Art of Construction of Fortification Systems In Ancient Architecture of Central Asia

Dodo Nazilov,

All times architecture absorbed all needs, customs, religious views, esthetic perceptions and other types of human activity. It is confirmed by plans of buildings, interior elements, wall paintings, sculpture, which was reflected not only in individual buildings, but also in urban-planning structure of society. In the structure of ancient settlements, for example, fortification components had a paramount importance, because agricultural oases since ancient times coexisted with nomadic steppe that supposed to protect population of these ancient settlements from possible attacks of nomads. Possibly emergence of terracotta figurines depicting men in small black hats or military helmets was due to complication of different sides of society already in the late Copper Age. It is possible that the image of ancestors reproduces the priests and leaders, who successfully performed functions of economic, ideological and military leadership (1, page 156). Human activities for protection from possible attacks were reflected not only in objects of art, but also in planning structure of ancient settlements and villages, palaces, as well as in elements of external defensive walls. These activities of a freedom-loving people were imprinted in architecture since ancient times. Data on defensive system of ancient and early medieval constructions of Central Asia are available in many publications. Our small article is devoted to illumination of defensive systems on the example of two-three most ancient settlements. These are the settlement of Mullali in Magian, Sapallitepa ancient settlement in Bactria, Palace in Afghanistan (Bactria), Ershi ancient settlement in ancient Fergana, and also Dzhanbas-kala in Khorezm.
It is still noticeable that houses in many settlements of Geoksyur were built chaotically, at the same time there is accurate principle of formation of settlements in a uniform composite organism in the IV millennium BC by construction of a bypass, most likely defensive wall. Such bypass walls were found in Yalangach, Mullali, Aynadep, Geoksyur-9, and Geoksyur-1. An absolute innovation was a peculiar defensive system in Mullali ancient settlement. On the part of Mullali settlement investigated by archeologists a bypass wall with five broken segments, creating a polyhedron, covers the settlement from three sides. Corners of the wall segments are reinforced through each 8–10 m by round towers. They considerably extend outward from the outer line of the wall that, certainly, expands supervision range, respectively improving the defense capability (fig. 1). According to I.B. Shishkin, the towers were used as living premises (2, page 142). Round premises could be used as living rooms, economic rooms for grain storage, and also, according to V.I. Sarianidi, as a kind of “family crypts” – toloses, belonging to big families, which members lived in multi-roomed houses (3, page 24). However I.N. Khlopin, who carefully investigated defensive constructions of Geoksyur settlements made an attempt of reconstruction of discovered walls and towers. “The fencing, – he notes, – was, most likely, such height, which at the thickness of 50-60 cm would make impossible to overcome it “at once”, that is it was not lower than 2,5 – 3 m. The “towers” could not be below the walls; these round premises, most likely, were roofed at the height of about 2 m, and their roofs were used, probably, as defensive platforms. A small parapet, which upper edge was at the level of the top of the wall, was built on such platform to protect the defenders” (4, page 82). It is obvious that the towers located in the system of the external wall confirm I.N. Khlopin’s opinion, indicating their function of defensive towers.
According to observations of researchers, at Altyn-tepe in layers of late Namazga IV (approximately – the second half of III millennium BC) remains of a defensive wall from 2 to 4 m thick were discovered. The wall was on the edge of the settlement and was repeatedly built on, apparently, in the process of accumulation of cultural layers (5, page 44). At the end of the III millennium BC with development of mobile cattle breeding in Eurasian steppes, territories were gradually assimilated and giant cultural communities were created. Initially, the role of defensive line was played by ditches and shafts, which construction was less laborious and quite sufficient (6, page 62).
Inevitability of aggressive wars in the second millennium BC is confirmed by exclusive planning-compositional solution of defensive constructions of such ancient settlements as Sapallitepa and Dashli-3 in Bactria dating the middle of the second millennium BC. Sapallitepa settlement dating back to Bronze Age was discovered by L.I. Albaum in 1968 in Surkhandarya region. Further excavation was continued by A. Askarov. The settlement was constructed in three stages. In all three stages of construction the defensive walls were almost entirely preserved. Apparently, inhabitants of Sapallitepa and Dashli were afraid of not only possible outside attacks of terrible enemy, but also lack of sufficient number of men – soldiers, who could prevent attacks of enemies. It forced them to think about creation of powerful defensive system.
