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

5. Ferghana

(pp. 93-95, 104-111 of Chapter 5, "Ferghana", G. Brykina, N. Gorbunova)

Ferghana was known to the Chinese sources since the second half of the I millennium BC as the "kingdom of Davan". It represented a wide valley, stretching for more than 300 km from east to west, and it possessed a developed agriculture and crafts. The Chines authors say it had 70 large and small towns with a population of several hundred thousands [Bichurin, 1950. v. II. p. 149].

Lying on a cross-point of transit commercial roads, Davan was uninterruptedly under the watchful eyes of the Chinese emperors, who had been sending many embassies and, frequently, successful military expeditions against it. The invasions of the nomadic tribes of Kidarites, Chionites, Hephthalites, and the internal disturbances changed the political picture of the region. The chronicle of Bejshu reports about these obscure times: "At the time of the dynasty of Kuan Vej (386-550-557) and Czin (265-486) the Western possessions devoured each other, and we cannot even figure out what is happening there." [Bichurin, 1950. v. II. p. 240].


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

A multitude of small independent possessions existed at that time in Central Asia. One of them was Lona (Polona), situated at the territory of the ancient Davana. Its capital was the tow of Gujshuan. In mid-V c. the Hephthalites swept through Central Asia, attacking the powerful Sassanian Iran and capturing large parts of Central Asia, Afghanistan, Northern India and Eastern Turkestan. There is no direct evidence about the presence of Hephthalites in Ferghana. But there is a number of indirect indications that one part of the Hephthalites lived in this region. It is known that the Hephthalites practised artificial skull deformation [Bichurin, 1950. v. I, p. 366]. Deformed skulls are indeed found in burials in Ferghana. The chronicles of Bejshu and Lanshu describe the burial customs of the Hephthalites. Bejshu in particular says that "the dead coming from rich houses are buried in stone vaults, while the poor ones are buried in pits in the ground" [Bichurin, 1950, v. II, p. 269]. According to the chronicle of Lanshu the Hephthalites had the custom to put their deceased in wooden coffins. As early as at the beginning of the (20th) century K.I. Inostrancev correlated the Chinese evidence with the mugkhonas (burial constructions on the ground made of stones) found in Northern Ferghana [Inostrancev, 1909, p. 16]. …

Map 5. Ferghana

a - multi-layered towns; b - settlements; c - modern towns; d - middle-sized towns; e - tepes; f - tombs; g - castles and fortresses; h - cult sites; i - mounds; j - small towns; k - modern settlements

1. Uzgen, 2. Dunbulak, 3. Kziloktjabrsk, 4. Shurabashat, 5. Anakizil, 6. tepe Kurshab, 7. Karasadak, 8. Osh, 9. Madi, 10. Ak-Bura, 11. Iski Aravan, 12. Tepe, 13. Andizhan, 14. Shamalgatepe, 15. Iski Naukat, 16. Kurgashintepe, 17. Kuva, 18. Markhamat, 19. Chuntepe, 20. Majdatepe, 21. Miktikurgan, 22. Marginan, 23. Ruins and tombs of Pap, 24. Akhsiket, 25. Kasan, 26. Kalaibolo, 27, Kafirkala, 29. fortress of Surkh I, 30. fortress of Surkh II, 31. settlement of Surkh II, 32. Batken, 33. Tegerman-Bashi, 34. Aktepe, 35. Karabulak, 36. mound of Turatash, 38. mound of Kajragach, 39. a fortress, 40. mound of Beshkend, 41. settlement of Beshkend, 42. settlement of Andarkhan, 43. a settlement, 44. tepe of Korgon, 45. mound of Outsaj, 46-48. mounds of Tashravat, 49. Karabulak, 50. settlement of Shaldibalda, 51. settlement of Kurgancha, 52. town of Khodzhent, 53. mound of Andarkhan

The compilation of the evidence in the ancient source and the archaeological data made B.A. Litvinskij suggest that Ferghana was connected with particular group of Hephthalites – the "Red Chiones". He thought that the Chiones lived in the mountainous regions of eastern Central Asia, namely in the fore-mountains of Ferghana [Litvinskij, 1976. pp. 55-56].

