About tamga of the Samarkand governors

Issue #3-4 • 1699

The marks of ownership in Eurasia, known as tamga (or nishan), bear the important historical information. They appeared probably among the nomadic tribes, which considered horses and cattle as the major measure of affluence. To mark the property in order to differ it from the property of the other members of the tribe or the other clans and tribes was very important task. The mark solved this problem and gradually turned into the universal emblem, which not only marked the ownership, but indicated the clan or tribal belonging in general. Thus, tamga obtained the role of the ethno-political symbol and sui generis heraldic emblem among the Iranian and Turkic peoples.

Tamga in the form of the circle with three “tendrils” represents one of such emblems. It appeared on the coins of Samarkand Sogd in the 5th – 6th centuries and is defined as the “Samarkand” mark, the “U-shaped” mark or “S-shaped” and “2-shaped” tamga, The variants of this tamga (the lower element can be turned to the right or to the left) were struck on the Sogdian coins for centuries. Among them were the above, which did not have inscriptions but exposed the portrait of the governor, the cast coins of Sogdian ihshids imitating the Chinese coins (the 7th – 8th centuries) (tab.: 20-24) and felses of Al-Ash’as b. Yahiy, struck in Samarkand in 144H/761-762 (1, tab. XC-XCII, XCIV). The same mark was found on the ceramics from Sogdian Pendjikent (tab.: 14, 15). They were stamped before kilning. “S-2″ tamga marked the hip of the deer, probably from the royal hunt, exposed on the Sogdian silver bowl from the hoard, found near Volgino village (Permsky region) in 1851. B.I. Marshak dated this bowl to the second half of the 7th century (2, p. 24, tab. 9).

In the 6th-8th centuries, the tamga was obviously the “Samarkand mark”. Why did it appear in Sogd at that time? It should be noted that “S-2″ tamga was found in very far from Samarkand regions. For example, among the other Sarmatian marks of the Black Sea Coast, it decorated the mirror of the 2nd century A.D. from the tomb-106, the burial ground of Belbek-IV in the Southwestern Crimea (3, p. 39, fig. 18) (tab.: 1) and in some other Central Asian principalities. For example, the ceramic vessel from Qangui (the middle Syr Darya, Ak-Tobe-2) of the 1st – 3rd centuries A.D. bears a variant (tab.: 3) of “S-2″ tamga with the lower element turned to the both sides (4, p. 61, fig. 20: 13).

The classic “S-2″ tamga is represented on the burnt bricks from the temple of the 5th – 6th centuries at Kanka site in the Tashkent oasis (tab.:6). Chronologi-cally it is synchronous with the coins with the portrait of the governor from Samarkand Sogd. The identification of this coin remains problematic – whether the tamga from Kanka represents original Qangui heritage or it was brought here by the Sogdian immigrants. A variant of “S-2″ tamga was found on the large ceramic vessels – hums from the Minguryuk site in Tashkent (tab.: 7).

“S-2″ tamga was found to the south from Samarkand Sogd. The vessel of the 5th-6th centuries from Southern Sogd (the Kashkadarya oasis, Aultepa castle) bears its variant (1, p. 23, fig. 5), (tab.: 13). It is struck also on the silver and copper coins of “Iranian Huns”, 33-35 emissions with the Bactrian inscription “alhon” (tab.: 8-10). According to B.I. Vainberg, they could be minted not earlier than the reign of Sassanian shahinshah Shapur III (383 – 388) (5, p. 132), i.e. around the end of the 4th century. The same tamga is on two drachmas, imitating the coins of Varahranu IV (389-399). The first was found near Termez, and the second was bought in Kunduz (Northern Afghanistan) (tab.: 11). The coins were probably struck at the end of the 4th-beginning of the 5th centuries. They are identified with the coinage of “Goboziko” Chionites, reigning in Northern Tokharistan from the end of the 4th century – about the 1440s.

“S-2″ tamga was also found in Chaganian, another region of Northern Tokharistan. “S-2″ tamga, mullet and Bactrian inscriptions were put on the ceramic vessel before kilning, which were found at the necropolis near the citadel of Dalverzin-tepa (6, p. 130 – 132), (tab.: 12). The Dalverzin vessel with “S-2″ tamga could be dated to the 4th -5th centuries A.D. The significant number of “S-2″ tamga was revealed in the upstream of the Indus, in the mountains of Qara-qorum (mainly, near the bridge of Shatial) (tab.: 16 – 18). The Sogdian and Bactrian inscriptions, done by the merchants and pilgrims going to India, frequently accompany them. The most part of Sogdian inscriptions in Qara-qorum dates to the 4th-6th centuries A.D. K. Jettmar relates the inscriptions and marks to the Chionotes, which most likely supervised and protected the roads from Sogdiana to the Indus (7, p. XLVII – XLIX).

