Ērān ud Anērān
Webfestschrift Marshak 2003


Dwelling houses of Bukhara in the Early Middle Ages

G.L. Semenov*

Today, we know about the dwellings of Bukhara before the Arabian conquest as little as we did a hundred years ago. The reason is both poor archaeological study of this city and problems arising out of the necessity to study the city having existed in one place from the moment of its origin to the present day. There seem to be two ways to solve this problem. The first one is to study the modern topography of the city and restore the ancient layout on the basis of the modern street network. This method was successfully used by O.G. Bolshakov, suggesting reconstruction of the street network of early Middle-Age Bukhara. He suggested regular development of shakhristan of the city with quarters of 130-140 x 45-50 m. (Bolshakov, 1973, 235-244)

Further work in Bukhara allowed specifying and concretising the scheme suggested. The second way is to interpolate data on other cities of the Bukhara oasis to Bukhara itself. In this respect, archaeological work by V. Shishkin at Varakhsha and Paykend, carried out since 1981 by the joint expedition of the Hermitage and the Uzbek Academy of Science Institute of Archaeology are extremely important. Long-term excavations in Paykend allowed revealing dimensions of the living quarter in the city. It was found out to be 84 x 22-25 m. Dimensions of a quarter in Bukhara were proved be twice as large.

O.G. Bolshakov paid attention to the dimensions of quarters, which seemed to be very large. He believed that Pendzhikent proved it because large dimensions of quarters were also typical there. He assumed that large quarters could be a feature of early Middle-Age cities of Central Asia (Belenitsky, 1973, 236).

T-junctions in Paykend and cruciform crossroads in reconstruction of the plan of Bukhara are of particular interest. It is possible to suggest that there were additional inner streets inside Bukhara quarters, halving each quarter.

Layout of dwelling houses in Bukhara itself is completely unknown up to now. In Varakhsha, V.A. Shishkin dug out a palace building and some premises he age-dated as 6-7 centuries. The premises that were completely dug out were 7 x 5.5 m and had sufas along all walls and a rectangular fireplace at the centre with traces of fire on the surface (Shishkin, 1963, 123-124). Much more is known about dwelling arcitecture of the Bukhara oasis in Paykend.

Early dwelling in the city has been covered with re-building of the Islamic period. To study it, one has first to dig high layers out. Thus, a part of walls lowering from above and bases frequently destroy early building. At present, one dwelling house in a quarter at Shahristan I, a part of a housing estate in the same quarter and at the area around the citadel have completely been dug out.

The dwelling house dug out at Shahristan I is confined with streets in the east, north and south and a dead wall of the next house in the west (Fig. 1). The street level difference going from the north and south makes about two meters; therefore, the street connecting them from the east slopes from the south to the north. The level of floors in the house is the same, which means in practice that the premises from the southern part of the house are about two meters below the level of the street synchronous to it.

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The residential area is rectangular in the plan. Dimensions of the house along the north - south line make 20 m in the west and 17 m in the east (the width of face walls excluded). Along the east - west line, the dimensions of the house are 14.5 m in the north and 17.5 m in the south. The reason is that streets 3 and 4, as well as the western wall of the house and the direction of street C are not quite parallel. The area of residential development with allowance for face walls makes about 370 sq. m. The building history of the house can be divided into several periods. The house has completely been dug out at the level of the fire in the northern part and the period synchronous to it in the southern part. As for the other periods, data are more fragmentary.

I Period

The earliest of the investigated ones. For this period, there is a large hall of 60 m2 in the northwest part of the house with four colums, sufas in its four sides and a passage in the southeast corner, leading to main corridor (Fig. 1, 10). In the middle of the southern part of the house, there was one more but smaller hall of 42.5 m2 also with sufas and a passage to the west in the northwest corner. In the southeast part of the house, there were two adjacent premises (Fig. 1, 4-5) of 25 m2 with a separate entrance from the street. One of them with a tandoor served as kitchen and the other having sufas and a podium at the centre could be dwelling. Five completely identical vessels (Fig. 5, 4) found here are too many for those living in such a small space and seem to be linked to professional activity of the holder or leaser of the premises. Similar vessels are known in the neighbouring Tokharistan and considered to be milk jugs. Not all premises of the house of this period are connected to each other with passages. Therefore, the question if at that period the housing estate included one house with two big halls or several isolated houses is still open.

