Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Weather in Nukus

Metoprog - Excellent Site

Go to Metoprog

or see below on main page for insert Nukus Daily Metrological data in Russian.

Annual Monthly Average Temperature/Rainfall

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The legend of Arash the great Bowman

The legend of Arash the great Bowman

The legend runs as follows: In a war between the Iranians and the Turanians over the "royal glory" (Khwarrah), the great Afrasiab (King of the Turan) had hounded the forces of the Iranian King Manuchehr, finally the two sides agreed to make peace.

Both reach an agreement that whatever land falls within the range of a bow-shot shall be returned to the Iranians, and the rest should then fall to Afraisab and the Turanians (Khwarezm).

An angel al-Biruni calls 'Esfandaramad' instructs Manuchehr to construct a special bow and arrow, and his best archer Arash is asked to be fire a specially prepared arrow at dawn, which reputedly traveled a great distance (see below) before finally landing and so marking the future border between the Iranians and the Turanians.

In al-Tabari, Arash is exalted by the people, is appointed commander of the archers and lives out his life in great honor. The distance the arrow travels varies: in one it is thousand leagues (farsakhs), in another forty days walk. In several, the arrow traveled from dawn to noon, in others from dawn until sunset. According to al-Biruni, it hit a nut tree between "Fargana" and "Tabaristan" in the furthest reaches of [Greater] Khorasan"

A few sources specify a particular date for the event. The Middle ages Mah i Frawardin notes the 6th day of the 1st month (i.e. Khordad of Frawardin); later sources associate the event with the name-day festivities of Tiregan (13th of Tir) - tir meaning "arrow."

The location from which Arash fired his arrow varies as well. In the Avesta it is 'Airyo khshaotha', a not-further identified location in the Middle Clime. Islamic-era sources typically place the location of the shot somewhere just south of the Caspian Sea, variously in Tabaristan (Tabari, Talebi, Maqdesi, ibn al-Atir, Marashi); a mountain-top in Ruyan (al-Biruni, Gardizi), Amul fortress (Mojmal), Mount Damavand (Balami) or Sari (Gorgani).

The place the arrow landed is variously identified as 'Mount Khvanvant' in the Avesta (likewise an unknown location); a river in Balkh (Tabari, al-Atir); east of Balkh (Talebi); Bactria/Tokharistan (Maqdesi, Gardizi); the banks of the Oxus River (Balami) or Merv (Mojmal).


The Turan

In the Avesta the term Turanians was a collective name for the eternal enemies of Zoroastrism, who it associated with the Khwarezm ruler Afrasiab (ca. 305-? AD) called Franrasyan in the Avesta hymns.

The Turan is historically considered the territory that is located north and east of Amy-Darya, once populated by nomadic Turanians variously called Sakas, Masguts, Massagetae, Kushans, Parthians, Ephtalites and other names of the consecutively Scythian, Hunnic, and Türkic tribes.

The peoples of the Turan consisted of symbiotic combination of agricultural settlers of oases and river valleys, and nomadic and semi-nomadic population engaged in animal husbandry in the deserts and steepes.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Afrasiab Chessmen

Rukh (Chariot) in ivory from Afrasiab, about 7th/8th century, Uzbekistan State Museum, Samarkand(from "Roi des jeux, jeu des rois, les échecs", Jean-Michel Péchiné, Gallimard)

Afrasiab, the king of all Turan, is still an emblem of the Turkic peoples. His name is mentioned in the classic epic poem the Shahnameh ('The Book of Kings') written by the great persian poet Ferdowsi between c.917 and 1100 AD. In the epic the legendary hero-king Afrasiab battles a legendary Iranian king, the righteous Manuchehr. Al Biruni chronicals tells us that the Khwarezmian calendar starts with the arrival of Sijavus around 1300 BC, and it is thought that the two may be the same person. According to Firdoussi, Afrasiab is the ancestor of the Hephthalites, and the name apparently has also appeared in the Uighur dynastical lists as well as being claimed as an ancestor of the Kara-Khanids.

Firdoussi's Shahnamrh is still considered very important to the contemporary adherents of Zoroastrianism, in that it traces the historical links between the beginnings of their religion up to the death of the last Zoroastrian rulers during the Muslim conquest of Central Asia.

In 1977 the archaelogist and historian Prof. Jurij F. Burjakov found the oldest surviving set of chessmen (seven ivory pieces) in Afrasiab near Samarkand known as the "Afrasaiab Chessmen". He dated them as being from early in the 8th century AD. They most probably were made some years before around 761AD because a coin so dated belonged to the same layer in the excavation layer where they were found.

Chessmen of Afrasiab

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Alexander the Great and Roxana

Alexander the Great and Roxana

At the age of 22 Alexander the Great started his great eastern campaign "from Hellespont to Hind". It is said he wanted to reach the 'eastern edge of the earth' to create the greatest kingdom in the world.

It took him three years to conquer the lands of Sogdiana and Bactria which are both situated on the territory of present-day Uzbekistan. These three years were, probably, the hardest in Alexander's eastern campaign for here he met stubborn resistance.

By the spring of 327 B. C. the rebellions erupted, centered in the southern hard-to-reach mountainous regions, led by Sogdian nobility who from their unassailable mountain fortresses strongly resisted the invasion.

The first fortress that stood in the way of the Greek-Macedonian army was 'Sogdian Rock' or as it is also known the 'Rock of Oxus'. Alexander with his troops reached the fortress when the mountains were still covered with heavy snow. They faced a steep stone rock; and high above them thousands of helmets of Sogdian warriors shone in the sun. Suddenly the Sogdians rained down a shower of arrows and darts inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy.

The rock was inapproachable and on the demand by Alexander to surrender the Sogdians responded with laughter saying that if the warriors of the king of Hellenes and Macedonians had wings they could try to reach them, otherwise it was better for them to leave because they could never get to the fortress.

Alexander took three hundred of his best warriors skilled in mountaineering and ordered them to climb the rock, promising each great rewards. Equipped with iron spikes and linen ropes his  men waited till the fall of darkness and then started their climb. It was a difficult ascent: some sank into the deep snow, others fell down from the steep rocks. Some thirty warriors died, but the rest reached the top of the rock by dawn. They found themselves above the rebellious fortress and Alexander ordered his heralds to declare that 'winged warriors' were amongst the Macedonians. The defenders of the fortress were stunned by this news and surrendered.

Among the captives there was also a Bactrian noble man, Oxiart and his family. When Alexander, at the head of his army, went up the narrow path and entered Oxiart's yard, he saw a door of the house open and a girl of medium height appear on the threshold. It was Roxana his daughter; her luxuriant hair was glittering with gold, her beautiful eyes were sparkling; it seemed to him that she was the goddess of beauty "Aphrodite" herself standing right in front of the young King.

It is said their looks met and Alexander at first sight fell in love with the beautiful Roxana. And though she was a captive, he decided to marry her, the action which his officer Arrianes praised and another Curcius reproached him for. One can imagine what a beautiful couple they were: strong warrior in his prime, King and commander, and a golden-haired girl in the full bloom of her youth.

In the famous picture by Greek artist Rotari 'Wedding of Alexander and Roxana', which was made to decorate the interior of the palace of Catherine II in Orienbaum, the master, guided by the works of Plutarch, depicted an episode of Alexander and Roxana's encounter. The Princess, surrounded by crying maidservants, is standing decently before the astonished commander. However the artist depicted a Greek girl instead of the daughter of Bactrian noble man. In reality Roxana was 'a true Oriental rose', and today we can only imagine her incomparable beauty.

The ancient wedding ceremony was simple: a loaf of bread was split with a sword and given to the bride and bridegroom to taste (still the ceremony of 'splitting flat bread' is popular as a sign of engagement in Uzbekistan). But the wedding party was arranged with great grandeur especially since on that very day along with Alexander some ten thousand of his warriors also got married to local girls. Until then mounted troops hired by Alexander from amongst the Parthians, Sogdians, Bactrians and other Central Asian nations acted as independent military units. Such mass weddings between the local and Hellenic people enabled these units to join the Graeco-Macedonian army on equal terms. Moreover, eminent Sogdian citizens, among them Roxana's brother and the sons of other satraps, formed the privileged units - Agema.

By introducing such a policy Alexander reckoned for certain results. He realized that by the sword one could create a huge empire but the 'sword' was not enough to keep it from disintegration. He wanted as far as possible to mix all the tribes and nations subjected to him in order to create a common eastern nation.

Thus the love of Alexander and Roxana contributed to the alliance between Greece and the Orient, which has had a beneficial and sustained impact on the development of science, culture and art of Central Asia and the world civilization as a whole.

As to Roxana's father Alexander rendered homage to him. Oxiart was a 'noble satrap' and controlled a large territory that, according to Hellenic chronicles stretched from the foothills and south-eastern slopes of the Gissar Range to the north-east from the Iron Gates (Darband) and up to the upper reaches of the Surkhandarya river.

