Art of Uzbekistan – Female Images in Bactrian Coroplastics (The Ox River Valley)

Issue #1 • 2452

Spiritual culture of the population inhabiting the Ox Valley in Bactria like of the whole Central Asia was to a much extent determined by the religious perception of the environment.

Canons of depiction of worshipped deities known due terracotta plastics have taken shape already In the Copper and Bronze Ages. Female image of deity – goddess mother – played a particular role among the multitude of statuettes. The most ancient clay figures depicting sitting women found in the territory of South Turkmenistan date back to the sixth millennium B.C., to the Copper Age (1, p. 9). The richer collection of terracotta dates back to the Copper Age epoch (5th-early 3rd millennium B.C.). It has been found in the Karatepa and Namazga II sites.

Coroplastics of the early Bronze epoch is characterized by the figures made in a conventionally plain style when a full-scale frontally turned silhouette remotely reminding of a feminine figure is formed of the broad flattened round clay cake. Much attention is paid to the development of head where particular emphasis is made on the modeling of straightforward eyes, detailed hair-do and decorations on the neck. However, the torso is maximally relative, hands with underdeveloped arms are placed aside, wide tights transform into a general elongated triangle of joined legs.

Several types of feminine deity already represent small plastics of the developed Bronze epoch, this testifies for the widening of local pantheon. Statuettes related to the Bronze Age have been found in the sites of Altyntepa and Namazgatepa.

The first millennium B.C. (early Iron Age) marks complete disappearance of the plastic art. It can be accounted for the fact that ancient Iranian deities represented mainly these or those abstract notions and had no humaniform embodiment. According to G.Pugachenkova’s hypothesis, terracottaless period is to be explained either by the replacement of humaniform deities by symbols or by producing cult idols from different materials (wood, bone or metal) (2, p. 121).

During the antiquity period small plastics returns, cult of goddess mother remains most popular. By this time, terracotta-making canons built up during the Copper and Bronze Ages have been lost, that is why goddess-mother image found its new embodiment that has been developed under direct influence of the Hellenistic culture.

We have chosen female cult images stamped in terracotta plastics found during archaeological works in the ancient Bactrian sites situated along the river Ox (Amu-Darya) as an object of investigation for this article. Terracotta dating has been done based on the accompanying archaeological materials. It is possible to identify five types of statuettes.

The first type is an archaic type of Great Bactrian Goddess that was presented by terracottas depicting a naked woman and that was not popular based on the quantity of findings. Only three statuettes of this type (2nd-1st centuries B.C.) were found on Zartepa and Kampyrtepa sites. They trace the Parthian influence, and their analogies can be seen in the statuettes found in the sites of Selvekia and Babylon. They date back to the 3rd-2nd centuries B.C. The exclusion is the image of the naked feminine rider (1st-2nd centuries A.D.) where the Parthian influence is also traced.

Unique is the statuette discovered in Kampyrtepa burial site of the 2nd century A.D. She holds a dove and an egg in her arms. No analogous image has been found in Central Asia before. Probably, this image is connected with the permeation of the northern nomad people who came and settle in the farming oases of Central Asia.

The second type of the Bactrian goddess is the most popular. Judging from the archaeological findings, for a long time this goddess was characterized by fine development of face features and clothes smoothly draped in the Hellenistic style. They can be found in the layers of the 3rd century B.C., i.e. since the time of coroplastics revival in Central Asia, and remains popular up to the 2nd century A.D. It spread very widely – from the eastern borders of Bactria to the most remote latitudes of the west. We can identify three subtypes of the above-described sample.

The first. Goddess is in a long dress, belted under the chest, she has the attribute (a piala, a round-like object) or is characterized by a definite position of her hands – at the chest or belly. These subtype earliest statuettes were found in the site of Ai-Hanum (3rd-2nd centuries B.C.). Statuettes found in the sites of Dilberdjin and Kampyrtepa date back to the 1st century B.C.-1st century A.D., the latest to the 1st-2nd centuries A.D.

