History of Khiva - Part 5


At the beginning of our era, the powerful Kushan Empire appeared on the historical stage. Although this empire ruled a significant part of the southern Central Asia, Khorezm remained an independent kingdom. The cities and towns of Khorezm during the Kushan period were fortified settlements made with squared blocks and featured a citadel for the city ruler. Powerfully fortified walls, enhanced with round or squared towers were made of adobe. The second and third cultural layers in the excavation of Khiva, when the development of the Ichan-kala probably took place, date from this time. The town was already surrounded with double walls. Above the walls was an adobe corridor-like construction about two meters wide, and there were square towers every 22-27 meters. There are tamgas on some of ancient bricks. The discovery of powerful fortifications and various other architectural features indicate that Khiva was an important administrative center during this period, with suburbs that utilized the waters of the Kheikan (Palvan-yab) canal.

In the Kushan period, the peoples of Central Asia, including the Khorezmians, adopted a number of the achievements of Greek-Roman and Indo-Iran cultures into their local way of life. Their economy was based on farming, with the use of ploughing and irrigation, and cattle breeding. During this period, their irrigation system was significantly improved; they opened new lands for farming, and developed handicrafts and trade. During this period, the economic and cultural life of Central Asia reached new levels of advancement.

The most outstanding remains from the Kushan time are found at Topraq-Kala (first century B.C. — fourth century A.D.), which was the first capital of ancient Khorezm. This city was located on of the Amu-Darya near the modern Ellik-kala district of Karakalpakstan.

The ancient settlement consists of a rectangle with sides of 350 and 500 meters, and is surrounded by powerfully fortified walls and numerous towers. Between the towers there are narrow holes. Inside the site there are rows of dwellings divided by straight crossing streets. Fortified gates are in the middle of the southern wall. The perpendicular streets divide the houses into several blocks. Every block is a complex of rooms under a common flat roof; sometimes a block consists of hundreds of rooms. In the northwest part of the town, separated by a ten meter-wide wall with two gates and protected by towers, there is a citadel with a two-story palace, which belonged to the Khorezmian rulers. The palace complex occupies an area of 180x 180 meters and was constructed, according to C.P. Tolstov, in the style of a temple. There are about 200 rooms of different sizes and purposes there. The rooms and halls of both floors are covered by brick arches and flat-beamed ceilings, which were lighted by hatches.

The two buildings situated opposite of the palace contain vast halls and sanctuaries were decorated inside with bright-multicolored paintings, clay bas-reliefs, and monumental sculpture. Paintings were made with mineral paints on clay plaster. These paintings contained original plant and ornamental patterns — including pictures of different birds, fish, and animals — or, sometimes, whole scenes. Pictures of a woman playing the harp and dombra, and of a woman gathering grapes and peaches are well preserved. Fragments of paintings of horses, tigers, birds are also visible. The creations of these masters of folk art — the plant and geometric ornaments, with fascinating variations of pattern — are preserved on printed textiles. Thus, the roots of the decorative folk-art of the Khorezm Uzbeks, and in particular of Khiva people, reach back far into the past.

In the center of the palace were the main halls (The Royal Hall, The Hall of Victories, The Hall of Warriors, etc.), with walls decorated by carved alabaster. They featured sculptures of the rulers, their relatives and persons in attendance; and, sculptures of black warriors in scaly iron coats-of-mail and head dresses. These sculptures were made of clay and painted in various tones. Some of them were life-size, some approximately half or twice life-size. The Royal Hall contained 138 statues and an altar in honor of the ancestors of the royal family — both real and legendary. The statues stood in groups, each group consisting of a ruler and his attendants.

One interesting bas-relief depicts a man, a woman, and a baby, sitting on the throne before a fire. This hall was obviously not only a dynastic sanctuary but also held some cult significance. Another hall with obvious religious meaning, the Hall of Dancing Masks, featured walls decorated with sixteen bas-relief panels of women and men dancing in pairs and wearing goat ears.

In addition to the architectural design, numismatic material, the seeds — of wheat, barley, millet, apricots, peaches, grapes, watermelons, melons, gourds, and industrial crops — and fragments of articles such as paper, wool and silk fabrics, leather shoes, iron lances, and arrows allow us to restore a picture of the economic-cultural life of the Khorezmians in this ancient time. The documents discovered in the archives of this period are distinctly written in Indian ink on skins and wood in ancient Khorezmian script and are also informative.

