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.

Bartol’d, V. V. “Turkestan v epokhu mongol’skogo nashestviia.” Soch., vol. 1. Moscow, 1963.
Bartol’d, V. V. “Svedeniia ob Aral’skom more i nizov’iakh Amu-Dar’ia s drevneishikh vremen do XVII v.” Ibid., vol. 3. Moscow, 1965.
Iakubovskii, A. Iu. “Razvaliny Urgencha.” Izvestiia Gosudarstvennoi akademii istorii material’noi kul’tury, 1930, vol. 6, issue 2.
Tolstov, S. P. Drevnii Khorezm. Moscow, 1948.
Tolstov, S. P. Po sledam drevnekhorezmiiskoi tsivilizatsii. Moscow, 1948.
Tolstov, S. P. Po drevnim del’tam Oksa i laksarta. Moscow, 1962.
Trudy Khorezmskoi arkheologo-etnograficheskoi ekspeditsii, vols. 1–10. Moscow, 1952–77.
Materialy Khorezmskoi arkheologo-etnograficheskoi ekspeditsii, vols. 1–10. Moscow, 1959–75.
Nerazik, E. E. Sel’skie poseleniia afrigidskogo Khorezma. Moscow, 1966.
Livshits, V. A. “Khorezmiiskii kalendar’ i ery Drevnego Khorezma.” In the collection Palestinskii sbornik, fasc. 21 (84). Leningrad, 1970.
P’iankov, I. V. “Khorasmii Gekateia Miletskogo.” Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1972, no. 2

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

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The horsemen of Kharwezm

The local Kings of the Afrigid dynasty rose to power in Khoresm during the early part of the 4th century A.D. and their rule continued for nearly 700 years. In 305 AD Khorezm (a region located between the Caspian Sea, the Aral sea and the Amu Darya) overthrew its Persian suzerainty. Khoresm remaining a free state under the Afrigids right up until AD 995 when the Ma’munids replaced them, under Samanid overlordship.

Their distinctive coinage is identified by their dynastic symbol – a horseman.

Many areas in central Asia used Sasanian or Sasanian-style drachms for their currency. The Khwarazmians instead used drachms of their own design which portray the king wearing a turban-like crown on the obverse and their unique symbol the 'Khwarazmian Horseman' on the reverse.

Some examples of their distinctive coinage below.

CHORESMIA (Ancient KHWAREZM). Ifrighid Dynasty. Unknown king, ca. 6th Century A.D. Tetradrachm. Crowned bust r. wearing bead necklace. A crescent is set on the front of the crown, three lines of beads go across the crown, while a cross-hatched swag is on the back. Fillet and double dash border. Rv. Horseman r.; Khwarezmian legend around MR'Y MLK 'hmw'y'zsy. 7.38 grams. Vainberg type ΓI. Extremely rare

KHWARAZMIA. Bravik (Fravik). 7th century AD. AR Drachm (6.65 g, 12h). Crowned bust right / “Lord King Bravik” in Khwarazmian, laureate king right on horseback, holding whip. Vainberg Type GIII; Rtvelazde 48; Zeimal fig. 7, 1-2. VF, toned. Rare.

KHWARAZMIA. Savshafan. 8th century AD. AR Drachm (3.16 g, 12h). “Savshafan” in Baktrian, crowned bust right / “Lord King Savshafan” in Khwarazmian, laureate king right on horseback, holding whip. Vainberg Type GV; Rtvelazde 49; Zeimal fig. 7, 7. Good VF, glossy dark patina. Rare.

Afrigids : Khwarezm AR drachm, Savshafan with cross. Rare

Ifrighid of Khorezm, Sawshafan (mid-8th cent. AD), silver drachm (Wainberg "GAMMA"/V; Rtvel 49; Mitchiner, Indo-Greeks, type 500, NB 1, ii),Korezmian legend (obv.); king on horseback r. (rev. 3.12g.(CM.83-1999) Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge

KHWARAZMIAN KINGS. Sawshafan. Mid 8th century AD. AR Drachm (3.16 gm). Crowned head of King right / King on horseback right, holding bow. Rtvelazde 49; Zeimal pg. 262, 7; cf. Mitchiner, The Early Coinage of Central Asia, 71. Near EF, lightly toned. Rare.


1. Stacks achieve (

2. Ancient Coin Search (

3. Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (U.K) see

4. Ebay australia

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Afrighids

The Afrighids (pre-Islamic times to 995 AD)  were a native Chorasmian dynasty who ruled over the ancient kingdom of Chorasmia from early in the 4th century AD. up until the end of the 10th century AD. They stayed in control after the Arab conquest of 712 AD and the subsequent period of Islamic conversion.