The second. Goddesses with a cloak on the shoulders are spread in the eastern districts of the Amu-Darya River, in the sites of Saxanohur, Aihanum, Old Termez, Zartepa, Shortepa and Karatepa. Meanwhile, Saxanhonur, Aihanum and Termez statuettes have a vessel and an investiture ring. They symbolize custody of royal power. In the opinion of the researchers, deity with the investiture ring represented on the coins depicts Anakhita’s image. Exception is with the Karatepe statuettes showed with a baby or a hand placed on the belly, and without any attributes. The baby or the hand on the belly undoubtedly speaks for the symbols of fertility. The time of spread of all the statuettes of this subtype refers to the 3rd century B.C.-3rd century A.D.

The goddesses bungled in the cloak of himantles represent the third subtype of the statuettes. It is spread in the middle and western flow of the Amu-Darya in the sites of Dilberdjin, Kampyrtepa, Hatabtepa, and Mirzabek-kala. These statuettes were popular in the early Kushan and Kushan times, i.e. in the 1st century B.C.-2nd century A.D.; although remain popular in the 3rd-4th centuries A.D. having slightly changed their look (body proportions increased and became heavy), but they are met only in Dilberdjin (in other sites such statuettes have not been discovered). Goddesses have standardized attributes – a vessel in one hand and a bunch of grapes in another one, sometimes only with a vessel in the hand or even without attributes at all. There are two original statuettes found in Kampyrtepa site that do not fit into any subtype. They are dated the 1st century B.C. – 1st century A.D. One of them depicts the image of a thin girl in a short tunic, another one shows a woman in a long dress holding a baby with the kid’s legs. These statuettes go beyond the Bactrian stereotypes and are related to the times when Kampyrtepa was conquered by Parthia. Both are kept with the Research Institute of Fine Arts.

The third type of Bactrian goddess is the image of sitting goddess. A number of researchers characterize this type as Ordohsho Goddess that occupies a prominent place in the official cults of Great Kushans. In the opinion of G.Pugachenkova ‘the name of Ordohsho Goddess clearly goes back to Vahsh – Ox- Amu-Darya testifying for its semantic link with the great and full-flowing river of Bactria. Ordohsh’s cornucopia in the coins is the attribute of official iconography borrowed from the Greko-Roman sculpture. It is usual for Tikhe – patroness of cities and Fortune – goddess of fortune and luck. In mass products of Bactrian coroplastics, attributes in the Great goddess’s hands vary by the districts: there is a vessel, fruit, mirror, garland, flower, purse and some other hardly distinguishable generalized objects (3, p.113). Statuettes come from different places and have both a wide scope of spread and periods from the 1st to the 4th centuries A.D. With the time, going statuettes of this type acquire local features and clothing. Their images are flattened, rather often heads become disproportionately large compared to their bodies, and clothing acquires the Asian cut. Similar items have been found in the sites of Kei-Kobad-shakh, Airtam, Zartepa, Kampyrtepa and Choplitepa.
There is an interesting statuette from Dilberdjin, dated the 2nd-1st centuries B.C. It depicts a naked sitting goddess who placed her hands near the bosom.

The statuette from Kampyrtepa dated the 1st century B.C. – 1st century A.D. with the bird and a naked boy in the hands is in a sharp contrast with the above-mentioned due to elaborated clothing and unlike attributes. The next, fourth type, of the Bactrian goddess is represented by multiple goddesses wearing Asian clothes. This type is divided into three subtypes.

The first. The straight standing woman wearing a long dress with pleated skirt diverging from the waist. Statuettes differ from each other not only by the attributes but by the depicted images as well. Goddesses in such dresses are found in the sites of Saxanohur (4), Khalkadjar (5, p. 301-303, fig. 1.1), Akkurgan (6, p. 75, fig. 24, 2), Emishtepa (7, p. 164, fig. 5, 1), Kampyrtepa (8, p. 43). They spread from the 3rd century B.C. until the 4th century A.D.; they were most popular in the early Kushan and Kushan periods.