The settlement has a square outline and from all four sides was circled by three thick walls. The first internal wall surrounded residential formation of the settlement, the second, almost the same thickness, departs from the first one on 3,2 m. Between the first and second walls a long corridor was formed. The third wall of the same thickness finishes external borders of the settlement. The second and third walls with a face wall formed eight closed from all sides and separated one from the other corridors. Between fragments of eight long closed corridors inlet openings into the internal corridor were formed (fig. 2). Thus, on Sapallitepa ancient settlement, between the first and second walls, T-shaped deep dead-end corridors were formed. A.A. Askarov considers that they are false entrances to the fortress, that is – traps (7, page 15). Researchers did not find loopholes, embrasures – apertures for observation or firing in any of the walls. However existence of loopholes on the outer wall of external long corridors is obvious, because these corridors were absolutely not connected with the outside world. Defenders were completely in safety here. Warriors-conquerors could get there only after complete victory. It is easy to assume that these external corridors were the most convenient places for conducting defense. However, for this purpose the external corridors should be overlapped. Such opinion was also expressed by M.S. Bulatov (8, page 115). In addition, on the external wall there should be loopholes – narrow apertures for archery. As a result the corridor would get function of a closed bastion, which was taken into account in our reconstruction (fig. 3). Considering existence of vacant territories in the center of the ancient settlement and buildings of the first period of construction, we can assume that its population was not numerous. Small number of men could not conduct the perimeter defense. Therefore, we suppose that during the siege all population including women participated in defense of the ancient settlement. The above mentioned is also confirmed by the fact that women at that time, according to A.A. Askarov, did not lose their former honorable position in the community and were mentors in daily life on an equal basis with men, which is confirmed by existence of rich women’s burials here (9, page 139). Women could be in externally closed and safer corridors and shoot arrows through loopholes at the enemy that was seen in many regions of the East. In particular, S.P. Tolstov does not exclude participation of women in defense of Dzhanbas-kala ancient settlement in Khorezm (10, page 93). According to the document K-6 found on Aybuyir-kala – the monument relating to the V-IV century BC, woman’s names given in the text demonstrate that owners of the houses which underwent to taxation were women (11, page 203).
Now to increase efficiency of the functions of these two walls, let us assume that their upper part was topped with a gear parapet, due to which fighting was not only more convenient, but also less dangerous. Sapallitepa citizens, being at the gear parapet could hold the defense from two sides. People at the parapet in the external wall fought with the enemy attacking from the outside, and soldiers at the gear parapet of the inner wall shot at the enemy, who had already entered into the T-shaped traps. It was required by both planning structure, and its functional task. Thus, from external long rectangular corridors defenders could fight with the enemy in three positions. Let us consider the compositions of the internal T-shaped traps. As already noted, these figured corridors were dead-ends. Just imagine a fight method with the enemy entered there. To destroy them, it was necessary to fight from the top. We have already noted that the internal wall with gear parapet was adapted for fighting with the enemy who entered into the traps. In order to strengthen defense capability of the settlement, the internal, that is third wall, should also be topped with a gear parapet. In this case the entered enemies would be attacked from two sides. We remind that between T-shaped compartments there were almost square premises, providing access by the narrow streets laid between residential quarters to the external corridors with the covered tops. Let us assume that face walls of the traps were also topped with geared parapets. Thus Sapallitepa citizens could be able to shoot arrows at the entered enemies from four sides.