The events of the VII-VIII c. in Ferghana had been registered in Chinese and Arab sources. The third chapter of the Chinese chronicle of Bejshu (from the beginning of the VII c.) mentions Ferghana under the name of "Bokhan’". Its ruler bore the title of chzhaovu or dzhabgu. His name was Alici. "The residence is 4 li in circumference; there are several thousand troops. The ruler is sitting on a throne representing a golden ram. His wife carries a golden wreath on her head. There is plenty of cinnabar, gold and iron"; "At the time of the dynasty of Suj during the rule of Da-ie in 605 AD … the ruler sent to the Court an ambassador together with local goods". [Bichurin, 1950. v. II. p. 274]. The chronicle of the Tan dynasty (end of VII c. – VIII c.) also mentions the possession of Bokhan’. "1000 and a few more li to the south-east of Shi is situated the country of Bokhan’, It is surrounded from all four sides by mountains. The soil is rich, there are many horses and sheep. To the east Bokhan’ adjoins the river Jeje. …" [Ibid. p. 315].

When describing the possession of Nin’juan the Tanshu chronicle says that it is "in fact a possession of Bokhan’na, otherwise known as Bokhan’. At the time of the Juan Vej dynasty it was called Polona". And further: "The ruler resided in the town of Sigjan’m on the north side of the river Chzhen’chzhu. There are six large and around 100 small towns. The inhabitants live till old age. The succession of the rulers has not been broken since the time of the dynasties of Juan Vej (386-535 AD) and Czin’ (265-420 AD)" [Ibid. p. 319].

A new centralised state – the Turkic Khaganate, was formed around in the VI c. in Northern Mongolia by the Altaj Tjurks. After the internecine wars in the beginning of the VII c. (600-603 AD) the Khaganate broke into two pieces – Eastern Turkic, and Western Turkic. The Western Turkic khaganate, which played enormous role in the history of Central Asia,  included Ferghana. The Chinese traveller Sjuan Czjan reports that Ferghana did not have a single ruler at the time of the coming of the Tjurks, but that many petty princes had been fighting between themselves for decades. No doubt, this facilitated the Turkic conquest of Ferghana. The Tanshu chronicle reports that "At the time of Chzhenguan (627-649 AD) the ruler of Kibi was killed by the western Tjukue Gan’mokhed . . ." Thus, the local leader was killed, his capital – captured, and a Turkic dynasty was established. It, however, could not conquer the whole of Ferghana. Some part of it was ruled by Aljaoshen’, a representative of the local dynasties. The Turkic ruler lived in the town of Giesaj, usually identified as the modern Kasan, and Aljaoshen’ – in the town of Khumin, whose locality is unknown.

The crisis in the Western Turkic Khaganate of 630 AD, the resumed nomadic raids and internal fighting helped the Chinese to crush the Khaganate and to nominally incorporate its whole territory. Ferghana was twice captured by the Chinese during the VIII c. The local rulers were given Chinese titles. The constant meddling of the Chinese into the internal affairs of the Central Asian possessions provoked the discontent of the local population. Thus, the biography of the Chinese administrator Guo Juan Chzhen (end of the VII – the beginning of the VIII c.) narrates how one of the Chinese officers tried to commandeer soldiers and horse from Ferghana. The people, not willing to satisfy the unending and unlawful commandeering called the Tibetans for help (China had been waging protracted wars with both the Tjurks and with the Tibetans at that time) [Mandel’shtam, 1957. p. 107].

At the end of the VII c. – the beginning of the VIII c. Ferghana partially restored its independence. The region was ruled by a local ruler with the title of Ikhshid. The beginning of the VIII c. saw fierce battles against the Arabs. The Arab armies which invaded Maverannakhr were commanded by the deputy of Khorasan - Kutejba ibn Muslim. Advancing through Chach and Ferghana and destroying the towns on his path Kutejba reached Kasan. However, the punishment expeditions did not lead to the subjection of Ferghana (as well as Chach) to the Caliphate. In 715 AD Kutejba invaded Ferghana again, this time in alliance with the Tibetans and deposed the Ikhshid king. The Ferghana Ikhshid fled to Kuch, while Kutejba appointed a convenient deputy called Alutar. Kutejba was travelling towards Ferghana (his personal relations with the caliph Sulejman deteriorated at that time) together with his relatives and a band of Sogdian nobles, when the Arab troops revolted and Kutejba and his relatives were killed. Availing themselves of the opportunity, the Chinese intervened on the side of the former ruler of Ferghana, deposed the deputy and installed back the Ikhshid.

In 723 AD Ferghana still remained to be conquered. The Arabs resumed their campaigns and entered Kasan, but the Ferghanis called in Tjurgesh (Turkic) troops. The latter chased the Arabs towards Sir Darja, where they were met by the armies of Chach and Ferghana. Few of the Arabs succeeded in returning back to Khodzhent. There were no further Arab actions for a certain period of time. That is why it remains unclear why the Chinese traveller Hoj Chao said about Ferghana (not being there himself) that there were "two kings. The large river of Sir Darja flows to the west through the central part of the country. One of the kings, to the south of the river, is subordinate to the Arabs, the other one to the north – to the Tjurks." Maybe it reflects the fact that Alutar, although being an Arab puppet, acted together with the Qarluqs.