Oxiart got back his family estate and in addition he gained power over the Parapamisads. Oxiart's position became even stronger after Alexander's death, when Oxiart, the first among the Central Asian rulers, began to mint his own gold coins - the fact that testifies to the sovereignty of his reign. He eventually ruled over a huge territory that comprised a part of Northern and Southern Bactria as far as the Hindukush.

Recently there has been published a book by Edward Rtveladze, member of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences titled Alexander the Great in Bactria and Sogdiana. Historic and geographic sketches.

For many years the author studied the ancient paths, along which the army of Alexander the Great had pushed its way through steppes and mountain ravines towards Central Asian Transoxiana. Rtveladze came to the conclusion that 'Sogdian Rock', an asylum for Oxiart's family, was located on the boundary between Bactria and Sogdiana near the famous Iron Gates. The researcher believes that the most appropriate place for it could be Buzgala-Khana gorge and Shurob-Sai valley that borders the gorge on the south and is limited in its southern and northern parts by Sar-i Mask and Susiztag cuestas*1.

In structural geology and geomorphology, a cuesta (from Spanish: "slope") is a ridge formed by gently tilted sedimentary rock strata in a homoclinal structure.

The mountain-dwellers of Boysun are most likely the descendants of the Greeks and Macedonians, whose colonies were spread along the Oxus (Amu Darya) and its tributaries. It is known that sixty years after the death of Alexander the Great on the banks of the Oxus there was formed a Graeco-Bactrian kingdom, which existed for one hundred and twenty years.

Some researchers believe that Greek name of the river Oxus originates from Ok-su, meaning 'white, sacred water'. The name Oxiart (Ox-Iart) however is probably a derivative from the word 'Ox' and can mean 'owner of the river Ox'. Professor K. Trever in his book 'Alexander the Great in Sogd' claims the name Oxiart to be the Greek variant of local name Vakhshunvarta.

According to another historian Robin Lane Fox, Roxana, whom warriors of Alexander the Great called the most beautiful woman in Central Asia, rightfully deserved this fame.

Some researchers, associating this name with the modern Tajik language, are of opinion that Roxana is the Greek interpretation of the local name of Roushanak, which means 'shining', 'bright'. In farsi her name means little star.

Others believe that her name derives from 'Ox' (Oxus is the Greek interpretation of the Bactrian word 'Vakhsh' in Bactrian Oaxapo, the name of the Bactrian beauty most likely sounded like 'Vakhsh-ona'. Probably the name meant 'the beauty of the Oxus', or 'owner of the Oxus'.

Roxana was born in an area located to the south of Samakand either in Kashkadarya or Surkhandarya provinces of present-day Uzbekistan.

Alexander the Great lived with Roxana for the last four years of his life. They led by no means quiet and dull life. His uncontrollable aspiration for subjugating the whole world was driving to despair even his commanders. The young King wanted to take the lead in everything - in campaigns, in battles, and in feasts. At that time military leaders preferred to be in the front line of the battlefield rather than to watch the course of action from a the rear.

And at last there came the year of 323 B. C., the last year in the life of Alexander the Great. Behind was left the conquest of Central Asia, including Bactria and Sogdiana, where he had stayed for two years suppressing insurrections. He had just began his great campaign to take over Hindustan, which started successfully and then ended unexpectedly. For the first time in his ten-year 'advance to the Orient' when the conqueror reached the Indus, his army showed disobedience and refused to go further into the unknown lands. After a lapse of two days, Alexander had to order his troops to leave Hindustan.

Alexander the Great, the spoiled child of fortune, was destined to die young, before he reached the age of 33. The fatal illness started rather trivially: the King had ordered his commanders to arrange celebrations to mark their impending western campaign. For several days Alexander was feasting with his friends. All researches connect the death of the great commander with these feasts which lasted days and nights. Having drunk a big bowl of Heracles at one of such feasts all at once Alexander screamed and groaned from a pang. His friends picked him up and put him in bed. The sickness progressed and none of the healers could help him. The pain he suffered from was so strong that sometimes Alexander begged his subjects to give him a sword to kill himself. It was his loving wife Roxana who kept him from committing suicide. On the tenth day after the beginning of the sickness Alexander the Great died in the arms of his young wife who was in her last month of pregnancy. Roxana closed his eyes and kissed him to 'catch his parting soul'.

Alexander neither named the successor to his throne nor did he leave directions as regards governance order in his empire and in Macedonia in particular. This vagueness of his will inevitably resulted in the strife between his commanders who began struggling for power shortly after Alexander's death. Roxana was induced to participate in these plots.

Nearchus nominated Heracles, Alexander's illegitimate child born from Barsine who was the widow of Memnon from Pergamum. Perdiccas, on the contrary, protected the interests of the yet unborn son of Alexander the Great; however Ptolemy Lagus ultimately denied Alexander's sons the right to succeed to the throne as their mothers were eastern women and Macedonian captives. Roxana's son was probably born several days after Alexander's death because in some ancient chronicles it is mentioned that the distribution of ranks and satrapies took place before the burial of the Macedonian commander.

In order to avoid aggravation of the difficult situation and possible bloodshed it was decided to crown two men: Alexander's imbecile brother Arrideus, who began to rule under the name of Philippe III, and Alexander IV, a new-born son of Roxana, with Perdiccas being the regent.

Indeed, the son of Roxana and Alexander the Great was half-Bactrian. All the Seleucid kings who ruled more than two hundred years in the Middle East had in their veins Sogdian blood.

In 317 B. C. the power in Macedonia was usurped by Olympiad, mother of Alexander III. By her order, Arrideus was killed and her grandson, Roxana's son, was proclaimed the King, with Olympiad herself ruling on his behalf. Her rule nevertheless was short; being a revengeful woman, one by one she executed all the prominent men in the state thus incurring people's hatred towards her. In 316, having learnt about the approach of Commander Cassandr, Olympiad, who could not trust the Macedonians, left with her grandson and Roxana for the city of Pydna.

Cassandar immediately sieged the city. Suffering from hunger, tired out because of long siege, Olympiad gave herself up in exchange for her life. However, Cassandar gave her fate into the hands of the Macedonians, presumably having first done his best to harden their hearts. Olympiad was sentenced to death and executed. After that Cassandar married Phessalonica, sister of Alexander III, and exiled Roxana and her son to the fortress where they were placed under guard. (Justin: 14; 5 - 6). One of the Cassandar's men, Glaucus, who was extremely loyal to Cassandar, was entrusted to keep an eye on the captives. Moreover he ordered that Roxana's son was to be stripped of his pages and to treat him as if he were not the king of Macedonia, but an ordinary boy (Diodorus: 19).

In 311 B. C., Cassandar, poisoned the young Alexander, and his mother Roxana. Their bodies were committed to the earth without performing any funeral ceremony in order to avoid possible suspicions with regards to their violent death. (Justin: 75, 2). The death of Alexander IV put an end to the whole dynasty of Temeids who had been ruling in Macedonia since antiquity. The strongest elements within the army came to power creating three new mighty empires: Egypt under the reign of the Ptolemy dynasty; the Syrian empire, that embraced the whole Persian kingdom and where the Seleucids dynasty ruled; and, finally, Macedonia, which kept the hegemony over Greece, where Antigonus Gonatus founded a new dynasty. All of them - Ptolemy, Seleucid and Antigonus Gonatus - were previous military commanders in the army of Alexander the Great.

The age of Hellenism had started. Greek dominion reigned over much of the Middle East and Central Asia and the first great interaction between Western and Eastern civilization was underway.

Note: During the period of Achaemenids and Alexander, Khoresm kept its independence. The Khwarezm Shars skilfully managed to avoid invasion during Alexander the Great's eastern campaign and managed to keep at bay the Greco Macedonian kings who subsequently ruled much of Central Asia after his death in 323BC.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Aral Sea maps 1850's

Source: Aral Sea Map Alexi Butakoff 1853

"Survey of the Sea of Aral by Commander A. Butakoff, Imperial Russian Navy, 1848 & 1849." from the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. 23, 1853 to accompany "Survey of the Sea of Aral" by Commander Alexey Butakoff

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Selos Ilegais

selos illegais: Caracalpaquistão - Localidades da Uzbequistão (país no centro-sul asiático)

Entretanto, existem muitas selos considerados “ilegais” – assim determinados pela União Postal Universal (UPU), pela Federação Internacional de Filatelia (FIP) e pela Associação Mundial para o Desenvolvimento da Filatelia (AMDF).

Selos ilegais também são denunciados pelo governo do país de origem, uma vez que muitas administrações postais constatam fraudes ao deparar com selos impressos em seus nomes sem acordo prévio, ou em nome de regiões que não têm independência postal.

