Akmal Ulmasov. The Unknown Antefix Finds from Khalchayanа

Issue #4 • 1689

Fig.1а The study of the Khalchayan ancient settlement site began in 1960s by the Uzbek art history field work unit (UzIskE) of the Art History Institute of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, led by the ASU Academician Galina A. Pugachenkova. Archaeological excavations revealed that in the ancient times this hilly area was an ancient city (1). Data provided by the researchers suggest that early settlements on this territory appeared in the middle of 1st millennium BC; big city formation dates to the IV-III cc. BC, and the city development occurs during the times of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom, Sak-Yuezhi and Kushan time. The settlement decays during the Kushan-Sassanid period (III-IV cc. AD). But in the early Middle Ages the territory of the settlement gets inhabited again.

Fig.1b The unique feature of this ancient city is its sub-square citadel (Karabagtepa) surrounded by a defence wall and a moat; quarters with extensive levelling structures (Hanakotepa), major architectural structures, such as palaces, as well as residential buildings in the gardens and fields and on river banks. One of the most significant structures is the Khalchayan palace built in the early Kushan period (I c. BC) and used as “House of Receptions”. Archaeologists suggest that over time people began to refer to it as the Ancestors Home, i.e. the temple (2, p. 27) associated with the dynasty cult. The building (35×26 m) consists of three parts: the centre is the guest or front part flanked on either side by the chambers of treasury and arsenal. The front part featuring cross-axial layout consists of a six-pillar veranda (aivan), a hall with a sufa and a two-column chamber. The interior is decorated with wall painting and relief sculpted friezes.

Fig.1c The peculiarity of the Khalchayan buildings is the employment of the Greco-Roman architectural elements, namely terracotta roof tiles and antefixes in combination with traditional oriental layout structure with details such as merlon battlements. The latter were found in the palace ruins and in the surrounding hills during archaeological excavations (1, p. 136, Fig. 80). 20-30 years after the field work was completed, several dozens of antefixes were accidentally discovered here and placed in the museum of local school No. 41. Theses specimens had not yet been known to scientists. In this article the present author studies and analyzes the antefixes found in Khalchayan for the first time.

Fig.1d Antefix is an antique architectural detail in the shape of a palmette and acanthus leaves or a shield with a relief ornament or the image of a fabulous creature. It consists of a flat board tapered at the top, and a calliper on the back side, which is a long groove, semicircular in cross-section. The obverse is usually stamped from kalyb or matrix, and the reverse, which is hand-moulded, is connected to the face and roasted; for this reason they are called terracotta. Sometimes they were made of marble, plaster or stone (predominantly limestone).

Fig.1e Originally, antefixes were used in ancient temples and actually had several meanings. First of all, as a structural element, they were placed along the edge of a roof along the front of a building and functioned as drains, protecting the seams between tiles from water. Secondly, they had a decorative value, enlivening the look of a building; besides, reproducing the images of fabulous creatures – demons, for instance, they were a kind of charms protecting the home of deities from evil forces. Such antefixes can be found in the VI-IV cc. BC Etruscan temples (3, pp. 144-151, 196, Fig. 84-89, 114). On the territory of Bactria similar antefixes were found, for example, in Zindantepa. The anthropomorphic image was topped with a tall crown in the shape of an antefix decorated a vegetable shoot (4, pp. 76, 80, Fig. 1e; p. 93, Fig. 85). Antefixes with palmettes in combination with a sima (horizontal frieze with alternating ornament) were also used in Corinthian temples based on Ionic order styles of mainland Greece (for example, the temple of Artemis on Corfu Island, 600 BC) (5, p. 61-62, Fig. 21). Genesis and evolution of antefixes can be a separate research theme. Based on their compositional solutions, the Khalchayan antefixes can be divided into several groups.

Fig.1e(2) The first one includes specimens wrought on a “shield”: antefix with downward scrolls. One of them survived almost as a complete piece, only ? of its calliper was lost, while others were found in fragments, with only the frontal part remaining. Apparently, the front “shield” of the first antefix was cast with a matrix; however, its fore and lower “limb” and water opening are missing. The central vertical vein on the “shield” is almost invisible, and the scrolls spread out to the sides (Fig. 1a). In other broken fragments the central vein is emphasized with a relief border, and the scrolls run vertically along the central vein and then sharply curl downwards (Fig. 1b). Similar antefixes with less rounded scrolls are found among the earlier, publicized finds from Khalchayan (1, Fig. 80-4).

Fig.1f Fragments of the second group have the opposite scroll arrangement, as compared with the above, i.e. their scrolls curl upwards, and the vertical veins on these “shields” function as outlines; an oval frame goes around the main image. The scrolls appear to be “growing” from the outline (Fig. 1c). One of the fragments differs from the earlier ones not only in its completed vaulted shape, but also in its schematized, broad and simplified scrolls filling the “shield” area, which has a rim. Here the central vein is shown very evenly and boldly (Fig. 1d). Similar composition is found on the fragments found earlier; however, in the earlier specimens the central vein basically does not exist (1, Fig. 80-7).

