The history of costume begins from the time when the man, covering himself in animal hides and loin cloths made of plants, discovered the importance of clothing as means of protection against adverse impacts of his natural surrounding. With time clothes became more complex and not only served to protect us from cold, heat, bruises and scratches, but also to be an object through which the man could express his artistic worldview and ideas about beauty. In other words, costume started to perform an aesthetic function.
Clothes are an indivisible part of the society’s material culture. Therefore, when studying the history of costume one should consider it together with historical and economic development of a country, and link it to geography, religion, and people’s traditional occupations.
When the author studies the costume of Khorezm inhabitants, she sources her findings from the pictures of costumes represented in the pieces of fine art discovered on the territory of ancient Khorezm, namely murals, terracotta, sculpture, and coins from ancient settlement sites of Gyaur-kala, Koy-Krylgan-kala, Toprak-kala, Ayaz-kala and others.
Studies of ancient Khorezmian costume were initiated by S. P. Tolstov, a prominent scholar and leader of Khorezmian archaeological and ethnographic field research group. However, in his studies, Tolstov touched upon this topic only in passing and usually in connection with other information obtained during excavations.
Khorezmian oasis located in the lower reaches of the largest waterway in Central Asia, Amudarya River, has played a very important role in the history of not only our land, but of the entire Central Asia. Tolstov used to call it “a linking element between the world of North-Eurasian steppes and mountainous countries of Frontal and Southern parts of Central Asia and North-Indian depression, a junction of East-Mediterranean, Indian and North-Eurasian elements” (2, p. 341).
Antiquity (the 4th century B.C. – the 4th century A.D.) was the heyday of Khorezmian state, the most powerful of the Middle and Near Eastern nations. Khorezm had always been an independent power – the fact that to a large extent determined its subsequent cultural history. Not being made part of Hellenistic empires, it became a kind of sanctuary for ancient oriental traditions in Central Asia.
Characteristic of the ancient Khorezmian costume was the fact that it developed slowly and remained unchanged for a long time. Besides, its cut was identical for all social groups. The only distinction was in the quality of fabric and in trimming/decoration. Clothing in ancient Khorezm combined ancient oriental features with explicitly manifested local ones.
Male costume. The set of male costume included a caftan, a shirt, and a pair of pants.
Caftan was open down the front, wrapped from left to right, tightly girdled at the waist, had a triangular or round cut of a neck, and narrow, usually long sleeves. Sleeves could also be short, as one can see in a terracotta figurine from Koy-Krylgan-kala, which has a narrow relief welt running at an armpit level (Ill. 1). Perhaps people wore short-sleeve caftans in warm season.
The length and trimming of a caftan depended on a person’s social status. High society Khorezmians wore either knee- or ankle-long caftans. The latter type is quite rare. Thus one can assume that these caftans were worn only by courtiers – grandees, military leaders – or the king, because their caftans were richly decorated with fur running along the collar, lapels and hem (Ill. 3 b-e). Ordinary people wore short caftans covering upper thighs and featuring less ornamentation or none at all (Ill. 3 a).
It should be noted that in the type of collar cut and list one can trace some semblance to Sogdian and Bactrian caftans (3, p. 38, Table II; p. 39, Table III). This is an indication of the fact that despite its territorial autonomy, Khorezm maintained links with other nations and borrowed some clothing elements from there.
Khorezmian caftan, however, was “primmer”, that is, it was girdled more tightly at the waist. This can be clearly seen in the specimen of an ossuary from Koy-Krylgan-kala (Ill. 4) featuring a man in a tight-fitting caftan wrapped to the left, with fur list not only on the lapels and hem, but also on the cuffs. A figurine found in the same fortress is another evidence of the fact that cuffs were also trimmed with fur (Ill. 1). This terracotta suggests that caftan was worn over some underwear: under the caftan’s short sleeve one can see a cuff of a long sleeve of another garment – probably a shirt.
Caftan is demi-season clothing usually made of dense material that keeps its shape and protects from bad weather or scorching sun. This means that people had to wear lighter clothing underneath it, a shirt, for instance. Its cut could be identical to one of the caftan, i.e. straight and loose.
Judging by the aforementioned figurine, the shirt was not open, had no collar, its neck was round and sleeves long. Khorezmian shirts are similar to the clothing of Persians and Medians pictured on the relieves of Persepolis and Naqsh-i-Rustem (3, p. 37, Table I; p. 38, Table II), which is yet another confirmation of the links that existed between Khorezm and other countries and nations.
