Sightseeing, History Guide
Jeytun Depe, 26 km to the north from Kopet Dag mountains and Ashkhabad. Jeytun name is associated with the all of Neolithic period settlements in the northern foothills of the Kopet Dag area, 7200-4600 BCE. The excavations revealed that the inhabitants started the farming, kept herds of goats and sheep and grew wheat and barley.
Anau culture,12 km to the east from Ashkhabad. Anau IA period 4600-4000 BCE, Kopet Dag piedmont area. The only discovery witnessing the possibility of writing in the Bactria- Margiana Archeological complex (BMAC), 2400-1900 BCE, revealed in 2000 at Anau and known as ‘Anau seal’. The seal has five geometric markings what are similar to Chinese ‘small seal’ characters.
Namazga Depe culture,
Namazga I 4000-35000 BCE/contemporary with Anau IB2 period.
Namazga II 3500-3200 BCE, Namazga III 3200-2800 BCE as a village settlement.
Namazga IV 2800-2400 BCE, a proto urban site. Last part of this period – the beginning of pottery made on a fast wheel. The carinated forms of ceramics and vertical rims (with the fine geometric painted designs). Central Asia ceramics traditional forms.
Namazga V 2400-2000 BCE, production and administrative, governmental center, with Altyn Depe likely second capital in the area. Main town reaching to 52 hectares and around 17-20 thousand inhabitants
Namazga VI Late Bronze Age 1800- 1500 BCE, characterized by the incursions of nomadic pastoralists from Alekseyevka culture/ Andronovo. Around 1600 BCE, Namazga Depe shrinks to a fraction of its former size. Altyn Depe is abandoned.
Altyn Depe culture,Eneolithic (Chalcolithic) period 4000-2800 BCE.
In the Early Bronze Age 2800-2400 developed a proto urban society. Altyn Depe become one of major centers. It became a town, with fortification wall around it. Creating town defense system and construction planning inside. Power, Administrative and Residential quarters outlined.
Pottery done with use of potter’s fast wheel (Altyn Depe horizons 4-5/ Namazga IV level). Ceramics have the distinctive carinated side and vertical-lipped rims. Grapes were grown.
In the middle Bronze Age, 2400-2000 BCE, Altyn Depe having maximum size of 25 hectares and around 7- 10 thousand inhabitants. 3000 BCE dated models of two wheeled carts found at Altyn Depe. This is the earliest evidence of wheeled transport use in Central Asia. Type of harness, carts initially pulled by oxen or a bull. Another cart drawn by a camel, found at Altyn Depe dated to 2200 BCE.
During the Copper Age, the population of the region grew. Mason V.M conjecture that people migrated to the region from central Iran and during this process many artisans brought their skill and knowledge of metallurgy, ceramics and other innovations. Soon, they became blended with Jeytun farmers.
Around 3500 BCE, become distinct the cultural unity of the settlement, splitting in two pottery styles: Anau, Kara Depe, Namazga Depe had the colored painted pottery and in the east, Geoksyur and Altyn Depe settlements had more austere pottery style. This fact may indicate the formation of two tribal groups.
The first occurrence of unpainted fast-wheel ceramics so typical of the desert oases of Margiana and Bactria is in the early Namazga V period in central and eastern foorhill zone at sites such as Shor Depe, Namazga Depe, Alten Depe and Ulug Depe.
The ceramics, which often have a sharp carination on the shoulders and rim, are often considered elegant in shape with their distinctive forms. The forms are very standardized, most likely indicating a high degree of craft specialization, especially in comparison with the earlier handmade ceramics.
Two chronological phases of Namazga V ceramics are particularly well documented at Altyn Depe where extensive Namazga V deposits have been excavated.
The early Namazga V sites of the foothill zone are dense settlements with differentiated quarters. At both large and small sites the architecture is similarly compact, with multi-roomed houses, long alleys or corridors and courtyards. These sites are better characterized as large agglomerated villages, since there is no difference in the structure of the settlements between the large and the small sites.
The regional interaction of the early Namazga V appears to be a continuation of the late Namazga IV pattern with a limited regional network. The occurrence of isolated exotic small objects in the absence of other evidence of contact is more indicative of a pattern of trickle trade than of culture contact.
The early Namazga V period deposits at Altyn Depe include imported or imitated mature Harappa artifacts. The small seals, beads, and ivory sticks appear to be trade items. If not made in the Indus Valley, they are of a type at least foreign to the Central Asian small- finds traditions. While the early levels of the Harappan outpost of Shortughai (Northern Afghanistan) are cotemporary with the early Namazga V, it must be noted that ceramic parallels between Altyn Depe and Shortughai for this period are negligible.
Late namazga V is a crucial period in the development of Central Asian oases cultures because of two important events in the foothill region. First is the appearance of several extremely large and dense settlements emerge with all of the indicators of statelevel urbanism. Second , the oases area of Margiana is widely occupied.
During the late Namazga V period, Namazga is the largest site, 50 ha, in the central foothill zone. Altyn Depe 25-26 ha, is the central site in the eastern foothill zone. The architecture at both sites is distinctive, with multi-roomed houses, courtyards and narrow streets. Further excavations at Altyn Depe focused on the final phase of occupation, revealed the potters’ quarters, monumental architecture, and the large areas of domestic architecture. The results of the excavations permit characterize these large sites as cities, as the word is defined in the Near East.
Future research focus that the sites exceeded the carrying capacity of the agricultural land around them. The rivers of the foothill zone don’t allow irrigation, because their discharge of water is too small. Agriculture is restricted to dry farming with limited liman irrigation. No other complex irrigation system developed in the foothill zone until the later introduction of the qanat system of underground canals – a development that followed the mid-first millennium BCE.
The suggestion is that given a food production limits in the foothill sites, the long known richness of the desert oases would seem attractive. People from foothill sites would then invest the energy necessary to clear the land and settle there.
There may be a correlation between the depopulation of the urban foothill sites of the end of Namazga V foothill zone and the origins of widespread occupation in Bactria.
Late Namazga V materials are found widely in Margiana, covering an area of approximately 3,000 sq km. The initial settlement in Margiana happened at the same time that the foothill site of Altyn Depe was in its largest urban phase.
Connection with Andronovo culture
Alakul 1800-1500 BCE, between Amu Darya (Oxus) and Syr Darya (Jaxartes), Kyzylkum desert
Alekseyevka 1200-1000 BCE final Bronze Age in eastern Kazakhstan, contacts with Namazga VI
Geoksyur oasisin the delta of Tejen river (Harirud) had similar settlements to early Anau settlements. In 3000 BCE, people from Geoksyur migrated in the Murghab river delta in search of new lands and water. Some of them reached the Zeravshan river valley in Transoxiana, at Sarazm (Pendjikent). This conjecture based on the Geoksyur pottery found in both areas. This fact suggests the connection between the farmers of the region.
Farming in deltaic fans practiced in the Geoksyur sites of the Tejen river. These sites located outside of the dry farming belt and required a simple irrigation system for agriculture. The seasonally stable discharge of Tejen river didn’t require long canals or complex irrigation systems. Simple irrigation systems of the late Namazga III to early Namazga IV period around the Geoksyur sites consisted of parallel canals from a major branch of the delta drainage. Only one or two settlements occurred on the each canal system. Thus the ability to transform areas outside of the dry farming belt through irrigation was known one thousand years before the development of irrigation in Margiana.
The Geoksyur sites lacked important natural resources, the same like the areas of Margiana and Bactria. Thus Geoksyur provide evidence for the first extensive relations with distant areas, bringing imported materials. The metal objects were made from imported ingots, and even Indian ocean shells were imported for the production of bangles.
Ilgynly Depe settlement,Early to Early Late Chalcolithic period 3800-3000 BCE. Located in Kopet Dag foothill zone, Chacha- Meana. Abandoned at the beginning of Late Chalcolithic, when the inhabitants moved to near by center of Altyn Depe. The settlements had special houses with elaborate infrastructures, painted walls. Provided with semi-refined copper ingots produced near unknown extraction areas. Then these ingots have been re-melted for casting a variety of objects (hammers, awls, needles, blades, sickles. Chisels and points, socleted axe-adzes; different ornamental goods such as pins, round mirrors and beads. Done with use of casting in ceramic moulds and forging with re-heating and annealing treatments and utilizing a large number of ground stone tools.
Complex or Archeological horizon of Bronze Age cultures between 2000- 900 BCE in western Siberia and central Eurasian Steppes. Speaking Indo-Iranian languages and Uralic speaking northern fringe.
Subcultures of the Andronovo horizon:
Fedorovo 1900-1400 BCE, southern Siberia, earliest evidence of cremation and fire cult
Alakul 1800-1500 BCE, between Amu Darya (Oxus) and Syr Darya (Jaxartes), Kyzylkum desert
Eastern Fedorovo 1750-1500 BCETian Shan mountains (Northwestern Xinjiang, China,
southeastern Kazakhstan, eastern Kyrgyzstan
Alekseyevka 1200-1000 BCEfinal Bronze Age in eastern Kazakhstan, contacts with Namazga VI
The Oxus civilization or the Bactria- Margiana Archeological complex (BMAC). This civilization included the large urban centers and rural settlements flourishing between 2400-1600 BCE, in the alluvial basin of the Amu Darya river in the northern plains of ancient Bactria of the Achaemenids (Afghanistan) and in the endorheic alluvial fan of the Murghab river of ancient Margiana (southern Turkmenistan), with extensions into southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan.
Margiana was colonized simultaneously over a large area. Similarities in the ceramics, small finds, and architecture between the sites suggest the same period of construction. At the start, the cultural tradition remained very close to the foothill culture of Namazga V and Altyn Depe sites.
The first difficulties to settle in Margiana concerned the clearing of space from thickets and the cutting of irrigation canals. Then was required to shift from dry farming to irrigation agriculture. The settlement pattern suggests the construction of large canals, dams and levees characteristic of agriculture in the oasis from this time onward. These environment actions strongly altered the ecology of the delta area.
The Margiana settlement plan is something new for the region and for Central Asia. These settlements appear to be spaced to maximize the agricultural potential of the canals. Settlements remain isolated in comparison with the contemporary urban settlements of the foothill zone. Margiana had a pattern of domestic structures with shared courtyards packed into a fortified building.
By 2000 BCE, both Margiana and Bactria had cultures using irrigation agriculture and constructing large fortified building complexes. In Margiana, the development continued within the oases at Kelleli, Gonur, Togolok and final period at Takhirbai. New building complexes build on new structures, but only few overlay the earlier period structures. This practice continued also in Merv.
The ceramics in Margiana are clearly continuous from earlier period of foothill zone and start of settlement. The appearance of small changes in existing forms and a few new, distinctive but rare shapes. The new motifs on steatite amulets, distinctive compartmented copper alloy or bronze seals, handled cylinder seals and the rich metal and stone assemblage. The ceremonial axes, small vials, but disappearance of V-shaped figurines. The emergence of a new set of symbols found on seals, metal, stone and terracotta objects.
The oasis adaptation spreads to similar deltaic oases in northern and southern Bactria. The new aspects of iconography often related to the desert environment: snakes, scorpions, and boar. Objects such as axes and mace-heads, which were used earlier, are transformed into ceremonial objects. Miniature columns, staffs and mace-heads are found in new contexts, reinterpreted in the oasis culture. There appears to be an emphasis on the materials of the imported stones, which leads to deliberate juxtaposition of exotic materials, such as alabaster and steatite.
The new oasis system includes a reorganization of production to craft activities occurring within a certain settlement and the finishing of distinctive objects on exotic materials, such as imported stone and metal. Bullae and sylinder seals are started to be used. Sealings on ceramics may indicate control of production as well.
The initial occupation of Margiana was very complex and well organized. The first settlements of Margiana are spaced and are well fortified. There was a high degree of communication and information flow between them. This is reflected in the successful agricultural and irrigation systems as well as in the uniformity of material culture over the area of Margiana.
The inhabitants were sedentary people practicing irrigation farming of wheat and barley. They left the impressive material culture including the monumental architecture, bronze tool, ceramics, and jewelry of semiprecious stones. Found figurines of Bactrian princess, Goddess of Fertility (made of limestone, chlorite) reflect the agrarian side of Bronze Age society. The rich corpus of metalwork objects witness to a sophisticated tradition of metalworking experience.
Margush is the Persian name of the region and Margiana is the Greek name applied after Alexander the Great conquest of the Central Asia in end of IV century BCE. It was an ancient agricultural oasis in the delta of the Murghab irrigated by its waters. The location of monuments from the Bronze and Early Iron Ages shows that the boundaries of the lands under irrigation gradually shifted southward. In antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, Margiana was the site of a complex system of canals fed by tributaries of the Murghab.
Greek- Russian archeologist Viktor Sarianidi discovered in 1950 and in 1970, he started the excavations at Gonur Depe. It became the largest known of all settlements in the former delta of Murghab river delta, around 60 km from present day Mary town (in Karakum desert). Today, it known as a capital of Margush country. The local civilization of oases in the Pre- Zoroastrian period. The excavations revealed the area of Gonur around 55 hectares, covering the timespan between 2400 – 1600 BCE and include different occupational phases.
The site consists of three main distinct areas:
Gonur North– a main, roughly elliptical, fortified complex, around 330 X 460 m, with Monumental Palace and its subsidiary buildings, Temple of Fire, Temple of Water and Temple of Sacrificing and ritual areas. An area known as Royal Necropolis and two major and several smaller water reservoirs, all dated around 2400-1900 BCE. Most of the elephant objects found at Gonur Depe came from funerary structures that can be dated to the last occupational phase of this area, which according to material culture comparanda are considered contemporaneous to the upper levels of Altyn Depe (Turkmenistan) and of Mohenjo-Daro (Pakistan).
Gonur South– a smaller, square complex around 130 X 120 m, fortified with two series of massive concentric walls with round towers along their perimeters. This complex can have dates around 1900-1600 BCE.
A largenecropolis, with more than three thousand graves of different type and dating, encompasses an area of around 10 hectares, some 200 m west of Gonur North.
Connections with Indus Valley and Mesopotamia Civilizations:
Among the published information of ceramic vessels, there are only a few complete specimens that can be positively related to the pottery productions of Baluchistan and the Indus Valley. Other artifacts require further examination and systematic publication to confirm their relation to different Indus iconographies or production or determine the origin of specific raw material.
1.One square stamp found in Temple of Water of Gonur North, is evident having an Indus origin, made of fired steatite. It bears the image of a standing Asian elephant carved below an inscription composed of eight Indus signs. The number of signs in the inscription and its carving style broadly date the seal to the last phase of the Indus Civilization, around 2200- 1900 BCE.
2. A two-sided round amulet- seal made from a yellow brownish stone at Gonur South belongs among the previously discussed Indus hybrid seals with the image of an Indian bison.
3. One anthropomorphic and one theriomorphic sculpture found at Gonur North have direct parallels mainly at contemporaneous sites in the Indus Valley, in southeastern Iran.
4. The unfinished fragment of a kneeling male figure found in the Royal Sanctuary of Gonur North, closely resembles in its posture and sculpting style the series of kneeling men found in the upper levels of Mohenjo- Daro, including the famous priest-king and a comparable specimen from Dholavira.
5. The stone sculpture of a squatting ram, placed in the Royal Necropolis of Gonur North to support the head of a deceased, closely resembles a group of similar statues found at Mohenjo-Daro, and one specimen property of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In the absence of detailed analyses of the carving techniques and of the geological provenance of the stones used to manufacture all these statues, it is impossible to positively establish whether they were local productions or the result of exchanges. However, the local manufacturing of a kneeling man at Gonur Depe. The evident affinities with the figures embossed on silver vessels from Bactria, with comparable pieces found at Sistan, and with the decoration of an alabaster vessel found at Dashly 3 (Afghanistan). All suggest the existence (at the end of third and in the first centuries of the second millennium BCE) of an intercultural sphere of shared beliefs that led to the local creation of similar cult objects and ritual paraphernalia, rather than the mere exchange of finished goods between Central Asia, Baluchistan and the Indus Valley.
The result of the study of ivory artifacts found at Gonur Depe up through the 2008 field season indicate that all artifacts were clearly manufactured from the tusks of Asian elephant. Other category of finds include the number of different objects, mainly hairpins with their heads decorated with incised lines or carved in the typical shape of fist, made from animal bones instead of true ivory.
Several indicators coalesce to enable identifying Asian male elephants, as the unique source used to produce the ivory objects revealed at Gonur Depe. In particular, the presence and arrangement of the Schreger lines, the distinct cone-in-cone pattern resulting from continuous growing of the elephant tusks, the occasional presence of residual traces of cementum on the surface of a few objects, and the specific mode of surface exfoliation due to post –depositional processes, are characteristic of elephant ivory. Moreover, in several cases the thorough examination of the size and orientation of the cone-in- cone pattern made it possible broadly reconstruct the size, proportions and curvature of the tusk and to determine the portion of the tusk from where the object was obtained. This latter information testifies to the use of ivory coming from male Elephas maximus instead of Loxodonta Africana, the former having smaller, straighter and narrower tusks.
