Central Asia in the Early Middle Ages,
Coins of the regions

Samarkand Sogd

Samarkand Sogd Coins  --> Table 122
The coin production and circulation of Samarkand Sogd are the best known part of the early medieval numismatics of Central Asia thanks to the studies of O.I. Smirnova [Smirnova, 1952, 1958, 1963, 1981 etc.] Of decisive importance were the most detailed studies of the stratified finds of the ruins of the early medieval town of Pendzhikent, where the excavations have been going on for more than 50 years. The total number of coins discovered is already more than 4000, and it exceeds the number of coins found in all other sites in Samarkand Sogd (Afrasiab, Kafirkala near Samarkand, Kul’dortepe, Kalaimug, etc) taken together. Smirnova has systematised in great details the classification of the early medieval coins of the Samarkand Sogd, their dates, localisation and historical attribution. However, there are many numismatic and general problems waiting their solution as well.

The beginning of the early medieval period of the monetary circulation in Samarkand Sogd is attested by the deposition in hoard finds (Talibarzin – 29+? specimens; Afrasiab – around 1500 specimens; Pendzhikent – 26 specimens) of early Sogdian coins with an archer on the reverse [Zejmal’, 1983. pp. 269-276], whose minting ceased at the end of the V c. or the beginning of the VI c. The latest series of coins with archers represent reduced to 0.2-0.3 g "drachmas" of silver, but exchanged it seems as a token coinage, that is at an obligatory "exchange rate" much higher than their value in silver. They had a clearly defined area of applicability, beyond which the "rate" was not acknowledged and the coins lost much of their value.

The mass dropping of coins with archers in hoards at the end of the VI c. – the beginning of the VI c. can be linked to fundamental changes in the principles of the coin circulation – to the transition to a new silver coin of Sassanian type, whose value was based on its real silver content. The appearance of such coins in the Samarkand Sogd, as well as in the Bukhara Sogd, Northern Tokharistan, etc. – both of Sassanian coins and of their imitations, must have led to a devaluation of the coins with archers and their deposition in hoards.

During the VI c. the drachmas of the Sassanian king Peroz and their imitation apparently occupied a prominent role in the silver coin circulation [Smirnova, 1963. pp. 56-57], although not so many of them have been found during excavations (around 30 specimens at Pendzhikent). During the VII c. their place was occupied by "Bukharkhudat" coins derived from the drachmas of Varakhran V. The latter were first minted at Bukhara, and later – in Samarkand.

An unresolved problem is still what type of copper coins were in circulation in the Samarkand Sogd in the VI c. – the first quarter of the VII c. At Pendzhikent only a small area of these layers has been excavated and they yielded almost no coppers. This lack, or what is known about it [Davidovich, Zejmal’, 1980. p. 73, 78] can be filled only with a series of anepigraphic coins depicting a ruler in full face on the obverse and a V-like symbol-tamga on the reverse {Table 122, 16, 17}, as well as some typologically similar coins with Sogdian legends [Smirnova, 1981. pp. 88-100]. These coins, comprising no fewer than four series of different age, has been found at the excavations both in the Samarkand Sogd and abroad (Bukhara Sogd, Northern Tokharistan, Southern Sogd – single specimens). Smirnova assumed they were from Samarkand and dated them from the V (?) c. – VI c. (the earliest anepigraphic coins) to the end of the VI c. – the first quarter of the VII c. (at Pendzhikent they are found in the later layers). The resemblance between the V-type tamga-symbol on the reverse of the anepigraphic coins of this group [Smirnova, 1981. pp. 88-92. No 1-25] and a similar symbol on the earliest Samarkand coins of the Chinese type is complete {Table 122, 17}, but on the later series [Ibid., No 26-27] which already have a Sogdian legend, the "foot" of the symbols is bent to the left and not to the right.