The third group comprises antefixes with more complex compositions arranged on a plane that is rimmed with a single or double outline. The vertical vein loses its significance, replaced by three almond shapes with a separate frame, separated by horizontal “bands” with scrolls on either side, ending with a pointed leaf. Here the leaves are presented very schematically, which makes them look not like palmettes. This design brings them closer to vegetable ornament. Three fourths of one specimen is well-preserved, while only the upper front part is what is left of the other one (Fig. 1e), which testifies to the early discovery of the antefixes (1, Fig. 80/9).

Fig.1g Three specimens of the fourth group differ not only from the aforementioned ones, but also from each other. One of the surviving fragments features a zigzagging frieze at the bottom; above it there is a broad vertical vein in the shape of a grain ear with spiral scrolls on either side, and underneath them there is an almond- or pepper-shaped ornament outlined with a narrow border (Fig. 1f). This ornament is still used in folk arts and crafts (skullcaps, suzane rugs, etc.) and has a symbolic meaning. Since ancient times it was believed that these designs protect from evil spirits. In the second specimen the vein looks like a groove that resembles a pilaster; diagonally from it runs a stalk crowned with a ring-like scroll (Fig. 1g). The composition of these two fragments is not found among the previously studied antefixes. One of the specimens is covered with red engobe and schematically represents acanthus leaves. Its central vein is very evenly and gracefully outlined (Fig. 1h). Similar fragment exists among previously found specimens (1, Fig. 80/1-3).

It is characteristic of the Khalchayan antefixes to be decorated with schematized motifs, such as palmettes and acanthus leaves. But despite these ornamental differences they belong to the same type of architectural decor in terms of function and semantics. Their fragmented state makes it impossible to establish their precise dimensions. Reconstruction approximates it to 20-25 centimetres – the size that is close to the actual one (Fig. 2).

Fig.2b Antefixes decorated with palmettes and acanthus leaves were found not only in Khalchayan, but also in other Kushan monuments of Bactria, for example, in Dalverzintepa and Kultepa, as well as in the Afghanistan sites of ancient settlements, such as Dilberjine and Ai-Khanum. One such artefact was found in the ruins of the 3rd c. BC administrative and palace building in Ai-Khanum. Its elements broaden towards the edges. Unlike the Khalchayan specimens, their outline is figured rather than monolithic. The central vein and leaves with scrolls at the end run from the base (Fig. 3a). The researchers of Ai-Khanum describe them as a Greco-Asian hybrid (6, p. 42; p. 137; pp. 641-644, Fig. 34-36).

Fig.1b Terracotta antefixes from Dalverzintepa differ from other specimens found there and from the Khalchayan finds in their larger size and gracefully shaped palmettes. Their vertical vein is almost invisible. Its upper section features an almond-shaped relief (Fig. 3b). Traces of red engobe on the face indicate that it was coloured in red. Researchers confirm that these palmettes make the antefix akin to Hellenistic specimens, yet not identical to them. Besides, the complex known as Dt-2 where the antefix was found, judging by the pottery and coins, dates to the 2nd c. BC and early 1st c. AD. In terms of its style and manufacturing date the antefix itself places somewhere in between the antefixes from Ai-Khanum and “barbarized” antefixes from Khalchayan and Kultepa (I c. BC – II c. AD.) (7, pp. 83-84 , Fig. 4).

Fig.2a Apart from their structural and decorative functions, Greek specimens met the requirements of classical architecture standards. Perhaps Bactrian masters, rather than copy those classic specimens, exercised a creative approach to their use in the traditional interpretation, taking into account panoramic distance in combination with dented merlons and simplicity characteristic of local architecture free from redundant ornamentation. This creativity is confirmed by the diversity of design combined with ancient oriental elements, suggesting that the dents and the antefixes were used in syncretic combination, without negating the idea that antefixes and flat roof tiles were positioned along the roof and used only as decorative rather than structural element. Yet based on the studied materials and given the widespread use of timber in local architecture, one can assume that people put tiles over horizontal roof beams, and to protect longitudinal seams from rain they covered them with a groove-like callipers – the construction method used in Greece in Asia Minor in the VI-IV cc. BC (8, p. 54, Fig. 16).

The large number of antefixes found in Khalchayan area suggests that they were widely used in construction during that time. One of their specific features characteristic of the ancient Bactrian architecture at large is a synthesis of different traditions. The Khalchayan antefixes provide an interesting resource to study relationships and cultural links between ancient Bactria and artistic traditions of near and distant historical and cultural regions.

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Akmal Ulmasov

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