List of main ivory objects found at Gonur Depe (up to 2008 field season):
Ivory Stick-dice (6)
Ivory Comb (2)
Ivory Gaming board (4)
Ivory Gaming pieces (3)
Ivory Spoon (1)
Ivory Winding snake (1)
Ivory Decorated discs (3)
Ivory Decorated plaques (2)
Ivory Elephant tusk (1)
Ivory Cosmetic spatula (1)
Main list of associated finds, revealed together with ivory objects:
Unfinished steatite statue of a kneeling man
Large ceramic jars (30)
Ceramic vessels (65)
Terracotta figurine (1)
Stone vessel (2)
Stone beads (4)
Stone composite statuette (3)
Stone miniature columns (3)
Stone cosmetic bottle (3)
Stone plate (1)
Stone discs (3)
Stone scepter (2)
Stone horse figurine (1)
Stone animal figurines (1)
Ram stone sculpture (1)
Stone arrowheads (6)
Stone container (1)
Gold vessels (4)
Gold beads (3)
Gold bangle (1)
Semiprecious stone and gold beads (1)
Semiprecious stone and gold flower (1)
Silver vessels (22)
Silver cosmetic bottle (1)
Silver bangle (1)
Silver earring (1)
Silver spoon (1)
Silver pin (1)
Silver trumpet (1)
Silver hairpin (1)
Bronze vessels (15)
Bronze bowl (1)
Bronze kidney shaped vessels (1)
Bronze mace-heads (2)
Bronze seal (2)
Bronze hairpins (2)
Bronze mirror (6)
Bronze cosmetic bottle (2)
Bronze funnel (1)
Bronze knife (1)
Bronze spear (1)
Bronze and semiprecious stone beads (1)
Bronze dagger (1)
Bronze mirror (3)
Bronze harpoons (2)
Bronze bangles (1)
Bronze ring (1)
Bronze and stone bracelet (1)
Bronze axe (1)
Bronze cosmetic spatula (1)
Faience vessel (1)
Faience bangles (3)
Faience cosmetic bottle (1)
Flint arrowheads (140)
Bone arrowheads (3)
Double necklace of semiprecious stone beads and silver pendants (1)
Semiprecious stone beads (3)
Miscellaneous bronze items (5)
Large section of elephant tusk, 11 cm long, 15-17 cm diameter
Location of above finds are Gonur Depe (Main Necropolis, Royal Sanctuary, Northern burial ground, Southwestern burial ground)
The artifacts made from Asian elephant ivory found at Gonur Depe mainly belong to the spheres of personal care, gaming or divination. A few miscellaneous objects of still unknown use that might have been part of furniture or used as ritual or cultic paraphernalia. They have been discovered almost exclusively in elite funerary contexts as part of affluent grave goods and in one case, in a room of the so called Royal Sanctuary complex. It appears evident that the objects carved from Asian elephant tusks were regarded as distinctive symbols of the higher social and economic status.
Sarianidi found two ivory combs, one in the Main Necropolis (11 X 10.50 cm, undecorated, with a crescent shaped handle). Another comb found in the Western micro complex of the Royal Sanctuary at Gonur North (12 X 8.50 cm, had a crescent shaped handle, likely flattened after its breaking, decorated on both sides with a series of five dot-in-circles motifs and one dot-in-circles at the end of the wide lateral projections that protect the teeth of the comb). Both combs created with a metal saw, 0,8 – 1 mm thick, the marks of which are still clearly visible on the sides of the teeth.
Ivory combs, often decorated with dot-in-circles motifs, have been found at Indus sites. They are also found in southeastern Arabia at Ras Al-Jinz, Tell Abraq and Bat. Similar combs, but made from wood and often undecorated, have been found at sites in northern Bactria and in southeastern Iran at Bampur and Shahr-I Sokhta. The discovery of combs still in place on the head of the deceased in graves at Tell Abraq and Shakhr-I Sokhta testifies to their use as headdresses.
Combs in ivory, but probably also in bone and wood, were exceptional and highly prized items in Bronze Age sites across Middle and South Asia as is confirmed also by textual sources. Their rarity and the common use of dot-in-circles decorative motifs make it difficult to distinct between the regions of productions of combs, preventing from the possible reconstruction of exchange patterns. However, two combs are very similar in shape – to the one from Gonur necropolis - found in collective grave at Tell Abraq (late third millennium BCE), were decorated with floral motif of a long-stemmed tulip identical to the one carved on a stone flask from Bactria and on a vessel from Gonur Depe. These discoveries from Tell Abraq testify to the local production (or reworking) of ivory combs at Oxus Civilization sites, including possibly also Gonur Depe.
A large spatula, 30 cm long found at Gonur Depe, possibly used for cosmetics or for mixing liquids, ointments or powders, manufactured following local shapes and art styles. Its 15 cm long handle was fashioned and finely decorated in bas-relief on both sides to reproduce a chimeric winged creature, with a snakehead and lion body, devouring a cow. This motif has strong parallels in the polychrome mosaics that decorated several graves of the Gonur necropolis. Another find of an undecorated spatula was probably also produced locally.
A small ivory spoon found in the Royal Necropolis at Gonur North, has the end of its handle carved in the characteristic local shape of a fist. It might have also belonged to the sphere of personal care and was possibly used for dosing cosmetic powders or medicines.
At Indus Valley sites and at Gonur Depe, a significant number of artifacts made from ivory are connected with practices of gaming or ritual divination. The distinction between gaming for amusement and ritual divination to predict the future or discriminate between different possibilities is archeologically elusive.
At Gonur North, in grave beside Royal Sanctuary, Sarianidi found what he originally interpreted as a rectangular wooden lid decorated with of hundreds of tiny ivory segments, triangles, drops and circles. As discovered, the inlays still had their original arrangement and there is no doubt those they were instead part of a gaming board for the so-called game of twenty squares, similar the ones found in the Royal Cemetery of Ur and at Shahr-I Sokhta. Direct examination of these inlays revealed that a few of them retain portions of dot-in-circles visible on the backside. Evidently, they were cut out from larger decorated objects and probably testify to the continuous reworking of ivory objects in order to maximize the exploitation of such a previous material. A similar gaming board, decorated with ivory segments and with two plaquettes carved in the form of a squatting bull. Two more comparable gaming boards in ivory, all found at Gonur North. This type of gaming board is not very common at Indus sites, where only five broken boards of lower quality have been found so far, one each in terracotta at Lothal and Mohenjo-Daro and three in limestone at Dholavira.
According to the available archeological and textual sources, different types of dice were used with these gaming boards for playing the game of twenty squares, including sheep or ox knucklebones and tetrahedrons or four sided stick dice made of various materials.
A standardized type of four-sided stick dice in ivory, 10 to 12 cm long with a quadrangular section of 1.2 to 1.6 cm found at Gonur Depe. Three complete ivory stick-dice come from the Royal Sanctuary. At least four more dice of the same type found, entire and broken pieces, associated with other ivory objects from around Main Basin of Gonur North. Some preserved fragments of ivory stick-dice found also in the main necropolis. Visual analyses confirmed that they made of elephant ivory. The Shereger lines form in fact an average angle > 115 degrees, which is the case for extant proboscidea , including Elephas maximus.
Three complete ivory stick-dice of the same type discovered at Altyn Depe in levels dating to the late stages of Namazga V, 2200-2000 BCE. The stick dice from Gonur Depe and Altyn Depe have all the same pattern of motifs. Each of the three sides has dot-in-circles in increments from one to three, while the forth side has alternating series of transverse lines and saltire crosses or diagonal lines forming five or seven subdivisions. A similar semantic sequence, but with longitudinal parallel lines or transverse crescents on the for the side, occurs only on a few sticks found at Indus Valley sites. On the other hand, at Indus Valley sites there is a greater variety of rectangular and shaped sticks, bars and rods in ivory, all variously decorated and sometimes inscribed. These were possibly used as gaming dice, either alone or associated with boards and gaming pieces or as fortune telling sticks.
The stick –dice with incremental dot-in-circles have been found in Mesopotamia only at Ur and they have been considered of external provenance. At Shakhr-I Sokhta, in southeastern Iranian, stone stick-dice with dot-in-circles and crosses were found in both settlement area, together with a gaming board and gaming pieces, is dated to Period III. This phase dating is still a matter of debate: Italian archeologist date it between 2500-2400 BCE based on a series of calibrated radiocarbon dates and French specialists date it between 2800-2600 BCE relying on ceramic comparisons. In either case, these prototypes of stick-dice seem to appear earlier in southeastern Iran and only later in Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, where cubical dice were also present in significant numbers. In the Indus Valley, gaming boards for the game of twenty squares were used along with other types of boards, very similar to the ones still used in South Asia for the Alquerque and Nine Men’s Morris strategy games, known locally as Quirkat and Sujjua. The present evidence doesn’t permit to understand whether the Oxus Civilization sites acted as a bridge over which the use of stick-dice spread across Middle Asia, but most likely they absorbed influences from different directions, typologically and for the raw materials employed.
Gaming boards and stick-dice are often found associated with various types of gaming pieces. In particular, the two stick-dice found at Altyn Depe were buried together with twelve decorated ivory plaquettes, ten square and two round. Ivory plaquettes, one octagonal and one square, have been found at Dzharkutan (old Bactria center, present -Uzbekistan) in contexts dating to the end of the third – beginning of the second millennium BCE.
Identical square, round and octagonal ivory plaquettes have been discovered in several graves at Gonur Depe. They have an average size ranging between 3-4 cm and are variously decorated with oblique lines at their corners and central large concentric circles, with dot-in-circles motifs along the perimeter or completely covering their surface or with orthogonal grid patterns sometimes filled with dot-in-circles. Considering their size, which perfectly matches the squares of the gaming boards and their frequent association with ivory stick-dice, these plaquettes were presumably used as gaming pieces. A few comparable gaming pieces have also been found at Ur and Shakhr-I Sokhta, while they are quite rare at Indus sites.
The other exceptional ivory pieces found at Gonur have not equivalents in Indus Valley ivory production but closely connected to the artistic traditions of Central Asia and of Margiana.
A few ivory discs, 6- 7 cm in diameter, 1 cm thick, found in funerary contexts at Gonur Depe. They have recurring motifs shallowly carved on both sides. Two of them bear a scorpion on one side and a schematic composition of heart-shaped pipal leaf motifs on the other. These motifs recur frequently at Gonur Depe on metal, stone seals and were also used in the composition of polychrome mosaics. The heart-shaped pipal (Ficus religiosa or sacred fig) leaf motif almost certainly originated in the Indus Valley and become soon part of the decorative tradition in Margiana. The representations of scorpions are found in the greater Indus Valley only on bone and ivory button seal from Early Harappan site of Rehman Dheri, in northern Baluchistan, in a level dated 3200-3000 BCE.
Other ivory discs of a comparable size have dot-in-circles motifs drilled on both sides in concentric series and along the edge. Considering their size and the rules of the game, which provide for the simultaneous presence of more than one piece on the board, these discs probably were not used with the standardized type of gaming boards found at Gonur Depe that have smaller playing squares (5 cm). Their purpose use is still unproved, although they might have been part of ritual paraphernalia or have been used in association with larger gaming sets made of perishable materials.
A broken ivory handle was carefully carved to form two interwoven snakes. It closely resembles the handle of a metal knife. The sculptural representation of a winding snake made from ivory was found under the right shoulder of a male buried in the Royal Necropolis at Gonur North. In Bronze Age Margiana, winding snake was a very common motif, which is found represented on ceramic containers, gold jewelry, metal and stone seals, bronze ceremonial axes and polychrome mosaics.
Three long and slightly curved ivory plaques perforated at one end, 20-25 cm long, 4 cm high, and a maximum thickness 0.8-1 cm, whose shape apparently follows the natural curvature and diameter of the tusk. These plaques, two of which are entire and one is broken into several pieces, are decorated on the obverse while the reverse was flattened and left unpolished. They were decorated with the same pattern of five rectangular segments separated by three transverse lines, each of the lateral segment containing roughly carved saltire crosses formed by intersecting bundle of lines (five lines in the two segments at each extremity and three lines in the two median segments), and a lozenge-shaped grid in the central segment. This decorative scheme evokes that carved on the fourth side of the stick-dice found at Gonur Depe and Altyn Depe, but the shape of these enigmatic objects would have prevented their use as dice or fortune sticks. Four identical perforated ivory plaques found also in Gonur, decorated with a continuous motif of dot-in-cercles arranged in a zid-zag pattern, suggesting a specific use for these objects distinct from that of dice and counters.
The decoration of these ivory plaques, including both segmented and zig-zag patterns, recall the motifs carved on four long animal bone sticks found at Altyn Depe, the actual function still not defined. A morphological comparison with later ivory pieces found at Fort Shalmanaser at Numrud, in northwestern Iraq, suggests that the ivory plaques found at Gonur North might have been possibly used to decorate architectural elements or pieces of furniture.
The available data of the detailed study of ivory objects found at Gonur Depe show the significant functional, morphological and stylistic separation between this collection and the contemporaneous production of ivory objects in the greater Indus Valley. The process of ivory objects production might be as outlined, based on the available data:
- Before any work done, a sketch of the finished item was made; in some workshops it was also customary to make a model in clay or wax.
- Having chosen a seasoned tusk, any enamel remaining was usually removed by abrasion; sometimes it was removed by heating it and flaking it off with a chisel.
- The appropriate size for the design was calculated and cut from the tusk using a saw; it was important to work out exactly how to cut the ivory so as to make the best use of the precious material and waste as little as possible
- The design was drawn on the surface of the piece, which was then roughly shaped using saws and chisels.
- It was customary to moisten the surface of the ivory to make it a little softer and less brittle; Various chisels, gouges, files, burins were used for carving, finer tools were used for fine work, eventually down to a sharp needle if necessary.
- The objects were polished using a variety of abrasive materials, including leather, seal or sharkskin, rough fish scales and chalk to give the final shine.
- Polished ivory artifacts could be eventually incised or etched with thin lines to create designs or emphasize specific features.
- Finished objects in ivory could be bleached using a mixture of urine and lime.
- In special case, the creamy color of ivory could be altered by heating, smoking or staining with liquids or by applying pigments.
- The objects were dampened in water to provide them with their original moisture content that might have been lost or altered and then greased to maintain it.
Not all these manufacturing stages and technical actions were adopted in the production of the ivory objects found at Gonur Depe. Even though the presence of traces of dark substances withing the motifs that were drilled and incised on a few dice and plaquettes might suggest that they were originally filled with pigments, there is no evidence for bleaching and the general quality of the carving did not require the skills and finer tools used during later historical and modern periods for manufacturing pieces in-th-round or with an accentuated undercutting. Even so, their production still require an elevated level of technical virtuosity and close acquaintance with the raw material and with its preparation for the carving.
The study of the ivory collection found at Gonur Depe site proves that most of the objects were probably manufactured in Central Asia according to the local artistic tradition and did not just arrived as finished objects from Indus Valley sites. Almost all ivories finds at Gonur Depe show a marked degree of functional and stylistic separation from the contemporaneous ivory production in the Indus Civilization.
A few ivory objects may have occasionally arrived in Central Asia from the greater Indus Valley as finished items. However, considering the sources of elephant ivory available for Gonur Depe, the discovery on the site of the large unworked section of an elephant tusk, and the evidence for reworking of ivory objects at Gonur Depe and possibly also at other sites of Oxus Civilization Basin. It seems more likely that tusks of Asian elephants were traded to Central Asia, whole or in sections, by merchants who might have provided also the skilled craftsmanship necessary to transform them into finished objects. The highly specialized skills and expertise required to carve ivory objects comparable to the ones found at Gonur Depe suggest that they were manufactured by local wood carvers or most likely by Indus-trained ivory carvers.
Some textual sources allow considering also the possible presence in Central Asia of Indus-trained itinerant ivory carvers. In fact, the high economic and ideological value that ivory objects acquired during the Bronze Age when exhibited outside the Indus Valley may have led to the establishment of specific socioeconomic and technical networks for the manufacturing and trade of these prized objects across Middle Asia.
Whole complex of objects found at the sites:
V-shaped Female Figurines – Simple, stylized female figurines, big eyes, bird’s noses and V-shaped parts of body, with outstretched arms and triangle- shaped gender attributes. Sometimes decorated with necklace amulets and incised arms. Some are very similar with the figurines from Altyn Depe or Namazga V sites. Earliest are only female figurines but later proved appearance of male figurines. The available finds prove the different production areas, artisanship, and ethnic groups.
Unbaked Clay Male and Female Figurines – Female and male Figurines, distinct shaped form not similar with previous period figurines.
Decorative Figurines on Ceramic Vessels – the figures include humans, birds, frogs, snakes and other animals, together representing a narrative scene in terracotta frieze on upper part of a vessel, bowl or jar.
Freestanding Animal Clay Figurines
Bone tools finds, widely used at Margiana:
Worked astragalas bones – Ground and polished astragali were common finds from the excavations of the architecture at the south mound of Gonur. Objects done from astragali of sheep – goat, and wild pig. Suggested that the finds used as gaming pieces and as tools for grinding. The marble copy of an astragali from Togolok 21 (one of sites of Margiana) may suggest that it were more than gaming pieces, and may be used in certain rituals.
Incised bone tubes – the midsection of sheep- goat femora used for the engraved bone tubes found at Margiana sites. Cut, polished, reamed out and incised have been designed with larges eyes a stylized headdress above a collar bellow. Some were with dark pigments rubbed into the incisions. These finds are only from architectural context not in burials. Poppy pollen has been recorded from soil inside of the tubes making V.I. Sarianidi tp interpret it as drinking tubes for sipping an opium-ephedra drink similar to haoma.
Prof. V. I. Sarianidi found at Gonur, what appears to be the boiler for the ritual drink soma, which is mentioned in theRigveda (an ancient Indian collection of Vedic Sanckrit hymns. It is one of four sacred canonical texts of Hinduism known as the Vedas) and also in the Avesta (The primarily collection religious texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in Avestan laguage) as haoma is a divine plant in Zoroastrianism and in later Persian culture and mythology. Haoma has its origins in Indo-Iranian religion and is cognate of Vedic soma).
