Ancient Korea and Ancient Uzbekistan

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Historical and Cultural Contacts

The statement of a fact that ancient Korea (the state of Goguryeo) and one of the regions of ancient Uzbekistan – Sogd had historical and cultural links became possible in 1965 after discovery of the outstanding, by their scientific importance, mural paintings in the palace building at the settlement of Afrasiab. The first researcher of these murals, L.I. Albaum, within the composition consisted of many personages and exposing ambassadors from different countries, recognized two characters, which he interpreted as representatives of the ancient state of Goguryeo (Korea) (1, p. 74 – 75). They have original headgears emplumed with two feathers on. Multi-line Sogdian lapel inscription on the robe of one of the personages, read by V.A. Livshits, allowed to suppose that characters in these murals were ambassadors at the Sogdian ikhshid Varhuman who was reigning, according to O.I. Smirnova in 650/655 – not later 696 (2, p.63).

Later, many scholars including B.I. Marshak, A.M. Belenitskiy, A.M. Mode, Jan Bogin, S. Antonini and others turned to specification and interpretation of this mural painting. The young Japanese researcher E. Kageyama revealed that similar pictures of Korean ambassadors are in mural paintings at the cave temples of Mogao in Dunghuan, twelve pictures of which along with other pictures are the illustrations in Vimalakirtinirdesa-sutra. Basing on these pictures and similar reproduction of a Korean ambassador on the walls of prince Zhanghuai’s tomb, she supposed that all these pictures are stereotype pieces with pictures already existing in the capital of China. In this connection, E. Kageyama has the idea that pictures of Korean ambassadors at Afrasiab give not the evidence for the visit of Korean ambassadors to Samarkand at the second half of the VII c. but reflect the stereotype of Chinese art (3, p. 318 – 319). It will be observed that E. Kageyama proposed this idea with a care (“if this argument is right”), what does credit to the young researcher, because there are no reliable arguments against the idea that these pictures reproduce the fact of actual visit of Korean ambassadors to Samarkand where they arrived along with ambassadors from the other countries, as we could deem, upon the coronation of ikhshid Varhuman. In this connection, we would like to turn to direct and indirect, not too numerous yet, evidences for contacts of ancient regions of Central Asia with Korea.

As the earliest evidence must be recognized a bronze statuette of a warrior dated from the VI – V cc. B.C. in the typical Athens helmet, which was found in the south of Korea (4). It is possible to guess that this statuette came to Korea from Central Asia where are the Hellenic finds dated from such ancient period among the pieces of the Amudarya Hoard and where was founded the first Greek settlement, a town of the Branhids during the Achaemenid king Xerxes (485 – 465 B.C.) reigning (5).

The glass vessels of Roman origin, which were excavated at the gravesite in Kwanju (South Korea), are related to the V – VI cc. A.D. According to Korean scholars, they were made either in the eastern Mediterranean region or in southern Germany and were transported to Korea, most probably, over routes of the Great Silk Road in Central Asia (4). In a catalogue of the collection of ancient art masterpieces of the National Museum of History in Seoul, based on the pieces found by the Japanese expedition of Otani in Eastern Turkistan, there is a silver semi-spherical jorum of the V – VI cc. A.D. from the entombment in Kwanju. The internal surface of the jorum is separated with three belts framed by concentric circles.

Within the upper there is a double line of palmettes. The similar palmettes decorate the lower, near-bottom section. Between them, in the middle section of the jorum divided with roundels formed by twisted lines there is a scene of hunting with dogs, a bird and hares. Within one of the roundels, there is a picture of the accumbent man wearing trousers and camise girt about with a belt decorated with a round buckle. The head of the man turned back looks unnatural on the body. His nose is straight, the eye is big and the high headgear on. The left hand is raising, the right is resting on the elbow (6).

