The Tarikh-i Bukhara says that Makh "ordered woodcarvers (drudgar) and painters (nakkash) to make idols (but) every year." There is no mention of potters.

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