- Blue Hall, Pendjikent, first half of the 8th century
(item #49 or #348)
Two of our items are from the so-called ‘Blue Hall’: the Varaksha room (item #348) or the Rustam cycle (item #49), and I am still hesitating between the two. In relation to my thematic essay on the trade in craft materials, I would like to look closer at lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone mined in Afghanistan and employed extensively as a pigment for the blue backgrounds of the wall paintings. Questions of subject matter and excavation context will also be addressed.[Will link to Afrasiab murals (item #3)]
- Red Hall, Varaksha, late 7th – early 8th century
Also in relation to the thematic essay on trade in craft materials, I will investigate the origin of the red, yellow and blue pigments used for the background and figures of the wall paintings. The Red Hall paintings are also peculiar in having been repainted shortly after their first completion, and have a peculiar subject matter drawing heavily from Indian iconography. I will explore connections between these issues and the political situation of the palace’s patrons.
- Cup with Goats, Sogdiana, 8th century
From the description of this item, we can suppose that it was made in Sogdiana for the Türk. Its roundels and incisions are characteristic of Sogdian metalwork, while the fact that it was discovered at the mouth of the river Don, near the Sea of Azov (near Crimea), shows that it travelled along the steppe. This cup has a traditional Türk form and motifs, elements which would have appealed to the Sogdian’s northern neighbors. It is therefore likely that this cup was intended as a tribute item, which will link to my essay on tribute goods and diplomatic relationships of the Sogdians.
- Tribute bearers, China, Attributed to Ren Bowen (1254-1327); late Yuan dynasty, approx. 1320-1370
Another recipient of Sogdian tribute goods was China. In return for Tang military protection, Sogdian emissaries offered horses and other precious items to Chinese rulers. Although this diplomatic custom was central during the Tang dynasty, few paintings from that period survive. This scroll was painted in the Yuan period (1280-1368), which also saw a vibrant exchange of goods and ideas across Central Asia, and shows formulaic representations of Central Asian emissaries bringing horses, incense burners and sculptures, thus testifying to the endurance of tributary relationships in Asia.[Link to Detail of a Sogdian mural depicting members of the Chaghanian mission to the royal court at Samarkand (Afrasiab) (item #3)]
- Figurine from the tomb of Xianyu Tinghui, 723 CE
(item #19 or #29)
Both of these ceramic figurines were excavated from the tomb of Xianyu Tinghui, a Tang-dynasty general whose family was from Northeast China. One shows three musicians on a camel, while the other shows a seated camel bearing one Sogdian man raising his fist in the air. Since the tomb’s occupant was not Sogdian, I would like to assess the role of these figurines in his tomb. Were they simply regarded as court jesters? What other connotations made them appropriate for the tomb?
- Chinese wine cup in Sogdian shape, late 7th century
Due to its similarity with cups excavated from the hoard at Hejiacun, Xi’an, which are widely regarded as Chinese works in the style of Sogdian silver, I would suggest to treat this cup as Chinese. This would therefore place it within the trend of Chinese adoption of Sogdian decorative language in the 8th century. I will also explore the auspicious qualities of the grapevine, exotic birds and hare imagery.
- Sogdian wine cup, 7th century
Now thought to be a product of Sogdian silversmiths, this cup undoubtedly served as a model for later Chinese imitations (such as item #141). The cup’s beaded borders and thumb-rest are characteristic of Eastern Sogdian metalwork. It appears to have travelled, and was purportedly found in Luoyang, China. It would also be interesting to touch on banqueting customs of Sogdians.
- Economics / Silk / Silver: Trade in craft materials
When studying the history of arts and objects, it is often easy to overlook the materials that were necessary to their production. Many of these, such as dyes and pigments, were not readily accessible to artisans, and therefore had to be sourced and traded over long distances. This essay will show that Sogdian merchants were well positioned to do this, exchanging materials between groups or using them for their own artistic purposes, and will highlight the value of rare pigments and materials at the time.
I will investigate further the few pigments and materials that were reported in the readings. Sören Stark mentions that orpiment, a mineral known for its bright yellow-gold color, was part of the yearly tributes of Kashgar to the Western Türk (472). It is possible that it transited through Sogdian hands. In her lecture, Judith Lerner noted that Sogdians also traded lapis lazuli, a blue mineral found in Afghanistan, to the Chinese. It was used as a stone, possibly for inlay work, but could also be ground down to a fine powder for painting purposes. It would be interesting to see whether the murals at Afrasiab were painted using this pigment.
One of the most versatile materials traded by the Sogdians is ammonium chloride. Valerie Hansen notes that around 600 CE, a scale-fee register was recorded to weigh and tax the goods carried by 48 merchants in the Gaochang Kingdom (99-102). Among other products, ammonium chloride is listed six times, in amounts weighing up to 251 Chinese pounds. This chemical was used as a mordant for dyeing textiles and for working metals, either as a flux to lower their melting point, or as a darkening agent for damascened work.
I believe that this topic will cut across craft categories and will allow for a variety of objects to be linked to it.
- Economics / Politics: Tribute goods and gift exchange
This topic stems from Sören Stark’s paper on the role of trade goods in the diplomatic relations between Central Asian polities. One of the striking points in his article and lecture was that Sogdian cities did not constitute a unified political entity, and in fact constantly had to maintain harmonious relations with their neighbors, either Hephtalite, Türk, Chinese, Sassanian or Arab. This paper will demonstrate that the goods that were gifted in these diplomatic exercises and taxation systems embodied the hierarchies of power between Sogdian city-states and their overlords and allies. Aside from Stark’s “Luxurious Necessities,” Étienne de la Vaissière’s “Sogdian Traders” will be useful in detailing the Sogdians’ complex relationship with both western Asia and China in the Han and Tang dynasties.
- Sogdians in China: Representations of Sogdians as “auspicious westerners” in Chinese tombs
Sogdians traded and settled in Chinese territories over hundreds of years, but the evidence pertaining to how they were perceived by local populations is scant and contradictory. Texts and official histories tend to emphasize their mercantile skills and greed, traits that were held in low regard by Confucian moral standards. However, objects found in Chinese tombs contradict these textual records. Figures of Sogdian merchants and entertainers were often included as burial goods, or mingqi. Objects deposited into a person’s tomb had to be auspicious in some way, and would not have been included if they were seen to embody reprehensible moral traits.
This paper will therefore turn toward objects as evidence for Chinese perceptions of Sogdians. One avenue of investigation will be the idea of xiangrui, auspicious phenomena that occur when the ruler’s actions accord with the will of Heaven. These phenomena can include the appearance of rare animals, some of which, like peacocks or elephants, were thought to be mythical because they were not indigenous to China. Notably, several of these auspicious signs come from the so-called ‘western regions’, and are linked to Han emperor Wu’s westward territorial expansion. Could Sogdians also have been associated with the auspiciousness of the west? Did the fact that they brought goods and tribute consolidate a Chinese sense of control and power over these regions? This essay will try to open up alternative readings of Sino-Sogdian relations in China itself.
Relevant readings include the Monks and Merchants catalogue, especially p.254, and an article by Wu Hung,“A Sanpan Shan Chariot Ornament and the Xiangrui Design in Western Han Art,” Archives of Asian Art, vol. 37 (1984): 38-59.