Muitos selos “cinderellas” foram emitidos durante a convulsão EX-União Soviéticana como a Adygeya, Altai ,Bashkortostan, Buryatia, Chechênia, Chuvashia, Dagestan, Ingushetia. Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachaevo-Cherkessia,Karakalpakia,Karelia,Khakasiya (Khakass),Komi, Mary El,Mordovia,Mordvinie,Sakha (Yakutia),North Ossetia,Tatarstan,Udmurtia entre outros...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Savitsky Art Museum Collection - Nukus

“Crimson Autumn” (1931) by Ural Tansykbaev

Two of the iconic pieces from the Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art named after I.V. Savitsky

The Bull (1929), Vladimir Lysenko (1903-1950ies), 141.5 x 109.5 cm. Collection of Nukus Art Museum named after Savitsky, Karakalpakstan,

The Museum hosts one of the biggest collections of Uzbek and Russian avant garde art of the 20th century in the world.

The collection has some 90,000 items, including graphics, paintings and sculptures, as well as thousands of artifacts, textiles and jewelry, ranging from the antiquities of Khorezm’s ancient civilization to these great avante-guard works of the 1920ies and 30ies and those of contemporary Uzbek and Karakalpak artists.

If your coming to Western Uzbekistan to see the magnificent historical and architectural heritage make sure your Itinerary also includes a visit to Nukus the capital of Karakalpakstan and home of this fascinating art museum.

For more information see

Film Review - The Desert of Forbidden Art (Go to Film Review Desert of Forbidden Art or go to top right hand side of blog). Learn about the history behind how Igor Savitsky and his collegues established this remarkable collection in Nukus.

Horse Armour - Cataphracts

Idem and M. M. Mambetullaev, “Ostrak iz Khumbuz-tepe” (An ostracon from Khumbuz Tepe), in Pamyatniki istorii i literatury Vostoka (Monuments of the history and literature of the Orient) Moscow, 1986.

Archaeological art - The armored horse

Historically, the steppe nomads of western Central Asia are believed to be among the first to adopt horse amour (Cataphracts) for their cavalry. The Aral Sea and Khwarezm regions in particular being significant in fostering the development of Cataphract-like cavalry during the 1st millennium BC.

Classical sources seem to refer to two types of Armour being known to the Sakasand the Massagetae (the original steppe peoples) of Central Asia. One type was scale armor described as “coats of iron scales resembling fish scales” (Herodotus) the other a lamellar armor “the coat of armor made of iron plates fastened to each other in rows” (Q. Curtius Rufus). Herodotos also stating that the Massagetae of the Aral region used war-horses with bronze breastplates.

Archaeological finds such as this representation above showing a terracotta fragment found at Khumbuz-Tepe, in the lower Amu-Darya valley, late IV or early III BC confirming these ancient written sources.


Herodotus, (born 484 B.C?, Halicarnassus, Asia Minor [now Bodrum, Turkey —died
430–420 B.C), Greek author of the first great narrative history produced in the ancient world, "The Histories". The Greek researcher and storyteller Herodotus of Halicarnassus was the world's first historian. In The Histories, he describes the the History of the Greco-Persian Wars from the expansion of the Achaemenid empire under its Kings Cyrus the Great, Cambyses and Darius I the Great, culminating in King Xerxes' expedition in 480 BCE against the Greeks, which met with disaster in the naval engagement at Salamis and the battles at Plataea and Mycale. Herodotus' remarkable book also contains excellent ethnographic descriptions of the peoples that the Persians conquered, fairy tales, gossip, legends, and interesting facts.

Quintius Curtius Rufus, (born?, died 53 CE): Roman senator and author of an important History of Alexander the Great. Originally, the History of Alexander consisted of ten books, and although the work was very popular in the Middle Ages (it is known from more than a hundred manuscripts), the first two books are now lost. They contained the events between the accession of Alexander and the death of the Persian commander Memnon of Rhodes. The third manuscript starts when the Macedonian army marched through Phrygia, in the spring of 333 BCE; the last book ends with the burial of Alexander's body in a golden sarcophagus, which was later brought to Egypt in 331 BCE.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The last of the Khwarezm Shahs

Jalal ad-din mingburnu the last Khwarezshar

A Sunni Muslim dynasty of Turkic Mamluk origin the Khwarezm Shahs were the rulers of the Kwarezmid Empire (at some stages just the Khorezm oasis and at times much further afield - see map) from about 1077 to 1231, first as vassals of the Seljuks (1), then of the Kara-Khitai (2) and later as independent rulers, right up until the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.

In 712, Khwarezm having been conquered by the Arab Umayyads came under Muslim suzerainty. In the year 995, the Ma'munids of Gurganj violently overthrew the Afrighids of Kath who had ruled Khwarezm for nearly 700 years and assumed the traditional title of Khwarazm-Shah. Briefly, the area was under Samanid suzerainty, before it passed to Mahmud of Ghazni (3) (East-Central Afghanistan) in 1017. From then on, a series of Turco-Mongolian invasions and long rule by Turco-Mongol dynasties supplanted the Iranian character of the region.

In 1041 following a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Dandanaqan in 1040 almost all the Ghaznavid lands in Iran and Central Asia were lost to the Seljuk Turks (originally nomadic tribesmen of Inner Asia). They soon after taking control of the province appointed the first of what became a succession of military governors to rule Khwarezm.

In 1073 the Seljuk's Sultan Malik sent an army under a turkic slave soldier Anushtigin to recover territory in today’s northern Afghanistan temporarily seized back by the Ghaznavid Ibrahim bin Mas'ud. Anushtigin on victory was subsequently made the sultan's tašt-dār ("keeper of the royal vessels"), and, as the revenues from Khwārezm were used to pay for the expenses incurred by this position, he was made governor of the province in 1077.

The details of his tenure as governor are unclear, but when died in 1097 initially the Seljuk sultan Barkiyaruq appointed Ekinchi. However after only a short period of time, however, he was killed by several local amirs that had risen in revolt. After his death the Seljuk sultan Barkiyaruq's military commander, Habashi ibn Altun-Taq appointed Anushtigin's son, Qutb al-Din Muhammad governor of Khwarazm. Habashi putting down the revolt by two Seljuk amirs, Qodun and Yaruq-Tash, who had killed the previous governor of Khwarazm, Ekinchi, and wanted to rule the province themselves. Qutb al-Din Muhammad appointment stopping an attempt by Ekinchi's son, Toghril-Tegin, to take control of the region.

Qutb al-Din Muhammad would became the first hereditary Shah of Khwarezm assuming the title Khwarezmshah, thus initiating a line of rulers who would oversee the province of Khwarezm and later the Khwarezmid Empire for the next 130 years.

During his lifetime, Qutb al-Din Muhammad remained loyal to the Seljuk ruler of Khurasan, Sanjar. In 1113 or 1114 he helped a fellow Seljuk vassal, the Karakhanid Arslan Khan, stifle turmoil caused by the discontented religious classes in his realm. He also participated in Sanjar's military campaign against the Great Seljuk Mahmud II, who ruled in western Iran and Iraq. In 1119.Qutb al-Din Muhammad died in 1127 and was succeeded by his son Atsiz.

Atsiz rebelled against his Seljuk overlords in 1141-42, despite being defeated in battle, he managed to keep control of Khawarezm, whilst remaining a vassal of Sanjar.

Around this time the Kara Khitay impinged on Khawarezm from the east and they like the Seljuks demanded tribute. Atsiz's son Arslan became Khawarezmshah in 1156. A year later the great Seljuq Sultan Ahmed Sanjar was killed and Seljuk power in the province of Khwarezm waned.

The new Khawarezmshah Arslan still paid tribute to the Khara Khitai but had a much freer hand with the decline of the Seljuks and in 1158 he invaded Transoxiana, thus giving rise to the naasent Khwarezm Empire. An invasion of Khorasan (now north east Iran) was aborted.

Arslan's successor, Ala ad-Din Takesh, pursued his father's expansionist policies in Northern Khorasan while continuing to recognise the suzerainty of the Khara Kitai. To aid in his wars of expansion in Khorasan and elsewhere he sought the aid of Kipchaks, Oghus and other tribesmen who nomadized around the Aral Sea to the north of the Province of Khwarezm; amongst whom were  ancestors of the peoples now living in Karakalpakstan. (ED; Most Turkic peoples still followed the ancient chthonic religions of the steppe and only afterwards converted to Islam).

In 1194, the last Sultan of the Great Seljuq Empire, Tughrul III, was defeated and killed by the Khwarezmshar Tekish, who also took the opportunity to free himself of his Kara Khitay suzerains.

The Khwarezmid Empire 1190-1221

In 1200, Takish died and was succeeded by his son, Ala ad-Din Muhammad. Soon after his father’s death, Muhammad began further military campaigns to expand the Empire. He continued his fathers takeover of Khorasan and expanded his empire into what is now northern Afghanistan. By 1205 he had conquered almost all the remaining parts of what previously had been the Great Seljuq Empire, ruling a huge territory spanning from the Syr Darya almost all the way to Baghdad.

