Joanna’s Theme Proposal

/Joanna’s Theme Proposal

Joanna’s Theme Proposal

I – Sogdian Women

I am interested in studying the roles and status of Sogdian women. The material that we have looked at so far presents women in essentially two contexts: as wives, or as “dancing girls”, the latter bearing a connection to either an appearance or a reality of prostitution. Valerie Hansen notes that prostitutes would have been part of the general infrastructure in any oasis town, alongside the innkeepers and doctors (Hansen 106). It is notable also that in funerary art, Sogdian men are depicted in typical Sogdian clothing, yet Sogdian women are depicted in Chinese clothing, so as not to be mistaken for Sogdian dancing girls. That particular act of representation may be able to tell us a good deal about the status of Sogdian women abroad in China. I hope to find more evidence regarding the way that women were treated and depicted at home in Sogdiana.

I would also like to examine the evidence we have on the nature of marriage and the family in Sogdian culture. How did the Sogdian social and legal infrastructure treat women, as compared with contemporary societies? The marriage contract from Mount Mugh seems to show us that women had legal rights similar to their husbands, in the context of executing or nullifying the marriage contract. Gaining a better understanding of the way in which marriage is construed should also provide us with some insight into the ways that Sogdians assimilated into other cultures through various means, including intermarriage. There are also class distinctions to be explored, as women from elite families would surely have been bound by a different set of standards than women of lower social standing.

II – Fables in the Murals at Pendjikent

I want to do some in-depth work with the murals found at Pendjikent. I hope to explore depictions of a variety of fables, and to use these examples of Sogdian art to gain a better understanding of the life-world of these specific urban Sogdians. Boris Marshak pointed to the presence of these murals in private homes as evidence that “there was no insuperable barrier between the rulers and the nobility” (Marshak 14). I would like to explore what the presence and contents of these murals might be able to tell us about the political, social and economic realities of everyday life in Pendjikent.

Within the scope of this project, it would be impossible to incorporate the vast array of literary traditions represented in the Pendjikent murals. After my initial research, I am particularly interested in the depictions of Rustam, one of the most important figures known from pre-Islamic literature. Rustam is the epic hero in the Shahnameh, published in the early 11th century as a mythical/ historical account of the Persian Empire up until the 7th century. I believe that the Pendjikent depictions of Rostam can provide a useful perspective on how Sogdians saw their own place in the history, and possibly the mythology, of the region.

III – Safe Passage

The story of the Sogdians is tied closely with the web of trade routes known collectively as the Silk Road. While the Sogdians were known for their prowess as merchants and traders, they seem to have relied on other groups for protection while out on the caravan routes, which could be quite dangerous. In Chapter Six of Monks and Merchants, Judith Lerner points out that the Sogdians were protected by a series of rotating ‘overlords’ over the course of several centuries, from nomadic mercenaries to the Hepthalites to the Turks (Lerner 222). I was struck by the fact that this group of merchants, seemingly unable to defend themselves effectively in transit, nevertheless remained the group most closely associated with the Silk Road mercantile system of exchange.

I believe that through examining the realities of protection along the Silk Road, we can gain a better understanding of the Sogdians within the context of their world. Given the vastness of these routes and the relative lack of infrastructure, secured borders, or even distinct boundaries between empires, how was the notion of safe passage negotiated? This concept may be of particular interest in conjunction with the current initiative proposed by China to establish the One Belt, One Road system to encourage connectivity and cooperation among Asian and Eurasian countries.

Preliminary Bibliography

  1. Chaliand, Gerard, Nomadic Empires, trans. A.M. Berrett (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2004).
  2. Choksy, Jamsheed K., Evil, Good, and Gender: Facets of the Feminine in Zoroastrian Religious History (Bern: Peter Lang International Academic Publishers, 2002).
  3. Haidar, Mansura, ed., The Silk Road: Trade, Caravan Serais, Cultural Exchanges and Power Games (New Delhi: Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts, 2014).
  4. Hansen, Valerie, The Silk Road: A New History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
  5. Juliano, A.L. & Lerner, J.A., eds, Monks and Merchants: Silk Road Treasures from Northern China (New York: Abrams, 2002).
  6. Lerner, Judith, “Zoroastrian Funerary Beliefs and Practices Known from the Sino-Sogdian Tombs in China,” The Silk Road 9 (2011): 18-25.
  7. Kuzmina, E.E., The Prehistory of the Silk Road (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).
  8. Marshak, Boris, Legends, Tales and Fables in the Art of Sogdiana (New York: Bibliotheca Persica Press, 2002).
  9. Seibert, Ilse, Woman In Ancient Near East (German Democratic Republic: Edition Liepzig, 1974).



By | 2018-01-07T14:25:21-05:00 March 1st, 2016|Joanna, Theme Proposals|0 Comments

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