O.I. Smirnova certified “S-2″ tamga as the U-shaped mark, or the Samarkand nishan. Though the connection of this mark with Samarkand Sogd in the 6th -8th centuries seems obvious, we can note that in Northern Tokharistan it was used already at the end of the 4th-5th centuries, and even earlier at the Sarmatians – at the second- third quarter of the 2nd century A.D. The existence of the similar or identical marks, earlier at the Sarmatians and later at the Central Asian governors, can be explained by the Central Asian origin of the Sarmato-Alanian tribes. Non-synchronous dates of the marks on the Sarmatian articles of luxury or on the Central Asian coins depended on when the members of this or that clan took the leading positions in this or that region.

Let’s try to reconstruct some events, basing on the presence of “S-2″ tamga at the Sarmatians, in Northern Tokharistan and Sogd. Well, a Sarmatian clan or family, living in the Crimea in the 2nd century A.D, had tamga, brought probably from the Kazakh-Central Asian steppe, most likely, from Qangui. It had been known on the coins in the south of Central Asia from the end of the century. “S-2″ tamga on the find from the Dalverzin necropolis proved its use in Northern Tokharistan.

The mark was spread in Samarkand Sogd from the 5th-6th centuries. Thus, we could assume that the affinitive clans – owners of “S-2″ tamga lived in the Crimea, Qangui, Tokharistan and Sogd. In accordance with the date when they took the power (earlier – in Tokharistan, later – in Sogd), their tamga appeared on the coins. However, we would like to offer another hypothesis and to connect it with the historical events which, in their own turn, are hypothetic in many respects and base on assumptions of the scholars.

“S-2″ tamga was brought to the Crimea by the Sarmato-Alanian tribes migrating from the area between the Caspian sea and the Aral or from the steppe in the north of Central Asia (Qangui). In the west, the clan owning this tamga remained ordinary. In the 4th century, the affinitive clans of the Central Asian nomads moved to the south probably under pressure of the Huns. On the way they involved their nomadic tribesmen living around the Sogdian oases. Known under the name of the Chionites, they attacked the southern lands of Central Asia and Afghanistan and caused the so-called social and economic crisis of the 4th-5th cc. in Northern Tokharistan. Many cities and villages (Dalverzin-tepa, Zar-tepa, Kei-Kobad-Shah, Shahri-Nau, the oases of Bandykhan and Shah) were deserted.

One of the clans (or tribes), conditionally specified as Goboziko Chionites, having the emblem in the form of “S-2″ tamga, settled down in Tokharistan and struck the coins with their tamga. Some scholars assume that in the 5th century the former domains of the Chionites were subordinated to the Hephthalites, probably the Badahshan hillfolk (8, p. 1 – 58; 9, p. 129 – 140). According to another version, the Hephthalites were the governing group of the Chionites. Quite possible is that the Qangui’s origin of the Chionites and their later submission to the Hephthalites caused the version of the Hephthalites’ origin, stated in the Chinese work of the beginning of the 7th century. According to this work, the Hephthalites were descendants of the Qangui people. The Hephthalites started the conquest of the Central Asian lands, in particular, Sogd, from the south. It is quite possible that at that time “S-2″ tamga, as the emblem of the Chionite-Hephthalite clans having taken the power in Samarkand, was brought to Sogd.

Naturally, we should remember the most simple way: “S-2″ tamga could get in Sogd directly from Qangui, when Qangui held the hegemony in the Sogdian oases, However, the clan owning this tamga took the power and started to strike it on the coins only in the 5th-6th centuries. May be, the new finds on the territory of Sogd at the sites dated earlier than the 5th-6th centuries will give the reason to refuse the complicated variant of the origin of the Sogdian marks.

