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Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia

 

Medieval Sogdian Principalities IndexPenjikent / Panch (Sogdiana)
Incorporating Pārḡar

Following the final termination of Greek rule in Bactria around 130 BC - and seemingly for at least some decades before it too - post-Greek Sogdiana's history becomes very hazy. Scholars have not particularly been able to reach a consensus about what was happening in the region even during the Greek kingdom period, let alone afterwards. Very often the only evidence at all is primarily numismatic, with some regional coins being produced bearing the name or likeness of minor tyrants, usually in the Greek style which remained the one to follow for some centuries.

There are few written accounts that cover the region in its late Classical and early medieval periods, and other records are relatively sparse. Even the idea of Sogdiana remaining under the governance of Greek Bactria is one that cannot be confirmed, simply because there is very little evidence to prove it. Sogdiana is indeed included in the list of eastern provinces to be secured by the Seleucids in the campaign of 305 BC. It may well have remained theirs for a while, but an Indo-Greek campaign into the region from Bactria in 283-281 BC and a lack of mentions afterwards paints a distinct picture of a lost region, and perhaps one that was not particularly secure beforehand.

Previously established Indo-Iranian tradition seems to have enjoyed a revival. Sogdian script was used in place of Greek, developed out of Achaemenid courtly Aramaic. New Sogdian fortifications also followed established Indo-Iranian styles, and Sogdian clothing was traditional Central Asian in style rather than Greek. The influx of barbarians into Bactria from the second century BC onwards further influenced Sogdian styles, adding many cultural elements and later mixing those with early Turkic influences.

By the seventh century AD, Nestorian Christian crosses were appearing on coins, revealing the arrival of Orthodox Christianity. The general coinage style was a regional one which had first appeared in the late fourth century AD, albeit without the cross, replacing the previous Greek types. The multitude of regional mints strongly suggests a series of independent city states or principalities in the region. Of those, Samarkand and Bukhara dominated the rest, in terms of regional might if not directly ruling over them. Shortly after this the thriving Bukharan mint switched to the temporarily-dominant Chinese cash model and started casting coins. The trend in coinage clearly shows a series of independent city states or principalities in the region.

The principality of Penjikent (from the Sogdian Pancyknδ, alternatively recorded as Panč, Panch, or Panchekanth, modern Panjakent) was one such independent entity. It lay to the east of the regionally dominant city of Samarkand, close to the eastern Sogdian border on the River Zarafshan (or Zeravshan, the ancient Polytimetus). Today its ruins are on the southern edge of Panjakent, situated on the rim of a high terrace overlooking a fertile, well-irrigated valley. It was one of a number of small city states in this river valley, many of which were most likely founded by the early Achaemenid rulers of Suguda. Penjikent itself, though, was a fifth century AD creation on top of partial previous occupation in the second century BC to first century AD. That early occupation left remains of pottery but nothing of buildings. Any potential early ruling dynasty in the 400s-500s may have been destroyed by the Western Göktürks around 580, but was quickly rebuilt in the early years of the 600s.

The far eastern Sogdian town of Pārḡar was part of Ustrushana's territory during the ninth century, although in the early eighth it was part of Penjikent. The defensive fortifications on Mount Mugh were nearby. Archaeological examination of Penjikent began in the 1930s, although the city's location had been known since the 1870s. The site was investigated by Aleksandr Yu in 1946, and in 1947 Yakubovskiĭ put together a strong and later-renowned team that began a proper investigation which has continued almost without cease since then. Panjikant has become one of the most thoroughly studied early medieval cities not only in Sogdiana, but in Asia as a whole. Some scholars consider it to be identical with the capital of the principality of Maimurgh, thanks to an identification in Chinese records, but the two are separated by a gap of around sixty kilometres.

The developing Silk Road

(Information by Peter Kessler, from The Impact of Seleucid Decline on the Eastern Iranian Plateau, Jeffrey D Lerner (1999), from Sogdiana, its Christians and Byzantium, Aleksandr Naymark (doctoral thesis, Indiana University, 2001), from ONS No 206 (Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society, Winter 2011), from The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 3, E Yarshater (Ed), from History of Humanity: from the seventh century BC to the seventh century AD, Joachim Herrmann, Erik Zürcher, & Ahmad Hasan Dani (International commission for a history of the scientific and cultural development of mankind, History of Mankind, Unesco, 1994), from History of Civilizations of Central Asia (Volume 3), Ahmad Hasan Dani (Motilal Banarsidass, 1999), and from External Links: the Ancient History Encyclopaedia (dead link), and Encyclopĉdia Britannica, and Bukhara History Part 5: Bukhara under the Arabian Conquest (Advantour), and The Silk Road, and Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

AD 5th-6th cent

Penjikent is founded in the middle of the fifth century AD, utilising the site of a primitive settlement which has been abandoned since the first century AD. It is part of a Sogdian boom in trade and construction. Straight fortified walls defend it, ten to eleven metres high, bristling with numerous towers, and punctured by embrasures in a chessboard pattern. Later rebuilds are even thicker and are not long in coming as the city quickly outgrows its original fortifications - by the end of the fifth century, in fact.

