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

7. Northern Tokharistan

(pp. 131-133, 141-142 of Chapter 7, "Severnyj Tokharistan", T. Zejmal', E. Rtveladze)

Northern Tokharistan corresponds to the modern southern parts of Uzbekistan and Tadzhikistan - from the Gissar mountain chain and the Iron Gates in the north to Amu Darja. The western border run along the mountain chain of Kugitang, the eastern - somewhere in the modern district of Kuljab.

Even if the first mentioning of Tokharistan in the sources dates from the 383 AD [Muller F.W.K., 1918, p. 575], we may assume that its name appeared much earlier and was linked to the appearance in the II c. BC of the Tokhar tribe, which was mentioned by the ancient authors [Bartol'd, 193. p. 116; Tomaschek W., 1877. p. 33]. Great information about "the country of Tuholo" (three variants of the transcription of the name are known: T'ou-ho-lo-, Tou-ho-l'o, and T'ou-hou-lo; [Chavannes, 1903. p. 155]) contain the Chinese sources: in Chapter 97 of Bejshu, composed in Tan times and comprising events from the 386-618 AD; in Chapter 83 of Sujshu, composed in the second quarter of the VII c. and comprising events of 581-618 AD; in Chapter 221 of Tanshu [Bichurin, 1950. v. II. p. 274, 277-278, 312; Chavannes, 1903], as well as in travelogues of Chinese travellers-pilgrims, first of all - of Cjan Czjan (around 633-645 AD), his biography [Beal, 1906], and the description of Tokharistan by another pilgrim - Hoj Chao [Fuchs, 1938; comp. Staviskij, 1957] who was there in 726 AD.


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The reports of the Chinese travellers are more detailed and more reliable, especially when they have seen the things in person. The data in the dynastic chronicles (especially of Bejshu and Sujshu) are on the other hand based of random and irregularly coming information about the Western lands coming to them during the III-IV cc. "Since the time of Juanbej (365-55 AD) - acknowledged Li Jan'sheu, the composer of Bejshu, - nobody has made notes; only the names of these coming to the Northern Court were recorded, and the people's customs could not be recorded" [Bichurin, 1950. v. II. p. 243]. Vejchzhen, the author of Sujshu (died in 643 AD) complaints to the reader: "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." [Ibid. p. 277].

In the Arabo-Persian historical and geographical tradition "Tokharistan" had both a narrower (the regions between Amu Darja in the north and the fore-mountains of Hindu Kush in the south, between Balkh and Badakhshan) and a broader meaning (the regions on both sides of Amu Darja gravitating towards Balkh), which is identical to the boundaries of "the country of Tuholo" of the Chinese authors [Bartol'd, 1963. p. 116, 118; 1971. p. 47 etc.]

Map 7. Northern Tokharistan

a - castles and fortresses; b - settlements; c - modern towns; d - cult sites; e - tombs; f - mounds; g - middle-sizes towns; h - small towns

1. Khishtepe (Buddhist temple), 2. Boldajtepe (settlement), 3. ruins of Kurgantjubin, 4. Adzhinatepe, 5-7. Urtaboz, 8. Kafirkala, 9. Kalai Shodmon (town), 10. Shishikhona (town), 11. Foretress of Gissar, 12. Kalaikafirnigan (town and Buddhist monastery), 13. settlement of Shirkent, 14. settlement and mound of Kharkush, 15. Kalaimir, 16. Munchaktepe, 17. Shurturmullo (Buddhist stupa), 18. Budrach (ruins), 19. Bittepe (tombs), 20. Chajantepe (ruins of a town), 21. Jakhshimbajtepe, 22. Loilagai, 23. Babatepe, 24. Kuchuktepe, 25. Khajrabadtepe, 26. Balaliktepe, 27. Zangtepe, 28. Bezimjannii gorod

The short-lived Sassanian occupation of a narrow strip of the right (northern) bank of Amu Darja (including Termez) in the second half of the IV c. - the beginning of the V c. is attested mainly by the numismatic data. The 40's-60's of the V c. saw the fierce struggle between Sassanians, Kidarites and Hephthalites for control over Kushanshakhr (the former Kushan territories). The battles were mainly south of the Amu Darja [Marshak, 1971]. In the second half of the V c. Hephthalites established their rule in Tokharistan. Their powerful and large state existed until the 60's-80's of the VI c. Tokharistan was under their control until the end of the 80's - the 90's of the VI c. In the 90's of the VI c. and in the first half of the VII c. Turkic rulers gradually asserted their control in the regions. At the time of the kagan Tunshekhu (613-630 AD) Tokharistan was governed by his son Tardu-shadu, bearing the title "dzhabgu-jabgu". Towards the 30's of the VII c. Turkic princes ruled some of the feudal possessions there as well [Beal, 1906. v. I, pp. 39-40].

Much more detailed knowledge about the historical geography of Tokharistan and its possessions is only available since the second quarter of the VII c. Most of the Northern Tokharistan possessions, reported in the Chinese and Arabo-Persian sources, are reliably correlated with the real geography, but it is not always possible to identify the towns of these possessions.

The country of Tami, which stretched "600 li from east to west, and 400 li or around that number from north to the south", corresponds to Termez, its surroundings and the lower part of the valley of Surkhan-darja. The capital town (which had 20 li in circumference, stretching from east to west) was most probably the ruins of the Old Termez, and the ten Buddhist monasteries-sangharama mentioned by Sjuan-Czjan were, apparently, at Karatepe where has been attested a building activity from the VI c. or the beginning of the VII c. in cave and ground monasteries from Kushan times (which had been previously, at the end of the IV c. or in the beginning of the V c., abandoned and the place had been used as a burial ground).