Best studied are the coins of the Samarkand Sogd of the Chinese type, issued from the second quarter of the VII c. until the mid-VIII c. The prototype of these cast, with a central hole coins were (as it was in the Bukhara Sogd and in Northern Tokharistan) the Tan issues with the legend "kaj juan tun bao". These hieroglyphs were reproduced on the very first Sogdian issues [Smirnova, 1981. pp. 101-103. No 43-47]. After that a native coin type of the supreme rulers of the Samarkand Sogd, bearing the title "Ikhshid" (rendered on the coins by the Aramean heterogram MLK’), was established: tamga-type symbols, at least two of them, on one side of the coin {Table 122, 1-11}, a Sogdian legend containing the name and title of the king on the other side. For the period from the mid-VII c. till the 40’s of the VIII c. Smirnova has identified the coins of ten Ikhshids [Smirnova, 1981. pp. 103-227] and has built their absolute chronology by relating the names on the coins to the rulers of Sogd mentioned in Tanshu, in the documents from the Mug mountain, Tabari, Nershakhi and other sources [Smirnova, 1981. pp. 423-424].

The stratigraphical distribution of coins in the excavations (especially at Pendzhikent) and the composition of the hoard finds show that the Ikhshid coins circulated not only in Samarkand and its surroundings, but also in the other possessions subordinated to the "King of Sogd, the ruler of Samarkand", and that after a new Ikhshid ruler had issued his coins, the coins of his predecessors were not withdrawn from circulation, although the numbers of the latter naturally decreased with time passed. This must be taken into account when dating layers/archaeological sites on the basis of single coin finds of Ikhshid coins.

Besides the royal mint, cast coins of the Chinese type were issued in the Samarkand Sogd by the feudal rulers (bearing the Sogdian title of "Lord" or the Aramean heterogram of MR’Y/MRY’). Best known among the feudal issues are the coins of "the rulers of Pancha" (Pendzhikent), which have been commonly excavated at the Pendzhikent ruins [Smirnova, 1963. pp. 15-19, 91-121; 1981. pp. 45-50, 230-305; Livshic, 1979]. More than 800 specimens has been retrieved.

Three rulers of Pancha issued their own coins: Gamaukajn (Amukian or Chamukjan according to Smirnova) – until the beginning of the 90’s of the VII c. {Table 122, 12}, Chekinchur Bil’ge (Bidjan) – approximately between 694-708/9 or between 690-704 AD {Table 122, 13}, and "lady Nana" {Table 122, 14, 15} – between 709-722 AD, if we are to assume that she was the senior wife of a ruler named Devashtich [Livshic, 1979. p. 65], who at some moment also bore the title of "King of Samarkand". Devashtich and Chekinchur Bil’ge are also mentioned in the documents from the castle at the mount of Mug, which somewhat facilitates the historical rationalisation of the numismatic data. There are, however, some unresolved questions: the absence of coins with the name of Devashtich; the full title of Chekinchur Bil’ge in the document B-8 from Mug is "King of Bagd, ruler of Pancha"; etc. The rulers of Pancha apparently did not form a proper dynasty. They, as well as the Kings of Sogd, could be selected by the "nobility ("the elders", "the great ones", "the folk" in the sources), apparently not without the participation of the merchant upper class and the town magistrates" [Livshic, 179. p. 60].

As seen from the excavations and the hoard finds, the coins of the local rulers and the coins of the Ikhshids of Sogd co-existed on equal footing in Pancha. But beyond Pancha and its surroundings (as it was the case in Samarkand and even more in the Northern Tokharian possessions of Chaganian and Vakhsh) the coins of the rulers of Pendzhikent did not circulate freely (only single finds are known).

The identification of the coins of other feudal possessions in the Samarkand Sogd is still hypothetical [Smirnova, 1981. pp. 228-230, 306-308]. The centres of possessions other than Pancha have not been excavated until now.

The circulation of the copper Central Asian coins during the early Middle Ages can be used, subject to the mapping of both the mass and single finds, for defining more precisely the political-administrative boundaries between the regions and between the possessions within each region as well as for reconstructing political events such as expansions by conquest, loss of independence by certain possessions, etc. It is especially important regarding the possessions which changed their political belonging with time, during the "readjustments" of the influences of the more powerful neighbours. At certain periods of time it seems even such large possessions as Southern Sogd (the basin of the river Kashka-darja) and Ustrushana had been drawn into the orbit of the Samarkand Sogd.

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