By manner and style of male and animal portrayals and by the character of the ornament, this jorum has its analogues among wall paintings in Pendjikent and on Sogdian vessels (7). In all appearances, this jorum was also made in Sogd, from where it, through numerous Sogdian colonies on the Great Silk Road up to the capital of China – Cnan’yan and probably farther, came to Korea. There is nothing strange that, considering the outstanding role of the Sogdians in the trade on the Great Silk Road, Sogdian silver reached Far East. For example, the silver jorum from entombment near Canton at the boarder with Vietnam, which has the Sogdian inscription on read by Iotaka Ioshida, gives evidence for the fact that this vessel belonged to Chach’s ruler (Tashkent oasis) (8).

The famous Korean scholar John showed me the paper in facsimile received from a Korean journalist where is a picture of the coin that was found near Vladivostok, which is not far from Korea. This coin is included in a group of so-called imitations of Bukharkhudats’ coins with the name of caliph al-Makhdi (775 – 785). These coins were minted by the Arab vicarious rulers on the model of Bukhara rulers’ (Bukharkhudats) coins, which in their own turn were minted after the Sassanian coins of Varakhran V. Their obverses had pictures of the Bukharkhudat circled by the Sogdian inscription – “the ruler – king of Bukhara”, and from the time of al-Makhdi, above the king’s head appeared a short Arab legend with his name (2). We also know the Bikharkhudats’ coins with the name of Kharun al-Rashid and Suleiman. The finding of imitations of the Bukharkhudats’ coins in Far East is exclusively interesting as this is the first coin of this type, which has been found so far from the place of its minting. At the same time, we know about the things coming from Sogd, including the ones having Sogdian inscriptions on, which have been found within the area around Baikal, in the Altai and Western Siberia.

Chinese written sources also preserved some information on the staying of persons from Korea in Central Asia. One of them is the Buddhist pilgrim, monk Huey-Chao who, like Hsuan-tsang (but a century later) in 723 visited Sogd, Chach and Khuttal and left interesting descriptions of these and neighbouring regions and mentioned about Buddhist monuments located there (9).

Buddhism came to Korea from China in the VI c. At its pioneering days, the important role belonged to the Buddhist monks-missioners from Sogd, Tokharistan, Bactria and Parthia (10, p. 91 – 104). So in the matter of Central Asian – Korean contacts we can note, may be not direct but backhanded influence of Central Asian Buddhism on the achievements of this religion in Korea, in the states of Gogureyo and Silla.

Another person from Korea, directly related to the history of Central Asia at the time of one of its most culminant moments, was Gao Syan-Chi (11, p. 368 – 369). He was an assistant of the vicarious ruler in the Western region – a name of Eastern Turkistan and Central Asia the Chinese used. In 747 Gao Syan-Chi took his journey to Bolyui (the Tibet), and the next year he interfered the conflict between the rulers of Chach (Tashkent) and Ferghana, supporting the second, and with the Chinese army he captured Chach. In 749 he arrested the ruler of this region and ordered him to China where the last one was punished capitally.

A son of the punished ruler addressed to the Arabs for help, which by the middle of the VIII c. had already been controlling over almost all territory of Central Asia. By that moment, all operations of the Arabs in Central Asia had been managed by Abu-Muslim who headed anti-Omayads movement and who brought to power the new dynasty of the Abbasids in the Caliphate.

The Arab troops under the command of Ziyad ibn Salikh moved forward against the Chinese army commanded by Gao Syan-Chi. The decisive battle happened at the river of Talas nearby Djambul (Southern Kazakhstan). The Chinese army was fully destroyed, and its remains escaped to China. The Talas battle became the event of great historical importance. On the one hand, it put the end to encroachments of China on eastern and central areas of Central Asia, which China was striving to take under its control during millennia; on the other hand, it pointed full political and administrative control of the Arab caliphs over this region and triumph of the Muslim religion. By the will of fortune, the Korean commander Gao Syan-Chi took part in this event.

The facts said above are various enough but taken together they give the evidence for lasting cultural links of ancient Uzbekistan and Korea, for the presence of the Koreans in Central Asia in the Early Medieval Period and, probably, of the Sogdians – in Korea.

Author: Edvard Rtveladze

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