Just like with caftan, social distinctions were shown in the shirt’s neck trimming. In the abovementioned items one can see decorative elements such as triangle insertion on the chest or a lace-like application running along the neck (Ill. 2). This was probably embroidery or a necklace.
Male pants were of two types: narrow or semi-wide, and wide, baggy trousers.
The first type was more common, judging by numerous finds of antique articles from ancient Khorezm. These pants were always worn tucked inside the boot. This can be seen in a well-preserved fragment of legs in mid-calf pants, which was discovered on the northern wall of the so-called Hall of Warriors in Toprak-kala (Ill. 5). It is characteristic that narrow pants are mostly found in combination with a short caftan and never with a long one. Perhaps this was another feature of social distinction. These pants were worn by people of lower classes.
Nobility, on the contrary, dressed in wide, baggy ankle-long trousers with folds made at the waist. It is known that in many times the quantity of material and the length of garments indicated one’s belonging to a certain class: the richer and nobler the owner, the more luxurious and splendid his attire. Long pants required lots of fabric, and only well-off people could afford it. Thus, wide pants were the privilege of a king and his courtiers. This conclusion is supported by high relief image of a king sitting on his throne from the so-called Hall of Victories in Toprak-kala (Ill. 6); the king is dressed in a typical Khorezmian caftan and wide ankle-long pants dropping in spectacular folds.
Smoothly falling folds suggest that the pants were made of a lightweight material, such as silk or fine cotton, whereas pants of the first type were probably made of a coarser fabric – wool, for instance. Caftans were also made of silk, cotton and linen. The fact that these were the fabrics common in ancient Khorezm is evidenced by surviving pieces found in Toprak-kala: one is linen, others are wool, silk and cotton (4, p. 230).
Typical colours of a male costume were red and black, which is evidenced by surviving fragments of sculptures and murals in the halls of the Toprak-kala palace. Several figures were discovered here, wearing clothes of different cuts, with ornamentation and without, but always in red colour.
Footwear. People of Khorezm wore two kinds of footwear: boots and shoes. Based on the known images, the most common kind were boots (Ill. 7), usually mid-calf high, worn by military men or people of lower social classes.
King and his courtiers wore lightweight footwear: low, up to the ankle, boots and narrow-toe shoes fastened on the ankle with laces and round buckles. This can be seen in high relief images found in Toprak-kala (Ill. 8).
Headdress. Pieces of fine art demonstrate that Khorezmians paid attention not only to their costume, but also to their headdress. Men’s headdresses were quite diverse, ranging from a simple conic cap to a hat of a complex shape (Ill. 9). Those worn by high society people were richly decorated; for instance, king’s headdress was a round hat with earflaps and a back flap, decorated with plaques or beads. A diadem was worn on top of it. This is also confirmed by the picture of a Khorezmian king on the so-called “Vazamar” coin. Tolstov compared this headdress to saukele, wedding headdress of Karakalpak women (5, p. 15) (Ill. 10).
Men’s headdress of ancient Khorezm was also decorated with discs, indented diadem and a very characteristic detail such as crescent moon (Ill. 9 e-h; Ill. 11). Could these ornaments represent a title, a name, or a deity? For a crescent moon is a characteristic symbol of warrior-gods in the iconography of several Near, Middle and Far Eastern nations.
Headdresses of lower-ranking people were simpler. These people wore conic caps or round, low hats that were wider at the top and resembled a chugurme – men’s hat in present-day Khorezm (Ill. 9 b; Ill. 12).
Thus, the costume of ancient Central Asia, particularly male costume, is a unique set that comprises outer clothing and underwear, headdresses and footwear. Like the entire culture, it is characterised by a combination of ancient oriental features and explicitly local ones.
1. Толстов С. П. Древний Хорезм. М., 1948; По следам древнехорезмийской цивилизации. М. – Л., 1948; По древним дельтам Окса и Яксарта. М., 1962.
2. Горелик М. В. К этнической идентификации персонажей, изображенных на предметах Амударьинского клада // Художественные памятники и проблемы культуры Востока. Л., 1985.
3. Топрак-кала. Дворец // ТХАЭЭ. Т. XIV. М., 1984.
4. Археологические и этнографические работы ХЭ. 1949-1953 гг. / Под ред. .С. П. Толстова и Т. А. Жданко. М., 1958.