In 739-741 AD the Arabs resumed their campaigns against Ferghana, and the Khuttals who previously found refuge there had to flee again to Ustrushana. According to the Chinese sources the Turkic prince Arslan Tarkhan became the ruler of Ferghana in 739 AD. Probably it was him who organised the resistance against the Arabs. The fierce battles with the Arabs continued more that 100 years. It is still unclear when exactly the local dynasty was finally removed from power. At the end of the VI-VII c. the Arabs drove out of Ferghana a prince of the Qarluqs (Arslan Tarkhan?). But as late as in the IX c., at the time of the Samanid ruler Nukh ben Asad, the last deputy, some regions of Ferghana (Kasan and Urest) refused to accept Islam, and the Arabs had to quell again the rebellious spirit of Ferghana.


Polytheism was characteristic to Ferghana, as well as to the whole of Central Asia. None of the world's religions was widely spread in Ferghana. Dominated various cults: fetishism, worship of the water, rocks, trees, the belief in the strong power of various amulets. Domestic animals - buffaloes, camels, and dogs were worshipped in the more developed regions. Anthropomorphic images of the celestial bodies were frequent in the ancient and medieval art of Central Asia. For example, a female deity was portrayed on the reverse of Kushan coins, accompanied by the inscription "Selena" or "Maho", which meant "Moon" [Baruzdin, Belenickij, 1961. p. 21-27]. There were temples of the Sun in Pajkend and Bukhara. In Bukhara there was also a market called "Makh", which meant "Moon". Small sculptures were sold there. Probably, there was a temple of the Moon.

The medieval chronicler al Shakhristani wrote about the temple of the Sun in the town of Kasan: "Among them [the ancient temples] is the temple Kausan, built by the king Kaus. It was an amazing building." "... this was an amazing building, dedicated to the Sun, in the capital of Ferghana. It was destroyed by al Mutasim" in 833-842 AD. The name of the temple (Kausan) was linked to the name of the legendary king of Iran - Kaus. Belenickij, however, thinks that it was rather connected with the name of the capital of Ferghana - Kasan [Baruzdin, Belenickij, 1961. p. 21].

The fire cult was connected to the cult of the Sun. Fire was worshipped in Central Asia since ancient times. It also played a prominent role in the burial rites. Special buildings related to the fire cult have been frequently reported. In Particular, an Aloukhana - a house of the fire, was discovered in Dzhanbaskale in Khorezm [Tolstov, 1948. p. 98]. For Ferghana a temple from the VI-VIII cc. was excavated in Kasan, two more in Gajrattepe (north-eastern Ferghana) and in Majdatepe (IV-V cc.), southern Ferghana.

Burial customs

Four types of burials have been practised in Ferghana in the I millennium AD: kurgan burials in pits, in catacombs and in niches; not-kurgan burials in pits, covered by wood; surface buildings - mukhgonas and tombs.

The researchers do not agree on the ethnic origin of the various types. Some (A.N. Bernshtam, Ju.A. Zadneprovskij) link the kurgans with an alien, migrant population, while others (B.A. Litvinskij, S.S. Sorokin) - with the locals. The burials in niches were widely spread and practised for a long time. They consisted of a narrow pit as an entrance, oriented from the north to the south or from the east to the west. Along one of the long walls of the pit there was a niche, where the deceased was put. Catacombs were of two type: Type I (Kenkol type)  - deep, T-shaped catacombs with a large camera and a long dromos oriented in the direction north-south and an entrance on the northern side; Type II (Khangiz type) - with a large camera and a short, shallow dromos with entrance on the southern side. Type I was the earlier, belonging to the first centuries AD and the dead were buried together with very few artefacts - arrowheads, knives, swords. Type II belonged to a later period, with much richer burials. The burials in niches from the mounds of Tashravata were coeval to the catacombs of the I type. On the other hand, the numerous burials in niches from the mounds of Isfara and Batken, apparently, can be divided into earlier and later groups.

Surface buildings built of stone - kurums, or mukhgonas, have been discovered in Northern Ferghana, mainly on the right bank of Sir-Darja. They contain numerous consequent burials and always form isolated from the burial types burial grounds. B.A. Litvinskij called the mukhonas "homes of the dead" and linked it to the Zoroastrian traditions. S. Baratov noticed that in several kurums the burials were of the Zoroastrian type [Baratov, 1971].

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