Bone axes – ground and polished bone objects made from the ends of long bones of large animals. They are carved in the same form as bronze axes found at Togolok 21 and Dashli 3 at Bactria. The exterior ground and polished to form a blade, having a hole vertically ground out for a handle and a small hole for a pin to hold the axe in the handle. These features provide good evidence that the axes, usually made of bronze, were ceremonial and not for everyday use.
Alabaster and steatite made objects:
- Tall footed alabaster cups - are found from Namazga IV to the BMAC complex. Namazga IV cups with perforated lids, may had served as lamps.
- Turned alabaster bowls
- Alabaster vial – have square and round bases and incised line decoration.
- Alabaster bull’s head (Togolok 21)
- Alabaster small amulets
- Alabaster figures
- Alabaster seals
- Stone figure include human and small animal figures carved in the round. Composite multipart human figurines are made with a steatite base and a head and arms of a white stone, usually alabaster
- Steatite carved amulet in the form of a camel
- Variety of steatite made animals, as frogs and boars. Steatite amulets having images of mountain goat, monkeys and bear (reflect the proximity of the Bactrian area)
The steatite and alabaster amulets of Murghab area style are carved on two sides, and often pierced for a string. Many of this type of amulets come from Bactria. Other common amulets have a stepped diamond shape (is traditional design in Central Asia. Painted ceramics, stone beads and discs from Namazga IV). The steatite and alabaster stepped diamond amulets have carved decoration on either side. Sometimes, they are found at the sites of Harappa.
Imprints of amulets and seals found on oval and round bullae. One found bulla from Gonur Depe is oval with a hole for a string, similar to the much later Parthian and Sasanian bullae.
There are several types of stone seals, including those as the cylinder seals and the imitations of metal-compartmented seals, new to Central Asia. Steatite and alabaster seals have both drilled and have incised designs similar to amulets. They are classified separately from amulets by having a boss on the back which can be held and is pierced, similar to metal seals.
The cylindrical seals have vivid designs around the cylinder and often have a motif on the base with a loop boss carved on top. The carving on the base is similar both in technique of carving and in motifs to the locally manufactured round amulets.
Stone Miniature columns, Staffs, Mace-heads
Miniature stone columns, found different sizes - 16 cm, 21 cm, 21.5 cm, 23 cm, 24.5 cm, 25 cm, 27 cm, 27.5 cm, 28 cm, 28.5 cm, 29 cm. Some columns are paired by size: Black and white marble 21 cm, Grey salt and pepper granite 21.5 cm, Pink limestone with large round inclusions 21 cm, Pink grainy siliceous stone 24.5 cm, Dark red metamorphic conglomerate in a white matrix 29 cm, Yellow pink siliceous rock.
Miniature columns often occur with stone staffs. Staffs (or scepters) made of marble, alabaster, and schist found in many Central Asia burials from Bactria and foothill zone. Fragments of schist staffs have been found in Margiana, at Gonur Depe and at Togolok 21. Earlier it comes from Namazga V assemblages, found at Altyn Depe.
Round stone mace-heads, are also the part of Bactria and Margiana complex. Plain stone mace-heads dated to the earliest period of Margiana, whereas in the later BMAC period they are ornately carved. In Bactria, mace-heads are also made of bronze and of lead, and are associated with the staffs and miniature columns.
Miniature columns, staffs, and mace-heads appear to have been important symbols, beyond whatever utilitarian function they also might have had. In the BMAC, for the first time they are grouped together, in bot burial and architectural contexts. Probably, the incorporated as a set into the BMAC cultural system. The large assemblage of these stone objects in Togolok 21, may attest its central place in Margiana, in the middle period.
Stone pocketbooks (stone loom weights)- are oval or round in shape stones with a hole through the top to serve as a loop or handle. These are close in size and shape to the weights from warp-weighted looms for weaving. Similar to the traditional warp-weighted looms weights from Iran. Undecorated stone pocketbooks found in Iran and in Central Asia from III millennium BCE, Namazga III- IV levels, Margiana, Bactria. Mostly all found in domestic contexts.
Large Grinding Stonesare found on all the sites of Margiana, as well as the polished hand stones and pestles. Many caches of these have been found, as if they were hidden together before being abandoned. They are made of basalt, limestone and sandstone, the closest sources of which are more than 200 km away in the foothills of the Kopet Dag mountains. The numerous grinding stones and pocketbooks found on every site in Margiana, in total, represent an enormous quantity of stone imported to the desert oases.
Chipped Stone Arrow pointsare part of the Central Asia Bronze Age tradition. Distinctive ripple flaked points have been found in architectural contexts and from the surface of Gonur. The points are similar to those found at Kelleli 4 also in Margiana, and at Altyn Depe from the upper levels. Total absence of debitage at Gonur, suggest that finished points were imported. A wide variety of chipped stone points are also found in situ from Togolok 21, and at Takhirbai 3 (Margiana sites).
Metals objects variety:
Many metals objects are tools or household objects. Blades include knives, spears, arrow points and razors. The tools included drills, chisels, and punches were part of the local production complex. Some tools showing signs of use are from burials.
The metal ornaments include cosmetic vials and pins, decorative pins, mirrors, bracelets, rings and fragments of compartmented and geometric seals. In general, the jewelry and ceremonial objects found primarily in burials, only some found on floors of buildings and in midden.
Small bronze and copper alloy vials found in northern and southern Bactria, in association with decorative pins and sticks. The vials from Margiana differ in form from those found in Bactria, reflecting regional differences in the shape of vessels between Bactria and Margiana. This suggest local centers of metallurgical production, as opposed to itinerant metallurgists. It also emphasizes the lack of exchange of finished objects between oases despite the fact that the raw metal (apparently as ingots) probably came from Hissar mountains near the northern Bactrian oases.
Large pins with decorated ends, 8-14 cm in length, are often associated with small bronze and copper alloy jars. Round finials are most common in Margiana at Gonur and Togolok. Pins with animal forms or body parts are common from Bactrian sites of Sapalli and Dzharkutan. Previously it was suggested that the Margiana variant contrasted with the Bactrian variant by its lack of precious metals. However, the large pins made of gold were found at Egri Bogaz in Margiana.
Bracelets and earrings are a very commonfeature of the BMAC assemblageof metals. Copper, bronze, silver and lead earrings are common in BMAC burials in Margiana. Bactrian variants of the bracelets have twisted decoration, and the ends are sometimes in the form of snakes’ heads. These features are evocative of later Iranian bracelets of Luristani and Achaemenid types.
Bronze and copper alloy stamps seals are distinctive feature of the BMAC complex. There are two broad categories of seal forms: 1. Compartmented – open backed with the design soldered on. 2. Champlevé – closed, most likely wax cast, with the design cast and gouged out. The geometric and figurative seals of Margiana, both made in the compartmented and the champlevé techniques. The geometric seals are stylistically undifferentiated from the earlier period. Bronze stamp seals impressions found on pottery, stamped prior to firing. This practice is similar to that with the stone seals and indicates a similar function.
Bronze and copper alloy axes in Margiana and Bactria, are of the cast shaft-hole variety. They have a zoomorphic form, most typically with a prominent eye motif on each side and a tail or a beak. In Margiana these axes have been cast but not hardened for use and thus are considered to have been ceremonial in nature. Such axes found in burial contexts and in monumental architecture in Bactria and Margiana. Axes from bactria are similar to the Margiana type but more elaborate, with designs of animals and dragons similar to BMAC amulets. These axes are best known from plundered tombs of southern Bactria, which include gold and silver chased examples.
The distinctive styles of metal objects from Margiana suggest local manufacture. There are also several direct indicators of metallurgical production. Most notable a copper ingot found at Gonur South. This, together with a metal casting mold found on the surface at Gonur. The mold has the form of an eagle engraved on it. Very similar cast eagles adorn the rim of metal vessels of BMAC.
Development processes between the earlier foothill local cultures/sites of Anau, Namazga, Geoksur, and Altyn Depe to Margiana and Bactria as BMAC.
- V-shaped figurines as predominant ceremonial artifact come to end in the further development in Margiana. Round and compartmented figurines and statuettes become more common for ceremonial use. This reflect the culture change in continuous development of Margiana.
- Stone staffs, disks, and miniature columns are incorporated into BMAC development. These objects probably got new definition of cultural meanings to them.
- Further development of large and rich iconography, including zoomorphic, anthropomorphic and geometric designs.
- Motifs on stone, bronze, and copper alloy seals become diversified. Motifs include animals, humans, dragons and some narrative scenes. Amulets made of terracotta, bone, stone, copper or bronze alloy. The new artistic and iconographic symbols on the artifacts include snakes, scorpions and plants typical of the desert around Margiana and images of mountain goats typical of northern Bactria. Images of domestic plants, camel, sheep and other herd animals are also common on BMAC artifacts. The development in Margiana is indicated by the continuity in ceramics, architecture, and settlements.
The occurrence of steppe nomadic artifacts inside building complexes in Margiana attests to interaction with Andronovo nomads (Alakul 1800-1500 BCE, Alekseyevka 1200-1000 BCE),from the eastern steppe. These nomads could have introduced new stylistic traditions to the area. However steppe material in Margiana is rare and the new motifs of snakes, scorpions, boar…relate to the oases environment itself rather than to the steppe nomadic traditions.
The distribution of the Margiana and Bactria material outside of Central Asia indicates a wide expansion of contacts with the greater Indo- Iranian region, from the Indus valley to western Iran, to Mesopotamia, and perhaps beyond. Burials found well outside of Central Asiathat have exclusively BMAC goods, including ceramics. This proves the contacts of Central Asia people, probably involved in acquiring raw materials, with contemporary cultures to the south. However, in Margiana itself no evidence of foreign styles or imported objects from the south.
Despite the contacts with the nomads to the north and with contemporary Bronze Age cultures to the south, the emergence of the new style appears to be indigenous process of development rather than the adoption or importing of an ideology or art style. The lack of finished imported objects and the occurrence of imported raw materials are characteristic of this suggestion. The changes in the local economy and society affect the ideology, religion, and possibly language. It reflected in the new artistic depictions, ritual objects, and figurines in Margiana and Bactria. The architectural development in Margiana was followed by the ideological changes expressed in the iconography of axes, figurines, seals and amulets.
The archeologists suggest many explanations for the widespread distribution of Bronze Age oasis settlements in Margiana and also in Bactria:
- Migrations from the Iranian plateau, originally coming from Mesopotamia (V.I. Sarianidi in 1987)
- Evolution from the Baluchistan tradition (Jarrige 1987)
- Nomadic incursions (Alyekshin 1980)
- Evolution from the Kopet Dag foothill zone (Biscione 1977)
- Followed by continuous growth of a local population in the oasis areas (Udemuradov 1988).
Based on new data from Margiana, the last two suggestions have strong ground to be correct.
Main Margiana (Margush) archeological area sites are Gonur Depe, Togolok Temple 140 X 100 M, Kelleli fortress 3125x 125 m, Adji Kui settlement, totally over 150 settlements found around in this region. All settlements most likely abandoned after the course of the Murghab River shifted to the west.
In the last centuries of the third millennium BCE, the urban centers of the Oxus civilization developed intense commercial and cultural exchanges with the neighboring regions of the Indus Valley and the Iranian Plateau, with Mesopotamia, the Levant and the Gulf Region. Probably, it is fostered by the existence in the mountains of Central Asia of abundant sources of precious stones and minerals that were not present in the alluvial basins of the great rivers. However the discovery in Bactria and in Margiana of seals and tablet bearing geometric and animals motifs having the direct parallels in the early Harappan levels of Harappa, Kunal, Rehman Dheri and other contemporaneous sites in northern Baluchistan, might predate the beginning of contacts with the Indus Valley to the first half of third millennium BCE.
Indus artifacts discovered in Bactria and Margiana consist mainly of ornaments made from semiprecious stones and faience, small containers in softstone and a variety of objects made from ivory. The ivory objects found at Gonur Depe provide solid data for better defining the strategies of cosmopolitan interaction developed and applied in Middle Asia during the Bronze Age.
Some Indus and Indus related seals have been found around in Central Asia, including specimens actually imported from the Indus Valley. There are several seals of particular interest, the branded seals with the distinctive Indus iconography of the Indian bison with the lowered head. Done, using the local stones and animals represented following to the indigenous glyptic styles. The Indus bison considered of having likely been the brand of Indus merchants formally acting in external trade. This evidence lends support to the existence, at the end of the third and into the first centuries of the second millennium BCE, of a specific phenomenon of hybridization of local glyptics with elements of the Indus tradition, which has been observed also in other regions of Middle Asia. Such crossing possibly indicates the direct integration of Harappan trading families into the local societies and cultures or their formal delegation of part of their business to local agents.
As for the evidence of imports from Central Asia to the Indus Valley comprises only a few miscellaneous small finds, including bronze pins and arrowheads, the flower shaped head of a metal pin, the steatite wig of a small composite figurine, several stone and metal seals and their impressions on clay. The raw materials, the import of metals like silver, lead, tin are difficult to quantify, while stones like lapis lazuli and turquoise have played only a minor role in the production of Indus ornaments. The site of Shortughai, in the Kunduz region of the Oxus Valley, has been interpreted as an Indus outpost established in Bactria to control the extraction and trade of lapis lazuli. However, the amount of such stone found at the site seems remarkably limited considering the scale of its exploitation in Southwestern Asia during the third millennium BCE, including southeastern Iran, Mesopotamia, northwestern Syria and Egypt.
The fast-wheel made ceramics:
The late Namazga IV, Namazga V-VI and the Bactrian and Margiana Bronze Age oases areas share some overall characteristics of form.
- The open forms include vases on pedestal bases and trumpet-shaped cups of all sizes. Both types of vertical lipped and incised rim forms dated since as early as late Namazga IV.
- Large closed pots with a concave mold-made base are also found in late Namazga IV. These forms by definition are made on a wheel and reflect a manufacturing technique that continues until the end of the Bronze Age ceramic tradition in Central Asia.
- Jars generally have a medial carination and are called bi-conical jars. These range from sharply carinated to rounded in a general trend through time.
- Cups and bowls have a tall pedestaled base and are first found in early Namazga V levels. The form of these bases is made possible by fast-wheel production.
- Ceramic pot-stands are found in both the Central Asia and Indus Valley traditions. These ceramics appear to be used both for the manufacture of the concave base of large closed pots and also as the stands for the vessels.
Other similar sites located in Bactria (as part of BMAC), Middle to Late Bronze Age, 2300-1700 BCE. For example: the site Dashly 3 palace, is a fortified rectangular compound, 88X84 m. The building had massive double outer walls, in the middle of each wall was a protruding salient composed of a T-shaped corridor flanked by two L-shaped corridors and Dzharkutan site.
With the great reference to the memory of Prof. V.I. Sarianidi (1929-2013) and of Prof. Maurizio Tosi (1944-2017) who contributed to discoveries of the past and understanding of the present.
YAZ Depe cultures:
Yaz Depe I, 1900-1500 BCE, 1500- 1000 BCE Late Bronze Age- Early Iron Age. Small settlements around fortified buildings, hand-made ceramics, control of irrigation systems, disappearance of the burials (presumably used sky burials)
Yaz Depe II, 1100- 700/540 BCE Middle Iron Age. Reappearance of wheel made pottery, appearance of iron metallurgy, large fortified settlements, the continuation of the funerary practices. Tribes spoke Avestan language. Deserted in end 8th-6th century BCE.
Yaz Depe III, 700-400 BCE, part of Achaemenid Empire. The same cultural and funerary continuity. Disappearance of rimmed pottery, vessels have cylindrical and conical shapes, bronze three-bladed arrow-heads, iron axes and iron adzes.
– city in the delta of Murgh (Murghab) river in Turkmenistan.
‘Nowhere else in all Central Asia are ruins so abundant or so vast’, wrote the American archeologist R. Pumpelly in the early years of the 20th century when describing the Merv oasis. The China source written by Du Huan, in 765 after his return from 10 years of captivity at Merv described – ‘a big river which flows into its territory, where it divides into several hundred canals irrigating the whole area. The area of this kingdom from east to west is 70 km and from north to south 90 km’.
The Merv oasis is formed of alluvial silts deposited by the river Murghab. Starting in the Afghan mountains crosses the hills and enter the desert of the oasis at its southern end, eventually draining in the desert to the north.
The Merv ‘s long and distinguished history can be accounted by its strategic position in Central Asia, on the ancient Great Trade Routes, in a large and fertile oasis in the Kara Kum desert (present day Turkmenistan).
The ruins of Merv include five settlements: ancient Gyaur Kala (Antiochia in Margiana) and its citadel Erk Kala (Alexandria in Margiana), medieval Sultan-Kala, post-medieval Addallah Khan Kala and 18th century extension Bairam Ali Khan-Kala. In 1883 new administrative center – Mary founded 26 km from Merv and Bairam Ali Khan Kala. Another, the little known city of Merv was Shaim Kala, square walled area some 110 ha, 1 km south-east of Gyaur Kala, now completely destroyed.
Merv has the unusual pattern of urban development as a consecutive series of cities gradually developed on adjacent virgin land zones. These extensive remains offered a unique opportunity to record the varying plans of the cities, since their walls define its size and general layout, gateways, principal roads, some buildings and the courses of main canals. All these near the surface having the time cultural levels as per city.
The archeological evidence reveals that the Merv Oasis was a center of civilization by the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE. By the end of the 5th century BCE Merv had become the urban center of the oasis.