Silver drachm of Sawrshafan (Ca. 751-762 AD)

The kingdom was established by Avar (Hun) tribes possibly under Hephthalites influence. By the 4th Century AD  there was already large-scale agricultural exploitation of the lands lying along the banks of the Oxus river and in the Aral Sea delta with large estates fortified against incursions from the steppe and an extensive and complex system of irrigation canals (see S. P. Tolstov, Auf den Spuren der altchoresmischen Kultur, Berlin, 1953, pp. 207ff.)

Little is known about the first four centuries or so of the Afrighids’ rule. The first King, Afrig is said to have built the great fortress of Fil beside the Choresmian capital Kāt, 40km south of Toprak Kala (today near the site of the modern town of Beruni). It was undermined and swept away by changes in the flow of the Oxus (Amu Darya) in the 10th century AD nd only the vestiges of it could be seen in AD 994 when the great scientist and historical scholar Abu Rayhan Biruni a native of Kwarezm wrote in his book The Chronology Of Ancient Nations; which is the first definitive historical source on the Afrighids prior to Islam.

Bivasar, ca. 300-350 (Afrighid / Chorasmia)

Reduced Tetradrachm of King Brawik early 7th Century (Afrighid Dynasty)

Abu Rayhan Biruni mentions twenty-two rulers of the Afrighid dynasty who  ruled, mainly, in the pre-Islamic period .in total a span of 690 years. Whilst unlikely to be a complete list as on average each ruler would have had 31 years it is a chronicle of the most important rulers. According to Biruni the Afrighids ruled from 305 AD, through the Arab conquests under Qotayba b. Moslem in 93/712, up until their overthrow in 385/995 by the Ma'munids.

His list of the Afrighid kings of Khorezm in chronological order (see notes below for the list in the Chorasmian  language) :

01. AFRIG (ATHRIKH) 305 – 320

02. BAGRA (BUGRA) IBN AFRIG 320 – 340








10. ARSAMUKH (ARTHAMUKH) IBN BUZGAR contemporary of Prophet Muhammad



13. AZKADJAVAR II (ASUKDJAVAR) 710 – 712 opposed by KHURRAZAD 710 – 712






19. IRAQ IBN MANSUR 898 – 921

20. MUHAMMAD IBN IRAQ 921 – 944

21. ‘ABDALLAH IBN ASHKAM 944 – 967



Abu Rayhan Biruni states in the The Chronology Of Ancient Nations states that he believed that the main reason for this gap in information was that “ When Qutaibah bin Moslem under the command of Al-Hajjaj ibn Yūsuf was sent to Khwarazmia with a military expedition and conquered it for the second time, he swiftly killed whoever wrote in the Khwarazmian native language and knew of the Khwarazmian heritage, history, and culture. He then killed all their Zoroastrian priests and burned and wasted their books, until gradually the illiterate only remained, who knew nothing of writing, and hence the regions history was mostly forgotten.” (ED: sadly like most religious zealots the Arabs of the day much preferred ignorance to enlightenment)  

It has been suggested that the term 'Afrigh' is the Arabicized of 'Abriz' in Persian which translates as "where water flows" , a reference to the geography of Khwarazm and its abundant waters.

Ancient Khwarazm

Being well irrigated the rich agricultural region of the lower Oxus (Khwarazm) developed in isolation from other regions. Surrounded by all sides by steppe land and desert the delta was geographically isolated from other areas of civilization. This isolation allowed it to maintain its separate distinctive proto-Iranian language and culture up until the waves of Turkic- migrations in the 8th -10th centuries.   By the 10th century many parts of Central Asia had been settled by Turkic tribes.

Before the  8th century AD there had only been sporadic and ineffectual Arab raids on the fringes of Ḵhorezm from the directions of Khorasan and Transoxania. But in A.D 712 the Arab governor of Khorasan, Qotayba b. Moslem Baheli was able to intervene in internal Khwarazmian politics when the Afrighid shah was embroiled with his brother Khorrazad in a civil war. Once Khwarezm was conquered by the Arab Umayyads it came vaguely under Muslim suzerainty, but it was not until the end of the eight century or the beginning of the 9th century that an Afrighid Shah was first converted to Islam appearing with the popular convert’s name of ʿAbdallah (slave of God).

