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

Southern Sogd

The basin of the river Kashka-darja formed relatively late as a "numismatic province" of its own. This started with the minting of the so called "Nakhsheb" coins: head of a ruler looking to the left and a Sogdian legend of the obverse, and a king (?) cutting with his sword a lion standing on his back feet on the reverse {Table 119, 26, 27}. S.I. Kabanov did a lot of work studying and localising them [Kabanov, 1961; 1973; 1977, pp. 96-97. Fig. 16 sq.]. The minting centre – the ruins of the town of Erkurgan, has been systematically excavated which allowed the development of a detailed stratigraphic column of great precision [Isamiddinov, Sulejmanov, 1984]. More than 500 specimens of this type of coins have been found. Most of them – from the ruins of Erkurgan and their immediate surroundings, which strongly supports the localisation of Kabanov.

The question of the date of the beginning of the "Nakhsheb" mint had not been resolved yet. Differences of opinion appeared immediately after the first publications. (I-III c. according to [Drouin, 1896; VI c. – Fuye, 1926, pp. 37-40]). Kabanov dated them to the IV-V c. [Kabanov, 1954. p. 92; 1958. p. 151], after that – to the V-VI c. [Kabanov, 1961], and after the excavation of the earliest type of such coins at Pirmatbabatepe both he [Kabanov, 1973. p. 165; 1977. p. 96] and Smirnova [Smirnova, 1981. p. 18] dated the start of the minting to the IV c. and expanded the dates for the whole group to the IV-VI c. with possible hiatuses: between 420 and 496 AD according to Kabanov; at the threshold between the IV-V c. according to Smirnova. M.E. Masson did not agree with these fates. According to him these coins were minted "for some period of time during the III and IV c." [Masson, M., 1977. p. 137].

Unfortunately, neither the general historical interpretations (the efforts to link the coins to certain historical events on the basis of not so clear written sources and to date them this way, e.g. [Kabanov, 1961; Masson, 1977, pp. 136-137]), nor the iconographical correlations, nor the studies of the palaeographic peculiarities of the Sogdian ("Partho-Sogdian") legend on the obverse of these coins yield definitive and exact chronologies. The archaeological data and especially the established at Erkurgan and other sites from the lower course of Kashka-darja [Isamiddinov, Sulejmanov, 1984. p. 99 etc.] stratigraphical chronology provided more reliable dates for the "Nakhsheb" coins.

Judging from the archaeological artefacts at Erkurgan and its surroundings, the Nakhsheb coins were in circulation until the first quarter of the VII c. inclusive. The archaeology has the final word on the dating, but having in mind that the new stratigraphical scale is approximately one century "younger" that the dates of Kabanov, we can assign to the beginning of the mass mint of "Nakhsheb" coins to the end of the V c. or the beginning of the VI c.

The numismatic situation in the Kashka-darja region is very sketchy at present. As in the case of the Samarkand Sogd, finds of silver coins with an archer have been attested for the end of the V c. – the beginning of the VI c. We cannot say whether the "Nakhsheb" coins circulated in parallel to them until we answer the question whether the Nakhsheb coins have been subjected or not to a thin silver-plating. It was Masson who noticed that "signs of silver-plating are seen on the coins, although not immediately or not always, especially on the museum specimens where the silver-plating is sometimes removed by unskilful cleaning" [Masson M., 1977. pp. 135-136]. Neither the main collections of the Central Asian museums (Samarkand, Tashkent), nor the museums of Moscow and Leningrad contain specimens with signs of silver-plating. Silver-plating also has not been found on the more than four hundred coins from the excavations in the basin of Kashka-darja. Unfortunately, Masson did not specify had he seen specimens of the "Nakhsheb" coins with signs (or remains) of silver on their surface. But even if some coins had been silver-plated, this cannot question the dating of the beginning of the mass mint to the end of the V c. – the beginning of the VI c. The same could be said about the cited by Masson correlation of the "Nakhsheb" coins with the Bukhara emissions (with an altar) {Table 119, 5-9} – the latter apparently have been issued later than assumed by Masson.

The identity of the coins that were in circulation in the region of Kashka-darja together with the "Nakhsheb" ones is still unclear. The "Nakhsheb" coins clearly predominated, but there were other types as well.

We have only a vague idea about the type of coins that came to substitute the "Nakhsheb" coins. The presence in the circulation of the coins of the first Sogdian king Shishpir {Table 122, 1} is attested by finds at several sites, including Erkurgan [Isamiddinov, Sulejmanov, 1984. p. 111]. The find at Kul’tepe of a "Nakhsheb" coin with a countermark (?) must be also noted [Kabanov, 1977. p. 96. Fig. 16, 6] – the countermark was identical to the V-type symbol-tamga on the coins of Shishpir and the next Ikhshids of Samarkand. However, it would be too early to interpret this as an evidence of the subordination of the Kashka-darja region to the Samarkand Sogd during the second quarter – the mid-VII c. The equation by Smirnova of Shishpir with the ruler named Shashebi of the Chinese sources ("Tanshu", 642 AD) who ruled in Kesh (Shi), that is immediately next to the Kashka-darja region [Smirnova, 1970. p. 275; 1981. pp. 36-37], gives rise to the proposition that Shishpir, the ruler of Kesh, by becoming king of Samarkand kept not only his old possessions of Kesh, but also spread his authority to the Kashka-darja region. Further archaeological studies on the coin distributions could bring further clarity on this question.

The motif of the single combat between a king (or a hero) and a lion, depicted on the reverse of the "Nakhsheb" coins was unanimously correlated by the researchers to the same motif with a similar compositional-iconographical scheme on the coins of the town of Tarsus (Cilicia) from the Achaemenid times [Smirnova, 1981. p. 18-19]. However, the mechanism of such a borrowing was unsolved: via the coins of Asia Minor from the IV c. BC who turned up in Central Asia, in the same way as the coins in the Amu Darja hoard find [Smirnova, 1981. p. 10], via a Parthian intermediary [Masson M., 1977], or even via the Sassanians [Fuye, 1925-1926. pp. 39-40]. Nowadays there is no need for such long-range correlations, because a similar motif was later discovered in the Sogdian iconography from Sogd: in Pendzhikent (site XXIII, room 57) there was found a wooden trapezium-shaped plank with the carved relief depiction of a hero stabbing with his sword a lion standing on his back feet, although the lion was winged [Marshak, 1985. pp. 240-241. No. 585]. The plank was one of the details in the decoration of a dome dated to the end of the VII c.

Unfortunately, the Sogdian legend (on the obverse) still "takes no part" in the historical interpretation of the "Nakhsheb" coins. The initial difficulties caused by the small numbers and poor state of preservation of these coins have been already overcome. Nowadays as we have hundreds of specimens at our disposal we can say that the legend consists of seven symbols and (regardless of the different styles of the engravers) it readily reads kws MLK’. About the "kws" bit we can only say that it is not the name of the king but rather a designation of his dynasty or a name of his possession, still unattested in other sources [Droin, 1896; Fuye, 1926. p. 38; Kabanov, 1961; 1973. p. 163-164; Livshic, Lukonin, 1964, p. 170. Note No 110; Masson M., 1977. p. 133].

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