The city of Merv is located in the east of central part of the Margiana oasis and lies next to the Razik canal. The river Murghab itself flowed much further to the west. Erk Kala was a polygonal citadel of the roughly square lower city of Gyaur Kala which measures two km across. Together they covered an area of some 374 ha. Each was encased within massive fortifications consisting of hollow curtains with external plastered glacises, which were constructed during the Sasanian period above the solid in-filled remains of earlier fortifications. The bulk of the built environment within the city connects the main east and west gates in a rectangular covering an approximate area of 125 ha. Additional residential quarters sprawl towards the south and north gates and add an additional 28 ha or so to the built up area. Each of the unexcavated gates was situated midway along the wall, except on the north side where the central position of the citadel meant that the gate on this side was off-centre, positioned directly to the east and commanded by a bastion of the citadel. It is evident from their morphology that all of the gates possessed a projecting outer wall and were approached by a ramp running parallel to the curtain. The curtain walls had towers at regular intervals and excavations next to the southwest corner bastion revealed a sequence of redesign, constant use and strengthening of the fortifications. A fifth gate was situated on the western wall but bypassed the residential quarters and lead into an open area on the western side of the citadel. It can not be totally excluded that late nineteenth century attempts to irrigate the lower-lying corners of the city may have led to some smaller mounds being leveled; but the fact that some mounds are still present suggests instead that this corner, in particular, was substantially economy supported by a complex agricultural base and protected by a powerful military presence.
Erk Kala is the first city in the Merv’s area, was founded in the 6th century BCE. The foundation may have coincided with arrival of Achaemenian Persians or possibly their predecessors, the Medes. Cyrus II the Great (559-530 BCE) established Achaemenian control of the oasis, known also as Margiana. Later rebellion of Margiana against Achaemenians was historically recorded in the trilingual inscription of Darius the Great at Behistun Rock near Kermanshah in Iran. Where the defeat of Margian rebel Frada was recorded. At that time Margiana was the part of satrapy of Bactria (as the continuation of the Bronze Age links between the areas).
Erk Kala is very massive oval hill, with large mud-brick walls stand some 30 m in height and enclose and area of 20 ha. The highest point on the walls is the look-out tower in the south-east, which originally guarded the probable entrance to the citadel. This may have been via a ramp over the moat, leading to a gate set high in its walls. The southern half of the citadel consists of occupation build up, including a platform to the west, once crowned with administrative building of the early Arab period. This was excavated in 1930 and removed in the 1980s. To the north is one of the lower areas, a feature of Central Asian cities.
From the end of the 4th century BCE, Merv is part of Alexander the Great Empire and citadel of Erk Kala become known as Alexandria in Margiana. The latest cultural levels on the occupational platform adjacent to the east wall have been dated by the coins and ceramics to the six-seventh centuries. Arab geographers Istakhri, Ibn Hawkal and Muqaddasi wrote that Erk Kala was still in use in the tenth century. However, it was mainly abandoned after the conquest of Merv by Arabs in the mid-seventh century.
Antiochia in Margiana (Gyaur Kala) – the second city of Merv and metropolis of Margiana oasis. It was founded by Antiochus I (281-261 BCE). Erk Kala become the citadel of the Hellenistic city. The walled city was essentially square, except for the west wall and the north-west corner following the course of the pre-existing Razik canal and the curve of Erk Kala citadel in the north wall, making approximately 2 km across. The walls still survive to a height of some 20 m, with regular hummocks as remains of the towers: defences were reinforced by outer moat. The gates were located in the center of the walls, except for the north gate which was set to the east of Erk Kala and were connected by roads which quartered the city. Occupation was essentially cruciform, concentration on these major arteries and leaving the corners relatively empty. Since Gyaur Kala was a Hellenistic city, the occupied areas would probably have been laid out in a grid plan with regular blocks of housing and a series of public buildings, temples, an agora, gymnasia, bathhouses and others. Gyaur Kala was occupied around a thousand years, through the Parthian and Sasanian periods and into the Islamic period, the Seleucid city plan would have changed organically. However, it may not have changed fundamentally, for traces of regular quarters can be seen from air in the north-west of the site. This regularity confirmed by Du Huan’s description of Merv, providing fascinating details: Within the city there is a saline. There are also two Buddhist temples. The city walls and houses are very thick and high. The urban quarters are very regular. Numerous low white saltpans still exist today where the geo-archeological borings were undertaken to determine the method of formation of this area – whether it was excavated for mud-bricks or whether this was an unoccupied garden or pond.
In 1950, M.E Masson excavated one of the Buddhist temples, in the south-east corner of the city. The stupa and associated monastery (sangharama) had been variously dated to the 1st century BCE, first- second century AD, or recently after the reanalysis of the coins, to a much later date in the fourth century – a time of close contacts between Sasanian Merv and Bactria. The stupa was reconstructed a number of times and the sangharama considerably enlarged. The latest coin identified in the bricks of the staircase was one of Khusrau I (Khosrow I 531-579). The remains of one or two more stupas outside the eastern wall of Gyaur Kala and dated 6-7th AD were recorded by YuTAKE of 1963 but have subsequently been demolished .
An unusual building in the north-east quarter of Gyaur Kala, the monumental “Oval Building” was constructed on a platform, accessed by a ramp, and consisted of rooms built round a courtyard. M.E. Masson originally suggested that it was a Christian monastery, but this idea was dismissed, both because of a lack of archeological evidence and because most Nestorian monasteries are built some distance away from cities. Other suggestion is that it was a storehouse (Simpson).
Even if the Oval Building was secular, literary sources provide evidence for a flourishing Christian community in Merv. The bishops of Merv attended a number of Ecumenical Councils of the eastern and after 485 the Nestorian Church. The position of the Christian community in Merv was sufficiently established to ensure that the local bronze coins of Yazdigird I (399-420) carried the sign of the cross on their reverses. A cross was employed on a jar handle reused as a mould for casting small pendants and found in the Erk Kala excavations, rare archeological evidence of a Christian presence.
Merv also hosted a Jewish community, as has been shown by Jewish headstones. The variety of religions in the city, which would of course have included Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism, is reaffirmed by the range of burial practices discovered at an extramural necropolis, located 3 km to the west of Gyaur Kala. This consisted of the remains of seven built structures excavated in the 1950s with burials in ossuaries, built graves, ceramic coffins or jars, and bodies either on floor or in mass burials. The structures continued in use for some time.
A large low mound in the north-east quarter, not far from the Oval Building, revealed a number of private houses separated by irregular, narrow alleys, a plan more typical of a medieval Islamic city than the Hellenistic grid suggested for the main city. Du Huan’s description of the houses of Merv – “ The wooden parts of the buildings are elaborately carved and the mud parts are painted with pictures”. The number of vessels found in the area, were made locally and range from open lampsto tall elegant jars with long handles and curious rippled decorations on the shoulders. Many shards from Erk Kala excavations belong to jars with knobbed handles, as the one concealed near Buddhist stupa and known as Merv Vase. Analyses made on the vessels confirm the dating of the Buddhist stupa to the Late Sasanian period.
The large industrial area on the central platform of Gyaur Kala reveled in 1992, based on the presence of numerous highly vitrified, crucible fragments. It was the discovery of steel droplets in the glassy slags remaining inside of crucibles. The further excavations led to the discovery of four furnaces in the area. Analyses showed that the crucibles were used for the production of steel by the co-fusion method, where wrought iron and cast iron are heated to some 1,200 degrees centigrade. This process is distinctly different from the Wootz steel method known from India and Sri Lanka, where wrought iron is packed with carbon to produce steel. According to the 12th century writer al-Biruni, the co-fusion method produces excellent steel with attractive Damascus or watered patterning. He refers for its production at another city, nearby Herat. The furnaces at Merv have been dated to the ninth to tenth centuries AD by ceramic and numismatic evidence and are the first metallurgical remains to document the co-fusion process.
The steel production at Merv occurred in the city lacking all the relevant resources. There are not metal deposits in the oasis. The kaolin for the crucibles probably came from the only known source around, near Kara Bogaz Gol on the east shore of the Caspian Sea. The wood for firing the furnaces has been identified as pistachio and juniper, used in twig form. This could be imported the Kopet Dagh or Badghiz areas, despite of excellent timber such as saxaul in the surrounding desert. Further research around the furnaces did not identified any other steel furnaces.It may be that only a few workshops at Merv produced such high-technology steel. In China, cast iron extensively used since early 3rd century BCE and since 6th century the co-fusion process is described in Chinese texts. Merv was always an important point on the Great Trade Routes, sharing the ideas, knowledge and technologies and import of the necessary resources for production of these technologies was relevant to the common process and development of Merv. These steel furnaces also represent an accomplished, not a developing, technology.
Margiana (or Merv oasis) and Bactria kept the special place in the struggle between the Kushans and the Sasanians. In the beginning of the 3rd century AD, the states of southern Mesopotamia and the provinces of eastern Iran – Margiana, Segistan- Sistan and Kerman were virtually independent states, governed by local dynasties that only formally recognized their dependence on the Arsacids. In the first century A.D., the rulers of Margiana minted their own bronze coins, copying the types of the Arsacid silver drachms. A few of these coins bore the name of the local ruler, King Sanabares.
In the second decade of the 3rd century, when the new Sasanian dynasty of Persia marched against the Arsacids, the rulers of the eastern Iranian provinces, including the dynasty of Margiana, apparently supported Ardashir I in his struggle against the last Arsacid, Artabanus V. By 230 AD, Ardashir controlled a great part of the former Parthian territories. The rulers of Merv voluntarily recognized the suzerainty of the Sasanians while preserving for a time a certain degree of autonomy. In the list of court officials of Ardashir I forming part of the inscription on the Ka’be of Zoroaster, Ardashir’s name and the names of the King of Merv and other kings of the eastern provinces headed the list. Between 240-260, the Merv ruler minted in his own name a bronze coin with the figure of a horseman and the Pahlavi inscription mlwy.
Around 260 AD, Shapur I (243-272), abolished the dynasty of Merv kings. The king of Merv is not mentioned on the list of Shapur’s court officials. Margiana became part of the administrative province that was given the name of ‘Hind, Sagistan and Turistanto the sea coast’ and was ruled by members of the Sasanian family, sons and brothers of the Sasanian king. The first ruler of this province was Narseh, the son of Shapur I. The succession of rulers of the eastern Iranian provinces can be traced up to the beginning of 4th century. Merv was an integral part of the Sasanian state. During this period, Merv minted copper coins and to a lesser extent, silver of the same types as those minted by the Sasanian state.
Between the 3rd and 4th centuries, the capital of Merv oasis was still the ancient Antiochia in Margiana (Gyaur Kala – present Turkmen name). The fortified site of the ancient town, covering an area of over 4 sq km, have the studies carried out on the citadel Alexandria in Margiana (Erk Kala), the fortifications, the living and workshop quarters in the northern section, the Buddhist religious building complex, a Christian monastery which was probably functioning from the 3rd century, and finally a necropolis located outside the limits, which was used from the 2nd century until the end of the Sasanian period.
The location connected Merv with Iran, Bactria and Transoxiana. It served as important information gathering point and acted as a stronghold and forward base for Sasanian campaigns beyond the eastern frontier. This aspect became clear during the wars against the Kidarite and Hephtalite Huns over most of the fifth century.
The Sasanians strengthened and reconstructed the fortresses of the Merv oasis – Childburdzh, Durnali, Chichanlik, Kirk Depe. No buildings were located within the fortresses. Settlements grew up around the walls, some remaining until Muslim times. Each fortress was used to quarter the troops who defended a particular sector of the oasis. The construction of most of these fortifications dates back to the early Sasanian period. They were erected on high adobe platforms alongside the settlements. Gebekli fortress, guarding the approach to the north-west limit of the oasis, was of unusual design. The citadel platform was enclosed by a second fortification with towers at each corner. Excavations revealed the presence of earlier fortifications of the Parthian period, though the coins found show that most of the work was erected during the reign of Shapur I.
The Sasanians did not construct major canals in Merv oasis. However, most of the canals and small aryks (small canals) inherited from Parthian period were reconstructed , cleaned several times and maintained in a good condition. Many new small canals of local importance were also added to the old irrigation system in the way that the old grid of canals supplied with water newly founded sites. The continuity of the canal system governance maintain the continuity of settlement patterns. A massive increase in the number of settlements is reported during the Sasanian period, rising from 72 in the Parthian period to 162 in the Sasanian period. All the Parthian sites continued to be occupied into at least the first half of the Sasanian period and many of those which were abandoned were succeeded by other settlements nearby. The same continuity happened after Islamic conquest as 45 % of Sasanian settlements continued to be occupied and others were re-founded nearby. Analyses suggest a cluster of settlements along the local canals flowing north, as well along the course of Murghab river.
Based on the available archeological study, during the Sasanian period there have been in Merv oasis:
Around 133 villages/ hamlets covering less 4 hectares area
Seventeen small towns up to 30 ha area
Three towns exceeding 30 ha area
Only Merv exceeding 100 ha area
Other settlements have unrecorded size
This shows a high level of rural development in the Merv oasis.
The prominent mounds dated to the Sasanian period, open the pattern of the settlements:
TEPE/ DEPE(circular, oval, square, rectangular and quandrangular)
KALA(whether square, rectangular, quandrangular or irregular) and sprawling mounded settlements of irregular shape. Both types of mounds were usually elevated on high solid pakhsa platforms, surrounded by ditches or moats.
Next categoryof settlement was unfortified; some located in open countryside, others were situated in close proximity to the fortified TEPE fortress. This pattern of settlement also occur in the Kopet Dag foothill zone at Abiverd and Ak Depe
KESHK – the isolated fortified buildings, castles. Later date example in Merv buildings known as Great and Lesser Gyz Kalas.
Changy Kala, Childburj and Durnali Kala (V- VII century AD) all had the unwalled extramural settlements around.
One of the best example is Gobekli fort, it has been founded in about the second century and remained in use throughout at least the first half of the Sasanian period. Prior to excavation, it was suggested as a small early Parthian town with a ruler’s house in the centre and surmised to have an economy based on local craft products being exchanged with those produced cattle rearing nomads. Later excavations by the Moscow team headed by G. A. Koshelenko proved instead that it consists of a square fortification measuring 88 m across, with central gatehouse on the southern wall and projecting corner towers, enclosing a central building raised on its own massive platform. The excavations revealed – the coins of the Merv horseman and Shapur I (240 AD), followed by coins of Varahran II (276 AD) and Shapur II (309 AD). The pottery, figurines and jars inked Parthian inscriptions dated by the excavators to the second half of the 4th century. Proving the continuity of Parthian language throughout the first half of the Sasanian period. These finds closely resemble those from excavations at Merv itself and independently dated tp the same period. During the latest period, the earlier curtain wall, tower and central building were in filled, followed by the construction of thicker and more massive curtain walls with doors leading into rooms behind. What appears to have been a polygonal tower-like keep was constructed on the summit. Recovered from this phase were the carbonized remains of grapes and apricots reported together with grain and large number of animal bones. One report stated even late date for this last phase spanning the 5th to 7th centuries. The suggestion was that the demise of Gobekli had to do with Arab Conquest but the evidence for this is not presented. Another report mentions the presence of a number of human bone remains in the ruins of a room of the last period and suggests that the disused structure was finally reused as a conveniently elevated dakhma, similar to the evidence independently argued from Merv itself as well as the site of Shahr-I Qumis on the Damghan plain of northern Iran.
Childburj fortress – a larger fortified site, with an apparently unwalled late Sasanian extramural settlement on the western side. At first, it has been regarded as Parthian fortress and has been re-dated to the 5th century following sounding excavated in 1980. The main portion consists of an almost square site covering some 2.7 ha and surrounded by a hallow curtain with square projecting interval towers. It had a heavily defended gatehouse on the southern side. A similar construction was on the north side, presumably blocked later, perhaps in a moment of siege or military crisis, where excavators could not establish the opening. The elongated corner tower, which were probably designed to enable torsion artillery to command access to the gates.
Durnali fortress – Another walled enclosure with square projecting interval towers. Settlement was initially founded in Parthian period and continued to be occupied in Sasanian period. Its fortifications dated to the Sasanian period. Within the walls the area was divided by rectilinear streets and alleys and it was concluded that construction inside of fortress had an order. Immediately to the south, there was an extramural settlement of some 7 ha, dated by surface pottery to the 5th century
Other type of fortified site of Sasanian period, is referred to the site at the northern side of Kone Kishan. It has Parthian component in the site but the fortifications were constructed in the 5th century. No remains of constructions found inside. Presumably it represents a campaign fort, which originally enclosed rows of tents or permanent barracks, at the northern frontier.
Therefore, the archeological evidence suggests a militarized yet prosperous pattern of settlement in the oasis with a high density of settlements of different sizes, some walled and some apparently unwalled and the largest centre being the city of Merv itself. Literary sources praise the rich agricultural resources of the Merv oasis during the Classical and Islamic periods. Although the equivalent written sources lacking for the Sasanian period. It is reasonable to extrapolate a similar situation. There is evidence for major canal off-takes from the river Murghab at this period. The purpose of these canals system was primarily to facilitate irrigation in an oasis with high temperatures and low annual precipitation doing impossible dry agriculture.