The Arab invasions lead to much destruction as Biruni notes. However once the Arabs withdrew, the Shahs recovered power in Chorasmia and in time the stipulated tribute lapsed, and the population reverted to their ancestral faith Zoroastrianism. The Shahs continued to join with the princes and merchants of Soghd in resisting the Arabs, seeking to call in help from their Turkic neighbors’.
But again by the early 10th century, the Samanids once again had brought Khorezm into tributary status.

Ibn Fadlan who was sent by the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad as an ambassador to the Kings of the Bulgars in AD 921, went first to Bukhara to pay his respect to the Amir before proceeding to Khoresm and crossing through the Ustsurt Desert to the Volga (A. Z. V. Togan, Ibn Fadlāns Reisebericht, AKM 24/3, Leipzig, 1939, sec. 4). He visited Khoresm during the reign of Shah Mohammad b.Erāq. (His nephew, Abū Nasr Mansūr b. Alī b. Erāq, was to be Bīrūnī’s teacher and a celebrated scholar of Ḵhoresm at the time of the Maʾmunids.) Shah Mohammad acknowledged to Ibn Fadlan the superior rights of al-Amīr al-Aǰall, the Samanid ruler (Togan, op. cit., secs. 4-14). In fact, the Shahs seem to have been little disturbed in Khorezm, except when they were injudicious enough to shelter Samanid rebels. As Samanid authority weakened towards the end of the 10th century AD, the Shahs were able to extend their authority across the Qara Qom Desert and over the frontier towns and outposts of northern Khorasan.

In AD 995 the Afrighids of Kath were violently overthrown by their neighbors the Turkic Ma'munids from Gurganj. The end of the Afrighids came suddenly, and as the result of an internal convulsion and change in the balance of power within Khorezm. In the course of the tenth century, the local family of the Ma'munids who were based in Gurganj, on the left bank of the Oxus (Amu Darya) grew in economic and political importance situated as it was at the terminus of trade routes across the steppes to south Russia. So when in AD 995 the Ma’munids attacked and captured Kāt, killed the last Afrighid, Shah Abū bAbdallāh Mohammad, they themselves assumed the historic title of Khwarazm-Shah.

Briefly once again the area was under Samanid suzerainty, before it passed to Mahmud of Ghazna in 1017. From then on, Turco-Mongolian invasions and long rule by Turco-Mongol dynasties supplanted the Iranian character of the region although the title of Khwarezm-Shah was maintained well up to the 15th century.


Name of the rulers given by the native Chorasmian speaker Biruni.

1) ʾfrḡ, Āfrīḡ.

2) bḡrh

3) sḵḵsk


5) ʾzkʾǰwʾr

6) sḵr [I]

7) sʾwšš, Sāvoš (Syavash)

8) ḵʾmkry/ḵʾnkry

9) bwzkʾr

10) ʾrṯmwḵ, Arṯamūḵ (mentioned also in coins)

11) sḵr

12) sbry

13) ʾzkʾǰwʾr [II].

14) ʾskǰmwk [II].

15) šʾwšfr.

16) trksbʾṯh

17) ʿAbdallāh.

18) Manṣūr.

19) ʿErāq.

20) Moḥammad.

21) Aḥmad.

22) Abū ʿAbdallāh Moḥammad, killed in 995.

Silver Drachma of Azkatsvar-Abdallah. AD. 770-800. (The first Islamic Khwarazm Shar)

Only consonants of the pre-Islamic names are known with long vowels, since in Arabic script, the short vowels are not written and diacritic signs are used to clarify when required. After the conversion of 'Abdallah, all the names expect possibly 'Eraq are Arabic and their pronunciation is known. Unfortunately, the manuscripts that have also come down have also suffered some corruption due to scribal errors, since the names were incomprehensible for most non-natives. Biruni himself utilizes the extra letters of Chorasmian which were not used in Arabic writings. Much more is known about the dynasty in the Islamic era after the beginning of the 8th Century and their conversion to Islam.


C.Clifford. E.Bosworth, The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual, Columbia University, 1996.

Al-biruni. The Chronology Of Ancient Nations, trans. Eduard Sachau. London: Elibron Classics, 2005

H. A. R. Gibb, The Arab conquests in Central Asia, London, 1923

L. Massignon, "Al-Biruni et la valuer internationale de la science arabe" in Al-Biruni Commemoration Volume, (Calcutta, 1951).

E. Sachau, “Zur Geschichte und Chronologie von Khwārizm,” Sb. Wien. Ak. Wiss., Phil. Hist.