Theme Essay Proposal

/Theme Essay Proposal

Theme Essay Proposal


1.Silk on the “Silk Road”

Sogdians moved silk  as a trade good across the territories connected by the trade routes known as the silk road. Many types of silk circulated and not just east to west as might usually be assumed. Nicholas Sims-Williams, in “The Sogdian Merchants in China and India”, makes the point that the Sogdians exported Sogdian woven figured silks from Sogdiana and imported Chinese painted silk scrolls. One of the main ways that silk seems to have moved across Eurasia is in the form of the bolts of silk used as payment for Chinese soldiers either as trade currency or as tribute/booty taken by nomadic peoples like the powerful Türkic nomads. This then brings to light another alternative profession that the Sogdians had in addition to being traders : as vassals in the courts of the Kagans who dealt with the silk bolts the Kagans amassed. I would like to explore the role of silk as currency and the different ways in which the Sogdians had a hand in directing the trade of silk.

2. Musicians and Dancers

In addition to being identified as sticky fingered/honey tongued traders the Sogdians are identified with scenes of wine, women, song, and dance. Groups of Sogdian musicians and dancers, apparently, enjoyed considerable popularity. The Sogdian Swirl captivated audiences across Eurasia and groups of Sogdian Musicians and Dancers traveled across the territories connected by the silk roads. What can the ways in which the Sogdian dancers are depicted tell us about what the Sogdian Swirl must have looked like? What contemporary dance traditions might be analogous to this medieval dance type? This theme also offers an opportunity to explore the influence that the cultural practices of the Sogdians had on the material culture of their trading partners/neighbors (i.e depictions of Sogdian musicians/dancers in tomb art in China).

3.The Sogdian Hat

Of the techniques which scholars have presented as ways to identify Sogdians in tomb paintings/wall paintings and tomb figures I have been most intrigued by the notion of the Sogdian hat. These hats take several forms including the Phrygian cap and the winged crown/cap. What might the possible underlying cultural significance of the hat types have been for the Sogdians? For example, the winged crown is a hat type associated with Scythian rulers and the wings on the cap a symbol associated with Zoroastrianism. Why choose these hat types as cultural markers? Could everyone on the silk road be identified by clothing markers in a similar fashion? I would also like to explore how hat usage differs in scenes of self portrayal ( i.e.wall paintings at Pendjikent ) versus scenes of characters understood as Sogdian in Chinese tomb art.


de la Vaissière, Étienne, trans. James Ward. Sogdian Traders: A History. Leiden: Brill, 2005.

Hansen, Valerie. The Silk Road: A New History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015),

A.L. Juliano & J.A. Lerner, eds, Monks and Merchants: Silk Road Treasures from Northern China (New York: Abrams, 2002).

Lerner, Judith .“Central Asians in sixth-century China: A Zoroastrian funerary rite,” Iranica Antiqua 30 (1995): 179-90

Lerner, Judith. “Zoroastrian Funerary Beliefs and Practices Known from the Sino-Sogdian Tombs in China,” in The Silk Road 9 (2011)

Marshak, Boris. Legends, Tales and Fables in the Art of Sogdiana. New York: Bibliotheca Persica Press, 2002.

Sims-Williams, Nicholas “The Sogdian Merchants in China and India,” in Cina e Iran da Alessandro Magno alla dinastia Tang, ed. A. Cadonna & L. Lanciotti. Florence: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 1996.

Stark, Sören. “Luxurious Necessities: Some observations on foreign commodities and nomadic polities in 6th to 9th century Central Asia,” in J. Bemmann and M. Schmauder eds., Complexity of Interaction along the Eurasian Steppe Zone in the First Millennium AD: pp. 463-502. Vor- und Frühgeschichtliche Archäologie, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, 2015.

By | 2016-03-01T17:37:11-05:00 March 1st, 2016|Summer, Theme Proposals|0 Comments

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