Coroplastics of East Kashkadrya in the Antique Period

Issue #1 • 1590

East Kashkadarya occupies Kitabo – Shahrisabz bolson and adjoining mountain and piedmont areas of the Zerafshan Mountains and spurs of the Guissar. In the antique period this region was known as Nautaka according to Greco-Roman authors and as Su – Se in the Chinese chronicles. The last name may transmit Sogdian name of this area – Kesh, which was fixed in the Iran and medieval Arab sources.

In the 2nd B.C. – 4th A.D., a period when the art of small plastics peaked in Central Asia, East Kashkadarya was rather big domain with own capital (on the territory of modern Kitab town) and local dynasty, which in the epoch of the Late Antiquity succeeded to spread its power over all territory of Kashkadarya (Southern Sogd), and in some periods of the Early Middle Ages – over the other Sogdian regions. The neighbourhood of such significant historical and cultural regions as Northern Bactria and Central (Samarkand) Sogd coloured various fields and aspects of local culture. But its specific features give evidence for the fact that the region had autochthonic cultural complex. The art of small plastic forms, otherwise coroplastics is one of the brightest in this complex.

On the early Hellenic settlements the terracotta was not revealed, what can prove the power of local cults’s veto on the drawing of creatures, which, probably, was keeping during the 3rd c. B.C. By the 2nd c. B.C. the situation had changed, mostly under the influence of cultural impulses from the Hellenic regions of Middle East and West Asia. Terracotta had been coming into the cultural space of Central Asian peoples, what logically resulted in formation of local schools of coroplastics. Significant increase of a number of terracotta statuettes in this period was typical of the entire Hellenic world including Greece itself. It was connected with technical aspects as well – use of gypsum matrixes providing quick and good manufacturing of figurines (1, p.9, 11, 20). Diffusion of the terracotta in Central Asia reflected a process of general changes in the beliefs dominating in minds of local peoples, which majority, however, continued to keep their attachment to local variant of Zoroastrism.

Unlike the adjoining historical and cultural areas, in East Kashkadarya the data on the antique sculpture is to seek. At the same time numerous terracotta figurines, being copies of the bigger statuettes, prove the availability of big statues in central temples, first of all, in the capital, Su – Se. Terracotta statuettes made by the masters in towns reached the remote parts of the country and were the important factors consolidating it within religious sphere.

Coroplastics of the eastern part of Southern Sogd dated back to the antique time includes three main groups of personages: local South – Sogdian Goddess – Mother, female lutanists and male personages. Goddess – Mother, a patroness of fertility and farming, enjoying the highest respect from the ancient time on the huge territory from India to Egypt and from Elam to the Balkans (2, p. 77 – 78) was created in a form of female figurines, alone or with children. The most numerous terracotta in Central Asia dated from the early Antiquity were statuettes of nude goddess – mother, the earliest variant of which was presented by rather schematic figurines of sitting woman found in the lowest layers at Kitab. In a case of Bactrian statuettes of a nude woman in frontal posture, the scholars relate them to the Great Bactrian Goddess, whose cult also goes to the cult of goddess-mother (3, p.129) (Khalchayan, Dalverzintepa, Zartepa, Barattepa, Balkh, Shahri – Banu). Close religious views, especially popular with the people, existed in Khorezm and Central Sogd.

A further step in evolution of interpretation of goddess-mother found reflection in the statuette from the settlement of Saraitepa in the Shurobsai oasis (the 1st c. B.C.- 1st c. A.D.) (fig.1) and in dressed female statuettes with a baby from Kitab (4, p.30). The figurine from Saraitepa is realistically performed portrayal of a young nude woman in standing posture. Slim legs are crossed; the weight of body (the artist exposed muscle tension by means of diagonal line) is on the left straight leg stepping behind the right leg. The right leg is half-bent and is resting on the toe. Plastic soft lines give the silhouette of deep thighs, small waist, stomach, full chest and soft shoulders. The right hand is half – bent and is supporting the head of the baby lying in the cross belt falling from the right shoulder. Massive grivna (necklace) adorns her neck and breast. At the right hip are seen folds of falling light fabric. The figurine is standing on a special base in a form of two broad strips with festoons hanging between them. The portrayal is well balanced; details are perfect in quality and realistic, what closes these statuettes to the best samples of the Hellenic and Indian coroplastics and sculpture.

The statuette from Saraitepa is the nearest to the portrayals of Margilan goddess, whose iconography, probably, goes to the portrayals of Aphrodite. In Greece existed a home cult of this goddess (5, p.163) as a patroness of women along with home cult of the goddess – mother, the statuettes of which were usually set nearby the home altar. Analogues in the Sogdian cults are going also to Eastern Turkestan and India where terracotta, painting art and sculpture widely presented portrayals of dressed woman and baby. In India she often personified Hariti, a wife of yakshi Panchiki, whose cult was tightly linked with the cult of mothers. (6, p. 41 – 42).

The gesture of the left hand of the woman (forefinger and middle finger are looking upward, to the shoulder and thumb is pressing annulary and little fingers to the palm opened ahead) is of a peculiar interest. Different peoples had similar interpretation of this sign: in Greece and Rome – it meant an orator speaking; in the Christian tradition – the prophet vaticinating; in Zoroastrism – this is a gesture of adoration; in India – this is one of 24 basic sacral gestures of Katakali (7, p. 32). The connection of this sign with ancient religions of Central and Austro – Asia is proved by a famous vase from the Merv’s stupa, having Zoroastrian subject on, which contained Buddhist manuscripts (the 6th – 7th cc.) as well as by the personages on the masterpieces of the Sassanid art (8, p. 147) and wall paintings at Balaliktepa and Bamian.