II Period

At this time, the floor level of the house was raised by 60 cm. The large hall in the southern part of the house was eliminated, and replaced with a living space (Fig. 1, 1) of 22 m2 with sufas in all sides and a fireplace in the middle as well as two corridors in the east and the south of the premises. The eastern corridor was connected to main corridor (Fig. 1, 10) with a passage. In the southern end, this corridor was connected to perpendicular southern corridor (Fig. 1, 3), going to the west along the face wall of the house. The floor of the corridor rises eastward and it probably led to the upper floor or to the roof over premises 4-5, where the floor is lower than the one in the other part of the house. The southwest part of the house could have one large or two small premises (Fig. 1, 12). The passage in the northeast corner connected this part of the house with the main corridor. This sector has been dug out at the later level and its original layout except for dimensional walls is unknown. A passage to the street from premises 4-5 was eliminated. Instead, a passage to the west into corridor (Fig. 1, 1) was made. At that time, the housing estate was a single house. It had entrances from the eastern and southern streets around it. The two entrances seem to lead to two isolated parts of the house. The entrance from street 3 from the north led to the block of two adjacent premises (Fig. 1, 7,8).

Their total residential area made only 10 m2. The premises had sufas and that is all we know about them. The main part of the house was about 200 m2. It was entered from the east street. The passage led first to small square room (Fig. 1, 11) with sufas and a fireplace at the eastern wall. Rich architectural decor found in the heap of this small room made it smart. The decoration is most likely to have been applied to the fireplace. Remnants of two carved pillars could stand on both sides of the niche (Fig.3), and the frieze with palmettos rested on the capitals. There was also a repeated stamped on plaster image of a deity, who could be the patron of the houseowner (Fig.4,3). All these remind a joss-house strangely placed at the entrance. At the same time, the room had household functions as well. There were several table jugs, one water jug, and some grains(?) on the floor. There were two passages from this room: northward to room (Fig. 1, 6) with sufas and a fireplace, which was probably residential, and westward to long main corridor (Fig. 1, 10). The passage to the west had a door opening inward. The corridor of more than 10 m had two functions. In its eastern part, there were passages northward and southward connecting separate parts of the house together. The western part of the corridor might well be separated with a wooden partition to serve as storeroom. Numerous fragments of tare ceramics, mostly of hums, were found here. The passage from the corridor to the north led to a large reception hall (Fig. 1, 9) of about 60 m2 with four wooden colums and sufas along all walls. The walls were practically destroyed; therefore, there is no more data about the interior of the room. The clay frieze found in the heap in room 1 and outdoors could be from that room (Fig. 2).Thus, the house had a reception part with a large hall, accommodation premises with sufas and a podium at the centre (at least two but rather three, taking into account the southwest sector) and a depository. The isolated block with a separate entrance within the same housing estate could serve as a shop or be rented in the same way as premises 4-5 were in the preceding period.

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Dimensions and floor areas of some premises in the house are given in the table.

Nr. Room Nr Length Width Floor areas
1 9 8 7,4 59,2
2 10 10,5 2 21
3 11 4,8 3 14,4
4 6 4,8 3,5 16,8
5 7 3 2 6
6 8 2 2 4
7 5 5 3 15
8 4 5 2 10
9 1 5,5 4 22
10 2 7 0,8 5,6
11 3 5,7 1,2 6,84
12 12 8,5 4,4 37,4

The total usable area of all premises makes 218 m2. Thus, the total area of the house makes 20 x 17.5 = 350 m2 That means that the usable area accounts for 62 per cent of the total area of the house, and the walls for 38 per cent of the area.

III Period

The passage between corridors (Fig. 1, 2,10) was bricked in and plastered from the side of the eastern corridor. The bricked-in passage divided the premises to the south and to the north from axial corridor (Fig. 1, 10). The fire that burnt the walls and the floors in the northern part of the house did not touch its southern part at all. Hence, separation of the house into two parts took place before the fire. The southern part included premises 1-5 and room 12 in the southwest sector. The total area of the premises after separation was slightly less than 100 m. The area of the premises included into the northern part with a reception hall was somewhat larger. The entrance into the house was in the northern part, and no more entrances into the southern part were made. The layout of the northern part sustained no visible changes. An adobe box placed at the corner of the sufa reception hall might date back to that time. The depository in the hall can be justified by the fact that as the new house had twice as small an area as the larger one, some premises had to fulfil several functions. The box in the room was built before the fire as its walls have been burnt. The passage from main corridor (Fig. 1, 10) to the southwest sector was bricked-in and turned into a niche. It also happened before the fire. No more passage to this part of the house was made in this period.

