Excavations of Penjikent of ancient Sogdiana

In the spring of 1932, the shepherd Jur-Ali Mahmed-Ali, near the Tajik village of Hayrabad, found a half-rotted basket full of leather scrolls covered with incomprehensible letters. He gave it to the secretary of the local district committee. He took the mysterious scrolls to Dushanbe, where scientists recognized in them the unknown letters of ancient Sogdiana, once an amazing country - bright, original, blossoming. However, the fate of the Sogdian civilization was tragic: it was barbarously destroyed by the Arabs invading the country.

Soon the excavations covered the ancient settlement of Penjikent

An archaeological expedition immediately set off to the place of discovery - Mount Kala-i-Mug. At the top of the mountain were the remains of the fortress walls - the ruins of an ancient castle. As already shown by the first excavations, the castle was destroyed, plundered and burned. But when and by whom? Only ancient leather scrolls could tell about this.

Soon the excavations covered the ancient settlement of Penjikent. Smoothed and swollen clay mounds - the remains of ancient buildings and walls - appeared before the eyes of archaeologists. The finds made here never cease to amaze the imagination.

Ancient Sogdiana (Sogd) for many centuries was one of the most important regions of ancient Central Asia. It included the fertile valleys of the Kashkadarya and Zeravshan rivers. After the campaigns of Alexander the Great, Sogdiana, apparently, was included in the Seleucid state and the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. Starting from the 4th century A.D. Sogd stood out in terms of the level of its economic and cultural development among other regions of Central Asia. The main city of Sogd was Marakanda, the ruins of which are today located on the outskirts of modern Samarkand. Politically, Sogd was a conglomerate of small principalities.

The capital of one of the principalities was Penjikent. The area of the city was small: a total of only 19 hectares. The city buildings were built of large (up to 50 cm in length) mud bricks. In the west, a well-fortified citadel - the kuhendiz - rose, and a watchtower rose even higher, connected to the fortress and the city by a corridor of defensive walls.

The central square - shakhristan - on one side was completely built up with two- and three-storey houses of the nobility. On the other side of it, there were open porticos of two city temples decorated with sculptures and multicolored paintings. Each temple consisted of a vast rectangular courtyard surrounded by a wall, and a central part raised on a high platform. The temples overlooked the square with wide portals open to the east - aivans.

One of the two temples of Penjikent is the northern one, the one that was abandoned for some reason, as the researchers established, was dedicated to the local cult of deified natural elements. Its central iwan was decorated with painted clay reliefs, which resembled works of Kushan art in technique and in the nature of the images.

In the southern temple, which perished in the fire of a large fire, the remains of painting survived, including the now famous "mourning scene": the legend of Siyavush - a deity in the guise of a beautiful youth who personified the annually dying and resurrecting nature.

The Panjikent temples are brilliant monuments of the original and unique art of ancient Sogdiana. The features of this distinctive artistic culture were even more vividly reflected in the decoration of the dwellings of the urban nobility, where the entire surface of the walls of the ceremonial halls was occupied by multicolored murals, rare in quality of execution, colors and subjects. The paintings of Penjikent are the most remarkable works of ancient Central Asian art.

Opposite the entrance, above the place of honor, at the full height of the wall, a huge figure of the central character was usually depicted, seated on a throne in the form of a lying beast. This character could be the ancestor of the owner of the dwelling, the patron deity, any king or hero. On either side of it were the figures of the musicians. All other surfaces of the walls were covered with horizontal belts stretching one above the other, consisting of a series of drawings telling about military exploits, victorious feasts and solemn receptions.

Penjikent was not at all some kind of cultural phenomenon. Excavations of other cities of ancient Sogdiana showed that the abundance of wood carving and wall painting was typical for Sogdian dwellings in general.

Sogdian craftsmen made magnificent, very diverse silver bowls, dishes and jugs, in which the influence of Greek images is noticeable. Sogdian artisans knew how to burn dishes well, weave silk, weave leather, and make beautiful utensils of excellent quality.

Excavations of ancient Penjikent gave the most complete picture of the culture and life of the Sogdian city on the eve of the Arab conquest. The political fragmentation of the country and the self-interest of local princes made it much easier for the Arabs to conquer Sogdiana at the beginning of the 8th century.

The fight against the invaders was led by the Afshin of Penjikent Divashtich, whom some sources call the Ikhshid of Sogd. Divashtich's warriors met the Arab army of the commander Kuteiba near the village of Qum, where a decisive battle took place. Divashtich, who was defeated, with a small group of surviving soldiers took refuge in the castle on Mount Mug. However, the castle was not adapted for a long siege: there was no water here. This prompted Divashtich to surrender to the enemies, who promised him immunity. At first, the Arabs treated him with respect, but then Divashtich was crucified, and the castle on Mount Mug was destroyed. Penjikent also suffered barbaric destruction. And only many years later scientists came here. And the fortress on Mount Mug, the last stronghold of the defenders of ancient Sogdiana, became the first found monument of this culture, which rediscovered its treasures to mankind.