The possession of Chiojan'n (the Chaganian of the Arabo-Persian authors) occupied the middle and upper course of Surkhan-darja and its capital is identified at the ruins Budrach, 6 km from Denau [Pugachenkova, 1963. p. 49 etc.].

East of Chaganian (in the western part of the Hissar valley) was situated the possession Holumo, which had "around 100 li from east to west and 300 li from north to south". It corresponds to Akharan of the Arabo-Persian authors. If we are to accept the identification of the capital of Holumo-Akharan with the ruins Uzbekontepe, which is 3 km away from Pakhtaabad in the district of Regar and has a thick early medieval layer, then the capital of the possession of Shuman'-Shuman (to the east of Akharan) must have been either the Hissar fortress or the ruins at Dushanbe [Zejmal' E., 1961. p. 135-136].

Next Cjan Czjan listed the possessions of Czjujhejan-Kobadian. One of them was situated south-west of Shuman, in the lower part of the valley of Kafirnigan; the other - Usha-Vakhsh was east of Czjajhejuan, i.e. on the left side of the valley of Vakhsh, south of Kalinabad. Its capital, having 15 li in circumference, seems to correspond to the ruins of Kafirkala near the town of Kolkhozabad [Zejmal', 1969. p. 10-11; Litvinskij, Solov'ev, 1985. p. 120].

The possession Kedeolo-Khuttal' was situated further to the east next to the Cunlin-Pamir mountains and was one of the largest in Northern Tokharistan ("approximately 1000 li from east to west and as many from north to south"). It included completely or partially the modern Kuljab district. The possession Czjajmito-Kumed ("2000 li from east to west and around 200 li from north to south") was situated somewhere in the district of Karategin, Darvaz and Vanch [Gafurov, 1972. p. 227]. Besides these eight among the 27 possessions of Tokharistan, Northern Tokharistan included partially the possession of Olin-Khul' (Arkhen of the medieval authors) situated to the north and south of the river Panj. The possession of Poliho-Parkhar has been localised either south of Pjandzh, in the district of Kokcha [Beal, 1906. v. I, p. 42], or to the north, in the lower course of the river Kzilsu [Belenickij, 1950a. p. 110; Gafurov, 1972. p. 227]. The possessions Shicini-Shugnan, Bodochuanna-Badakhshan and Damositedi-Wakhan were in the Pamir mountains. South of Amu Darja and Pjandzh were the possession of Bokho-Balkh, Foczjalan-Baglan, etc.

Burial customs

Inhumation and the burial of the cleaned bones continued to be the two traditional burial methods in Northern Tokharistan in the IV-VI cc. AD. Characteristic feature of this period is the lack of specially designated necropolises. Abandoned homes, temples or even kilns were used instead. The tendency is evident since the post-Kushan times when the deceased were buried either in town walls (Kampyrtepe) or in the buildings of an abandoned town (Kukhnakala).

Probably in the V c. AD there started to appear specially constructed burial constructions. They were of various types: single-room tombs cut in rocks (Bittepe) or in old fortress walls (Dal'verzintepe), surface tombs consisting of single  (Shurob-Kurgan) or many ("Kurgan") rooms, ceramic sarcophaguses (Karatepe), mounds (Dzhulusaj), kurgans (Ljaksh II, Bajtudasht).

Religious buildings

The excavated religious buildings in Northern Tokharistan confirm completely the wide spread of Buddhism. However, the domination of Buddhism from the Kushan time till the Arab conquest of the country in the VIII c. was neither continuous nor undisputed. At the end of the IV c. - the beginning of the VI c. all Buddhist monasteries, which were built and functioned in Kushan time (Karatepe, Fajaztepe, Ushturmullo, etc.) were abandoned, partially destroyed, and used by the locals as burials grounds. The places were repaired in the VI c.: the stupa in the Ushturmullo complex was renovated, but the monastery itself continued to be ruins; one of the stupas was repaired in Fajaztepe; a small temple was built at Karatepe. The destructions of the second half of the IV c. can be linked to military and political events - the occupation of the right-bank of Amu-Darja by the Sassanian deputies in Kushanshakhr.

A number of Buddhist temples and monasteries were built in the VII c. - the beginning of the VIII c.: Adzhinatepe, the temple at the ruins of Kalai Kafinigan; a tower in the form of a dome in the citadel in the ruins of Kafirkala. The finds of Buddhist texts in the towns and castles of Northern Tokharistan speak about the strengthening of Buddhism. Around 50 fragments of a manuscript written in the Brahmi script have been found in the ruins of Kafirkala [Litvinskij, Solov'ev, 1985. p. 143]; the remains of no fewer than 12 Sanskrit manuscripts with Buddhist content were retrieved during the excavations at Zangtepe [Al'baum, 1963. p. 58-61; 1964. p. 73-83; etc.].

Until now no religious buildings linked to some local form of Zoroastrianism or other religious system have been identified in Northern Tokharistan for the early medieval period. Judging from isolated finds of cultic items in the burial pits at Aktepe II [Sedov, 1987. p. 62-64], of a round ossuari near the Gissar fortress which depicts a temple which was the stronghold of the "Iranian Buddhism" [Bartol'd, 1971. p. 469-471], the Zoroastrian beliefs must have been kept alive, and they probably dominated at the end of the IV c. - the beginning of the V c., when the Buddhist monuments were abandoned.

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