The suppositions stated above were reflected in our graphical reconstruction. Exit to the roof of bypass corridors, as well as to walls of traps, was carried out on ladders. All entrances both to the settlement and to corridors-traps were closed by gate. Along the internal wall there was a passage, which was opened, but protected from the outer side by a parapet, but walking around the perimeter of two external walls was carried out on the roof of the corridors. Perhaps, this settlement was built on a hill. Due to withdrawal of soil for construction of fortification structures a ditch was formed around the settlement.
It is obvious that in Sapallitepa and Dashli-3 settlements, with well-designed planning of defensive walls, the role of the military leader, defender of the city considerably increased during that period. There were rulers with not only strong power, but owning military and fortification tactics, who also were talented architects.
Clearness of planning structure with T – and U-shaped labyrinths forces to think that the ancient settlement was built at a time according to the project developed by the chief architect. Such examples are a lot. For example, the grandiose round building in ancient Afghanistan (the 2nd half of the II millennium BC, Bactria) was erected by a unified plan at once, only internal planning of dwellings underwent partial reconstruction (3, page 34), and it was deeply thought out at that. It is testified by the fact that in Sapallitepa the initial planning structure of defensive walls were preserved without any changes within three construction periods. It means that planning of fortification corridors-traps conceived by builders proved to be correct during difficult for Sapallitepa times.
Sapallitepa is one of early monuments carrying the idea of regular town planning. Formation of the residential settlement consisted of several big communal houses, which can conditionally be considered as quarters (9, page 139). According to A. Askarov’s data, the ancient settlement consisted of eight such quarters (7, page 16). Planning schemes (schematic sketches) of the cities made two thousand years after Sapallitepa are available in the town-planning treatise of Manasar in India (fig. 2). In Sapallitepa external defensive walls with the T-shaped corridors-traps, as it was already noted, were necessary for defense, they have well-planed fantastic composition. However, it is surprising that with such accurate and at the same time difficult planning of defensive system of the inner area of the settlement still keeps chaotic building. Some order is given to them by streets, dividing internal buildings into quarters. Z.A. Arshavskaya is right, noting: “Probably, previously developed plan of construction was obliged, first of all, to its fortification system” (12, page 92).
External walls of Dashli-3 Palace in Afghanistan have the similar planning scheme (Bactria). Discovery of this grandiose monument belongs to V.I. Sarianidi (3). The palace with the sizes of 84х88m was built on a high hill, like Sapallitepa, at a time by a unified architectural plan. Time of its emergence belongs to the middle – the second half of the II millennium BC (3, page 41, 159). The central part of the monument represents roughly a square yard. The central axis of the main kernel of the monument is adjoined by T-shaped corridors from four sides, on both sides of which L-shaped small corridors are settle down, between which small court yards are formed. Small buildings are placed in the south-eastern yard. Outer sides of all walls on the monument of Dashli-3 are decorated with rhythmically located pilasters, which, in due time, gave to the facade a brisk beauty due to falling vertical shadows from each of them. It is surprising that the researcher does not consider them as defensive systems. Let us pay attention that the central kernel is also surrounded with double walls, between which a corridor of the same width as T – and L-shaped corridors is formed. Let us assume that they are the premises of the complex, but why they are narrow and long, and with sharp turns. At the same time there are usual and rectangular premises with appropriate ratios of the sides. Besides, why these corridors are dead-ends, i.e. closed? A man can get into them only from the bypass corridor. And the angular court yards formed between them, are not connected with the central kernel of the monument. Thus, functions of these corridors are seen as following: L- and T-shaped corridors were defensive system of the monument. The short wall uniting end of faces of two corridors was supplied with narrow passes, i.e. doors. Communication with the outside world was carried out only by them, disregarding, of course, the main entrance. Here the people of Dashli did not hire the enemy to the angular court yard. However it does not mean that the enemy, who rushed through the entrance doors, built in the short wall in one of angular court yard, will get to the main yard, because, as it was mentioned, the court yards were not connected anywhere with the central yard. Then the enemy gets to a trap and is exposed to firing from all directions. Later, perhaps, angular court yard were built up with inhabited constructions, which is testified by the south-eastern angular court yard.