The excavated environmental evidence from Merv show the missing rural economy. Carbonised plant remains attest to the cultivation of bread wheat, emmer wheat, six-row hulled barley, broomcorn millet, cucumber, melon, almond, peach, grape and hackberry and legumes were common and provided a source of winter fodder as well as fuel. Analysis of charcoal remains also proves the cultivation of fruit trees, including apple, peach, apricot and vine. Analysis of faunal remains indicates herding of sheep, goat for the meat and for their wool; cattle, pig, gazelle and possibly wild boar are present as food remains. Judging from the minimal number of fish bones recovered from dry sieving and flotation samples, suggest that fish played minimal part in the diet. Equivalent environmental data for earlier periods in the oasis are still limited, although there is evidence for free-threshing wheat, hulled and naked barley, chickpeas, lentils, grass peas, cucumber, melon, grapes and plums from Bronze Age Gonur. Adding of broomcorn millet at Iron Age Tahirbai and various other cultivated cereals, fruits and other plant remains at Gobekly Depe. The fact of these crops suggest that irrigation agriculture was sustained through this period without occurrence of catastrophic salinization.
The discovery of large quantities of accidentally carbonized cotton seeds in contexts dating from the forth century onwards provides the earliest archaeobotanical evidence for cultivation of this fiber crop at Merv and contradicts the hypothesis that this was introduced as late as the ninth century. Therefore, the results imply a highly organized agricultural regime with efficient water and soil management practices, which enable the cultivation a wide range of winter, and summer crops, including the basis of an important fibre crop industry and minimized, if not averted the risk of salinization. The more recent identification of cotton seeds from 4th and 5th century contexts at Kara Depe in modern Karakalpak, former part of ancient Khorezm, strengthen this archeological evidence for a pre-Islamic originfor cotton industries in Central Asia although it does not exclude even earlier evidence. Given the ubiquitous occurrence of spindle whorls in domestic context at all sites of these periods, it is supposed that production was at a household subsistence level or small workshops. The addition of cotton, suggests that the development of water hungry major fibre industries, alongside intensive cereal cropping and dense human populations necessitated the heavy investment in hydraulic systems in order to guarantee extra water resources. Agricultural based societies could not be developed and existed without good water management, capable administration and effective security where the civilian and military needs are respected and the responsibilities shared.
Margiana did not possess its own ore deposits, but imported the ore material for its local metallurgical production from mines in northern Iran. Iron blooms were discovered in many settlements and an arm workshop dating to Early Sasanian times found in Merv. Plutarch mentions Margiana’s steel, which was used to make armour for Parthian soldiers. Pottery production was highly developed and potters occupied a whole quarter in Merv (Antiochia in Margiana). Kilns of the Parthian period discovered in Dzhin Depe and pottery workshops operated in many towns and settlements. Pottery of the late Parthian and Early Sasanian periods differ little in shape, although there were some changes in production techniques. Among other objects found spindle whorls and loom weights. From ancient times, the inhabitants of Margiana were Mazdeans. In the 3rd and 4th centuries, their religious beliefs gradually transformed under influence of the orthodox Zoroastrianism of the Sasanian Empire. This reflected in a change of burial rites. The burial of bodies, which was the normal practice in the Parthian period, was supplanted by the burying of bones. Local Mazdean practices are undoubtedly responsible for the terracotta statuettes of the Margiana goddess of fertility, found in great profusion in Merv. According to al-Biruni, Christianity reached merv 200 years of Christ birth and the first reference to a Merv bishopric dates to the year of 334. From the middle of the 3rd century a Manichaean community existed there. Erlier, possibly in the second century, Buddhism appeared and the 3rd and 4th centuries witnessed the development of a complex of Buddhist buildings in ancient town of Antiochia in Margiana.
The beginning of Sasanian period can be regarded as a time of relative economic advance, compare to late Parthian period. Economic growth fostered by the oasis having firmly part of Sasanian territory and by Merv’s increasing importance as a military outpost and trade center resulting from the conquests in the east and the development of international trade.
Metalwork in Iran and Central Asia:
The transformation of utilitarian objects into sophisticated works of art made metalwork one of the most important art forms in the Islamic world. At first Classical and Sasanian metalworking traditions were continued, but by the 12th century a new style evolved in which wares made of copper alloys were given rich surface decoration in copper, gold and silver inlay. By 15th century, this characteristic type of inlaid ware had been largely superseded and Islamic metalwork had lost much of its originality. In the 19th century older forms and decorative themes were revived, particularly in Egypt and Iran.
The metalworkers of the Islamic world created objects of great beauty using principally gold, silver, alloys of copper, tin, zinc and lead. The production processes and metal working techniques as casting, spinning, raising and sinking. The decorative techniques as repousse, chasing, punching, engraving, piercing and inlay, the same as their predecessors. These resources were employed to produce domestic and religious object, architectural fittings, scientific, medical instruments, arms and armor, coins, jewelry. Objects for domestic and religious use are the largest category of surviving pieces. Pre- Islamic shapes continued in use but by the late 8th century or beginning of 9th century a new taste developed for heavier forms, facted bodies, combination of disparate elements. In the 12th – 13th centuries shapes were refined and zoomorphic features added and in later centuries profiles became more sinuous and attenuated. These utilitarian objects were often distinguished by rich decoration. Geometric, vegetal and animal motifs and panels and bands containing inscriptions. Scenes including human figures were depicted primarily on metalwork made between 10th – 14th centuries and were re-introduced on wares made in Iran from 16th century onwards.
Despite the importance of gold and silver wares in the pre-Islamic period, religious scruples seem to have reduced the demand for such objects from the early 8th century, although silver objects continued to be made in Iran in some quantities. The disapproval of precious metal tablewares by pious Muslims appears to have affected production intermittently over the following centuries. The others factors, such as metal shortages and the melting down of gold and silver objects for bullion, may have been of equal importance in explaining the lack of surviving examples.
Most surviving metal objects are made of copper and its alloys. Few Islamic pieces have been analyzed, so the terms such as BRONZE and BRASS have been applied indiscriminately. The terminology in medieval Arabic and Persian texts is often ambiguous: the term surf was often used for both copper and bronze.
A new suburb grew up to the west from Gyaur Kala, along the banks of Majan canal. In the 8th century, it started to play important role in trade and gradually developed into the new city. The main occupation moved there, leaving Gyaur Kala what turned into industrial zone, such as production of steel.
During the Seljuk period, the suburb transformed into new metropolis of Merv, known as Marv-ash- Shahijan / Royal Merv. This city became the capital of the Seljuk state and one of the most important cultural centres of the eastern Muslim world. The start of greatest Merv’s glory, only finished by the arrival of Mongols in 1221. It was in Merv that the Seljuk sultans Toghril (1040-1063), Alp Arslan (1063- 1072), Malik Shah (1072-1092) and Sultan Sanjar (1118-1157). Only the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar survives above ground today. Merv was also the home of a number of outstanding medieval scholars, astronomers, philosophers, historians and poets, including the astronomer and poet Omar Khayyam 11th century, the geographer Yaqut al-Khamavi 13th century, who were attracted by Merv’s famous libraries and observatory.
At the start, the main city was the same size as Gyaur Kala, around 400 ha.The walls were less regular, reflecting its organic pattern of growth. By the 10th century the ‘great Majan suburb lay round the Maydan (public square), on which stood the New Mosque, the Government house and the prison; all these having been built by Abu Muslim, the great partisan of the Abbasids’. The city was not walled until the 11th century, like many Islamic cities. Sultan Malik-shah is credited with building the ‘great wall round the city 12,300 paces in circuit’. With the extensive suburban areas to north and south enclosed by Sultan Sanjar, the city occupied some 630 ha, and was one of the largest of the medieval world. Sultan Sanjar was also probably responsible for walling an irregular area in the north-east corner of the city, the Shahriyar Ark/ Royal Citadel. The city’s defenses are impressive with massive, multi-phase walls, reinforced by towers and deep moats.
The creation of the Shahriyar Citadel caused major changes to the plan of the city centre. The royal residences, administrative buildings and the mint were moved to the citadel, while the centrewas turned over to religious buildings, including the great Friday Mosque and the mausolea of the Seljuk sultans.
The citadel is located in the north-east corner of Sultan Kala, is roughly triangular in form. A number of structures survived within the enclosure. They include an unusual and small versio of a keshk, consisting of asingle, long, vaulted room divided into three, with the remains of niches on surviving internal sections of the walls. This may have been the kepter khana (pigeon house). Next, the parts of a surprisingly small four-iwan palace no larger than domestic structures elsewhere in the citadel have been identified as that of the Seljuk Sultans. The combination of its size and height above present ground level, as well as the presence of balkhi vaults, suggested that the proposed date could be too early (International Merv Program).
Most of the house was sub-surface, although some walls survive at the eastern end. In its final phase the house 35X25 m probably consisted of two parts, a principal courtyard with four iwans, visible as shallow depressions, at the better preserved eastern side and a secondary courtyard to the west surroundedby further range of rooms. Excavations in the north-west corner and the adjacent courtyard 45X35 m, have distinguished three phases. The latest, a squatter occupation, was characterized by small hearths cut into fallen mud brick. The second phase, probably dating to the Timurid period, had plastered gypsum floors cut with a number of features, the most impressive of which was a large circular oven lined with fired bricks. This phase is some 2 m below surface. The third level is unearthed a little bit but it is also post-Seljuk. This suggests that the standing walls in the Seljuk citadel may also be post-Seljuk.
According to the written sources Merv (Sultan Kala) was laid waste by three successive invasions of Mongol forces in 1221- 1222, the population was slaughtered or driven out, the wealth and treasures of the city plundered, and the dam on the Murghab river destroyed. Ibn al- Asir refers to the invasion as a great disaster, the like of which neither day nor night had brought forth before. Dzhuveini wrote that the city, which had been embellished by great men of the world, became the haunt of hyenas and beasts of prey. More than a hundred years later, in the early fourteen century it was still in ruin.
Nevertheless, it is suggested that the creation of the Shahriyar Citadel caused major changes to the plan of Sultan Kala city centre. The royal residences, administrative buildings and the mint were moved to the citadel, while the centre was turned over to religious buildings, including the great Friday Mosque and the mausolea of the Seljuk sultans. Turkmen excavations beside the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar have revealed the buildings of the earlier, pre- Sanjar phase. To the left is a small house with elegant arched shelved niches and to the right a fine bathhouse. Only the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar survived and stands alone in the center of the empty space. From the air, the outlines of the courtyard of the Friday Mosque, once the mausoleum formed a part, can be still clearly visible.
The mausoleum had the high dome, originally covered with gleaming turquoise tiles. It could be seen three days’ march away. The outer dome has not survived although the impressive inner dome of this spectacular building can still be appreciated. The inner dome is carried on the four giant squinches, alternating with blind arches, both pierced with windows. The transition from the cotogon to the circular base of the drum is made by eight stalactite pendentives, from which rise four radiating ribs forming an interlacing pattern of an eight-pointed star. Traces of painting remain on the ribs and walls. The mausoleum was built by the Serrakhs architect; Muhammed ibn Atsiz al-Sarakhsi, whose modest signature in a panel beneath the dome was hidden by plaster. It was only revealed in the 1950s by Masson team YuTAKE expedition.
Exterior dimensions 27 X 27 m, height 38 meters. Built of fired bricks of two sizes. 275x275x65-70mm in the socle and walls and 250x250x50 mm used in half or multiples in the squinches, galleries and upper parts. The building foundations 4.2 meters deep. The walls were lightened with galleries and a system of hidden grooved vaults. Squinches in an octagonal zone of transition, concealed on the exterior by a gallery, supported a sixteen- sided zone and the dome, made of two thin brick shells. The outer walls were covered with carved plaster and gilding, the gallery arcade faced with carved brick and the dome covered with blue glazed tiles. The interior walls were painted with geometric, vegetal and epigraphic motifs in red and blue on a white ground with gold highlights. The construction work was begun in 1140 and must have been finished before the invasion by the Ghuzz (Oguz) in 1153.
In addition to being one of the most important buildings of the Saljuq dynasty, it is one of the architectural masterpieces of Iran and Central Asia, and it became a model for such structures as the mausoleum of the Ilkhanid ruler Uljaytu at Sultani-YYA in Iran. After 17th- 18th centuries, the site became a place of pilgrimage for local Turkmen tribesmen.
The mausoleum of Muhammad ibn Zayd is a fine example of Seljuk period architecture. Constructed outside of the walls of Sultan Kala and survived until now. This mausoleum was commissioned by Sharaf al-Din Abu- Tahir, Sultan’s vizier, and was constructed in 1112-1113 in commemoration of the fifth descendant of Ali, Muhammed ibn Zayd, murdered in Merv in the eighth century. It forms the heart of a delightful complex within a sacred grove of saxaul trees, equipped with cistern, kitchen and guardian’s house (all relatively late in date). Although the exterior is much restored, the unusual shell shaped mihrab still preserves traces of painting and a superb inscription in cut brickwork written in floriated Kufic runs round all four walls.
The most distinctive buildings in the Merv oasis are the corrugated castles (keshks). They are of varying sizes, fulfilled different functions and continued to be built over a considerable period. Keshks can be found both in and around the walls of the Seljuk city – Sultan Kala and elsewhere in the oasis. One of the largest and certainly the best known is the Great Kyz Kala. Nearby is a second, smaller, corrugated building.
The 8th – 9th century’s earthen buildings in Central Asia architectural tradition. The unique view of these buildings attract the attention of a traveler. Usually constructed outside of the city, on the raised platforms, with vertical engaged columns forming the corrugations on the exterior walls. The semi-fortified constructions with a second floor entrance. Adding the well-appointed set of rooms on the second storey, including a large hall. The functional rooms, storage spaces around a courtyard on the lower floor. Within the enclosure of the complex, contained the possibly ancillary buildings and gardens, creating the palatial atmosphere around the complexes. Two different types of location can be stated: those in groups, clustered close to the urban centers – the city of Merv or those singly, in isolated rural settings as medieval manor houses, their remains can be seen in different parts of the oasis.
The enclosure with interval towers constructed in 778 CE outside of Merv city encompassed a large area with several substantial vaulted building complexes. The action is connected to the governor of Sultan Kala – Tahir b. al-Husayn (3rd city of Merv) appointed in 821 CE, who constructed a large number of buildings along Khormuzfarra canal coming from Murghab river. The suggestion is that Great Kyz Kala was one of these buildings and his suburban residence. The recent archeological works supports the supposed date of construction 9th century and the location of the complex to the east from the canal. Perhaps there have been plans also to move the administrative centre from the bustling center of Sultan Kala but textual sources or archeological works do not prove it so far. However, the previous movement of Merv in this direction, from Erk Kala, Gyaur Kala to Sultan Kala (and extension of the Sultan Kala) makes it logical to suggest the urbanization in the area as further development of the city.
The Great Kyz Kala is lying about 450 m to the west of the Sultan Kala. The solid rectangular platform 2 m high, with exterior dimensions 46.52 X 36.20 m, supporting two-storey building ranges around an off-centre courtyard in the north of the colplex. The ground floor had a complex of interconnecting vaulted rooms, acting as a crypto-portico to support the second storey. The height of the building with platform is 12 m in total (what survived till 2017). The interior measurement of 38.55 X 32.10 m.
The interior of the platform appear to have been largely composed of rammed earth. The external platform face was constructed of mud-brick. It is tiered near the top and then sloped with a fair faced brickwork, to form a glacis, extending some 2 m from the base of the exterior wall. The platform protected the raised ground floor from damp, and supported both the ground and external walls. The raised height of the platform enabled the structure to stand above the surrounding plain, increasing its visual impact and enhancing the defensive aspects of the complex.
The exterior walls are impressive by its massive engaged columns forming the distinctive corrugations. The north and west walls are the most eroded, although enough remained to indicate the original position of the corrugation. The east and south sides, being protected from the prevailing winds, survive in remarkably good condition. There were 22 corrugations on the longest east and west facades and 18 corrugations on the shorter north and south sides of the complex. Each corrugation is half octagonal in plan with a diameter of circa 1.30 m. They rise from a tapered base, set in the platform. The tops of the walls are more conjectural, as the uppermost levels have disappeared. Some form of the crenellated parapet is likely but the precise form of these is unknown. Archeological evidence on the upper corners suggests that there may have been wooden tower at the corners of the complex.
The lower storey had a courtyard, surrounded by vaulted spaces. A staircase descending from the second floor level in the northwest corner connects the courtyard. The base of these steps gives a good indication of the original courtyard level, although these have been modified during later use of the courtyard. A central well or cistern would have provided an important central rainwater catchment, drainage feature. The courtyard clearly has a complex history. A sequence of surfaces, drains… in the courtyard area were probably part of later reuse of the complex. The courtyard appears to have been in-filled with collapse and erosion deposits, presumably after the abandonment of the structure. Some much later, once the building complex was ruined, was also evident and is post medieval in date.
The courtyard surrounded by an extensive network of mudbrick barrel-vaulted spaces, which created a platform for the second storey. These effectively functioned as a crypto-portico, well known in Late Antique and Islamic contexts, designed to provide a stable platform for the main building level without requiring massive retaining walls and huge volumes of earthen platform. These vaulted spaces need not have functioned as rooms, as they are primarily designed to create voided spaces to support the upper storey. However, the downward angled window slits in the exterior walls would have brought some light and ventilation into the spaces closest to the exterior, perhaps suggesting that the spaces were indended to be used. Those towards the perimeter would be quite dark and cool – perhaps for storage- while those around the courtyard would have had light from the arched doorways in to the courtyard and could have served a range of domestic functions.
The upper storey comprised substantial building ranges on all four sides of the complex, around the void created by the lower storey courtyard. The largest range lay to the south, with a smaller northern range and roughly equally sized west and east ranges. Along three of the ranges a galleried access space overlooked the light well.
