On The Studies of The Central Asian Costume

Issue #3 • 592

Feruza Ayupova,
Art Critic

The cave paintings in Sherabad District of Surkhandarya Province are the most valuable material for the study of the costume of a man of the ancient period of the Central Asia. So, the artist of the Neolithic Era had painted a hunting on the bulls in Zaraut-Kamar (pic. 1), where one of the drawings shows the hunters dressed in “the hooded cloaks”, and the other one depicts the hunters without clothes, but with long tails. These scenes have caused a lot of ingenious guesses. According to one of the assumptions, the hunters, depicted in the bell-shaped coats with narrow and long necks, resemble a large-size bird – bustard – common in this area; presumably, the wild bulls were not afraid of these birds, and primitive hunters could therefore mask their approach to them (1, p. 14). Such masking associated with hunting magic, existed in European and Central Asian figurative art, which indicates the formation of the primitive costume of the Central Asia. Primitive clothes were already a vital necessity for a human being that protected them from cold or heat. Clothing is the result of a man’s struggle for life. Primitive headpieces and pectoral jewelry appeared, and with the invention of the belt emerged the aprons and pants (2, p. 8).
In the VII-VI centuries BC the historical and cultural states of Bactria, Margiana, Khorezm (Chorasmia), Sogdiana were emerging on the territory of Central Asia, where the type of clothes of the Central Asian inhabitants were getting formed, as evidenced by the bas-reliefs at Persepolis (pic. 2). On the basis of the studying the bas-reliefs, the experts came to the following conclusions:
· Clothes of the Sogdians and Bactrians:
1. Head-dress – small hemispherical caps;
2. Outerwear – tight shirt with belt;
3. The Sogdians were wearing long and narrow pants; the Bactrians – trousers ending below the knees, tucked into the high boots with upturned toes;
· Clothes of the Khorezmians and Saks (pic. 3):
1. Headwear – hats in the form of a hood fastened under the chin; the Saks were wearing the hats with ear-caps and a long pointed top;
2. Outerwear consisted of the long coat without collar, which rounded hems were trimmed (with fur or trim);
3. The pants were long and tight.
The analysis of the bas-reliefs of the Achaemenid Empire shows that in the historical-cultural regions of Central Asia the Eastern type of costume had formed during this period: the hair-dress is a neat haircut and well-groomed beard; the headpiece consisted of the small hats or a “hood”; clothes – shirt or caftan; pants – anaxarete, and shoes. Probably, the reliefs depict “high-ranking officials” of Transoxania, since such clothes in the ancient world could afford only the elite groups of the population.
The conquest of the Central Asia by Alexander the Great put an end to the existence of the Achaemenid Empire. The North of Transoxania was freed from the foreign influence; an intensive process of formation of local states had begun. At the same time, the Southern part of the Central Asia – Bactria, Sogdiana, and Parthia were dependent from Hellenic state (3, p. 51). During this period, the Greek language and fashion dominate at the court, the kings have purely Greek names and titles, the governors choose the Greek gods as their supreme patrons. However, outside of the palaces of the rulers, common people adhere to the old traditions that existed prior to the conquest of Transoxania by Hellenic basileus.
In the medallic art we see the personal portrait of a ruler, where the medalist faced the task of glorifying the outstanding personality of the king, the commander or the ruler (pic. 4), which seem to combine the quality of military and civilian valor (1, p. 97). The basileus depicted on the coins:
· have short-cut hair;
· their headwear consist of the headband, tiara, helmet, elephant scalp, etc. (pic. 5);
· They are dressed in himation (not a tunic) (pic. 6);
As the analysis of the clothes of the rulers has shown, the medallic art depicts a military ceremonial dress of the antiquity (pic. 7), as evidenced by the headdress and costume of the ruler. Certainly, people in the secular world followed the ancient Greek fashion; however the Sogdians, Bactrians, and Khorezmians were wearing their traditional national costumes. Before the conquest of the Central Asia by Alexander the Great the old Baktrian origin was developing, while in the III – II centuries BC – “the Hellenization of Bactria” takes place (4, p. 209). This applies not only to the development of art, but also to some extent to the formation and development of the ancient Central Asian dress.
In the I century BC on the territory of the Central Asia the Kushan Empire was formed as a theocratic state, where the king, performing the functions of the secular head, at the same time was acting as a chief priest (3, p. 64).
In portrait interpretation of the coins of Heray the ancient canons were preserved, but in the portrayal of the traits of the ruler, the artist-medalist highlighted the ethnicity of the portrayed Kushan ruler belonging to the tribal group of Yueji: the specific haircut, shape of the mustache and whiskers, and purely Asian type of dress. It seems that Kushans were defiantly abandoning the Greco-Bactrian traditions that were cultivated by their predecessors on the throne, claiming their own traditions (pic. 8). Later on, the Kushan rulers had set a new canon of image in the medallic art – the king before the altar (pic. 9), i.e. resuming the impersonal portrait style, typical for Oriental countries.
The Kushan headdress is a high conical red hat decorated with gems crowning the head of the Saganian prince (pic.10). The form of headwear of the Kushan rulers, according to numismatic data, varied: in most cases they were of a round shape, sometimes it is a crown. Under a hat is the royal headband, which is depicted by two ribbons (pic. 11).
The Kushan medallic art shows the ruler in the Oriental dress: caftan, sometimes a shirt and a cloak worn over it, wide draped pants – anaxarete, and shoes (pic. 12). In addition to numismatic material, extensive material about the costume of Kushan people give the statues of the Khalchayan Palace. The wide pants of men in most cases are of soft white, obviously, cotton fabric. The shirts are of white or dark pink color of the same fabric or silk. Their caftans are made of thick fabric, probably wool, mainly of red color. However, the Kushan ruler wears caftan and trousers of the aquamarine-greenish color, covered with yellow motifs, probably depicting an embroidery with golden thread. Collar, cut-outs and flaps of the caftan, usually, were trimmed with wide band of a different color, sometimes with a motif (4, p. 84). Since the reign of Kanishka the stone sculpture becomes widely spread in Bactria. The study of the stone sculptures of the era of Kanishka from Surkh-Kotala (Afghanistan) and Mathura (India) provide a huge material for the study of the costume of Kushan period (pic. 13).
The textiles of Kushan era are evidenced by the material of archaeological excavations on the site of Halchayan settlement, where a piece of fabric had been discovered, which fell into small pinkish fragments. According to the results of the analysis, it was a thin, dense silk fabric, originally painted in a bright red color preferred in the ancient world. The significance of this find is high, because the development of the sericulture and silk weaving in the Central Asia begins no earlier than the V-VI centuries BC, and in ancient time China kept the monopoly on silk production (5, p. 54).
Thus, in the Kushan era the impersonal type of portrait was firmly established, where the characteristic features of a person move to a second plan, while at the foreground comes their social status, which is transmitted only through their dress.
In exploring the archaeological artifacts it becomes possible to distinguish several varieties of the ancient Central Asian costume that played an important role in historical and cultural life of the region:

· I period (Neolithic) – primitive-ritual costume;
· II period (VI –IV centuries BC) – the formation of ethnic costume;
· III period (IV-II centuries BC) – military costume;
· IV period (I century BC – VI century AD) – ritual and secular costume.

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