Hellenic traditions of coroplastics in Central Asia (by example of Kampirtepa)

Issue #3 • 1156

Archeological excavations at the ancient settlement of Kampirtepa, which for many years the academician E.V. Rtveladze has been supervising, revealed a significant number of subjects having high scientific importance. Of special interest is coroplastics which description has been already published in part.

Excavation-1 in the south-eastern sector of the original fortress facing to the Amu Darya was started on spring expedition season of 2002. Here, in disposal waste and ash layer were revealed a bilateral ceramic seal, a fragment of the ceramic vessel and fragments with embossment in a form of female head of Hellenic type; to the left of this were found stamped picture of Life Tree with bent branches and on another ceramic fragment – a picture of swastika, a Zoroastrian symbol of the sun and movement as well as a style made of bone and consisting of a conic core and volumetric top.

In this article we are giving a description of a terracotta plate made of well-burnt clay, in part broken. Its sizes are 6×6.6×3.7 cm. On the obverse surface there is a coupled picture: on the right – a woman, probably, nymph, on the left – satyr. The woman is given en face with a slight turn to the left. On her head – a diadem decorated with tapes falling down on a full chest. The hair is styled back in a knot on top of her head. Eyes are deep set; a nose is big and massive. In hands – not clear subject, probably, a fruit (?) or a flower (?).

From behind to the nymph is nestling the satyr, leaning his head on her left shoulder. The face is made by means of five embossments giving expressiveness to the face, which is emphasized by goat ears, wide nose, artful eyes and sarcastic smile on beardless face. He holds a teabawl in hands and as a favour he is giving it to the nymph. This terracotta plate, probably, can be related to the 2nd – 1st centuries B.C.

The pictures of satyr, which penetrated in Central Asia at the period of Greek expansion, are not rare in the Central Asian terracotta. He is well recognized by hypertrophied features – a nose with wide nostrils and spherical small hump, huge brow arches, the countenance is horrendous but absolutely different is his “companion” – the nymph whose pictures practically have not been revealed (?) on the territory of Central Asia before. The statuette is unique as such joint composition is the first found in our region, what again proves significance of the finds from Kampirtepa.

The satyr is more often single. Having come from the Greek legends and absorbed local features, he became a favourite character in Central Asian coroplastics. So, Bactrian satyrs like their Greek prototypes have sharpened goat ears, plebeian face and expressive countenance, sometimes, with a shade of grief. Searching for direct analogues in Greco-Roman sculpture seems fruitless. All Bactrian satyrs belong to local Kushan-Bactrian midst what is proved by their different, from in Greco-Roman sculpture, ethnic type and such detail as moustaches and whiskers, flocky and not so well and accurately cut as in a case of grandees. Their image is deeply individual, and the majority of faces, probably, were taken from real models – actors, dancers, mimes, participants of theatre “satyrian actions”. However, these are not portraits, but generalized and collective character.

On the territory of Sogd and Parthia were spread Dionysian motives, which present in coroplastics, toreutics and the other arts. We can notice distinctions in shape and style features. All of them have plebeian character, expressiveness of deliberately rude features and affinity to a local life, types and characters; however, it is impossible to mix up “Bactrian man” and “Parthian” or “Sogdian”.

E.V. Rtveladze and I.E.Kosakovskaya pointed out that in spite of the fact that Central Asian region gave a plenty of art pieces on Dionysian theme, they were rarely mentioned in special scientific works. A fragment of another terracotta figurine found in the same season is also interesting. It is a figurine of a naked woman stamped in a die made from burnt clay. Its sizes: 10.4×5.4×2.5 cm. The character is given in strictly frontal posture with the hands down along the body. The figure is proportional, with a small breast, smooth bent line of the waist and hips. The head has lost; the hands are broken off up to elbows. Here, coroplastic piece gives rather realistic character. This figurine can be related to the 2nd – 1st centuries B.C. as it had still kept the Greek traditions in solution of female character without idolization, which occurred much later. In spite of everything said, there are single finds of a naked goddess, which have been found in stratums dated back to the 1st – 2nd centuries A.D. This image of the goddess is connected with the most ancient cult of fertility. Figurines of this type are well known in West Asia as a progenitor goddess – mother. Her prototypes were Babylonian Ishtar and Sumerian-Akkadian Naniay worshipped in Uruk. In Elam, the cult of this goddess of fertility and conception had existed down to formation of the Iranian state. However, later her statuettes were still created in large amount, especially in Mesopotamia in the Hellenic period, at the Seleucids.

The question how appeared analogous figurines in Bactria still remains undetermined. The statuette we described is the closest to a figurine from Barattepa (6) and the piece earlier found at the settlement of Kampirtepa.

However, among the Bactrian goddesses prevails another type (according to G.A.Pugachenkova). They are “in Hellenic dresses on, but later in a process of transformation had turned into goddesses in the Asian clothes” and occupied a proper place among cultic personages of the Central Asian pantheon. The “Nude goddess” at the certain stage of history should have conceded the local, close to her by function, deities or have merged with them. This, probably, happened somewhere on the dawning of a new era. G.Pugachenkova has done their typology by.

G. Ilyasov connects figurines of a naked women found at Kampirtepa with terracotta pieces of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite and compares them with the image of Aphrodite in West-Pontic variant found in the city of Tyr, at the mouth of Dniester and dated to the 3rd – 2nd centuries B.C. We would dare not to agree with this idea. Global hellinization and transfer onto the territory of Central Asia, and in particular in Bactria, of the Greek traditions and canons put before artists a task to interpret characters in Hellenic style. Together with ethic standards of art interpretation of characters the Greek pantheon removed here too. However, could all gods born on the land of Hellas get accustomed in Bactria, which had own traditions, epos, religion, life way etc.? We think, that had got accustomed and become popular and esteemed only those “income gods” who met the requirements, for example, ideology of the state. This is Nike – the goddess of victory, in Central Asia glorifying kings and royal house; Heracles – symbolizing the power of the state; Athena – granting the world and wisdom to the people which so needed peaceful co-existence of farmers and nomads, or the characters close by their religious functions, for example, Zeus and Akhuramazda.

However, could the goddess of love, Aphrodite find “the fertile field” to get accustomed here? Probably, in some Bactrian temple a statue of this goddess of love was set. However, could such statuette become required for local coroplastic masters, which tried to approach their art products to the taste and religious world vision of local population?

Thus, during this period it is observed as mutual penetration and interference as cutting off and refusal of everything that had no necessity if it did not meet these or those requirements. Turning again to Kampirtepa, by example of two terracotta pieces we tried to trace different typology and originality of well-known personages. On the one hand, still remained Hellenic traditions based on mythological plots but received Bactrian features (as we see on the terracotta plate with satyr and nymph), and on the other hand, the most ancient local cults merged with Mesopotamian and revived, i.e. obtained forms following the Greek standards. An example to that – the terracotta with the great Bactrian goddess. Terracotta pieces from Kampirtepa differ by originality and, what is even more important, have no analogues all over Central Asia. Their importance remains a subject to be defined.

Author: George Nikitenko,
Natalya Shagalina

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