Yet all was not well, as first and foremost, off in the east loomed the ominious figure of Gengiz Khan and his Mongols. Khwarezm had been waring with the Kara Khitay for much of Muhummads reign however he only managed to win a decisive battle against them in 1210.

Then in a lightning strike in 1212 a flying wing of Gengiz Khans army led by his son Jochi captured and executed the Kara Kitay sultan the so called "pretender" Gur-Khan Kutluk and Kharwarzm found that the neighbouring lands to the east were now under Mongol rule.

Despite this in 1217 Muhammad ad-Din set upon further expansion to the west. Having conquered all the lands from the river Jaxartes to the Persian Gulf he demanded formal recognition as Shah from the Caliph an-Nasir in Baghdad. When the Caliph rejected his claim, Ala ad-Din Muhammad proclaimed one of the descendants of Ali, son in law of the Prophet Mohammed as Caliph (whom the Shiites had always considered the prophet's legitamate heirs, as opposed to the Sunni Abbasids) and marched towards Baghdad to depose an-Nasir and replace him with this Shiite sayyed, Ali Molk Termedi, thus stoking up age old sectarian rivalries and earning the emnity of his own Sunni majority.  (ED: Nothing really ever changes - today in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Bahrain the same sectarian discord has once again flared up.) However, when crossing the Zagros Mountains, the Shah's army was caught in a blizzard and thousands of his soldiers died and with the army decimated his generals had no choice but to return home.

In 1218, a small contingent Mongols crossed the border in pursuit of an escaped enemy general. Upon successfully retrieving him, Genghis Khan made contact with the Shah. Having only recently conquered two-thirds of what would one day be China, Genghis Khan was looking to open trade relations, but having heard exaggerated reports of the Mongols, the Shah believed this gesture was only a ploy to invade his land (ED: he may well have been right!). Genghis Khan then sent his emissaries to Khwarezm (reports vary - one stating a group of 100 Muslim merchants with a single Mongol leading them, others state 450) to emphasize his hope for a trade route.

The Shah, in turn, had one of his governors openly accuse the trade party of spying, seizing them and their goods. Trying to maintain diplomacy, Genghis Khan sent an envoy of three men to the Shah, to give him a chance to disclaim all knowledge of the governor's actions and hand him over to the Mongols for punishment. The Shah executed the envoy (again, some sources claim one man was executed, some claim all three were), and then immediately had the entire Mongol merchant party (Muslim and Mongol alike) put to death.

These events led Genghis Khan to retaliate. He gathered a mighty force of 120,000 to 150,000 men and crossed the River Jaxartes in 1219 launching a multi-pronged invasion of Khwarzm sacking first the cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, Otrar and then soon after Muhammad's capital Urgench.

Ala ad-Din Muhammad II fled the battle before the city fell with his valuables leaving his people to be slaughtered (virtually every man women and child in the city were killed). He too was to perish himslf soon after, dying on his way south to seek refuge in Khorasan in mysterious circumstances on an island in the Caspian Sea near the current day port of Abaskun (some reports say he died of pleurisy, others of thirst after being abandoned by his retainers).

Following the death of Ala ad-Din Muhammad II his son Jelal ad-Din Manguberdi came to power.

The last of the Khwarezm Shahs - Jalal ad-Din Manguberdi (Reign 1220–31)

Jalal ad-Din (or Jelal ad-Din) Manguberdi (Turkish: Mengu verdi; Godgiven) was to be the last ruler of the Khwarezmid Empire.

Shah Muhammed had given his son Jalal ad-Din the rule of lands taken from the Ghurids. Following the Mongol invasion of Khwarezm he and his small army of 5,000 had retreated from Samarkand towards the Hindu Kush, where he began to muster additional troops to face the Mongols.

In a remarkably short period of time Jalal ad-Din built up a large force (in coalition with local tribesmen from today’s Northern Afghanistan) which were able to defeat a much larger Mongols force under General Kutikonian at their first engagement at Parwan in 1221. This battle being notable for being the first and only defeat inflicted by any army on Gengiz Khan forces during his lifetime.

The coalition Manguberdi built however quickly broke up. Legend has it that this was caused by a dispute between his father in law and a local chief over a magnificent white horse taken as booty from the Mongolians. It is said that as Munguberdi sided with his father-in-law and that the proud tribesmen departed that same night (leaving their camp fires burning) despite being completely exhausted by the day's fighting. Finding himself without more than half of his fighting strength gone Jalal ad-Din began to retreat the very next day towards the east.

Soon after Genghis Khan and an army of 50,000 Mongols once again met Jalal-ad-Din's army at Bamian destroying a large part of his forces. No longer having sufficient resources to last another battle, he and his remaining troops headed towards the Indus River to seek refuge in India. The Mongolians however continued to pursue Jalal ad-Din and the two sides met again in a famous battle on a site just to the north of the present city of Kalabagn (beside the Indus river). Genghis Khan forces inflicting a defeat on his remaining forces in what is now referred to as the Battle of the Indus.

Tales of heroism by Jalal-ad-Din and his men from this battle have reached epic proportions. Tradition has it that though they where outnumbered fifty to one, they fought off the Mongols and Manguberdi and some of his men were able to escape over the Indus River into India.

Manguberdi escape over the Indus River (across which his horse swam)

Jalal ad-Din Mangbuberi was then to spend the next three years in exile in India before gathering an army and returning to Persia. However he was unable to consolidate his power there for long and in 1224 his forces were once again defeated in battle by the Mongols in the Alborz Mountains. Escaping he led his defeated army over the Caucasus, and in 1225 they captured Azerbaijan setting up their capital in Tabriz.

Although initially forming an alliance with the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm against Mongols, he later on, for reasons not fully understood, changed his mind and began hostilities against the Seljuks and the next year his forces attacked Georgia and sacked Tbilisi.

In 1230 his army conquered Ahlat in the Armenian highlands (in what is now Bitlis Province, Turkey then an important cultural city of the era) from the Ayyubids. This battle however results in an alliance between the Seljuks and Ayyubids against him.

Manguberdi army allying themselves with those of Jahan Shah, the rebellious Seljuk Governor of Erzurum fought a combined Seljuks and Ayyubids force at a location west of Erzincan on the Upper Euphrates known as the battle of Yassi Chemen (In turkish Yassıçemen). The Seljuk-Ayyubid army commandered by the Seljuk sultan Alaaddin Keykubat I.

Jalal ad-Din's forces start the battle well, initiating their attack before the merging of Seljuk and Ayyubid armies. However it was too late as the Ayyubids had already sent a reinforcement of over 10,000 to help the Seljuks. The battle continued for three days and nights. An able commander, Jalal ad-Din forces almost defeated Seljuk-Ayyubid alliance in the first day but by the third day forces were themselves defeated.

This battle was to be Jalal ad-Din’s last. He had lost most of his army and was soon after killed in an ambush in Diyarbakir, Kurdistan by local assassins. (ED: Kurdistan is still a very dangerous place). In the ensuing confusion his short lived principality of Azerbaijan being captured by the Mongols.

Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu's followers however remained loyal to him even after his death and they continued to raid the Seljuk lands of Jazira and Syria over the next several years, calling themselves the Khwarezmiyyas.

Ayyubid Sultan Salih Ayyub, in Egypt, later famously hired their services against his Uncle Salih Ismail. The Khwarezmiyyas, heading south from Iraq towards Egypt, invaded Christian-held Jerusalem along the way capturing the city's citadel, the Tower of David. On July 11, 1244 Jerusalem surrendered and they began to expel much of the remaining Christian and Jewish population from the city. This was to trigger a call from Europe for the Seventh Crusade, but the Crusaders would never again be successful in retaking Jerusalem.

After being conquered by the Khwarezmian forces, the city would stay under Muslim control until 1917 near the end of WW 1, when it was taken from the Ottomans by the victorious British and Commonwealth forces (including Australia's famous Light Horse Brigade who played a key role in its capture).

After taking Jerusalem, the Khwarezmian forces continued south, and on October 17, 1244 fought on the side of the Ayyubids at the Battle of Harbiyah, northeast of Gaza, killing the remains of the Christian army there, including some 1,200 knights.

It was the largest battle involving the crusaders since the Battle of the Horns of Hattin in 1187. The remains of the Khwarezmiyyas served in Egypt as Mamluk mercenaries until they were finally beaten by Mansur Ibrahim some years later. Other Khwarizmi war captives assimilated into the Mongols, forming the modern Mongolian clan Sartuul.

Order of the Republic of Uzbekistan "Zhaloliddina Manguberdi"

To this day Jalal ad-Din Manguberdi the last of the Khwarezm Shars has a special place in the hearts of the people of Khoresm for his valiant efforts in standing up to the mongol invaders and is considered one of the great heroric figures of Uzbekistan (See contemporary military medal above).