IV Period

At that time, there was further subdivision of the housing estate. The southwest sector was separated as a house with an exit into the southern street. It consisted of two almost identical premises with sufas along all sides and a podium at the centre. The premises were connected to each other with a narrow corridor, one end of which had a digged-in hum, and the other was equipped with a staircase leading into the street. The area of the premises made 21 + 15 + 10 = 46 m2, which was about half of the area in the second period and a quarter of the area of the original house. When separating the new house, a wall was put onto the eastern sufa of premise 1, thus separating a part of premise 3. A new room appeared above the remaining part of the room eastward from the new wall. In contrast to the south-west sector, no new walls were opened in the south-east part, and either at that time the floor here was higher and graded when building a mosque or the premises continued to be used in the old walls.However, that is not the end of the building history of the house. There were also walls comparting the hall into three premises, which looks as if it was there that a separate house with a tandoor and a tube line appeared.Walls changing the original layout were also noticed in the southwest sector. The last period in the life of the house included construction of a mosque in the southeast part of the house and three shops to the north of it. Re-buildings between the IV and the last period were too fragmentary to make conclusions about changes in the layout. However, there is an obvious tendency to further subdivision of the area in the northwest sector and preservation of the area existing in the IV period in the other three parts. As a result, a single house of more than 200 m2 residential area turned into four separate houses of approximately identical 50 m2 each.

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Issues of Absolute Chronology

Among the coins, there is a determinant group connected to the layer of the fire (III Period). They are two coins No. 13 and 14. One obv.- crouned human head en face, rev- horse and Bukharhuda tamgas. Another obv- yung human head en face, rev.-fire altar in forp of Bukharhudaa tamgas. The same layer of the fire in the neighbouring house contained two other coins depicting a camel and having a square hole. Judging by the latest of them, it is possible to age-date this period as the second half of the 7th century as the earliest and the end of the 7th century as the latest. Four coins belong to the II period. It was particularly noteworthy that both layers contained coins depicting a horse. A dirham bearing the name of Al-Makhdi falls out of the chronological range. Filling of the room below the burnt floor belongs to the II period, but Al-Makhdi ruled in Khorasan in 759-769. With allowance for this fact, the II period should be dated earlier than the second half of the 8th century, and the second and the third one, respectively, even later. It should be noted that the filling near the place where the dirham was found was infringed by the late WC pipe pit, which prejudices this late age-dating. Finding of even earlier coins, such as the ones imitating the coins of Vasudeva and Asbar seem also to be accidental. The IV period was represented with a coin identical to the coin of the III period. It is possible to make a conclusion that judging by the coins, all the building periods fit the short period of the end of the 7th and the beginning of the 8th century.

Let us compare the obtained with the ceramic material. Room 11: On the floor, there were two jugs of 14 cm with a crumpled rims, a handle and a piriform body (Fig.5, 5,6). A large jug with a crumpled rim, a plate handle of 30.5 cm height was found in crushed condition on the sufa (Fig.5, 7). A fragment of another similar jug was found on the floor. The tableware was also represented by two rims of conical cups (Fig.5,1,2).Floor interlayers of Room 5 contained a complex of intact forms and large fragments of five identical wide-neck vessels with two handles, slightly expressed shoulders and a wide horizontally bent out rim. The diameter of the rim was 21-23 cm, and the one of the vessels was 15-18 cm (Fig. 5, 4). On the floor, there was also a fragment of a ball-shaped wide-neck vessel with a grooved rim to fit a cover (Taly-Barzu V type), holes for hanging around the neck and a sinuous ornament. Two fragments of a table tagora with a twisted vertical handle and a horizontal shaped rim ornamented with two lines of triangles (Fig. 6, 6,7). The rims of water jugs with a fillet on the outer side of a spherical or sharp rim and the rim of a wide-neck square vessel. Room 4 on the second floor had a representative complex though only in fragments.

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Tare ceramics is represented with two rims of tagora. In the filling above the floor, there was a rim of a goblet and four fragments of water jugs with a cuff under the rim.

On the floor of Room 1, there was an archaeologically intact table jug of 25 cm height with a piriform body, a crumpled discharge and a plate handle.