The unique monumental sculpture, terracotta statuettes, and whimsical bas-reliefs, the wonderful wall painting and magnificent works of decorative art show the complexity, independence, strength and maturity of the artistic skill and imagination of ancient Khorezmian civilization.

The ancient Khivan cultural traditions reflected in architecture and art, refined through the centuries, have been very influential in both medieval and modern times. Scholars have pointed out that pictures of dancing warriors, looking like ancient Khivans, elegant harpists revived in the art of Khorezmian khalfa, and magnificent pictures of wall painting revived by local artists are important links in the chain that connects us with ancient Khorezmian civilization. Talented Khiva masters in their works of literature and art thus preserve precious monuments of antiquity.

During the third and fourth centuries, Khorezm made a transition into a feudal political system with the accompanying changes in its social and political life. The cultural development of Khorezm towns and cities in the period of the early Middle Ages (the fifth — eighth centuries) can be seen in the example of Berkut-kala oasis. Research on the estates (khauli) of this oasis has revealed the unique large-family community structure of the agricultural population surrounding Khiva. According to archaeological data, the culture of Khivans in the early medieval period was influenced by the Saks tribes, which came from the around the Sir-Darya and the Aral Sea.

Thanks to research on country settlements and dwellings of the first through the fourteenth centuries, it has become possible to trace the history of land ownership, farming, architecture, and construction techniques. We know, for example, that two modern types of estate house plans in Khiva actually date from the seventh or eighth centuries. Such consistency of style over a period of over a thousand years is quite remarkable. It indicates stability in family and community forms, and other aspects of the local population.

Centuries of invasion into Central Asia, beginning with the Massagets, creating the powerful Kushan empire, and later the Eftalit state — the borders of which stretched from the Caspian sea to Khotan and from Khorezm to northern India — left traces not only in wonderful works of art, but also in the ethnic composition of the population. V.V. Bartold, describing Khorezm in the eighth century A.D., wrote: The Arabs found here a population made up of people of the nearby regions, notable for their dress and speaking their own special language, which was not understood by others and was not used in written documents.»
At the eve of the Arab invasion Khorezm was suffering a serious decline. At that time the towns of Khiva, Topraq-Kala Shavatskey, and Kuniauaz, fell into decay, and life in the fortresses of Kiparas, Kaladjik, and Topraq-Kala, situated near Khiva, came to a standstill. There was a dramatic decrease in the irrigated areas and handicraft production fell. Weakened by these crises Khorezm could not resist onslaught of nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes that penetrated into its territory and settled in the oasis. All of these factors changed the appearance of Khorezm.

Some flourishing of town life of Khorezm, in particular of Khiva, was evident by the eve of the Mongol invasion, as indicated both in written sources and archaeological remains. Mew architectural constructions were erected, new mosques, madrasas, and caravanserais appeared, and the ruined part of the fortress wall was restored in Khiva. It must be noted that «in Khorezm as well as in all Central Asia, the development of towns in the seventh through the twelfth centuries was not marked primarily by the appearance of new towns but by work done on old towns. There was an intensive construction of fortresses on the borders the oasis, including the appearance of some new towns in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but the towns were small in size.» But, as the latest archaeological research shows, the new fortresses were of a sturdy construction, decorated with alabaster and tiles, and stretched along at least 1-1.5 km. Construction of the same type was being done in Khiva. Few large caravanserais and other buildings show the growth of towns in the epoch of the Khorezm shakhs. The most active period for building of new fortresses and caravanserais was the era of the Golden Horde.

By the formation of the khanate, Khiva was an important center of administration, handicraft, and trade, and, for this reason, it became the capital of the Khiva khanate. For thousands of years Khiva stood not only before destructive forces of nature, but also before the onslaught of external enemies. Russian writers who visited Khiva wrote: The Arabs in the seventh century, the Turkmen-seld-juks in the eleventh century and Chinghiz-khan himself blew over the country as a storm, and the earthquake in 1 299 changed even the appearance of the Khiva khanate, nowadays Khiva, called by locals «Shager» lies between the Ingrik and Chardjeili canals, which run from canal Palvan.

The Hungarian traveler-orientalist Arminiy Vambery gave a detailed description of the Khiva of the mid-nineteenth century: Imagine three or four thousand cottages of daub and wattle with rough — not white-washed — walls, straggling in great disorder; imagine them surrounded by a wall ten feet in width and also made of clay, and you have the idea of Khiva.

The accumulated knowledge about Khiva and its people makes it possible not only to turn the pages of its eventful history, but also to understand the material and spiritual traditions and the ethnic development of the Khivan people.