1. The Seljuqs (also Seljuk or Seljuq Turks) were a Muslim dynasty of originally Oghuz Turkic descent that ruled parts of Central Asia and the Middle East from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries. The dynasty marked the beginning of Turkic power in the Middle East. The Seljuks are regarded as the cultural ancestors of the Western Turks, the present-day inhabitants of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan.

2.The Kara Khitans were a central Asian khanate with its capital at Balasaghun, now in Kyrgizstan. It was founded by the Khitan ruler Yeh-lü Ta-shih when he conquered the Kharakhanid Turks in 1137. In 1141 Yeh-lü consolidated his conquest by defeating the Great Seljuk sultan Sanjar near Samarkand. The Khanate was weakened in about 1200 by attacks from the Khwarezm shahdom and in 1218 it collapsed precipitately when the Mongols invaded. The governmental institutions of Kara-Khitai were taken over by the Mongols to form the foundations of their own imperial administration.

3.The Ghaznavid Empire was founded by a dynasty of Turkic mamluk (soldier-slaves) origin, which existed from 975 to 1187. The Empire was governed from the city of Ghazni (in today’s Afghanistan) and ruled much of Persia, Transoxania, and the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent. Due to the political and cultural influence of their predecessors - that of the Persian Samanid dynasty - the originally Turkic Ghaznavids had become thoroughly Persianised.

4.Qipchaps are an ancient Turkic people, first mentioned in the historical chronicles of Central Asia in the 1st millennium BC. The Kipchaks constituted a majority of the khanate of the Golden Horde comprising present-day Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Kipchaks have transformed, to a degree, into modern Kazakh and Kyrgyz populations and are also an element of the peoples who make up Uzbekistans' Uzbek and Karakalpak populations.


Grousset, Rene, The Empire of the Steppes, Rutgers University Press, 1991

Friday, June 24, 2011


Plov also called poloپلو , polao, pilau, pilav, pilaff, or pulao in its adopted languages (Turkish, Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Marathi, Uzbek, Turkmen, Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, Pashto, Persian, Armenian etc.) and in Greek (Pilafi-Πιλαφί).

The English term pilaf is borrowed directly from Turkish, which in turn comes from (Classical) Persian پلو, Urdu pulao (پلاؤ) and Hindi pulav (पुलाव), and ultimately derives from Sanskrit pulaka (पुलाक)

The basis ingredients of Plov are rice, carrots, meat and onion cooked in a seasoned broth (zirvak). In some cases, the rice attain a brown color by being stirred with bits of burned onion, as well as a large mix of spices. Depending on the local cuisine, it may also contain a variety of other vegetables (incl. carrot, onion, potato and garlic).

Plov is the king of Central Asian cuisine, served during a wedding feast, to celebrate the arrival of honorable guests, at crowded major celebrations as well as within the family circle. No celebration be it happy or sad, can be regarded as being complete without plov.

In Uzbekistan alone there are more than fifty main varieties of plov. The recipe for plov has been handed down, from generation to generation for well over two thousand years.

Whilst day to day cooking is carried out by women, plov like shaslik is often cooked by men. Just as in Australia with our BBQ) men claim to be best at making real plov.

The process of cooking plov is complex. To make good plov it is necessary to use a large cast iron bowl with a and thick-bottomed round base callede a Kazan, and a set of sharp knives and a special metal skimmer.

Often it is cooked over a pit outside the house. The cook will have a number of assistants to help peel and chop onion and shred carrot. The best sort of carrot for plov should be of a light yellow colour, not the the carrot of Australia, North America or Europe that is always orange-red in colour.

For a good plov it is important that the rice be first steeped in water and washed thoroughly. The Kazan with an ample amount of sheep fat or vegetable oil is preheated (until white smoke appears). .

Then the process of preparing zirvak, the basis of plov, starts. First onion is fried in the boiling oil, then the pieces of chopped meat are added.

Depending on the recipe, mutton, goat's meat, beef or in some parts even horse meat is used for making plov. The meat is fried until a tender reddish crust appears.

After that the carrot is added and slightly fried. The next step is to pour water into the bowl and stew it over the fire (by this time charcoal embers).

The prepared zirvak, seasoned with salt, ground paprika or capsicum, cumin seeds is cooked until transparent and presenting a bouquet of aromas of the fried mixture of onion, meat and carrot.

And then comes the most crucial part of the plov cooking process - adding the rice.

It should be mentioned that rice as the basic product of irrigated agriculture has been cultivated in Central Asia since ancient times. And there is no better rice for Plov than that grown in Karakalpakstan. The delta of the Amu darya has a long traditon of growing quality rice. in his work "Geography", the ancient Greek historian and geographer 'Strabon' indicated that the 'Saka and Massagete' tribes, inhabiting lands to the east of the Caspian Sea, "sow a pearly grain of quality".

A layer of rice is placed on top of the meat and carrot, flattened and then covered with water. The right quantity of water is defined in a simple way: water should cover the rice at the height of the first joint of the cook's forefinger. When the water in the bowl evaporates, using a special wooden stick, the cook will puncture the rice mass in some spots and add water through these apertures.

Plov is considered to be best when the rice is crumbly and its grains are soft but don't stick to one another. The final steep is to gather the rice in the centre in the shape of a hill, then covered with a special ceramic lid, or with a big large deep plate, the fire should at this stage be as low as possible to keep the plov hot but not to burn.

The experienced plov cook identifies the readiness of plov by slightly striking the wall of the bowl with the skimmer. If the moisture has not evaporated completely, some hissing can be heard, if the dish is ready the bowl gives a clunk.

Plov is always served to the table on large (deep) traditional ceramic dishes. The rice is placed on the dish in the form of an attractive hill, and pieces of meat are put on top of it. All this is sprinkled with finely cut greens.

The recipe for plov has travelled far and wide. Taken by merchants and traveler, along the Great Silk Road in ancient times . While undergoing some modification due to local tastes and available ingredients it has become a popular dish among many eastern peoples, from Xinjiang (China) to Azerbaijan and from Khazakhstan to north India.

There are many folk parables and legends about the healing and nourishing qualities of plov. Plov has long been considered to be a healthy food. Indeed, plov is highly nourishing, and an easily digested food with a balanced ratio of carbohydrates, fats and protein.

Salads made with fresh or pickled vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, horseradish, radish, onion, pomegranate grains or sour grape, all supplemented with greens, coriander, parsley and dill, garlic, and basil leaves are generally always served with plov.

Salads not only enrichthe plov with vitamins but also provide better digestion of what is after all a rather fatty dish.

Further there must always be tea on the table (black tea is a favourite in Karakalpakstan but in other parts of Uzbekistan green tea is more common) and of course a pile of nan (flat unleven bread).

Archeological Sites - Karakalpakstan - The Golden Ring of Ancient Khorezm

  Golden Ring of Ancient Khorezm.

Travelling east 2-3 hrs from Nukus or north 1-1.5 hrs from Khiva/Urgench permits you to view some of Central Asia's most fascinating archaeological sites, for in southern Karakalpakistan are located over 300 forts and other historical ruins dating from the ancient Khorezmian Empire established in 7th-6th century B.C up until the early medieval period.

These monuments include:
• Toprak kala. Fortress and Castle. (I-IV c.A.D.) (Ellikkala district)
• Ayaz kala. Fortress. IV-XIII c.B.C. (Ellikkala district)
• Guldursin kala. Fortress and Castle. XI-XIII c. A.D (Ellikkala district)
• Koy kyrilgan kala. Fortress and Temple. IV c. B.C.- IV c. A.D. (Turtkul district)
• Djambas kala. Castle. IV c. B.C. - I c. A.D. (Turtkul district)

Closer to Nukus/Urgench:
 • Mizdakhan & Gyaur-kala. Ruined city and Zoroastrian and Islamic burial site. IV-III c. B.C. to XIV c. AD. (Hojeli district)
•  Kyzil Kala. I-II c.A.D. (Beruni district)
• Chilpik Zoroastrian grave Mound II-IV c., IX-Xi c. AD (Beruni district)
• Djanpyk Kala : Site of Ancient City IX-XI c. and XIII-XIV c. AD (Beruni district)

Ayaz Kala: A series of three fortresses from 2nd-7th cc. AD

Ayaz-Kala situated in the Elikkalin district of
the Republic of Karakalpakstan is 70km from Urgench and 150km from Nukus.

One of the most spectacular archaeological sites in Southern Karakalpakstan, Ayaz-kala comprises the remains of three fortresses constructed during the 5th-4th centuries BC that are clustered together on and around a prominent hill, with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside overlooking the vast Amu Darya plain.

This amazing fortress is located on three levels on the eastern side of the Sultanuizdag mountain ridge and is considered to be the most impressive of  "Ancient Khorezm 300 fortresses".