Floor surfaces survive in the south of the complex, where collapse of the large room (18) produced sufficient material to protect them from later erosion. In the central and northern areas, erosion washed debris into the lower courtyard, and through the collapse in the northern and eastern exterior walls, destroying most of the second storey floor surfaces.
The west range of rooms (1-5), had rooms that were internally circa 5.5 m wide (east-west), while different in size south- north. First room in the row has traces of a barrel-vaulted roof and an area of square mud-brick flooring survived, with a doorway in the north wall leading to the second room. Next two rooms were domed, with squinches supporting a series of concentric arches. Following two rooms (4-5) were roofed with tall vaults, rising from brick stringcourses. The large and rectangular fourth room supposed had around 5.6 m in height and had a decoration panel of a series of blind arches, with a niche bellow.
The north range of rooms (6-8) is relatively narrow 3.5 m wide, with internal staircases at the western end, led down to the lower storey courtyard, while the other end led up presumably to the roof access. Little survived of other part of the range due to erosion.
The east range of rooms (9-13) is around 5.5 m wide. First two rooms were both barrel vaulted, aligned east west. All rooms (except the last one of the range) are roughly equal in size. The last room is the largest in this range has been extensively damaged by erosion. No interior decoration survived in this range due to erosion.
The south range of rooms (14-18) is the most substantial on second storey level . A very large hall (18) ran all the width of the building, around 32 m internally. The hall had thicker walls, suggesting a larger superstructure – an arched/ vaulted space given its scale. A well-made mud-brick floor survived over a large area. Doorways existed to the 3 rooms to the north (14-16) and the corridor (17). Eroded apertures at the west and east ends may suggest the windows at each end of the hall. There is evidence of later reuse of this space, with new walls inserted to divide the space and an area of raised flooring, doorways to the rooms 14-16 were blocked.
The well-made mudbrick floors of rooms 14-17 were on the same level with western range of rooms. Room 16 had an entrance onto the gallery in the center, between the west-south-east ranges. Room 15 perhaps formed an iwan with the gallery. Room 14 badly eroded as to suggest the existence of doorway onto the gallery to the north. Room 17 was a corridor connecting gallery and the large hall 18.
The gallery in the center between the ranges overlooked the light well created by the ground floor courtyard. All area is too eroded to suggest whether this space was roofed or open. However, this provided vital circulation space within the complex, creating access between the rooms and from the second storey to the ground floor or roof via staircases in the north range, room 6.
The entrance into the building – there are different suggestions where was the entrance, through the western wall, north side or east entrance. The most popular is that entrance was directly up to the second storey, what require access ramp at least 5 m or more (platform is 2 m and lower storey 3 m high), that makes it is less plausible. Given the recent archeological data the entrance could be in the east façade above the skirt of the platform or lower part of the corrugations. This based on the discovery of four mudbrick pillars along the northern part of the eastern façade and mudbrick wall some 2 m to the east of the base of the skirt, running parallel the façade. Perhaps the wall and the pillars supported a timber ramp running along the wall from the north. Some 18 m to the east of the façade, at the same point as suggested entrance, lies a substantial mound, perhaps suggesting an outbuilding aligned with the entrance. A fired brick step has been inserted into the skirt suggestive of an entrance at this point. Entrance at this location would have entered the complex through the largest room 13 on the second storey, which had ample space to accommodate an internal stairs and may also have acted as an antechamber to the great hall (18) at its left.
It is worth to mention that Great Kyz Kala lay within a walled enclosure. The wall, 2 m thick, with interval towers around 3.2 m in diameter, has been uncovered some 6 m from the complex along north west side. A substantial mound 18 m to the east indicate other structures in close proximity and perhaps associated with the complex, and Lesser Kyz Kala koshk lies some 140 m to the south. Amojor ancient canal Khormuzfarra ran immediately to the west of the Great Gyz kala complex, enabling good access to clean water and providing a verdant surrounding to the complex.
Koshks castles were not fully-fledged fortresses, lacking arrow slits and with walls weakened by windows in the upper storey. They were not meant to withstand a full-scale siege, but much like medieval fortified manor houses in the west, they provided a strong degree of security from raids, with an impenetrable lower storey, raised access, probable corner towers and an outer compound wall.
While the lower storey of the complex was clearly a functional space, with the well in the courtyard and the vaulted rooms perhaps used for storage and domestic functions. The upper storey was a more palatial space, with a series of impressive rooms providing reception spaces, bed chambers and other rooms around the galleried central light well.
The external appearance of the monument would have been impressive. The largest koshk in the region, would have stood at least 12 m above the flat alluvial landscape, with its massive corrugated façade, sitting on the raised platform, dominating it with an air of monumentality.
It was said to be in 1409 that Timurid ruler Shah Rukh (1408-1447) built a new city, some 3 km to the south of Sultan Sanjar’s mausoleum. This moated and walled city is much smaller than earlier cities, occupying 1 square km. The reduced size of Timurid Merv show the relative decline of the oasis at this time, reflecting both its loss of status to centres such as Samarkand and Herat and the effects on overland trade of the increased maritime routes. Timurid Merv was regularly planned and square in form. It was quartered by the principal arteries, which ran to the four gates. The streets were laid out on the grid pattern; there was a mosque and madrasah in the north of the city, and a citadel with palace and caravanserai in the north-east corner. This was the fair typical plan for 15th century town in Khurasan.
From the Parni nomadic tribe to the Parthia region of the Seleucid Empire, and the foundation of Parthian Empire. Nisa Fortress:
The nomadic tribe - the Parni, in third century B.C to settle to the east from Caspian Sea known as Hyrcania – present day western Turkmenistan. Parni later known as Parthians founded the Empire of Parthia.
The start date of Parthian period foundation is the subject of discussions between the scholars. Some refer that the Parthian state started circa 248-247 B.C with Arsacid (Parthian) era beginning. Jeffrey Lerner argues convincingly that the Parthian era corresponds to the Parni’s seizure of the Seleucid satrapy of Parthia in northeastern Iran (originally, Parthians were an ancient Iranian people, speaking the Parthian language who were different from Parni nomadic people). Instead, he uses coinage and Justin’s account of events to establish the independent reign of a rebellious Seleucid satrap named Andragoras over Parthia from circa 245-238 B.C, at which point Parni invaded and claimed the region. Thus, Lerner maintains that Parthian era established 10 years prior to the invasion of Parthia, with the coronation of Arsaces I as king of the Parni. With this new understanding, the expansion of the Parni into Parthia occurred after the Third Syrian War and during the first phase of the civil war of Seleucus II and Antiochus Hierax, and it corresponds directly with the power transition crisis of the 240- 230s in the Hellenistic Midlle East.
The ancient Central Asia nomadic people were the continual threat to the stability and security of polities in the Middle East throughout the pre-modern period, making incursions into Persia and Bactria. The Parni had been one of the many aggressive tribes in the region, in the Hellenistic period. The military and violent lifestyles of the tribes were a product of the environment in the region and systemic dangers where the life was implacable and tribal warfare endemic. Justin records the precariousness of life on the steppe and the long history of the tribe. He states: the Parni, being forced to quit Scythia by discord at home, gradually settled in the desert between Hyrcania (east from Caspian) and the lands of the Dahae, the Arei, the Sparni and the Margiani. They advanced their borders, through their neighbors, who at first made no opposition, at length endeavored to prevent them, to such extent, that they not only got possession of the vast levels plains, but also steep hills, and heights of the mountains.
Here, he show the volatility of life in the steppe. Thus sometimes led to the organization of the tribal unions – confederations like the Dahae confederacy (Parni, Xanthii, Pissuri), in an attempt to create greater strength and security against neighboring tribes on the steppe and against the Persian and Hellenistic kingdoms on the Iranian plateau. The Parni established the secure power base despite the growing opposition of their competing neighbors, what was their political and military success. The Parni came to live directly on the periphery of the Seleucid Empire. This led to the mounting tension along the frontier and made conflict between the Parni and the Seleucids inevitable.
Alexander the Great had left a large force to occupy Bactria and the surrounding territories, the restlessness of these Greek solders and Alexander’s sudden death in 323 severely disrupted the region, forcing Seleucus I to campaign there between 308 – 305. In the middle 290- 280, Seleucus commited himself to establishing Bactria as a strong frontier region, appointing his son – Antiochus I, as viceroy in the east to supervise the development of firm Seleucid control over the new frontier. The efforts of Seleucus and Antiochus had been considerable and created a prosperous and strong eastern frontier, but the defensive stance of these efforts encouraged aggression from the Central Asian tribes, especially the Parni. First, because attacking these prosperous frontier regions gave opportunities to gain important status and wealth. Secondly, the increasingly defensive stance of the Seleucis in the east generated doubt about their might and intentions in these regions. The Parni tribe in the region, after settling in the area, looked for the options and their subsequent invasion of neighboring Seleucid held Margiana was a result of the opportunities and uncertainties of the moment.
Margiana was a wealthy and urbanized region – present day eastern Turkmenistan. Alexander the Great had settled the region with Greek colonies and fortification, including the prosperous oasis city of Alexandria-in-Margiana (later known as Merv – Maru- Mary, an important eastern city until Mongol invasion in the 13th century CE). The gain of Margiana to the holdings of the Parni would be a great boon to their regional power and security. Meanwhile, the loss of Margiana would have undermined Seleucid authority in the region severely and compromised the eastern frontier of the Seleucids.
The Parni attacked on Margiana in the late 280 and challenged the regional standing of the Seleucid state and the integrity of its border. The Seleucids quickly dispatched an army to neutralize the Parni threat. This was the most noticeable difference in the capabilities of the Seleucid state between the 280 and 240s, when the Seleucids still had the ability to respond to eastern threat to their hegemony with decisive force. The Parni invasion failed this time and the Seleucid general – Demodamas counterattacked against the Parni in around 280. This campaign have been successful enough to tamper the expansion capabilities of the Parni for a few decades. However, the domination of the tribes of the Central Asia steppe was not a strategic goal for Seleucids. Once Demodamas had retaliated against the Parni and restored the strength of the Seleucid frontier, he ended his campaign abruptly. He did not completely remove the threat of the Parni and therefore by 248-247 a new king – Arsaces I, came to lead a resurgent Parni tribe, introducing the Parthian era.
The first three years of his reign, Arsaces I appears to have led a new Parni invasion of Margiana, fighting unsuccessful campaign against the Seleucid satrap of Bactria, Diodotus. At this time Diodotus’s responsibilities have included administrative and military command over Bactria, Sogdiana, Margiana and Aria. This was an enormous command with wide ranging responsibilities, and threats to the northeastern frontier of the Seleucid Empire were considerable. This showed Diodotus isolation from central government and their distraction with the western wars. Although Diodotus was successful in repulsing Arsaces invasion of Margiana in around 256-245 BE, this time Seleucus II did not send an army to punish the Parni and quash their military ambitions as his predecessors had done. Seleucus II was too involved in the dynastic conflicts of the west.
The Third Syrian War had begun because of these conflicts in 246, initiating the power transition crisis of the 240-230 throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, and the subsequent civil war between Seleucus II and Antiochus Hierax perpetuated that crisis. The eastern satraps of the Seleucid Empire had already endured years of neglect and isolation. This lack of support from the central government, along with Seleucus’ contested succession to the throne, the destructive war against Ptolemy III, and the growing threat of Arsaces I, led the two major satraps along the eastern frontier of the Seleucid Empire, Diodotus and Andragoras, to rebel in 245 BE.
Ptolemy III invaded Syria and advanced as far as Babylon. The people of the satrapy of Parthia under Andragoras began their revolt, taking advantage of the confusion in the house of the Seleucid. The dispute between the brothers Seleucus II and Antiochus Hierax procured Parthians impunity. While the brothers sought to wrest the throne from one another, they neglected to suppress the rebellion. At the same period, also, Diodotus, governor of the thousand cities of Bactria revolted and assumed the title of king and all the other people of the east, influenced by his example, fell away from the Seleucids.
After the secession of Parthia from Seleucid Empire and as result, the loss of military support, Andragoras had difficulty in protecting his borders. About, in 238 BC the Arsaces I took this opportunity and invaded the Parthia, starting the Parthian era in the region. The Parni took control of Astabene (Astawa), the northern region of Parthia – present day Kuchan area. Continued successful expansion for all Parthia, eliminated Andragoras.
Between 230-227 B.C, the Seleucus II led the campaign to return his Eastern Satrapies (provinces). The Parni backed by the nomadic tribes Apasiacae (Scythians of the Waters – one of nomadic tribes of Massagetae), managed to calm the revolts broken out in the regions to the west of the Seleucid Empire preventing Seleucus II to continue the war. However, his successor Antiochus III, in 209 BC started his eastern campaign and defeated the Arsaces, forcing the Artabanus to recognize Seleucid supremacy. Then, when the Romans defeated the Seleucids in the battle of Magnesia 192 BC, the Arsaces were able to take advantage and reconquered the provinces south of the Caspian Sea. The Arsaces made again Parthia independent and resumed its expansion both eastward and westward. The Graeco-Bactrian and Seleucid kingdoms lacked political stability and were open to internal strife. The Arsaces dynasty ruler – Mithradates I (171-139 BC) made use of these favorable circumstances. He attacked Bactria in the east and took there the number of regions, then he took Media what opened the way to west and south, to Mesopotamia, Susiana and Elymais. The instability in these regions enabled the Parthians invade central Mesopotamia in 141 BC and seize the major centre of the Hellenistic east, Seleucia on the Tigris. Next, Susa fell under their suzerainty.
However, these conquests showed the Parthians a complex problem of empire building. The people on new territories had the important communities of Greek and Hellenized inhabitants who enjoyed privileged position in the Seleucid Empire. For the next two centuries, these Greek cities had been the main opposing force within Parthian Empire. In 141 BC, the Seleucid ruler Demetrius II unsuccessfully attempted to recover Mesopotamia. In 131-130 BC, the Seleucid ruler Antiochus VII Sidetes inflicted severe defeats on the Parthians and penetrated into the innermost regions of Parthia but finally in 129 BC the Seleucid forces were routed and Antiochus VII himself killed in the battle. This was the turning point in the History of Hellenistic Central Asia. The Seleucids stopped to exist as world power, becoming petty rulers of rival warring states in northern Syria.
The Parthians recovered all the lands they had earlier lost the way westward into Syria now lay open. However, the situation was once more aggravated on its eastern frontier. The new movement of the nomadic tribes in Central Asia what brought the downfall of the Graeco- Bactrian kingdom between 140-130 BC was bound to affect Parthia as well. In 130 BC the Saka tribes invaded the eastern regions of Parthia and some detachments penetrated as far as Mesopotamia. The Parthian king Phraates II lost his life in the struggle against nomads in 129 BC, and his successor and uncle – Artabanus I in 123 BC. Parthia also faced substantial problems in the west where Hyspaosines, King of Characene (a small region on the northern shore of the Persian Gulf), had seized most of Mesopotamia. Thus after a period of resounding success against the Seleucids, Parthia found itself on the verge of collapse.
Mithridates II 123- 87 BC, managed to stabilize the situation. He subjugated Characene and reestablished calm in Greek cities. Parthia followed moderate policy towards Greeks and they became more reconciled to Parthian rule.
The problem of the nomads on eastern front was solved by means of diplomacy and military force. They were displaced from Parthian territory proper and settled around Lake Hamun on the lands of Arachosia and Drangiana – the region later named Sakastan – the land of Sakas (Sistan – parts of Iran and Afghanistan around Helmand river). The emerging state formations under nomadic leaders mainly remained within Parthian influence, and some becoming vassal small states. Parthian influence in the east considerably extended and came to include the greater part of modern western Afghanistan.
The beginning of the first century BC, Parthian state had achieved the unprecedented strength and had become the foremost power in Western Asia. However, the latter years of the reign of Mithridates II marked by new complications: the internal struggle for power in Arsacid house; the interference of Armenian kings in Parthian affairs; the relentless eastward expansion of Rome. This led to further troubles in the first centuries A.D. Parthia’s northern provinces suffered from incursions from Alani tribes. The emergence and growth of the powerful Kushan empire created a permanent danger in the East. The exhaustion from the internecine wars with Rome. Parthia sought to minimize the tension in the East
In 53 BC, the Parthian ruler Orodes II sent his cavalry under command of Surena to combat the Romans (under command of Marcus Licinius Crassus). The two armies met at the Battle of Carrhae (present day Turkey – Haran). The Parthians lured the Romans out into the middle of the desert and defeated the numerically outstanding Romans. The Romans lost 20,000 as dead and another 10,000 as prisoners, this “produced a mighty echo amongst the peoples of the East”, but did not brought any decisive shift in the balance of power or gain of the territory.
In the period of Vologases IV and his successors there was bitter clash between Parthian and Romans, in 161-163 A.D. The northern flank of the Roman defense collapsed and Parthian troops invaded Syria. Rome launched the counter-offensive. The peace treaty was harsh for the Parthians, since the whole of Mesopotamia as far as the Tiver Khabur was ceded to Rome. The next war in 195 A.D. had even harsher consequences for the Parthians, in the period of Vologases V. The Roman military expedition dealt a heavy blow to Parthia: the richest parts of the country were devastated and some 100,000 inhabitants taken to Syria and sold into slavery. The last war between Rome and Parthia began in 216 -217 AD and it was the last success for Parthians. After decisive battle at Nisibis the Romans had to sue for peace.