As a whole, all ceramics from the premises fit the chronological range of the second half of the 7th and the 8th centuries. An exception is the bent rim of an angobed cup and fragments of table tagora typical of complexes of the second half of the 4th and the 5th centuries. Though the rim of the cup can be considered an inevitable admixture of earlier ceramics, several large fragments of tagora can hardly be incidental. This form is most likely to exist until the 7th century, though it was not met earlier when digging layers of that time. The same may be fair for vessels with two handles and a flat deflected rim, which appeared in Tokharistan at the same time with table tagora. It is interesting to compare the obtained complex of ceramics to the ceramics from Room 12 falling under the IV building period. However, there are a lot of common forms with ceramics of the I-III periods. The same can be said about table tagora, jugs with a crumpled discharge, wide-neck vessels with holes in the neck and a sinuous ornament, vessels with a groove on the rim to fit a cover (Fig.6, 8,11).

The complex of ceramics (Room 12) was preliminarily age-dated as the VI-VII centuries mostly due to finding of coins issued by Asbar and a unknown ruler with Bukhara tamgas. The same set of coins and ceramics resulted from diggings of this season. Now it is clear that the first house was built later than premises 1-5. If these premises were age-dated as the second half of the 7th century as the earliest, then re-building of Room 12 that led to emergence of house 1 took place rather soon but not earlier than in the 8th century.

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As for findings, one should mention two terracottas of loose filling above the floor in Room 12 (the IV period), one of them being male and portraying a horseman and the other being female (Fig. 4, 1,2). Among the burnt filling in Room 11 (the III period), one should pay attention to a stamped image of a deity (Fig.4,3), pillars decorated with peacocks (Fig. 3) and fragments of architectural decor, which was also stamped. The same fragments were found among the burnt layer outdoors. They can be reconstructed as a frieze consisting of several ornamental stripes (Fig.2) On the top, there was a horizontal shelf of 8 cm survived width, turning into a cornice of 3 cm width on the facade. Below, there was a stripe of 4 cm width, semi-circular in its section, with an ornament of a garland. Below, there was a frieze with five-petal palmettos.

Under it, there was a stripe of a vine sprout. The bottom of the frieze was a clean field with a series of stamped circles of 55 mm in diameter with rosettes. Width of the field with rosettes was 10 cm; under it, there was a lower horizontal shelf of 2.5 cm surviving width. The surface of the plaster was concave, which suggested that the frieze was on the transition from the vertical wall to the overlapping. The nearest analogies to the frieze are carved wood pieces of Pendzhikent and the upper course of the Zeravshan (Voronina 1959, 116-127; Jakubov, 1979, 162-163). In all cases, they were from the decor of wall tops of large reception halls. The same situation seemed to take place in Paykend: the fragments of the frieze found outdoors seemed to have been decorating the large hall and were thrown out after the fire.

The excavation of previous years allowed separating a typical residential section of two premises and a corridor in building of the quarter. It consisted of two lines of houses with their dead walls turned to each other. It became clear that these typical sections resulted from partitioning of earlier building into separate smaller houses. Originally, the housing estate undoubtedly belonged to a wealthy citizen and consisted of a house with a hall, a residential and storerooms part. The housing estate seemed to have also included two small leasable sections in different periods of time. As for the area, the house is comparable with rich Sogdian houses in Pendzhikent and Afrasiab. The neighbouring house located to the west from the former one was generally of a similar layout, but occupied an area less by half and faced only one street. The rich house discovered in Paykend differs greatly from the well-studied building-up of Pendzhikent and is close to the layout of Ak-tepe near the Varakhsha. Comparison of these constructions reveal the following common features:

Accommodation spaces with sufas along four sides, a sliding passage in the corner and a fireplace at the centre are practically identical. The two houses differ, first of all, in absence of a large hall in Ak -tepe.

If the house in Paykend undoubtedly belonged to a wealthy citizen, the status of the Ak-tepe one is more difficult to determine. The diggers considered it to be a village feudal castle (Abdirimov, 1990, 207-220). Noteworthy was availability of five or six identical residential rooms of 20-23 m2 area with a fireplace at the centre. Each of such rooms was intended to house a group of people. That could be a small family, then Ak-tepe could be interpreted as a large-family dwelling (e.g., older generation, parents and married sons). It is also possible though seems to be less probable that the residents were not relatives; in this case, Ak-tepe was a residential place of a neighbouring community. Anyway, the suggestion of the feudal nature of the building-up with several identical residential rooms and no reception hall seems improbable.