Affinity between details and general composition of similar portrayals in many regions of the Old World from Myrmexia to Bengal may give evidence for existence of some definite canon that was formed at the result of contacts among Greek, Central Asian and Austro – Asian worlds and their artists knowing about the art works of different schools.

Spreading of this type of terracotta in the Kashkadarya valley gives the opportunity to follow the opinion (9, p. 25, 28, 29) about especial respect of the Zoroastrians loved in Southern Sogd towards the female goddess related to the cult of fertility. In the Avesta, the most ancient goddess was the goddess of the Earth, Spenta Armaiti who later absorbed the character of Mesopotamian Nana patronizing women in labour. Additional evidence in favour of attribution of these South – Sogdian statuettes to Nana – Nanaya or the goddess similar by functions is their similarity with the terracotta from Suzy town of the Achaemenid period (10, p. 177), which was under patronage of this goddess. The high status of Nana-Spandarmat in the Antique epoch and Early Middle Ages was revealed in Samarkand Sogd and Bactria as well (11, p. 8 – 9).

In the first centuries A.D., in East Kashkadarya were spread the terracotta statuettes of female lutanists, the earliest variant of which is presented by the statuettes from Saraitepa (fig.2). Analogy with a personage in the Airtam freeze and terracotta statuettes of musicians from Northern Bactria (12, p.294, 307) allows suggesting of the existence of local mythological cycle devoted to music patroness in East Kashkadarya (13, p. 219). It is necessary to point out the specificity of poly – figured portrayals, which in a case of the Greek terracotta personified chthonian deities germinating from the ground. Probably, portrayals of the Airtam freeze and terracotta statuettes related to them may be connected with deities of plants – dryads, well presented in the world mythology.

In the Ayakchinsky oasis, East Kashkadarya was revealed another type of female lutanists brightly presented by a statuette from the settlement of Upper Sarai (fig.3). Some details (misbalanced body and head, third – dimension upper part and plane corpus) make possible to date this statuette back to the first centuries A.D. Development of the female lutanist in details similar with the Great Bactrian Goddess and Khalchayan bas – relief can draw attention. In a case of female lutanists from Northern Bactria such analogues can be interpreted as an evidence for the fact temple musician existing. Attribution of terracotta figurines of the female lutanists from the Shurobsaisky and Ayachinsky oasis to the cultic field and their connection with the worship to Goddess – Mother is proved by the find of both types of such statuettes in the Siypantash cave (extreme north – west of East Kashkadarya). The same combination but with sculpture portrayal of motherhood patroness was revealed in the temple of the Bactrian goddess at Dalverzintepa (14, p. 113, 115, 117).

Dominating figurines of female lutanists among the female terracotta pieces in the east of Southern Sogd in the period of Kangyui might give the evidence for spreading of the cultic deity who had a lute as a cult attribute. Pictures on the early medieval ossuaries from East Kashkadarya can prove this fact too. From the first centuries B.C. in this region was popular the cult of divine heroic forefather presented by female statuettes and hand – modeled small horses with horseman or without him (15, p.259) (fig.4). Probably, some of them, as in a case of coins, could be connected with portrayals of Alexander the Great, but most of them run back to the ancient tradition of the nomadic Iran – speaking tribes of the Great Steppe.

The groups of terracotta said above could not include all finds of small plastic pieces in East Kashkadarya. Among them there are a female portrayal having a specific headwear presenting a local variant of Athena’s helmet as well as figurines of winged horses (Pegasus) and centaurs (16, p. 88 – 93, ill.26) from Kitab; terracotta plate with portrayals of Dionysus and Satyr (17, p. 11 – 114) from Sapoltepa; a fragment of terracotta female statuette in peplos from the Ayakchinsky oasis. These pieces along with the statuette from Saraitepa and figures of Heracles and sitting Zeus on the coins of Kesh coinage (fig. 5, 6), similar to statues in Pella and, probably, in Aikhanum give evidence for rather strong Hellenic influence.

There is a point of view that this influence became notable after the fall of Greek states in Central Asia, when the Hellenic culture stopped to be the culture of the conquers, and the epicenter of this influence was Bactria. But according to some data, Sogd became politically independent from the Greco – Bactrian kingdom early enough. New trends could come not only from the south but from the west too, what is proved by the visible presence of coroplastic elements of the Margian school in the western and eastern areas of the Kashkadarya valley. Like the other regions of Central Asia, here the Hellenic deities obtained local features, what was easy thanks to common Indo – European ground: Athena and Iran’s Arshtat, Aphrodite and Nan, winged horse and the second revelation of Veretragna, a deity of victory (18, p.43).

It is worthy to note the contribution of nomadic tribes of the Sakae – Sarmat group, which for some centuries had interconnected oasis and steppes of Eurasia. Probably, from the 1st c. B.C. – 1st c. A.D. they played a key role in spreading of the cults related to the Great Goddess and Heroic Forefather in the regions from the Northern coast lands of the Black Sea to India (19, p. 178 – 181; 275, 283).

Analogies among cultural processes seen in a case of small plastic forms running on different remote territories may be another evidence for the integrity of ancient oecumene, which based on factors overcoming the closeness of societies and development of information exchange in a process of contacts in all fields of life. This led to mutual enrichment of different civilizations and innovations in culture and art, what entitle us to belief that the Antique epoch was a special stage in the history and evolution of the Old World.

Author: Andrey Omelchenko

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