Arsacid dynasty had their power base in Parthia, relying on the local Parthian aristocracy families, who supported them military and financially, receiving in return the lands of conquered adjacent territories, where they ruled as provincial rulers. The biggest of these cities controlled by Parthian nobility were Kuchan, Semnan, Gorgan, Merv, Zabol, and Yazd. The power of these Parthian families increased after centuries, allowing them to play important role in Parthian empire and was one of controbutary factor to fall of Arsacid Empire.
From Parthia, Arsacid dynasty started the extension to Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, Western Asia, Central Asia and South Asia. Soon, they started to establish the branches of Parthian thrones of Armenia, Iberia (eastern Georgia), Caucasian Albania (western Azerbaijan and southern Dagestan) what lasted even after their fall.
Starting 130 BC onwards, Arsacids waged wars against the nomadic tribes – various tribal confederations of the Sakas, the Massagetae and the Greater Yuezhi (Kushans) from one side and against the Seleucids and the Romans from other side. By the second century AD, the frequent wars with neighboring Rome Empire and with the nomads, the internal squabbling within Parthian nobility led to weaken the Arsacids to the point when they could no longer defend their enormous empire. This led to fragmentation of the empire, some claiming independence, some subjugated by other forces. Finally, the Arsacids vanquished by the Sassanids, who emerged from minor vassal to new Persian power in 224 AD. After the battle of Hormizdagan, the entire territory of the Arsacids fell into the hands of new dynasty of the Sasanians, Ardashir. Under Sassanian rule, Parthia transformed into a newly formed Khorasan province and Parthian nobility formed the new Sassanian institution known as seven Parthian clans (Seven Houses). Parthia stopped its existence as a political entity.
The Parthian monetary system was based on the silver drachm, weighing about 4 gm. Coins first struck in the reign of Arsaces I, the founder of the state. The main denominations were the tetradrachm – struck in quantity by Western mints and the drachm – typical of the Eastern mints. Small bronze coins were also issued as a change. The obverse side of the drachm usually carried the bust of the king facing left (or right as per certain period), while the reverse bore Greek lettering around the edge and portrayed a seated figure in nomadic attire with a bow held at arm’s length. The tetradrachms and in particular, the bronze coins were more varied in type. From the reign of Vologases I onwards the drachm also bore Parthian letters. Starting in seventies of the first century B.C the reverse side of coins regularly carried monograms which are abbreviations for the names of mints. Coins struck by the Merv mint were marked with the Greek letter ‘pi’.
Parthian State Capitals:
The Parthian archeological mission of the Institute of History of Academy of Sciences of Turkmeniya has been working at the Old and new Nisa and in its neighborhood since early 1960s. The expedition revealed many important details and was the continuation of works done by YuTAKE (South Turkmenistan Archaeological Complex Expedition 1946-1991). The monumental complex was revealed as result of the works: Round Hall, Square Ceremonial Hall, Tower Temple Complex, Square Treasury House, the network of the inner and exterior corridors, columned porticoes.
Further excavations can be referred to the Italian archaeological Missions 2000- 2010 seasons (University of Turin) added to the Topographical map of Old Nisa and revealed new details on the sites. Here are some details:
The Round Hall, the west and northern corridors of the Round Hall (in western part found in 1996 and removed in 2002 - a face in clay representing a head of Mithridates I – now, it is in the museum of history of Turkmenistan.
Northwest area of the Round Hall revealed older constructions than the Round Hall and Tower Temple and found the Parthian and Sasanian walls and pottery.
The northern part of the Round Hall revealed the medieval structure (35 X 35 meters) of Islamic period and the found ceramics proved that it was occupied this period. Construction composed of a central court with three iwans; at the north, at west and at south. East of the court had rooms and corridor. This based on construction that is more ancient.
The Red Building to the north of the Round Hall. Part of the eastern sector of the building – three rooms in a row, has been excavated down to the floor level. In one of the rooms were revealed: gypsum votive balls, arrow heads, slingshots, a hundred of iron plaques – may belong to armature. Fragments of architectural decorations (metopes, merlons, baked bricks) and traces of rooftrees also revealed there. In the northern sector, the excavations revealed the presence of a wall of façade articulated by niches and pilasters. The remains of a colored plaster show that the façade of the building was partially painted in red. The excavations in the big central area. The soundings undertaken nearby the northern and southern entrances . The discovery of colored plaster of blue, red, black and white colors, small fragments of golden sheets and remains of architectural decorations.
The monumental façade, at northern side, decorated to the base with a stone socle with ovuli and grooves colored in red and yellow on green stone. The walls of the façade articulated in niches and pillars, part of which appear to have been closed during a second phase of the complex’s use. In the central part of the façade’s wall was an opening, which functioned as the main entry of the Square Building. The building was preceded from a terrace whose anterior side (80-90 cm high) decorated by slabs of stone with the same motifs as the façade. In the middle of the terrace, in its anterior part, there was a stairway of three steps to access the existing level (around 1 meter) among the floor level of the inner rooms of building and that of the central courtyard of the citadel (that on which based out all the buildings of the central complex). On the terrace, about 8 meters from the line of façade of the building, are the bases of 4 columns which had a base and the convex molding (torus). The columns 75-80 cm in diameter had to be wooden and they probably supported a portico in front of the façade. The sides of the façade constituted the side scenes of the terrace, two rooms projected from the line of the façade, accessible only from the terrace of façade; inside walls plastered in white and red.
Entry of façade led through corridor to main entry of the main square hall of the complex. Square hall over 13 m per side (inside courtyard), has revealed the bases of four columns that supported the roof. Used for particular ceremonies. The western wall of the hall articulated in three niches. At southern side, a passage allowed access from the external corridor of the building, through corridor coming from the Round Hall. The northern side opened onto a room whose walls plastered in white and red. Western wall opened a fanlight niche that perhaps contained a cult image, led to the specific room, the only room communicating with the Square hall (besides the entrance- corridor). To west and east of the room, two rows of three rooms communicate only with the external corridors of the building. Some revealed traces of decoration, consisting in color plaster – red, black, white, yellow and green. The building had the important decorative organization – the friezes in stone, the colored plaster of the environment, the stone base and torus of the columns, the decoration of the wooden parts with gold leaf and colors, the decorative elements of terracotta or clay.
The substantial independence of the Square building complex, from the Round Hall and Tower, provided by outside access to the southern corridor through the opening in the middle, leading directly into central columned hall. The western and eastern corridors connected to the southern corridor, were even accessible from the portico façade and from the courtyard in the front of the building, from the north. Side corridors connected to the different size rooms, surrounding the central columned hall without access inside. One of these rooms along western corridor, quadrangular in plan, revealed the traces of a painted decorative plaster on the walls and white and red vertical colored bands on the door jambs of its entrance from the corridor, puzzled the archeologists what the special purpose it had.
The existing material from the corridors and floor level corresponds to the material found inside of the room, suggest the different phases of use (two or three) of a certain importance. The later connected to the revealed gypsum spheroids, placed as offering or ex voto, against the wall or in the corner of the room. The carried excavations make the Italian archaeologists suggest this complex is one of ancient monumental activities in Old Nisa; the employment of wood for the shaft of the columns and stone in decorative friezes date this building as the most ancient construction phase.
Italian archeologists undertook a 7X5 m sounding in the northeastern corner of the main façade of the building to understand its connection to the Tower building. The side walls of the façade and the corridors are perfectly lined up with the outer stone slab-frieze line of the central portico and aligned with the façade of the northwestern projection of the Tower Building to the east. Also revealed – the ancient restoration works of the façade.
On the opposite northwestern side of the building, a 2X 9.5 m trench opened – it is likely that a wide space passageway, 6 m in width, was between the Red Building and the external walls of the citadel, later in Islamic times. This was partly filled up to a height of 1.6- 2 m above the ancient floor with beaten clay, straw and pebbles to strengthen the defense.
The another sector 4X6 m opened on the eastern wall of the building, where it joins the external wall of the Tower Building – the large opening was a passageway to the Tower Building, closed in the latest Arsacid period. Masonry preserved to considerable height, but there is still difficulty to establish chronological relationship between Red and Tower buildings. It is interesting to observe that the western wall of the Towere projection is set against that of the Red Building with brick rows posed vertically and not on the usual horizontal courses.
Excavation of a large area 6 X 17 m, opened on the south façade to locate the main entrance from this side. The doorway, was closed in the late phase with bricks and earth, opened slightly displaced to the west, not axially with the entrance of the central hall. The fragments of red plaster on the external floor, allow thinking that this side of the building was also painted in red. However, the soundings in its central and eastern parts revealed well-preserved lower courses of bricks, finished in white plaster. In central part of the corridor found – a gypsum ball and a mud bullet for a slingshot. The level of the ancient floor of the corridor has a slight descent, following the natural slope of the ground.
Further excavations in the western corridor of the building confirmed four occupational levels: two of them close to each other – Parthian period, a third level dates to the late Parthian period, and upper level is probably Islamic. A few pottery sherds and fragments of baked brick or terracotta pipelines found on Arsacid levels, while burnt traces and ashes come from the upper layers, surely to be related to the Islamic occupation of Old Nisa. The opening of the whole corridor allowed to ascertain the presence of passageways on the western and eastern wall, giving access to the inner rooms of the building or on the western side to the fortification wall area.
The northern main façade of the building knew different restoration and consolidation works during the Arsacid period. A series of pole holes, in front of the external wall of the eastern projecting room of the façade, goes to the first phase of the building, and are sealed by the ancient floor.
Some medieval layers recognized immediately above two beaten clay floors along the northern façade. Common and glazed pottery date from XII to XVI century A.D found at the site, in front of the western projection of the old façade building.
In front of the southern façade, excavations opened a large uncovered area, from the fortification walls of the citadel to the west and the neighboring Round Hall to the east. The only two masonries, revealed in previous campaigns, are structures in beaten clay to the west and east sides of the area. The excavations did not reveal the presence of significant Islamic building, even though Islamic pottery shards are quite common in the upper layers. Islamic layers cover a thick deposit of fine clay lying on the two floors in beaten clay with straw, dated to Arsacid times. From here, it comes an ostracon inscribed in Pahlavi and some stucco fragments of an eagle that probably belonged to the inner decoration of the Red Building. The area has also returned a notable quantity of fragments of architectural decoration in terracotta – acanthus leaves, metope, merlons, baked bricks.
Another survey opened in the area between the Red and Tower Buildings, where the Tower seems to set against the eastern wall of red Building. The structural relation and inner characteristics between the mud bricks of the walls seem to evidence that the two structures are of Parthian period.
Invernizzi, Lippolis in 2008, gives the description of the Red Building as made off of a façade portico between projecting wings and a quanrangular tetrastyle hall in the middle, surrounded by rooms and U-shape corridors on three sides. The corridors were planned to divide the central block and, at the same time, to connect all the sectors of the building with internal and external areas. The tetrasyle square hall layout is not exclusive of the religious architecture, but it could be found also in the residential and palatial architectonical tradition of Iran and Central Asia. A similar scheme, although varied and different in size, is known in the Tower Building. A portico façade between lateral wings and corridors with openings on each side that served likely as a processional way, connecting the interior and the exterior of the building and at the same time isolating its inner sacral core (the inner block may be containing funerary chambers???). Although different in their very purpose and destination, or in size and decorative details, the Red Building and the Tower Building show similar principles of planning.
In 2007, Italo - Turkmen team conducted the excavations in the southern part of the Old Nisa. In the southeast area, two soundings opened. In the first one, near the eastern fortification wall, the excavations revealed an area in which food commodities were stored, attested by 20 large fragmented jars (khums) on the ground. The entire area had been prepared by leveling the natural soil and depositing of prepasred earth, gypsum and stones that served as a base for the compacted clay floor. Apart from very small piece of wall in rammed earth (pakhsa), no traces of masonry structures discovered in this area.
Further to the west (near the old trench, left by YuTAKE expedition in 1966), an area 20X13 meters opened: Four, 1.4-2 m thick cultural layers opened. The upper layer have seven fragmented jars (khums) for storage. To the earlier layers belong badly preserved structures with walls of rammed earth or walls made with a thick stratum of mortar and a filling of clay, pottery shards, pebbles and fragments of mud bricks. These constructions used long time and undertook the various restorations. These walls could not bear a heavy roof, perhaps these structures just delimited open spaces (whose purpose not clear).
At the southwestern corner of the citadel, 40 m from the Round Hall, new sounding 70X70 m was open (2007-2010). The excavations revealed wall masonries of a domestic- residential building!?; the plan of building is irregular with a double row of small rooms, oriented north- south; to the west and east other rooms and courtyards identified but the room walls are very poor preserved. At least three phases confirmed; two are Arsacid period and late one probably come to the Islamic period. The walls done of standard mud brick of the Parthian period, 40-42 cm each side and 12 cm thick. The terrain here is quite irregular, sloping towards the north where the walls preserved only for two – three courses of bricks on the original floor level. This natural slope of the soil was generally maintained without relevant leveling works, while Arsacid floors and walls were usually founded directly on it. The further plan of the building may reach the fortification walls to the south and to the west; it reaches the area immediately before the southern façade of the Round Hall; to the east, the terrain slopes down and the walls preserved only for the minimal height. Further excavations are difficult due to the precarious state of preservation of the building. Old trench discovered at its northwestern part what had not been published before. The details of building plan: from south to north run two parallel walls of considerable thickness, beyond 2 meters, made of Parthian mud bricks. Beside them, open rooms of different size, some of them narrowed by building intermediate walls of bricks or pakhsa, in late Arsacid phase of occupation. Inside the rooms, some devices suggest their purpose during the last two periods of functioning of the building – fireplaces, ovens, benches discovered on the second and third floor of the rooms. The courtyard and uncovered areas were probably opened to the east and to the west. Two courtyards recognized on the western side of the excavated structures. In the northern one, some jars were sunken in the ancient floor level during the second phase of utilization. At least, two Parthian phases of use are recognizable and were probably close chronologically. A third phase, only some rooms may be perhaps dated to a late Arsacid phase in Old Nisa. Islamic levels partially cut the ancient levels – these structures generally made in beaten clay and are too fragmentary, not possible to predict the precise character of this occupation. The archeologists still need more data to confirm the specific identification of the southwestern building: military, handicraft or residential.
Further excavations (up to 2009) revealed six main walls, disposed two by two parallels, at right angles on the southern, western and eastern borders, two similar may be supposed to run on the northern border, thus closing a big square open court. Between the southern walls, two long and narrow rooms opened. Seven big jars (khums) found in the rooms, most of it lying on the two superimposed floors of Parthian period, while two jars sunk directly into the virgin soil bellow. Found also around khums - 60 clay sealing objects bearing the impressions of coins and seals, only limited part can be recognizable.
In 2008, the excavations continued in all directions, except westward. Sector F in the middle of the southern part of Old Nisa, revealed two buildings.
Building A consists at least of 11 rooms and extends northeastward. Two different building techniques recognized. The perimeter walls made in rammed earth Pakhsa, the inner walls built with mixture of loose earth, pottery shards, rubble and fragments of mud bricks or baked bricks, covered by a thick layer of mortar. No binding material added for compacting the mixture. The building plan composed by rectangular rooms of about 4,5X2,5 m; 2,5X 3 m; 4X6 m; 2X6 m. Pottery shards found in the building date to the Islamic period 9-12th centuries A.D.
Building B located to the south of Building A, composed by one rectangular room 8,5 X 6 m, built in rammed earth pakhsa.
In 2009, it done also a deep sounding in the middle of the major basin, and a stratigraphic sequence reaching the virgin ground, 10 meters below the topsoil, has been reached. Still, there is not clear understanding of the nature and function of this and the other depressions that appear to be aligned on an approximately south-north axis.
A typical decoration on the monumental buildings of Old Nisa is the terracotta metope (borrowing the Greek term). Nisa metopes represent a hybrid both in form and decoration, include design elements of western origin such as a lion head image, club of Hercules, anchor (a dynastic symbol of the Seleucids) and the typically local gorytos (quiver).
In 2010 archeological season focused on the Southwestern corner and basins (depressions) area in the Old Nisa. Four new rooms excavated in the southwestern building. Every room showed two or three phases of occupation, proved by superimposed floors in beaten clay. The north- south wall made in mud bricks – pebbles and clay bricks type, poor quality. The west – east walls in rammed earth pakhsa erected in the second period of the buildings occupation. The rooms used for storage, as prove the remains of several jars khums inside. In one of the rooms, revealed 25 ostraca. The citadel fortification walls to the west had been repaired many times in antiquity as show the superimposed layers of rammed earth pakhsa and plaster. The works at this place show that there was long corridor between the wall and the southwestern building. The northern wall is badly preserved, cut in with medieval walls in pakhsa and some old trenches made earlier. This side composed of two main parallel rows of rooms of different size, ancient floors lie on the different layers, following the natural down slope of the terrain to the north. Two levels are dated to the Parthian period, some were cut later by deep holes, 40 cm and filled with fragments of metopes and other architectural details. Second north row of rooms, walls preserved only for 30-40 cm. The excavations of the eastern side of the building revealed that it continues to the east. Revealed a long north-south wall in mud brick, together with two orthogonal wall with east- west orientation. The fortification walls at the south from the building; composed of the three main levels, preserved for 6 meters in height. Inside is made of pakhsa and exterior part was of mud brick, at the top, a thick layer of plaster spread several times. The long corridor separated the walls of the citadel from the building. At some point accessible from the rooms of the building, where some clay sealing found. Later in the Parthian times, four rectangular trenches and circular pit dug in the corridor, what cut through a terracotta drain lying under the most ancient floor, running west to east.