Ayaz-1, built on top of the range, with a steep bank falling to the ancient delta of the Amu-Darya river, at its foot is Ayaz-3 the oldest part of the fortress that served as the Palace of the great King Afrig, from where a ramp leads up to Ayaz-2, the citadel that protected the palace. Until the 7th century, the entire fort served to protect the population of the surrounding fertile planes in times of attack.

From the top of the walls you can see 20km south west to the Toprak Kala fortress, and looking to the east are the ruins of Kul Kala (5km) and Kirkiz Kala (10km). Get there at the sunset. The views are truly amazing.

Nearby, a gravel road from the main Urgench-Nukus highway leads to a small cluster of yurts, a tourist rest and recreation centre overlooking a shallow but picturesque Ayaz lake. Also you can stay in the yurts overnight. A special experience sleeping under the stars out in the desert and the great cultural events run by the centre.

Chil’pyk. A cult structure of the 2-4th cc., 9-11th cc. AD.

Chılpık (photo from Google Earth)

A circular, high-walled enclosure located  to the north of the town of Mangit on an isolated peak overlooking the Amu Darya river built during the 2nd-4th c A.D and rebuilt as a beacon in the 9th-11th c. A.D . It sits on the edge of a conical 35-40 meter high hill and has the shape of an open-ended circle, 65-79 meters in diameter, the walls some 15 meters high.

Originally a Zoroastrian dakhma " tower of silence' which was used by people of the then prevailing Zoroastrian faith for exposure of their dead. Bodies were laid out under the open sky and, after the bones were cleaned (by vultures), thereafter families collected them and placed them in clay or stone ossuraries for burial. In later times Chil'pyik was used by local people as a beacon. It can be seen clearly for long distance and is easily accessible from the main road to Tashkent about 40 kms south of Nukus.

Toprak Kala: A citadel of the 1-4th cc. AD

Among numerous historical monuments in the Ellikallin region of Karakalpakistan, the ancient settlement of Toprak-kala deserves a special mention. Built during the II-IV cent. AD Toprak-kala was the mansion-house of Khoresmian governors.

Called the "the clay fortress" it is located right in the centre of the Ellik Kala oasis (literally meaning "50 fortresses oasis"), along the old Gavhor canal. It was first excavated in 1938 by S.P. Tolstov, digs conducted right up until 1992. The city was built in one go, according to a pre-determined plan, as a religious centre of the Khorezm kings. On the NW side of the fortress, you can still see the walls of the High Palace.

The complex covers approximately 17 hectares, surrounded by fortress walls preserved in their rampart shape, which are 8-9 meters high in some places. The Kala (500m by 350m in area) was surrounded by defensive walls with arched corridors and towers. The whole construction was broken into ten blocks separated by narrow paths and the main street led from the south gates to the temple of fire. There are ruins of palace at situated in the north-west part of the town, which was built up on a 14 m high base (80m by 80m in area) with three adjacent towers. Archaeologists have excavated a hundred residential and utility houses and in the palace found eight halls decorated with extruded clay and alabaster sculptures and frescos of Zoroastrians deities (vivid colourful wall paintings depicting men dancing in masks).

Artefacts found at the site (some on display at the Savitsky museum) include  decorated Rams' horns, gilded bronze rings and alabaster and glass vessels. Also uncovered were figurines of warriors' in the warriors' hall and sculptures made of unburned clay in the Kings' hall. The Royal Archives were also found at the site and are the oldest examples of documents written in the ancient Khorezm language printed on leather and wood.

Kyzyl Kala, A citadel 1st-2nd c AD., 12 - beginning of 13th c. AD.

Kyzyl Kala known as "the red fortress" is well preserved, it was first excavated in 1938 by the HAEE expedition and is located 27 kilometres to the north of the town of Beruni. It is only 2km (W) of Toprak Kala.

It is situated in a valley and has a square shape of dimensions 65x63 meters, its corners oriented to the four directions of the world. The outside wall was incised with two circles of lancet loopholes. It was apparently built as a defensive fortress, and was one of a line of Khorezm fortifications created to protect ancient Khoresm north-eastern borders.

At the time, the fortress was the centre of an agricultural region and a junction on the important caravan routes through the Sultanuizdag mountain range. It seems it was not aimed at providing shelter to local population in case of attack but exclusively used as a garrison fort for soldiers manning Toprak kala (2km to the West). The fortress is composed of two storeys with the soldiers lived on the lower level.

Gyaur Qala A fort of the 4th century B,C.

Located about 63 km from the town of Beruni next to the Sultan Uvays Dag mountains. It also  sometimes called Gyaur Kala Uvays Sultan Dag. The fort appears to have been constructed during the 4th cent. BC. Its objective was to guard and control the important Amu Darya trade route as it crossed into the southern frontier of Khorezm.

It is a strong fortress using a Keystone plan, approximately 450 meters long and 200 meters in width. Its southwest fortifications lay on the banks of the Amu Darya. The northern fortifications in places reach a height of 15 m. Its double walls were built on a clay base, designed to protect the bottom of the fort against attack by enemies (protecting against Rams). The spaces between the walls were arched to better protect the troops during battle. Today only the northern wall and part of the northwest corner remains.

Djanpyk Kala : The site of an ancient city of the 9-11th c., and 13-14th c. AD

Located six kilometres to the south-east of Karatau settlement, on the south-western spurs of the Sultanuizdag mountain range in the Beruni district Djanpyk Kala is one of the most picturesque monuments on the right bank of the Amu-Darya river.

The site has a complex configuration. The rectangular shaped citadel has been preserved in the eastern part. Its walls are decorated with close semi-columns, and the tops finished with stepped arcs (in pairs). On the north-western side of fortress there is a palace or a citadel with walls with elegant façade stucco mouldings, typically of the medieval architecture of Khoresm. The layout of the settlement is complex extending over a large area with large level difference following the landform.

Recent archaeological excavations have provided an idea of the site's chronology, with ceramics found dating back to the 4th c. BC up to the 1st c. AD. The date of the latest inhabitation has been determined by silver and copper coins found at the excavations, and traces back as far as the years 1319-1320 and 1345-1346. The site was used as a port during the Middle Ages. Numerous artefacts brought earlier from different Oriental and European countries (China, Egypt, Russia, Europe, and India) have also been revealed by the excavations.

Kurgashin Kala A defensive fortress of the 4th or early 3rd Cent BC.

Located near Beruni, Kurgashin Kala is situated on a slightly elevated platform. Looking from the west, it stands above the desert plains. The fortification measures some130 meters in length and 90 meters in width, with its protective walls reaching a height of 14 to 16 meters. Unlike many similar Kalas it was not only a refuge in times of trouble but was also permanently inhabited. In the vicinity of the fort, archaeologists have found many fragments of ancient pottery and the remains of ancient irrigation channels.

Gul’dursun Kala also known as the Big Guldursun, a fortress from the 3-4th cc. BC, 12-13th c. AD

Located 20 km east of Beruni Gul’dursun is a fortress built in the 1st Cent. BC that functioned up until the 13th century. It was first studied in 1937 by the archaeologist A. G. Gulyamov, and in 1940 the investigation was continued by S.P. Tolstov. Finally, from 1987-1994 it was completed by I. O. Dospanov.

It was one of the largest and most important fortress in its time until it was destroyed in 1221 by the Mongols. The only entrance to Guldursun Kala is located on south-east side and the two towers, connected bridges, provide an overview of the whole area.

Guldursun kala "citadel of the eagles" played an important strategic role at the middle ages, as it was situated at the frontier of  Khiva frontier with the nomadic territories. Known as the Big Guldursun it is one of the largest frontier fortresses in the whole region. The structure is built on the base of a pre-existing ancient fortress, it represents an irregular rectangle with the dimensions 350x230 meters, with the corners oriented to different parts of the realm.

It was renovated at the end of the 14th Cent. with the addition of a number of semi circular towers. You can still see remains of the earlier ancient fortification along the inner wall.

Many ancient and medieval age ceramics, bronze articles and decorations, as well as ancient and medieval coins were found inside during the archaeological excavations. The coin found are evidence to the fact that the last period of the monument's habitation is related to the year 1220, i.e. to last year of Muhammed Khoresmshah's rule, the time of the Mongol invasion of Khorezm. When much of Khorezm was raised to the ground by the forces of Gengiz Khan.

Mizdakhan,Ghyaur Kala: Archeological and Architectural complex, 4th c. BC - 14th c. AD

On the south-western outskirts of Khodjeyli is a unique historical and archaeological ensemble known as Mizdakhan. Located about 20 kms to the west of Nukus it occupies a vast site (some 200ha) and it is situated on two hills one containing a large cemetery and the other the nearby fort known as Gyaur Kala.

Considered one of the most important Zoroastrian sites in Central Asia and important monuments in all of Uzbekistan, Mizdakhan was once famed for its trade, being an important stop on the northern branch of the silk route. Unique ossuary's, coins, various domestic utensils, glass, and highly artistic golden articles have been excavated. Including items connected with the trading cities of the Golden Horde and Khoresm's rise.
The original settlement on the site was formed in the 4th century B.C. and lasted until the 13th century A.D. when it was destroyed by the Mongol-Tatar tribes.