Map of Central Asia and India AD 500
By the late 400s the eastern sections of the Sassanid empire had been overrun and to an extent occupied by the Hephthalites (Xionites) after they had killed Shah Peroz (click or tap on map to view full sized)

A large network already exists of merchants from the cities who are trading with the Tarim Basin (home of the Tocharians) and beyond. The start of invasions of the region by the Kidarites in the late fourth century has - after a brief pause - further served to invigorate Sogdiana. The style of regional coins suddenly changes, with imitations of Greek types being replaced with coins of quite a different appearance. These can be linked to Bukhara right up to the seventh century.

In 552 the Western Göktürks expand their dominions towards Chorasmia and the early principalities of Sogdiana, right up against the borders of Persia's eastern territories. They set up a viceroy in Tokharistan to manage the region. In 565 the Hephthalites are defeated by an alliance of Göktürks and Sassanids at a great battle near Bukhara. A level of Indo-Sassanid authority is re-established in the region for the next century

The Western Göktürks come into conflict with their former allies, the Sassanids, between 581-590. Much of Tokharistan remains a Göktürk dependency until the end of the century. By inference, Sogdiana to the north of Tokharistan (Bactria) is also theirs.

The western Göktürk period is of particular importance in Sogdiana and for the Sogdians. The Göktürks destroy local dynasties such as the dynasty of Paikand, but the integration of the Sogdians into the Göktürk state allows for an expansion of Sogdian culture and commercial activities. The Sogdians start to colonise regions further to the east, including Semirech'e, thereby setting up their expansion into China's western periphery while also enriching the Göktürk empire.

Map of Central Asia AD 600-700
By the beginning of the seventh century AD, Göktürk power in southern Central Asia was waning while the Sassanids had established a degree of control over the southernmost parts of this region, and various city states had emerged in Sogdiana (click or tap on map to view full sized)

The western extension of the same trading networks allows silk to be exchanged with the Sassanids from China where it has been received as tribute from the Tang due to Göktürk military successes. This also allows for the opening of the Khurasan Road, creating an integration of the Sogdian network into a Sassanid one.

600s - 682

While Sogdians have become the high administrators of the Western Göktürk state, the Sogdian language has also become the lingua franca of the Göktürk empire. It expands far into the east towards China, even lending its script to Old Turkic and many subsequent Turkic and Mongolian languages. In turn, the Göktürk nobility has become part of Sogdian society, with marriages between the families of the kings of Samarkand and that of the Göktürk khagan.

Penjikent, one of an emerging series of small states, is ruled from the sixth century by a Sogdian noble family, of the dehqân class of land-owners of the Sassanid and post-Sassanid period throughout eastern Iran. The family is able to trace back its descent to Sassanid King Bahram V Gor (421-439). They would appear to have Turkic heritage, at least in part and certainly due to the relatively recent Kidarite invasions. Each of the five-known rulers of Penjikent bears the title sur.

fl 600s

?

Sur of Penjikent.

?

Sur of Penjikent.

654

Following the Islamic conquest of Sassanid Persia in 651, initial raiding parties have been sent out into the eastern territories on a regular basis. The idea is to sow disruption, force weaker states or cities to reveal themselves as being ripe for conquest, and to exact tribute and plunder freely, although they do not apparently reach Penjikent until the early 700s.

Sassanid troops fighting off Arabs during the Islamic invasion of Persia
This modern illustration (uncredited) shows Sassanid troops fighting off Arabs during the Islamic invasion of Persia, with the Arab conquest gaining them entry to eastern Iran and the Indo-Iranian provinces there

659 - 665

A seemingly partial occupation of Transoxiana by Tang dynasty Chinese is effected in 659, but is ended in 665. This is part of a Tang effort to defend its western approaches after centuries of barbarian incursions and also to provide buffer districts between it and the strife that is engulfing Central Asia. The protectorate of Anxi remains in command of the Tarim Basin and probably also the approaches into China to the basin's immediate north.

fl late 600s

Amogyan / Gamaukyan

Sur of Penjikent. Named on bronze coins.