The excavations of the basins (depressions) of the Old Nisa; the original trench 10 X 5 meters inside, a deep sounding 5 X 5 meters opened up to 5 meters in depth from the top soil surface. Results: no significant cultural levels nor structures have been recognized in the zone. The circular depressions seems to be natural and no anthropic interventions recognized there.
Planning in the Old Nisa have the local traditions and connected to Iranian or Central Asian style of that period. The availability of the craftsmen and material in the area influenced this choice. The most used material for the construction was the mud brick, 40 X 42 X13 cm in dimensions what had some variations in different buildings of the citadel. The beaten clay used for masonries or minor details, in particular in the late Parthian period. Initially, stone and wood employed and respectively used for column bases and shafts. Gypsum and stucco elements used to fix the decorative elements in terracotta - merlons, assembled capitals, metopes or slabs and shaped bricks fixed on cornices and friezes on the walls.
The decorative apparatus is a synthesis of western and eastern traditions. The decorative schemes affected by western influences (Greek- Seleucids) constitute the same form but lost in substance. These are usually stripped of their original practical function and becoming purely decorative modules. For example, the assembled capitals made with terracotta leaves, in line with Arsacid court taste. It is a refined taste, characteristic of an official and ceremonial architecture in the context of a royal foundation. Misunderstood substance in adopted elements, as happened with the astragalo in the stone socle of the Red Building, revealed by Italian expedition. Reinvented elements; in the case of some metopes with figured elements and the dynastic symbols.
The Parthian period left small number of written sources about its empire and about Nisa in particular and the excavation of the site are still problematic to untie the puzzles. It is not yet clear the foundation date of the Nisa or when it was abandoned. The universally used mud brick architecture (except – terracotta for baked bricks in the bases and shafts for columns in one building or decorative slabs and merlons) at the site, requires continuous labor force to maintain the buildings during the very long span of time, in the extremely variable atmospheric conditions during the year and the high seismicity of the region. This presents additional difficulty for the archeologists for the punctual reconstruction of the sequence of the different building phases.
Given the three main phases, none of the buildings can be chronologically related with precision to the erection of the complexes of the monumental sector in the middle part of the tell. In the northern sector of the hill, the Square House probably remained in use throughout the whole Arsacid period, though changing its function during the three main building phases. While the destination of the Square House in its first building phase has been debated for long and still today remains not univocal between the scholars, almost everyone agrees on the fact that in a second phase, the building became a sort of treasury or storehouse for royal furnishings and objects. The Square House planning includes that of functional buildings of eastern Iran and Central Asia, rather than the palatial tradition of the Achaemenid architecture. Italian archeologist Invernizzi has shown that Square House is probably the one that is most closely linked to the formal principles of the Central Asian architectural tradition, both in its plan and in its decoration. The southwestern complex planning seems generally based on similar principles. The complex also includes storerooms and rooms with functional facilities as low benches, small basins (plastered or in baked bricks), grindstones and fireplaces. The planning made up of a central quadrangular open space surrounded by rows of rooms on each side. The dimensions of the excavated area are now close to those of the Square House, but the plan show the different modularity; there are not any columns or any particular decoration as in the monumental complexes of the site, the use of terracotta architectural details is minimum and only some for the north side, as attested until now. The rooms are clearly functional structures whose orthogonal plan is mainly aligned with the defensive walls of the citadel, to the south and west, forming unusual parallelogram: the scheme belong to a purely Central Asian tradition. Of course, this reconstruction is a conjecture until the very end of the excavations (Italian archeologists suppose the existence of an entire block or district along the southwestern part of the fortified curtain). None of the architectural decorative elements (metopes, terracotta, plaques…) has even been recovered in situ, in its original place on the walls. Almost all the fragments coming from the structures in the southwestern corner originate from the northern rooms.
Since 1960 excavations, the central sector is well known. In the same time, it is the one with the most complex and uncertain chronology. In general, Red Building and some walls bellow the Square Hall attributed to a first building phase or possibly to more than one Parthian building phase. V.N. Pilipko (worked in Nisa 2001-2008) attributes the Round Hall, the Tower Building and the Square Hall to the second great building phase, which later underwent various modifications. However, there is uncertainty; the oblique alignment of the Square Hall with respect to the Tower and the Red Buildings. This irregular axis is not recorded in the first plans of YuTAKE expedition, which showed a strictly orthogonal alignment between the buildings. The eastern side of the Square Hall follows the natural slope, with a progressive rotation of the south- north axis towards the west, following the contours of the terrain. However, the form and structure of the terrain and the pre-existence of earlier structures in the sector are not the factors explaining the different orientation of the buildings themselves, since the preparation of the foundation terrace of the Square Hall intended to regularize the area and to incorporate the remains of pre-existing structures. Therefore, it is still not clear why the ancient architects, after massive work of substructure, did not proceed in line with the buildings to the south, especially when Square Hall was one of the most important architectural spaces, the great central courtyard. The further observations determine that the façade of the Square Hall stick out about 0,6-0,9 m from the mud brick platform. Moreover, the two blocks of buildings (in the south and the north-east) organized according to different topographical and planning principles: the southern block is compact, rigorously orientated and aligned with respect to the defensive walls and contains buildings which are interconnected by roofed internal corridors. This progressive rotation of axis towards the west continues in the northern sector of the hill, where the western and eastern walls of the Square House run parallel to the fortification walls.
The façade of the Tower Building, built at some stage against the Red Building, is perfectly aligned with this. The two buildings seem to be planned on the similar distributional principles, although their functions were likely different. Even the adjacent porticoes of the Tower and the Red Buildings formed a harmonious whole. The Round Hall despite its unique plan and the fact that it breaks the regularity in the succession of the corner projection with the Red Building, fits harmoniously into the juxtaposition with the Red Building. On the contrary, the Square Hall presents an architectural conception based on different criteria, though the presence of the great tetrastyle Square Hall at first sight recalls some schemes of the sector to the south. It has a less compact conception, that is not based on orthogonal axes, it is without great façade porticoes and the covered corridor which link the various buildings. This requires further research to confirm the theory of the absolute contemporaneity of the Square Hall and the Tower Building, what have not direct connection between.
The Parthian architects in Old Nisa, had a practical imagination that aims at the simple and the functional. The main features of the planning- constant repetition, symmetry and orthogonal axes, it lead to a dominance of centric layouts, rigorously squared and compact. Even the unique planning of the Round Hall, with its central circular hall covered with an elliptical mud brick dome, confined within a square perimeter.
The secondary entrances or accesses usually lead at the back or at the side. The main entrances are generally placed on the axis of the geometrical center of the building. This is correct in the Round Hall, the Tower Building and the Square Hall. In the Red Building, the axis of the portico is only slightly off the center line with respect to the main entrance. The entrance is off centre position also in Northeastern building (so called Palace) and in the Square House in the northern part of the hill.
The central planning – in some cases the geometrical center – are predominant. It roughly coincides with the central hall, the main space of the building, whose importance emphasized by its being in the centre of the composition and served by several passageways. The architectural layout made up of a number of juxtaposed and independent buildings, differentiated in their functions and sometimes belonging to different Arsacid building phases. They are closely connected by passages which run along perimeter lines of the corridors and which are the principal means of communication, since the inner rooms are often not interconnected. Then, these corridors served to connect and at the same time to isolate the central spaces of the buildings, through which it is not necessary to pass in order to move from one sector to another of the building or from one building to another. The Red Building, the Round Hall and the Tower Building have long passageways running along perimetral corridors giving access to the central spaces, which usually have a more direct entrance. These passageways closely link the three buildings, what confirm that they were in use during the same period, even though the Red Building belongs to an earlier building phase. In this complex design of internal passageways, the southern block is therefore an autonomous sector. As there are not passageways providing a direct link with the Square Hall and the structures further to the northeast.
The buildings of central ensemble of Old Nisa seem to be based on common principles and the main halls have similar dimensions, though they are different. The proportions and measurements are never equal. The Round Hall about 17 m in diameter, the tetrastyle hall of the Square Hall is about 19 m, the central square block of the Tower Building is about 20 m, the central rectangular tetrastyle hall of the Red Building measures about 15 X 17 m. Even the intercolumniations of the porticoes on the facades or of the internal rooms are never constant. There is not also a clear basic module in Nisa. G.A. Pugachenkova found a basic module of 228 cm for the Square House and a second basic module of about 15,5 cm in the diameter of the outer columns of the Necropolis Temple of New Nisa. However further excavations showed no single module seems to be adopted for all buildings of Parthian Nisa. Nisean architecture strives for harmony of proportions and spaces are always rhythmically distributed, scholars can not recognize here an order, in the sense of a canon of fixed numerical relationships.
In the central ensemble of Old Nisa the inner walls of the buildings preserved to 3-4 meters height. If the reconstruction of the roofing of the main buildings still remain conjectural, the elevation of the walls can therefore be assumed with a certain reliability, at least to the considerable height. YuTAKE reconstructive models based on the first analyses of the site. However further excavations raised new questions with respect to the first reconstructive drawings, since 1960. For example, recent Italian research at the Round Hall demonstrate that a semi-elliptical mud brick dome was plausible and Yutake expedition showed a wooden roofing. However, V.N Pilipko still support Pugachenkova version of roofing’s reconstruction.
Having the old and new data, the general characteristics of the Nisean buildings show the functional criteria, proportions and consistence.
The Tower and the Red Buildings, which gave onto the central courtyard, must have formed a continuous façade, alternating the gaps of the porticoes with the solid masses of the projecting avant-corps, to the eyes of anyone approaching the main entrance of the complex. The Round Hall may have had a portico (half columns!!?) on the upper level of the façade, which recalls the columned façade which archeologists have reconstructed for the second floor of the Tower and the entrance portico on its southern side. The rear facades of some buildings reserved on a less monumental scale with columns framing the entrances or using colored plaster. The lateral wings of the building are often built against each other, and where they are free standing, they do not have any particular subdivisions.
The use of the order at Nisa has mainly decorative aims, especially on the facades: the porticoes and colored surfaces create chromatic effects which underline the latitudinal development and vertical subdivision of the architectures, rather than servicing for an architectural and functional organization of the spaces. The interior and exterior of the Nisa, have a division of the facades into two or more registers or bands, which are clearly distinguished by the decoration, where sculpture and wall painting play an important role. Colour serve to highlight the subdivision of the architectures and the presence of their various constituent (not structural) elements.
In the buildings of Nisa prevails a sense of frontality of the facades, which are rarely plain, usually enriched by porticoes between projecting foreparts or rooms, emphasized by the color. Then, the sense of frontality heightened by the predominantly lateral development of the building, enhanced by a decoration organized in horizontal bands. At the same time, however, the chromatic subdivision into horizontal registers, which is also emphasized by the arrangement of friezes made of terracotta elements, serves to create a rhythmic vertical development of the wall, by identifying the different sections of the masonries with different meanings: socle, dado, portico-façade and roofing.
This increased especially in the interiors, where the height of the columns, supporting the roof and the presence of a rich figured decoration on the upper part of the masonries, focused attention on the vertical development of the surfaces of the walls. The Square Hall in its final stage, had the white lower part and above part rhythmically interrupted by half-columns and the gallery of statues, the painted decorations which crowned them and the colors of the roof beams supported by quarter-foil powerful columns attracted attention to where the profusion of elements and colors was the greatest. This organization of the decoration in the interiors seems to be reversed with respect to what happens on the facades. The outer façade gives greater prominence to a latitudinal development, albeit subdivided into superimposed registers or orders, whereas the architecture of the interior alternates the perception of horizontal space with a strong ascensional impulse, up the walls of the rooms to the ceiling. One of the main factors in the definition of the façade and the perception of the interior spaces of the building of Nisa was the use of color, both on the walls and on some floors.
The most data concerning facades, revealed for the Temple at New Nisa and the Red Building in Old Nisa. The significant data on the interior rooms collected from the Square Hall, the Tower Building and the Red Building. The Tower Building had the complex cycle of paintings, yielded during the excavations, but the final report is not yet ready for clear reconstructive model of the building. The Round Hall lower part was certainly white, but small fragments of purple plaster found in the lower floor levels suggest a plausible bipartition of the wall of the circular hall. What not illustrated in the YuTAKE reconstructions of the interior: Puganchenkova reconstructive models; the reconstructive drawing in 1958 showed that statues not colored; the drawing in 1967 showed the niches on the upper gallery as plastered in purple red and the same color applied on the wooden ceiling of the hall).
The building of New Nisa clearly presents the horizontal partition of the facades, typical for the architecture of Nisa in whole. The purple color of the back wall of the portico, alternating with the black of the stylobates and of the half columns, accentuates the clear separation between the lower part, rhythmically broken up by the free supports and a plain upper part of the building, which to imagine to have been interrupted solely by the window openings.
The Red Building opens the same scheme in its façade portico, where the colors are even more accentuated, with use of wood to stone, terracotta, mud brick and gypsum. The stone socle running along the front of the raised portico and the base of its back wall is decorated with typically western motifs (bead-reel-flutings), albeit in a new position: instead of upper parts of brick work as in normal frieze, but low like a dado. The wooden columns of the portico rested on stone bases of the Achaemenid type, colored red, while their shafts were decorated by a lively polychromy (red, ochre, gold leaves and black) related to the Iranian model. For the capitals of the columns should be mentioned some fragments of polychrome terracotta leaves found in the area of the portico, which here as elsewhere in Nisa have formed Corinthian capitals (may be second building phase???)
The strongly pictorial effect and lively polychromy of the façade give unity to the different materials used in the composite architecture. The sequence of colors on the façade wall was a polychrome dado- the naturally greyish green stone colored in red, ochre and black. Then purple or ochre plaster. Finally blue color on the top of the walls or more likely, on the roof beams of the portico (the same as in the Hellenistic Mediterranean world, for example reconstructed house in the site museum of Pella).
Large monochromatic surfaces were reserved for the rear (south) façade of the building and for the interior, where at least four rooms had purple plaster on the lower part of the walls or purple and ochre on the floor surface. Colored plasters on the floors and walls are well known in the architecture of the Achaemenid epoch. At Nisa, the coloured plasters are executed with great care. They are tough but also delicate, especially in the case of the floors. Red plasters recur at New Nisa Necropolis and in the Square Hall. The fine and fragile decorations suggest that this kind of finishing was intended for particular rooms, whose use was reserved to a few people. The purple color related with the strong significance, linking to royalty from Achaemenid period. The other aspects of the color are debated between the use to a sacral, a funerary or a secular sphere.
The central tetrastyle of the Red Building had white walls, interrupted only by niches with a red background on the western wall. The chromatism was accentuated in the columns and in the roof beams. One of the room of the Red Building, being in the exceptional state of conservation, gives the idea of reconstructive model of decorative schemes used at Nisa. Here, the walls preserved to the height of 4 m, the plaster of the lower wall still visible to 2.20 m high. The upper section of the painted decoration, organized in bands, collapsed on floor retaining the original sequence of colors. The reconstruction is therefore reliable up to 4 m, it remains hypothetical for the top of the walls that were probably just finished with a white plastering. The walls of the room subdivided into coloured horizontal bands, of varying widths, often crowned by narrower pictorial strips which alternate geometric motifs of obvious western derivation.
The most complex and varied case is that of the Square Hall, as is known for the final phase of building. Here the polychrome decoration of the tetrasyle hall is on the upper level of the walls and includes monochrome plasters crowned by bands with geometric motifs, as well as statues, columns and architectural elements partly or wholly covered with color.
Nisa planning has the functionality following the Iranian and Central Asia traditions of architecture. However, there is new solution as the Round Hall. At the decorative level of the architectural elements, there is visible side of borrowed elements from the west and other side is the autonomous, independent part of the Parthians (the local region and style of life). Order, the applied elements and colors used exclusively for decorative purpose to create the virtual partition of the facades. Structurally united superimposed levels have only superficial distinction. The decoration has the main purpose to enrich the architecture, to highlight the frontality of the structure or to accentuate the visual effect of the interior spaces.
Nisa being one of the first capitals of the young Parthian state, remains the important point at the later stages of Parthian empire. Due to the geopolitical development around its borders, it remains the communication center with the nomadic confederations of Central Asia for security of its borders and the secure trade routes passing the Parthian controlled lands. On the other hand, this region was still important to withstand the threat of Rome from the west and new threats of big nomads groups from the east.
(known also as Arshak in Astuene, supposed the crowning place of Arsaces I. Present day Iran – Kuchan area)
(known also as Apavartene – rosewater, present day Dargaz area in Iran. Other names – Bavard or Abivard/ not mistaken with the site in Turkmenistan. It had rich bazaar and access to fertile lands, the city was considerably more prosperous than neighboring cities and it was the largest and most affluent city of the Great Khorasan area, in the Sasanian period)
(it was founded by Mithridates I in 120 B.C, Parthian period, around 32 km from Baghdad, Mesopotamia region. City construction started in the village near the Seleucia on the Tigris. In 58 B.C it became the capital of Parthian Empire. Captured by Rome at least three times in Parthian period. It continued to be the capital of Sasanian empire. In 637 it was taken by Muslim Arabs and after the center moved in Baghdad, it became depopulated in the 8th century)
(The ancient city, since Media times, located in Hamadan province in Iran, Zagros mountains)
(Persian name Qumis, One Hunderd Gates, Parthian capital since 237 B.C, location Semnan province in Iran. Destroyed by earthquake in 856 AD)
(The Ancient city of Near East, served as capital of Elam, Achaemenid and Parthian Empires, one of Sasanian centers. Abandoned in 1218, location , Zagros mountains, near Shush twon, Khuzestan province, Iran.)
(Also known as Ray or Arsacia, modern Tehran.The ancient city from Media times.)