Thus, despite general similarity of the plan, their social purpose was found out to be different. The house of Paykend was inhabited by a noble and rich person with his folks, and a part of the house was leasable. The house in Ak-tepe was inhabited with several equivalent families, judging by the areas of the accommodation spaces. At the same time, the layout principles seemed to be similar. That likeness was probably due to common architectural traditions, and the differences could be explained by different social status of the inhabitants. Houses of the same dimensions and similar layout were discovered in Kuyruk-Tobe and Kok-Mardan (quarters according to K.M. Baipakov) (Baipakov ,1986, 75-77).

V.I. Raspopova put forward a thesis of basic difference in development of the city and the village in Samarkand Sogd on the basis of diggings in Pendzhikent and in the settlements in the headstream of the Zeravshan. The urban house belonging to a person of middle prosperity was close in its layout and dimensions to architecture of castles, but cardinally different from village development. As opposed to that opinion, Bukhara demonstrates affinity of these types.

Materials of recent diggings in Paykend allow tracing some tendencies in modification of dwelling building in the 7th-8th centuries and to compare them to the modifications in Samarkand Sogd of the same time. Discovery of a large house of the 7th century, which was divided twice within a short period of time allowed re-considering previous data on architecture of Paykend. Now it is clear that small typical residential sections separated by diggings of previous years appeared as a result of division of an originally rich and large house. Paykend materials on modification of development are too scanty to make conclusions about systemic nature of these phenomena. Pendzhikent material is slightly richer. V.I. Raspopova noticed the following tendencies on the basis of large-scale diggings in the city: at the end of the 7th and the beginning of the 8th century, the city was going through redistribution of land property. By the beginning of the 8th century, there were no more free plots left. Construction of houses for new nobility accompanied by grabbing of a part of neighbouring houses in the first quarter of the 8th century could be traced distinctly. In 20-25 years, the share of urban dwellings belonging to the nobility was reduced almost by half and large dwellings without a reception part appeared. Division of a number of old houses led to emergence of small dwellings of about 20 m2 area. In 20 more years, the nature of development changes. Rich housing estates almost disappeared, while a relatively large number of houses with shops and workshops appeared. The general body of the city population was represented by inhabitants of a lower social status, who occupied modified constructions of the nobility (Raspopova, 1990, 170-174).

B.I. Marshak explains the considerable increase in the number of houses of the nobility in the first quarter of the 8th century in Pendzhikent by the fact that aristocracy from Samarkand, seized by the Arabs in 712, moved to Pendzhikent; and restoration of some dwellings in the 740s is explained by the contract made between the Sogdians and Nasr ibn Sayyar after Revolt of 720-722.

Political history of Paykend differs from that of Pendzhikent. The city was seized and destroyed by Arabs as early as at the beginning of the 8th century and then restored by the inhabitants. The fire in the northern part of quarter at shakhristan I probably caused by these events took place within the IV period. If modification of housing estates in Pendzhikent was connected, first of all, to political changes; compacting of residential development in Paykend might result from growth of the family and separation of adult married sons.

Thus, it is possible to suggest different nature of population in Pendzhikent and Paykend. For Pendzhikent, V .I. Raspopova suggested a neighbouring community, where each house was occupied by one family. Houses with one exit in Pendzhikent have not yet revealed two or more cells for family couples. In Paykend, three cells such were discovered only in the main part of the house. Similar dimensions of these premises allow making a conclusion that such houses had been occupied by a large undivided family. The process of its division was noticed in the 7th-8th centuries. It is possible to suggest it went in parallel with separation of a small family from the patronymia.

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Abdirimov P., Manylov Y.P.: Archeologocheskie issledovanija v Buharskom Sogde, in IMKU (20), Tashkent, 1990

Baipakov K.M.: Srednevekovaja gorodskaja kultura Juznogo Kasahstana i Semiretchja, Alma-Ata, 1986

Belenitsky A.M., Bentovitch I.D., Bolshakov O.G.: Srednevekovyi gorod Srednej Asii. Leningrad, 1973

Raspopova V.I.: Zhilitscha Pendzikenta, Leningrad, 1990

Voronina V L.: Architecturnyj ornament drevnego Pjandjikenta in Skulptura i shivopis Drevnego Pjandshikenta, Moskow, 1959

Shishkin V.A.: Varakhsha, Moskow, 1963

Jakubov J.J.: Pargar v 7-8 vekah nashej ery, Dushanbe, 1979

* State Hermitage, Russia.

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