682

The Western Göktürk empire has disintegrated rather quickly after gaining its initial quick successes, losing power in the middle of the seventh century and, by 682, ceasing to exist. Despite a restoration of Turkic power at the beginning of the eighth century, the Tang hold nominal power in the region, primarily from their expanded protectorate of Anxi.

c.688

Any unity between the principalities in Sogdiana vanishes around this time, perhaps due to the act of Bukhara being seized by the ruler of its chief rival in the region, the city state of Varakhsha, or perhaps prompting that very act. Alliances form and are abandoned, and inter-dynastic marriages are obtained. The picture is one of small states vying openly for superiority.

late 600s - c.706?

Čekin Čur Bilgä / Bil'ge

Son of Pyčwtt of Maimurgh? Turkic. Removed from office.

c.706

Čekin Čur Bilgä is replaced as ruler of Penjikent by Dewashtich (otherwise recorded as Devashtich or Divasti). Most Sogdian principalities are governed by hereditary princes, but the dehqân class of land-owners does have the power to force a ruler to step down and then to elect their replacement, as is the case this time. Marriage alliances may also play a part in many succession, with Dewashtich perhaps marrying the daughter of Čekin Čur Bilgä. However, the fall of Bukhara in 708 signals the beginning of the end of this way of life.

Banqueter holding a rhyton in Penjikent
One of the Penjikent wall paintings shows this banqueter holding a rhyton, created in the first half of the eighth century AD and now on display at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg

c.706 - 722

Dēwāštič / Dewashtich / Devashtich

Sur of Penjikent. Lord of Panč. Defeated by Islam.

c.710

Qutaiba ibn Muslim, Umayyad governor of Greater Khorasan, confirms in his position the new Sogdo-Turkic ruler of Samarkand, Ghurak. Family feuds, however, drive the two sons of Samarkand's previous ruler, Tarkhun, to the court of Dewashtich, son of Yodkhsetak (Yodḵsetak) and sur or ruler of Penjikent. Dewashtich, like other Sogdian princes, has claimed to be ruler of Samarkand, and this makes his claim a stronger one.

c.712

Probably frustrated by the endless bickering regarding superiority between the Sogdian principalities, Qutaiba ibn Muslim, Umayyad governor of Greater Khorasan, launches a pacification campaign which delivers him and Islam a wave of submissive acknowledgements. Ferghana is also subjugated by 715.

719 - 720

Dewashtich is forced to send the two sons of Tarkhun to Al-Jarrah ibn Abdallah, the latest Umayyad governor of Greater Khorasan. In the following year, 720, Dewashtich, along with Karzanj, ruler of Paikand, are mentioned as leaders of an anti-Islam rebellion in Sogdiana. Together they liberate Samarkand, holding it in the face of relatively weak attempts to regain it.

Sogdian banqueters in Penjikent
Further Sogdian banqueters in Penjikent, recovered again from Site XVI:10, and dated to the first half of the eighth century AD, now held by the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

The pair manage to win the support of at-Tar, ruler of Ferghana, who promises protection if their rebellion should fail. While the eastern Sogdian forces of Karzanj are resting in the area of Khojend, at-Tar betrays him to Al-Jarrah ibn Abdallah. Karzanj is defeated, while over three thousand Sogdian inhabitants of the city of Khojend are massacred.

Dewashtich remains in correspondence in 721 with Abd al-Rahman ibn Nu'aym al-Ghamidi, the next governor of Khorasan. The governor flatteringly addresses him as 'King of Sogdia' and 'ruler of Samarkand', perhaps in an attempt to put him at ease or return him to the fold.

722

Abd al-Rahman ibn Nu'aym al-Ghamidi catches up with the western Sogdian forces of Dewashtich near the city of Zarafshan (in today's Tajikistan). Dewashtich is defeated, and he flees to his mountain fortress of Abḡar (the modern Mugh, Mug or Moḡ) near the town of Pārḡar, whose details are known from the very vivid accounts given in the Documents of Mugh Mountain.

Following a last stand he eventually agrees to surrender and is taken prisoner, although he is treated well. The invading forces burn down several houses and a temple in Penjikent in retribution for his actions. While several high-ranking Umayyad officials are in favour of releasing him, the new governor of Greater Khorasan has him crucified and then sends his head back to Iraq. His palace in Penjikent is put to the flame, along with many of the houses of the elite in the centre of the city. The palace is later converted into a barracks.

Ruins near Seistan
Ruins near Seistan (in Arab-controlled Sakastan in Greater Khorasan) would have been quite common by the eighth century AD, with outposts and cities being occupied and abandoned as the climate changed - similar changes were occurring in Sogdiana

The defeat of Dewashtich marks the beginning of the formal accession of Transoxiana into the Islamic empire, and soon results in the increasing Islamic control of the eastern regions as well. Among other things, this causes the break-up of the Sogdian commercial network, and ultimately an integration of Sogdiana into the Islamic empire. This may also be the point at which the town of Pārḡar passes into the hands of Ustrushana. Penjikent itself is abandoned around 770 and is relocated to a new site.