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Kiraz Perinçek: The Extraordinary Creatures on the Sogdian Sarcophagi Found in China
10 March 2017
Commanding Central Asian commerce from 500 to 1000 D.C., Sogdians played a very important role in trade along the Silk Road. Zeravshan River basin in today’s Uzbekistan and Tajikistan was their central place of settlement. Samarkand, which is in the intersection of many roads, was Sogdians’ most important capital city from the old days to more recent times. Organized in city-states, Sogdians never had a central state or an army, but they succeeded in founding an empire of trade that ruled over a great portion of Euro-Asia.
From 300 D.C. onwards, the Sogdian civilisation started to expand eastwards from its motherland towards the Silk Roads passing through the north and south of the Tarim Basin, to the Gansu Corridor and then to inland China. Third and fourth century Chinese sources mention Sogdian persons -merchants, Buddhist text translators, envoys or civil servants- settled in China.
Since 1999, three important sarcophagi belonging to Sogdian aristocrats have been discovered in China: Yuhong Sarcophagus, Anjia Sarcophagus and Shijun Sarcophagus. These house-shaped sarcophagi dating to Northern Zhou (557-581) and Sui (589-618) eras have reliefs painted in colour in their façades. Many depicting epic stories, these reliefs present musical and dancing parades, feast, hunt, daily life and travel scenes.
Depictions feature extraordinary beings such as dragons, bird-like and semi-human creatures, flying fairies, animals resembling horses and fish at the same time, monsters, and horses with wings and fish tails.
An interesting combination of Greco-Persian, Middle Asian and Chinese features, these extraordinary creatures will be discussed in comparison to the Panjakent murals -the most important centre of Sogdian painting tradition- and Chinese murals in this presentation.