The second. The image of goddesses in long caftans with long sleeves hanging from the shoulders. She holds a jug or, probably, a fruit in her bent hands. Sometimes the hands are fully hidden under the caftan. They have been found in the sites of the middle and western flows of the Amu-Darya (Emishtepa, Kampyrtepa, Choplitepa and Mirzabekkala). Time of their spread relates to the 1st-3rd centuries A.D.

The third. Goddesses dressed in wrap-over clothes are represented by two terracottas from the sites of Kampyrtepa and Mirzakultepa. Time of their spread falls on the end of the 1st century B.C. till the 1st-2nd centuries A.D. Goddesses attributes vary – terracotta from Mirzakultepe holds a goblet in her bent right hand and an unknown object in her left hand; Kampyrtepe terracotta presses piala to the chest with her right hand and holds a bird in her left hand.

The last, fifth type, of the statuettes is represented by the images of goddesses under the arch. They have been found only in the sites of Choplitepa and Mirzabekkal and go back to the Kushan times (9). Statuettes of this type are not typical of Bactria. Their multiple findings with both male and female images have been marked in Sogd. V.Mishkeris distinguished them as a separate class – ‘Tiles’, subclass – ‘Tiles shaped with the ornamental border’ (10, p. 243-259, table 108-121). The distinguished type of the Bactrian goddess seems to bear the Sogdian influence.

During the Hellenistic period in Bactria, one can notice the trend of copying Greek statues of deities erected in the squares, in palaces and temples. There are only isolated instances of the statuettes of the antique deities in the Bactrian sites situated along the river Ox. Thus, the statuette depicting Niche was found in the site of Zartepa, (11), Athens in Kampyrtepa, Celena (?) – in Zartepa. Statuettes referring to Dionysus personages were also found here. These are images of women-musicians depicted with lutes, harps and one of them with a rubab. They were found in such sites as Old Termez, Akkurgan and Kampyrtepa. Area of spread of the statuettes with the Greek roots is not large. All of them have been found in the middle flow of the Amu-Darya River, on its left bank. The Bactrian element is already noticeable in the named images of foreign origin that is their iconographic, ethnic peculiarities and strictness of frontal portrayal. Time of spread falls on the 3rd century B.C. – 2nd century A.D.

Bactria was the first region in Central Asia where Buddhism started its spread already in the end of the 1st century A.D. and revealed itself as a factor of ideological and artistic influence. After unification of Bactria and Northern India into a single Kushan state, conditions had been set up for the spread of Buddhism in Central Asia. The Kushanian governors of Bactria provided financial support to Buddhism, allocating money for construction of Buddhism cult constructions; this promoted development of Buddhism art. More than few statuettes depicting yakshins have been found in the Bactrian territory of the Ox Valley. T.Mcrtychev notes that Buddhism borrowed this image from the broad layer of folk believe, where yakshins stood out as deities of health, welfare, prosperity and wisdom. In Bactria it, probably, merged with the cult of goddess of fertility and was worshiped just as this image as that time the majority of the Bactrian population did not belong to the followers of Buddhism, and Buddhism statuettes were substituting the local ones. Yakshin statuettes have been found in the sites of Tepi-shakh, Old Termez, Zartepa, Fayaztepa, Kampyrtepa, Choplitepa and date back to the 2nd-3rd centuries A.D.

Therefore, cult of the feminine deity in the Bactrian territory of the Ox Valley remained worshipped from the ancient times to the early Middle Ages. Coroplastics samples testify for the multiplicity of goddesses within the Bactrian pantheon. Meanwhile, some of them officially belonged to the Pantheon adopted by Kanishka, others were exclusively tribal and patrimonial, and that is proved by their spread. Some of them were worshipped for a long time, others – shortly. Their images do not appear later on. It is worth mentioning that despite the fact that for many feminine images of coroplastics stylistic coming into being was significantly influenced by the Hellenistic, Indian, Parthian and nomadic traditions; we can trace time interaction and traditional consistency firmly preserved by the inhabitants.

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