Turning again to the crisis of the 4th-5th centuries in Northern Tokharistan, which was fixed by the archaeological excavations, it is necessary to note the fact: in Sogd (in the valleys of Zarafshan and Kashka Darya) the “crisis” was not detected. R.H. Suleimanov wrote about the rise of town-planning and construction in Nahshab in the 3rd century. As for the 4th century, he wrote about the innovations in Kaunchin, Otrar-Qaratausky and Djetyasarsky ceramics in Sogd, but not about demolitions and desolation of the cities and oases (10, p. 313). We assume that Sogd was a part of the Qangui state from the end of 3rd century A.D. (the Chinese sources inform on this state from the 2nd century A.D.). Together with the Chach oasis, Sogd formed its periphery supplying the products of crafts and farming to the nomads. The active “patronage” of Qangui did not give the Sogdian “city-states”, or the oases, to consolidate and to form the strong centralized state. On the other hand, that prevented Sogd to be included in the neighboring powerful empires – Parthian and Kushan. The migrations of the Chionites, namely, the nomadic tribes of Qangui (including the southern clans from the steppe around Bukhara, Samarkand and Kashkadarya oases), was directed outwardly, to the lands located to the south from the Amu Darya and behind the Kughitang, the former Kushan domains. Their new suzerains, the Sassanians, involved in the struggle against Rome, could not provide the proper protection. This fact could explain why Sogd was not deserted and desolated unlike Tokharistan. The Chionites had to migrate, pressed probably by the Huns-Syuns, which could give the name of “Hun” to the Qangui tribes or to some of them. R.H. Suleimanov stated the close point of view: “The Syrdaryan innovations in the ceramics of Sogd in the 4th-5th … could be considered not as the occupation of Sogd by the Chionites but as the forced migration of the major ethnic substratum of the Qangui state from the left bank of the Syr Darya to its southern territories because of the Huns’ pressure” (10, p. 314).

O.I. Smirnova considers the three-parted mark on the coins of Sogdian ihshids (from Shishpir up to Mastan and “unknown ihshid”), the U-shaped mark (otherwise, S-2 tamga), dated to the time of the Hephthalites, as Tokharistan. According to her, their combination on the Sogdian coins indicates to “the kinship of the governing Samarkand clan (the Kan dynasty) with the dynasty of northern Bactria” (1, p. 17, 37). Now, when the presence S-2 tamga in Northern Tokharistan became obvious, we could assume that the emblems came to Sogd from Tokharistan, and their recognition as the Samarkand symbols reflected the political events of Tokharistano-Sogdian history of the 4th – 6th cc.

In the connection with our assumption, it is worthy to be noted B.I. Marshak’s conclusion that in the 5th century the ancient oriental and Hellenic traditions of the Sogdian art were added by “the new component – influence of post-Kushan Tokharistan” (11, p. 237). The author considered, that in the 4th c. the Syuns (according to the Chinese sources) invaded Sogd, “which were identified with the Chionites without any adequate grounds”. In the 4th-7th cc., after their coming, “the cities and villages grew in Sogd quickly”. At the same time, from the end of the 4th century, the Sogdian art exposed the Hellenic elements, which were probably caused by the fact that the samples of the Greek art from the temples of Tokharistan could be brought to Sogd “because of disturbances of the late Kushan period” and “became the sample for the local imitators”.

It is difficult to say how the Syun invasion from the north could be connected with the income of the Greek things from the south and how all that together could lead to the quick development of the cities and villages. We seem that our variant, i.e. the conquest by the Chionites (not by the Syuns-Huns, but by Iranian speaking tribes from the Central Asian steppes), which caused the temporary independence of Tokharistan from the Sassanian power and the abolition of borders between Sogd and Tokharistan as well as the later consolidation of these areas under the power of the Hephthalites, could have brought to the mass inflow of the Greek things to Sogd from the plundered Tokharistan temples and to accelerate development of urban centers as well as to the above influence of post-Kushan Tokharistan. In the same way and in the same period, the Kushano-Sassanian dish (the dish from Kercheva) could be brought to Chach, where the local masters added the Sogdian inscription and Chach tamga.

It should be noted that the famous Bukhara mark on the silver and copper coins of the 4th century (tab.: 25), tamga of the Chach governors (the Tashkent oasis) on the coins of the 3rd-4th centuries and on the dish from Kerchev have much in common with S-2 tamga (especially variants with the round central part) (tab.: 4-5). It is obvious that these tamgas have the common origin and their similarity reflects the fact that the affinitive clans governed in Chach, Samarkand and Bukhara Sogd, what was reflected in the Chinese sources mentioning “the governing dynasty of Kan”, which gave the governors of many Central Asian principalities.

Analyzing the so-called “Samarkand mark”, we tried to reconstruct some historical events in the dark and poorly known epoch of Chionito-Hephthalite conquests. Tamgas represent the valuable historical and ethnographic source and require the further study.

Author: Djangar Ilyasov

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