One more new innovation of this monument is that its main entrance was removed outside from the southern corner of the main construction. This pre-gate construction consists of three elongated premises. The middle one of them is wide, and on its floor there is a small ditch, which, according to the discoverer, was a drain. Two lateral corridors, according to V.I. Sarianidi, could perform defensive functions (3, page 41). And still we ask: whether such powerful defensive system is necessary for defense of the palace? Apparently it was necessary as the palace is one of the main public centers of the ancient settlement. Probably there were a reception room and dwelling of the ruler. Besides, it isn’t excluded that all treasury of the country was stored here. All this is evidence of the fact that the palace was an important support of the country. The powerful defensive system suggests that during a siege a part of the population of the settlement moved here for conducting defense of the palace. Thus, considering the planning structure, we can argue that we are witnessing the introduction of two types of defensive systems. These are defensive corridors with traps, and the pre-gate premises, which are a prototype of yards with “enticing” dead-end corridors. The last one finds its application and development in monuments of the subsequent eras.
The defensive system of the ancient settlements continued to develop also in subsequent periods, which is confirmed by Dzhanbas-kala ancient settlement in Khorezm. It had a rectangular outline with the sizes of 200х170 m and is dated the IV century BC – 1st century AD (10, page 88). The settlement is surrounded by double external walls, between which 2,8 m wide passage is formed. The external wall is covered with staggered loopholes. Here the traps-corridors, unlike in Sapallitepa, are moved to the facade, and unlike the pre-gate premises in Dashli, it has a pre-gate yard with five passes, which are bent at right angle and fired from all directions. Other most peculiar Khorezm monument – Koykrylgan-kala with double external wall has a correct circle outline. The external wall had nine semicircular towers located in the shape of an arch. We found development of external walls with rectangular towers in the composition of Ershi ancient settlement, in the capital of Davan state (Fergana). According to the plan and graphical reconstruction of the settlement provided in the book of Kyrgyz researchers (13, page 67), the main entrance was protected by a pre-gate construction, which yard was broken into passes confused by turns and fired from loopholes on side walls. Such strong fortification system also specifies a capital status of Mingtepa ancient settlement, in which the capital of Davan kingdom – Ershi was reasonably localized (14, page 45). In this respect the defense system of Fergana had close conformance with well studied defense system of Parthia (14, page 57-63).
Finishing the small review, we note that the monuments considered by us are new planning-compositional direction in defensive system of architecture of Central Asia. From Mullali the portable towers were inherited, which then became a tradition of architecture of entire Central Asian region. They were embodied in architecture of subsequent eras. From Sapallitepa defensive system the tradition of double walls was inherited, which were erected on the external contour and between them a closed corridor was formed. The external wall was equipped with rhythmic placement of apertures for archery and also a parapet protected from outer side. False entrances with T-shaped corridors, where enemy was enticed and attacked from four sides, were applied in composition of antique town planning. From Dashli-3 the portable pre-gate yard, central passage, which was protected from two parallel side corridors were inherited.
In creation of such surprising fortification systems, masters of architecture and tribal rulers leading in military science, as well as all population of the community showed remarkable talent, persistence and work. The creativity of talented architects, whose names, unfortunately, have not remained, can be called the work of art. In the plan of each of these ancient settlements and constructions there was certain logic and accurate system. Sapallitepa ancient settlement and Dashly-3 Palace differ in refinement of their compositional and planning solutions. At first sight, they as if are compositionally complicated; however if to look hard, they open their rhythmical repetition of T-shaped accurate corridors and paths. Fully directing thoughts to improvement of planning and composite structure, the architects did not lose sight of facades of the constructions. It is proved by rhythmic placement of pilasters on the facade walls of Dashly-3. Superficial shadows of the pilasters falling on the walls give to the facade solemnity and monumentality. And the shades change depending on the solstice. Probably, architects, during installation of the pilasters, thought also about stability of the construction’s walls.
The ancient settlements and palaces considered by us clearly demonstrate sources of manifestation of town-planning art in Central Asia in the IV-II millennium BC.

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