Central Asia in the Early Middle Ages,
Introduction to the history of the regions

4. Chach and Ilak

(pp. 78-79, 88, 92 of Chapter 4, "Chach i Ilak", Ju. Burjakov, M. Filanovich)

There are short references to the early medieval region of Chach in the written sources, while the region of Ilak is not mentioned at all. The Chinese chronicles Sujshu, Bejshu, Tanshu mention a possession called Shi or Chzheshi with a capital with the same name since the V c. AD [Bichurin, 1950. v. II].

In the V c. the regions were incorporated in the Hephthalite state. In the VI c. the Hephthalites clashed with the Turkic Khaganate and the basin of Sir Darja became a zone of intensive battles with the khakan Istemi, who was described in the sources as a ruler "with an army, a treasury and a crown… from China to Gul’zarium [Sir Darja] and Chach". In the mid-VI c. the kagan Sandzhibu captured Chach, Ferghana and Sogd. As a result, "many [places] in Chach, Parak, Samarkand and Sogd were devastated and turned into homes of owls" [Gafurov, 1972. p. 218]. Probably it was during this period when Ilak became an autonomous region on the basis of its silver and gold-mining.

After the subsequent division of the Khaganate, Chach and Ilak became part of the Western khaganate. After the unsuccessful uprising of 605 AD against the khakan, Turkic rulers – Tuduns, came to rule in Chach and Ilak.


(Images from the web-site of Falling Rain Genomics, Inc.)

The Chinese traveller Sjuan Czjan reports that this possession had several tens of towns governed by feudal lords, subjects of the Turkic kagan [Beal, 1884. p. 452]. The  internecine wars in the khaganate that followed strengthened the independence of Chach and its closer cultural and economical links with Sogd and Ferghana. The approaching threat of the Arab invasion at the end of the VII c. – the beginning of the VIII c. led to the formation of the united possessions of Maverannakhr under the auspices of the Turkic khaganate.

Map 4. Chach and Ilak

a - large towns; b - small towns; c - settlements; d - cult sites; e - passes; f - modern towns; g - middle-sized towns; h - mines; i - transit roads; j - inner roads

1. Kavardan, 2. Kavardan, the naus (?) , 3. Aktepe, the castle and fire temple, 4. Mingurjuk, 5. Khanabad, 6. Aktepe, the castle, 7. Tugajtepe, 8. Nogajtepe, 9. Kulaklitepe, 10. Majtepe, 11. Shishkurgan, 12. Turkul'tepe, 13. Shamatepe, 14. Jugaitepe, 15. Kaunchi, 16. Tojtepe, 17. Kendiktepe, 18. Iskitepe, 19. Shaushukmtepe, 20, Chinaztepe, 21. Aktepe, 22. Tutkil'tepe, 23. Kirkzhanchi, 24. Kanka, 25. Sharkija, 26. Akkurgan, 27. Oshkhona, 28. tepe near the sovkhoz of Michurin, 29. Mazartepe, 30 Kul'ata, 31, 32. Italakh, 33. Angren, 34-49. ancient mines

Chach actively participated in the coalition fighting against the Arabs. In 712 it came to the assistance of the besieged Samarkand, which caused punitive Arab campaigns against it in 713 and 714 AD. During this period of struggle Chach intensified its relations with the northern steppe regions up to Otrar and this strengthened its links to the Turkic khaganate.

In 723-724 AD the coalition defeated the Arabs at Sir Darja. Only towards the mid-VIII c. did the Arabs succeed in crushing the Turkic khaganate and in besieging of Chach. Taking advantage of the weakening of the principality and of its conflicts with Ferghana, the Chinese attempted to subjugate Chach in mid-VIII c. The Chinese captured the capital and destroyed it. However, they were defeated in 751 AD by the Arabs in a battle at the river Talas, and Chach was incorporated into the Caliphate. The resistance against the Arabs continued. Chach was one of the centres of the uprising of Mukanna and as late authors as those in the X c. reported that in Ilak there were many supporters of the "people with white clothes".


The medieval towns were formed either on the place of the ancient towns, on the old caravan routes, or as metallurgical centres and centres of crafts. Especially active was the town formation at the border with the nomadic world, on the new caravan routes. The contacts with the steppe intensified at the time of the Turkic Khaganate.

Besides the traditional system of settlements along the river Sir-Darja, new towns and settlements appeared around the large towns of Kanka and Shakhrukhija. The largest urban concentration was in the middle course of the river Chirchik at the border with the steppe, where six towns were formed. A row of towns-fortresses streatched along the Churchik river. In VII c. AD one of the largest towns - Mingurjuk, became the capital of Chach. The capital of Ilak became the town of Tunket at the Akhangaran river, which hosted a massive citadel and metallurgical works. Around it there were a number of mining towns of Ilak.


The literary sources mention only one temple connected with the worship of the ancestors in Chach [Bichurin, 1950. T. II, p. 272]. New data were obtained from the archaeological surveys. An open ground with an elevated platform of bricks in the middle which contained ashes was discovered at Kugaittepe, within the limits of the modern Tashkent. It is dated to the IV-VI c. AD. A different kind of fire temple is the building from Chilanzar Aktepe. It is on a elevated platform with four circular towers at the corners and resembled a small castle. Inside, a central room was full of ashes. The internal walls were fired. The second temple resembles a similar autonomous building from Ustrushana next to Chach [Pulatov, 1977. p. 78-79]. In the Ustrushana temple the central room contained a platform of unbaked bricks. It was apparently used for lightning up the fire. The Tashkent temple (i.e. the one from Chilanzar Aktepe) lacks this platform, which initially hindered its correct identification as a fire temple [Drevnij Tashkent, 1973. p. 121]. These building were also probably connected with the cult of veneration of the ancestors, as mentioned in the Chinese account: "In the possession of Shi, in the south-east corner of the palace there is a building with a throne in the centre. On the sixth day of the moon a golden urn with the ashes of the burnt deceased parents of the ruler are put one the throne, after that they walk around it, spreading nice smelling flowers and various fruits, The ruler together with the nobles bring sacrificial meat. The nobles and the others sit down ... and after the end of the meal they depart." [Bichurin, 1950. T. II, p. 272]. More details of the ritual we reconstructed [Grenet, 1984]: exhibition of the urn with the ashes; circling around it and scattering of fruits and flowers; a sacrificial feast in a specially prepared tent in which take part the ruler and his wife, and his entourage.

Another type of religious buildings is frequently found in the palaces, citadels and castles of Chach and it shows the influence of the neighbouring regions, Sogd in particular.

Burial customs

As in the previous period, the burials in catacombs and inhumations in niches dominated in the mid-I millennium AD. Besides the burials in kurgans, inhumation burials and burials of the cleaned bones in ossuaries started to be performed in tombs.

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