At the top of the hill is the lovely underground Maslum khan-sulu mausoleum, in which visitors can descend stairs to a beautiful cupola structure lined with bright blue tiles.  Nearby is the very holy seven-domed (25m long) Shamun Nabi mausoleum (12th c AD) and many other holy graves and mausoleums such as that of Halfa Yereshep that are part of the Central Asia’s, perhaps, most ancient graveyard. Many Zoroastrian sepulchres have been preserved in the eastern part of Mizdakhan. The oldest skeletal findings in the cemetery come from the 2nd century BC, In the 5th to 8th c. AD when it became an important Zoroastrian graveyard. It is still used for that purpose.

Koy-Krylgan-Kala: Astral temple 4th c. BC - 4th c. AD

The ruins of the Koy-Krylgan-Kala fortification are located northeast of Turtkul about 24 km from the town of Bostan. One of the few large fully excavated ancient sites, it is characterized by its unique octagon-shape.

The monumental building was 42 meters in diameter, had double walls and 9 evenly spaced bastions (towers). The only entrance to Koy Kirilgan Kala fortress is on the eastern side.

It consists of two stories separated on the ground floor into rooms with arched windows and was organized into 3 interrelated groups. The entire structure was surrounded by a moat.

This fortress was a cult structure used for astronomical observations of the sun and the stars. At the time, the Sun and Water cult prevailed and particular devotion was rendered to the Fomalhaut star (in Arabic: 'star on the waters edge') an alpha star of the Southern Pisces constellation. Today we can see only insignificant fragments of the concentric circles of this most mysterious and unique monument of Ancient Khorezm as unfortunately bricks and clay that was used to build it have been removed by local farmers for reuse in their own homes.

A large collection of artefacts were found during excavations, including terra-cota and alabaster statuettes, bas-reliefs on ceramic flasks, sculptured ceramic urns and burial vessels, fragments of frescos, and stone seals that characterise the unique art of ancient Khoresm. A small number of written records, the most ancient in the Central Asia have been found on the site and are of great interest to archaeologists.

Near Koy Kirilgan Kala is Angka Kala, A Fort of the 1st to 3rd Century AD

A small fortified garrison guarding the caravan route into Khorezm, it lies 24 km east from the city of Turtkul and was built in the later period of ancient Khorezm. They consists of a small but well-fortified fortress with double walls which reach a height of 7-8m, with each corner of the fortress  buttressed with a tower. The entrance to the fortress is in the middle of south-east wall which is also defended by two rectangular towers (12 х 6 m). It has plan similar in the form of a square with the sizes on the sides being almost equal 90.8 х 91.6 m. The external walls and towers are cut in one line by loopholes of the typical form of an arrow. Anka Kala main function was to protect the borders of Khorezm state and the important trading caravan route.

Kazakl'i yatkan, A fortified city founded in the 3rd Century BC

Kazakl'i-yatkan consists of an upper and a lower enclosure, measuring about 15 and 30 hectares respectively. Both enclosures are heavily fortified.


The remains of a large fortified city Kazakli'yatkan lies 15 km north of the town Biruni. It was founded in the 3rd century BC, probably on the ruins of another city. Kazakli yatkan became the centre of an important agricultural region. Excavations by a joint Australian Uzbekistan Archaeological team led by the Karakalpak Academy of Sciences and the University of Sydney has revealed the remains of settlements, irrigation systems (canals) and ancient kilns. The fortress is built of burnt bricks, the double walls, towers and regularly distributed on a massive underpinning protection against attack (Rams). The Kazakl'i-yatkan temple / palace has produced an amazingly rich collection of vibrantly coloured ancient murals, as well as painted plaster statuary and stucco decorated with gold leaf. The temple is associated with a fire cult likely related to Zoroastrianism.

Djanbas Kala, fortress, 4th c. BC - 1st. c. AD

Located about 47km north east of To'rtku'l on a barren upland which closes a chain of hills stretching south-east from the Sultanuizdag mountains Djanbas Kala is one of the oldest fortresses in the Republic. it was built in the early 4th century BC to protect nearby agricultural settlements. Materials collected on the site, mostly ceramics, are inherent to the early antique (Kangyuy) culture.

The only entrance to the fortress on the northwest side. Its walls are in relatively good condition and in places reach heights of up to 20 meters The extant walls make a rectangle of 3.5 hectares in area and are oriented towards the east, west, north and south. Covered with sand dunes in some places, these double, five-metre-thick walls reach up to 20 metres in height. Between the outer and inner walls of the fortress there is a 3-meter-wide passageway. The lower part of the walls, up to the level of the embrasures, is made from wattle and daub with streaks of brickwork; above the walls are made of adobe bricks.

Djanbas-Kala is as such quite distinct from most Central Asian fortresses: it has neither corner nor in-wall turrets but still provided a strong defence. Around the whole periphery the outer walls of the fortress there are two staggered rows of arrow-shaped embrasures. Between the rows, from inside, there were built wide ledges for the defenders to stand on. The narrow 20-centimeter-wide embrasures were specially designed to shoot arrows downwards towards the foot of walls and steep slopes facing outside. To better able defenders to repulse of the enemy on the flanks, the walls of the fortress were provided with a group of three specially arranged embrasures: the central one directed straight ahead at a right angle, and two side ones directed right and left respectively at an obtuse angle. Each group of embrasures (with apertures opening inwards) being arranged with a small arched niche provided with a space for one archer. Such systems in the walls alternated with a set of 20-30 ordinary embrasures. The corners of the walls also had pairs of embrasures looking sideways.

Yakke Parsan Fort of the 6th and 8th Cent. AD

Yakke Parsan, is an elaborate early medieval feudal fortress situated 10 Km south of Ayaz Kala near the town of Bostan in the Ellik-qala region and was built during the period of the Afrighids. In the 6th Century A.D there arose a new class of feudal Landowners known as "Dihqans" descendants of soldiers who had been rewarded for their military service. The Dihqans lived on agricultural estates known as "rustaq" and built small forts "donjons" surrounded by defensive walls. 

At the entrance to the fortress stands two entry towers. The fort also has a central tower with vaulted ceilings. The central tower being used as a residence was surrounded by defensive walls linked into the two side towers.

Friday, June 17, 2011

History of Khwarazm - The Great Soviet Encyclopedia

(also Khorezm, Khwarizm), a historical region and ancient state in Middle Asia that occupied most of the  the lower Amu Darya basin. Kwarazm was first mentioned in the Behistun inscription of Darius I and in the Zoroastrian Holy book the Avesta; in addition, many scholars have identified Khwarazm with Aryamen Vaejo, referred to in the Avesta as the first Zoroastrian state.

Map - Historical Khwarezm (North-West) together with Transoxiana (to North-East) and Khorasan (South).

Major contributions to the study of the history of Khwarazm have been made by V. V. Bartol’d and N. I. Veselovskii, who were Russian Orientalists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and by the Soviet historian A. Iu. Iakubovskii. A new phase in the study of the history of Khwarazm began in the 1930’s with the work of the Khorezm Archaeological and Ethnographic Expedition of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, which was headed by S. P. Tolstov.

The oldest archaeological remains of Khwarazm date from the Neolithic. Habitation sites of hunters and fishers of the Kel’teminar culture (fourth and third millennia B.C.) have been discovered in the Akcha Darya delta of the Amu Darya. By the Copper Age (early second millennium B.C.) the inhabitants were evidently familiar with primitive irrigation farming and the rudiments of stock raising—a level of development that marks the early stage of the Suiargan culture. When the culture of the local population came into contact with the Timber-Frame and Andronovo cultures, which were brought from the steppes of the southern Ural Region, the result was the Taza-Bag-iab culture, one of the various Bronze Age cultures of the steppe. In the mid-second millennium B.C. the farmers and stock raisers who were the bearers of the Taza-Bag-iab culture left in the Akcha Darya delta numerous settlements and the Kokcha-3 burial ground. Preserved in the settlements are remains of semisubterranean dwellings and traces of fields and a well-developed irrigation network; finds include grain mortars, bronze sickles, and knives.

The end of the second millennium B.C. saw the development of the Amirabad culture (ninth and eighth centuries B.C.). Irrigation and farming was improved, and transhumant stock raising developed; the permanent settlements grew into larger villages of up to 20 dwellings. In this period a culture based primarily on stock raising developed in the steppes northeast of the oasis, in the region of the lower Syr Darya; the bearers of the culture were closely linked with the oases, where land cultivation was carried on. This late Bronze Age culture gave rise to the culture of the Sako-Mas-sagetae tribes of the Aral steppes, which for many centuries maintained cultural ties with Khwarazm.

