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

2. Khorezm

(pp. 31-32, 44-45 of Chapter 2, "Khorezm v IV-VIII vv.", E. Nerazik)

According to Biruni Khorezm during the IV-VIII cc. was a state which was ruled by a single dynasty. It acquired the name of Afrigid in the literature after the name of the first ruler – Afrig, who came to power in 305 AD [Biruni, 1957. p. 47, 48]. Biruni provided a list of ruler’s names. Some of them occur on the coins from Khorezm. However, the correlations are not many and mostly come from the VIII c. Many names from the Biruni’s list have not been found on coins yet [Gudkova, Livshic, 1967. p. 10, 11; Livshits, 1968. pp. 441-444; Vajnberg, 1977. p. 81. 82].


(Images from the web-site of Falling Rain Genomics, Inc.)
The name of the founder of the dynasty, Afrig, has not been attested either. As it has been suggested by Tolstov, this ruler was apparently confronted with a political decentralisation of his country, manifested in the appearance of copper coins with different tamgas [Tolstov, 1948a. p. 209]. Another explanation could be that several series of coins had belonged to a single ruler, which looks implausible [Vajnberg, 1977. p. 81]. The numismatic materials could also reflect the complicated foreign-political situation in Central Asia: the Chionito-Hephthalite wars, the campaigns of the first Sassanian rulers of Iran against Khorezm and their possible conquest of this country [Henning, 1965. p. 169. 170].

There is no definitive evidence about the state of the Turko-Hephthalite relations, although some scholar suppose that during the VI-VIII c. Khorezm was incorporated in the Turkic state [Gumilev, 1967. p. 35].

Map 2. Khorezm in the IV-VIII cc.

a - small towns; b - middle-sized towns; c - cult sites; d - castles and fortresses; e - settlements; f - large towns

1. Ajazkala, 2. Toprakkala, 3. Big Kirkkizkala, 4. Kajje-Parsan, 5. Berkutkala, 6. Teshikkala, 7. castle 92, 8. castle 2, 9. Al-Fir (the later name of Kjat), 10. Gurandzh (Kunja Urgench), 11. ruins Gjaurkala, 12. Turpakkala, 13. Khiva, 14. Tokkala, 15. Khajvankala, 16. Kujukkala, 17, Kurganchakala, 18. Barak-Tam

The events of 711-712 AD when Khorezm was captured by the Arab general Kutejba are better known from the sources. Tabari reports about a council at which the Khorezmshakh gathered the kings (muljuk), the dekhkan (V.K.: roughly corresponding to "knights") and the akhbar – the scholars [Tabari, 1987]. These is the first important information about the social structure of the Khorezmian society at the beginning of the VII v. AD. The documentary, numismatic and archaeological data make us believe that Khorezm at that time consisted of several feudal possessions: the region of Kerder on the lower course of Amu Darja, the southern part of the country with centre in al Fira, and Urgench of the left bank of Amu Darja [Vajnberg, 1977. p. 99]. A region called Khamdzherd is also mentioned in the sources and it s equated to either Kerder or Urgench [Gudkova, 1964. p. 119, 120’ Vajnberg, 1977. p. 99] The identification of a Urgench as a unit on its own is still problematic. There are no doubts that culturally and ethnically is was indistinguishable from the population at right bank of the river. The region of Kerder is altogether different – it was occupied by tribes who came from the lands along the river of Sir Darja.

It was exactly the rivalry between the Khorezmshakh and his brother Khurrazad, the latter having the support of the king of Khamdzher, which forced the former to ask for Arab’s assistance. Kutejba defeated Khurrazad, destroyed the writings of Khorezm and expelled its scholars [Biruni, 1957. p. 48]. An Arab deputy was installed in the country and until 995 Ad, when the last representative of the Afrigid dynasty was killed, the power over the country was shared between Kjat – the capital of the Khorezmshakhs, and Urgench – the seat of the Arab emirs. The Khorezmians could not come to terms with the Arab occupation for a long time, as shown by the uprising in Kerder in 728 AD. The struggle against the Arabs continued in later times, and only at the very end of the VIII c. did the Arabs somewhat stabilise their positions and Islam started to take hold in Khorezm. Arab inscriptions started to appear of the coins of that time, and the names of the Khorezmshakhs became Muslim.


The finds of ossuaries, temples and fire temples from the IV-V cc. in Khorezm are usually interpreted as characteristic to Zoroastrianism. Many important data about Khorezm of the VII-VIII cc. were obtained from the excavations at the Mizdakhkana and Tokkala necropolises. Tokkala is situated in the district of Kerder and was occupied, apparently, many Khorezmian settlers. These necropolises yielded, for the first time, painted bone-containers with inscriptions in Khorezmian. The inscriptions immediately attracted the interest of the linguists. They also provided important data about the Khorezmian calendar. The dates on the Tokkala inscriptions and its comparisons with other dated documents and cultural artefacts showed the existence of an era with a starting point in the I c. AD [Gudkova, Livshic, 1967. p. 8]. It helped to specify the information about Khorezm provided by al-Biruni [Livshits, 1968. p. 441-443; Vajnberg, 1967. p. 77-80]. The VII-VIII c. burials in Khorezm are unquestionably Zoroastrian. Following the recommendation of the Avesta not to pollute the four elements - air, earth, fire, and water, the Khorezmian Zoroastrians places the cleaned of the flesh bones of the deceased in ossuaries - special clay containers. The ossuaries were stored in single-room tombs on the surface or semi dug-outs, 4x5 or 4x4 metres, with niches on the inside walls [Gudkova, 1968. p. 214-215]. They were clan tombs and they were used for long periods of time.

S.P. Tolstov advanced an interesting hypothesis about the spread of Christianity in the VII-VIII cc. It is based on the literary evidence about the existence of a Christian colony at Urgench in the IX-X cc., and now it is confirmed by older materials. Thus, Jagodin discovered peculiar motifs consisting of a cross, stars and plant leaves on eight ossuaries from Mizdakhkana. These motifs have parallels in the Christian decorative art [Jagodin, 1970. p. 146]. Jagodin suggested the existence of a significant Christian community there, with one tomb containing nearly 100 ossuaries. The hypothesis is not fully convincing, but it not improbable. There are two occasions when the same cross as that on the Mizdakhkana ossuaries appears on coins on the crowns of the Khorezmian rulers from the end of the VII c. or the beginning of the VIII c. Perhaps Christian rulers had assumed the power for short periods of time.

There is no reliable evidence that Buddhism was ever present at Khorezm.

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