Uch Kulakh : Geographical and Historical Remarks

Uch Kulakh

Geographical and Historical Remarks

The archaeological site of Uch Kulakh is located in the western part of the Oasis of Bukhara in that region known before the Arabic conquest as Sogdiana. In the Oasis of Bukhara the environmental geography had a very decisive role in the historical evolution: the presence of the river Zeravshan, the Polytimetos of the Greek sources (Arrian IV, 5.6; 6.5; 6.7; Aristobulus FGrH 139 F28a; Ptolemy VI, 14.2; Curtius Rufus VII,10.2), and the geomorphology of the soil, rich of loess deposits, provided this strip of land all the essential features to develop large–scale agriculture; from the 2nd millennium BC groups of nomadic and transient herdsmen, probably descendants of the Andronovo culture, began to penetrate this area, as evidenced by various elements of material culture brought to light by archaeological research. That would be the beginning of the amalgamation process with those sedentary cultures that had settled along the banks of the Zeravshan and its tributaries.

Sogdiana was subject to the Achaemenid Empire, and consequently (Fig 4) it also entered the orbit of Alexander the Great’s successors , but the Oasis of Bukhara, as both archaeological evidence and historical sources of the region show, always maintained a marginal and autonomous position in comparison with all those historical events, of great international scope, that involved the same Sogdiana (a distinction between Sogdiana of Samarkand and Sogdiana of Bukhāra should be considered). This fact would be a consequence of the amalgamation of two great traditions that have equally contributed to the formation of a cultural landscape which reached the peak during the Early Middle Ages.
The period between mid 4th and 5th century AD was characterized by important upheavals for Central Asia. New waves of nomadic tribes, which we know with the name of Chionites, Kidarites, Hephthalites and Türks (Fig 5), from the Eurasian steppes, disrupted the economic status of the sedentary peoples in different regions of Transoxiana.
The situation changed for Sogdiana in the mid 5th century when classical and Chinese sources refer that the region fell under the rule of a group identified as Chionites or Kidarites. The presence of Kidarites in Sogdiana is indicated by the discovery of seven coins dating back to the 5th century and minted in Samarkand: on the obverse there is a representation of an archer while on the reverse it is possible to read a legend κγδr, that is Kidara. For the Sogdiana the period under the Kidarites was a time of economic recovery, as evidenced by the development of urban civilization, agriculture, and the revival of centres located along the main commercials roads such as Bukhara, Varakhsha, Paykend, Samarkand and Penjikent. It was during this period that the phenomenon identified as Central Asian Feudalism manifested as the Early Middle Age (5th-8th centuries).

During this period there was an intense building activity in the oasis, recognizable in the foundation of new cities and in the development of centres already existing. The appearance of new urban settlements is characterized by a bipartite layout, dominated by a citadel (arg) and a lower town (shahristan). A multitude of castles, often flanked by villages, characterized the rural landscape of the oasis. The territory of Bukhara, as well as a large part of Sogdiana, in fact, was fragmented into many semi-autonomous centres of power; those centres, some big and some other of small size, were governed by a new social class that of landed aristocracy (dihqān). The castles in which were the residences functioned both as places of defence against enemy attacks and as prestigious residences, and were also the fulcrum around which took place economic and crafts activities.

As Narshakhi refers to us, the lords of the Oasis of Bukhara for this period were the Bukhar Khudat (5th‒8th centuries), the last pre–islamic potentates of Western Sogdiana. It is also worth remembering that this geographical area was crossed by the great Silk Road, that played a role of network for cultural interactions. And it is understandable that along the route that linked Rome to China (the Oasis of Bukhara was just in the middle, just the heart of this caravan route track), trade involving all types of goods was certainly important, as well as the transmission of ideas, religious beliefs, and artistic expressions.