It has been suggested that the Khwarazmians, classified by Strabo as a Sako-Massagetae people, headed a tribal confederation in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. that included all Middle Asia and part of eastern Iran; it is possible, however, that the most highly developed centers of the confederation, called Greater Khwarazm, lay in the Murgab and Harirud river basins.

In the Khwarazm oasis, further improvements in irrigation farming, which was already based on large trunk canals, proved crucial to the subsequent development of the state of Khwarazm. In the mid-sixth century B.C., probably during the reign of Cyrus II, the Achaemenids annexed Khwarazm. At the turn of the fifth century B.C. the Greek author Hecataeus of Miletus became the first to write about the “city of Chorasmia” and about the land of the Khwarazmians; the fortified town of Kiuzeli-gyr and several other settlements date from this period.

According to Herodotus, Khwarazm, together with Parthia, Sogdiana, and Areia, made up the 16th satrapy of the Achaemenid state. An analysis of classical works suggests that under Artaxerxes II (404–358), Khwarazm became a separate satrapy, whose capital was probably the large fortress of Kalaly-gyr. By the time of Alexander the Great’s eastern campaign, Khwarazm was independent: in the spring of 328 its king, Farasman (also Fratafern), arrived at Alexander’s headquarters to conduct talks.

In the fourth and third centuries B.C., Khwarazm experienced an economic and cultural upsurge. Irrigation systems were expanded and improved, and handicrafts and art developed; in addition, new cities, such as the fortresses of Bazar-Kala and Dzhanbas-Kala, and religous centers, such as Koi-Krylgan-Kala, were built. At the end of the first millennium B.C., Khwarazmian culture clearly showed the influence of the steppe tribes, apparently as a result of the expansion of the Kangiui state.

The study of numerous coins from Kushana and of the style of certain works of representational art suggests that in the first centuries of the Common Era Khwarazm was a dependency of the Kushana kingdom. Excavations of the sacred palace in the citadel of Toprak-Kala, however, point to the existence of a local dynasty in the third century A.D. Documents inscribed on wood and leather that were found in the palace attest to the existence of slavery in Khwarazm. The dates on these documents refer to the “Khwarazmian Era,” which began in the mid-first century A.D.; archaeologists have traced the use of this method of reckoning up to the eighth century. The dominant religion in Kwarazm was a local form of Zoroastrianism, and fire temples have been found in some settlements.

The art of ancient Khwarazm, which in the Achaemenid period was influenced by Southwest Asian art, always retained some features of the culture of the Saka. In the fourth and third centuries B.C. indigenous and borrowed elements were synthesized to produce a distinctively Khwarazmian art. In the first centuries of the Common Era the representational art was influenced by Hellenistic culture, which was transmitted by the Parthians and Kushan.

The characteristic features of Khwarazmian architecture—its massive scale and sparing use of exterior ornamentation—derive from the general use of building materials made of loess clay, such as pakhsa (unfired puddled clay) and mud bricks. In addition to arches, beamed ceilings on columns were used. Buildings traditionally had a pot-shaped base that rested on a three-stepped square foundation. The cities, which were built on a rectangular plan, had buildings arranged in regular blocks along an axial street and were protected by walls with archers’ galleries and towers; an example is Kiuzeli-gyr. In some blocks and palace complexes there were temples and sanctuaries, with a paved area for the sacred fire.

Such palaces as Kalaly-gyr (fifth and fourth centuries B.C.) and Toprak-Kala (second and third centuries AD.) had entrances with iwans (large hall or audience chamber), halls, and numerous rooms connected by corridors. The palace of Toprak-Kala stood on tall socles approximately 15–25 m high. Sepulchral architecture is represented by tower-like structures with a cruciform floor plan in the fortified town of Kiuzeli-gyr (fifth century B.C.) and the cylindrical temple-mausoleum of Koi-Krylgan-Kala (fourth and third centuries B.C.). Rural dwellings, usually built of pakhsa, had residential rooms and dependencies situated along a corridor or small courtyard.

Khwarazmian painting and sculpture, whose development was integrally linked to that of architecture, glorified fertility and deified the power of the king; typical examples of this art are the painted clay statues and bas-reliefs and the multicolored decorative paintings, executed in natural pigments, that were found at Toprak-Kala. A unique form of Khwarazmian art are the ceramic ossuaries in the form of statues (fifth century B.C. to the early Common Era), which present a stylized image of the deceased. Terra-cotta statuettes, fashioned throughout Khwarazm, depict goddesses of fertility in a style that reflects the tradition of the Southwest Asian kore; other terra-cotta statuettes include small figurines of horses and, more rarely, men in “Scythian” dress. Typical of the fourth and third centuries B.C. are ceramic flasks with bas-reliefs depicting mythological subjects.

According to the great historian and scientist al-Biruni, King Afriga ascended to the Khwarazmian throne in 305; he founded a new dynasty and built a citadel and residence at Kath, near modern Biruni. Al-Biruni listed the names of 21 Khwarazmian kings. Numismatic data and written sources have confirmed the accuracy of his list for the late seventh and the eighth century. From the fourth to sixth centuries feudalism developed, and a new culture took form. Known as the Afrigid culture, it remained the predominant culture of early Khwarazmian feudalism until the eighth century; its development was influenced considerably by the neighboring steppe tribes. The irrigation network shrank dramatically in this period, during which the main types of settlements were feudal estates, fortified feudal estates, and communal dwellings; all were grouped around relatively large feudal centers. Castles were fortified, with towers and donjons on pyramidal socles and with undulating, or “corrugated,” walls. Representational art from this period includes a series of Khwarazmian silver bowls (sixth to eighth centuries), on which are depicted kings, gods, and ritual scenes.

Khwarazm was conquered by the Arabs in 712. Al-Biruni states that the Arab military commander Qutayba turned over the rule of the state to a surrogate. The Afrigid dynasty, however, continued to rule in Kath until the tenth century. Urgench, the capital of Northern Khwarazm, was assuming increasing importance, and in 995 its ruler, Mamun ibn Mohammed, united Khwarazm. Under his rule and that of his successor, Mamun II ibn Mamun, Kwarazm once again flourished, and such noted scholars as al-Biruni and Avicenna resided in Urgench. Khwarazm was conquered by Sultan Mahmud al-Ghazni in 1017 and by the Seljuks in 1043.

In the late 11th century, a new dynasty—the Khwarazm-Shahs—came to power in Urgench. Atsiz (1127–56), continuing the policy of conquest established by his predecessors, subjugated all of northwestern Middle Asia. His grandson Tekesh ibn il-Arslan (1172–1200) freed Khwarazm from the Seljuks in 1194. During the reign of Tekesh’s son, Muhammad II Ala’-al-Din (1200–20), the state of the Khwarazm-Shahs reached its apogee of power: its boundaries extended from the northern coast of the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf and from the Caucasus to the Hindu Kush.

After the Arab conquest, artistic features common to the countries of the Caliphate gradually came to dominate Khwarazmian art. In the construction of large buildings, fired bricks were used in addition to the traditional pakhsa, mud bricks, and wood (frame structures). Medieval Khwarazmian architects developed original tentlike cupolas, such as those of the mausoleums of Urgench (12th century); in addition, they used patterned brickwork, carved terra cotta, and ganch for architectural decoration. The glazed pottery of this period is noted for its excellence.

The invasions of Genghis Khan led in 1220 to the dissolution of the state of the Khwarazm-Shahs, which initially became part of the Jochi Khanate and later was absorbed by the Golden Horde. In the second half of the 14th century Khwarazm experienced a renaissance. Magnificent structures with glazed ceramic ornamentation (mosaics of cut and inland tiles) were built in the capital city of Urgench; an example is Tiurabek-khanym, the mausoleum of the Sufi dynasty. The rulers of Khwarazm became virtually independent. It was evidently at this time that the turkishisation of Khwarazmian was completed.

In 1388, Tamerlane destroyed Urgench and conquered all Khwarazm, for the control of which the Timurids and the Golden Horde fought for nearly a century.

In 1499 the territory of Mawarannahr was invaded by new conquerors, the nomadic tribes from the Dasht-i-Kipchak. The head of the tribe Muhammad Shaybani Khan won Samarkand in 1500-1501 and founded a new state, which included Mawarannahr, Chorasan and Khorezm. An Uzbek dynasty (descended from Jochi) it ruled Khorezm until the end of the 17th century; subsequently, the de facto rulers of Khwarazm were military commanders of the Kungrat, an Uzbek clan, who generally placed a Chingizid on the throne.

In the early 17th century Khiva became the capital of Khwarazm. The buildings of Khiva provide the clearest idea of the architecture and monumental decorative art of late feudal Khwarazm. The term “Khiva Khanate” came to be used in Russian and Western European sources; in the official local terminology, Khwarazm continued to be known as the state of Khwarazm, from which the Khorezm People’s Soviet Republic, founded in 1920, derived its name.

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Source: M. A. ITINA and IU. A. RAPOPORT - The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979)