Ancient Khorezm

Ancient Khorezm


Between Central Asia and the Great Steppe (the territory of Kazakhstan), as if at the junction of two worlds – nomadic and settled-agricultural – the territory of the northernmost center of civilization – the Ancient Khorezm – was located, which is why all the violent conflicts that occur on the one hand, and on the other.

The abundance of water, fertile land and temperate climate attracted here from ancient times huge masses of people who settled here, mastered this fertile land and turned it into a beautiful oasis, which became the center of the ancient culture, which Academician S.P.Tolstov called “Khorezm civilization”. One of the many monuments of this ancient world culture is Toprak-kala, a fortress city that emerged in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya and represented the might of the rulers of this region, the colossal achievements of its creators and the boundless diligence of its builders, simple toilers. It was a genuine building and architectural masterpiece of antiquity!




The most important treasure of Toprak-kala, S.P.Tolstov wrote, were monumental murals and a monumental clay sculpture. In the halls of the fortress, many sculptures and images of people and animals were found. Stressing the richness of colors and the realism of images of sculptures, SPTolstov concludes that there exists an independent Khorezmian art center. The compositional solution had much in common with the drawings of contemporary Khiva carpets, Uzbek and Tajik suzane and Karakalpak patterned felt mats. This shows the deep continuity of the traditions of folk art. About this “speak” bright colors, rich colors of numerous complex ornaments and entertaining subjects of wall paintings.

Toprak-kala had a majestic appearance and struck its scale, which indicated the growth of the political power of the state, which occupied a huge territory and enjoyed influence far beyond this oasis. But his life was short, as well as the age of the state, which he represented. The city-fortress existed, beginning from the I to the III centuries ad. This was the time when Khorezm was part of the Kushan kingdom.

After a while this clay giant was abandoned. Next to him appear in the V century fortified castles. By the time of the Arab conquest (VIII century), there were tens of thousands in Khorezm. There were allocated large fortified settlements, which were communal-clan houses, which spoke of the preservation and strengthening of communal-clan relations.




Life in Khorezm was concentrated on relatively narrow bands (several km wide) along separate canals, and irrigation structures were created with high art for that time. At the sources of these canals was a large fortified point for protection. The total irrigation area in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya at that time was 1.3 million hectares, which is 4 times the current irrigated area of ​​the Khorezm region. All life, all the well-being of residents depended on the development of irrigation and irrigation facilities. Their preservation required enormous effort of hundreds of thousands of people. There were no slaves from anywhere, and their work under these conditions was unproductive. Therefore, the community was the only means of attracting peasants to work on the construction of irrigation facilities and their maintenance in a permanent working regime.

Irrigation – the community – the state – that was the main basis of the established economic mechanism of ancient Khorezm, where the community played a key role. In its preservation, the entire society was interested – rulers, farmers and the community members themselves.

Agriculture was focused on growing cereals – millet, barley, wheat. Widespread gardening, melon growing, and viticulture were widely developed. Grapes were grown in huge “specialized” farms and most of the harvest was used for wine production. An important role was played by cattle raising with the predominance of small cattle.

Metallurgy played a significant role in handicraft production, where the leading branches were iron casting and processing, the production of small items. Pottery production was also developed, and in some settlements the individual quarters of potters are clearly visible. In addition to ceramic dishes, terracotta (burnt clay) figurines were also produced. A number of powerful centers of ceramic production were located on the border with the steppe, which gives reason to assume a purposeful work for nomads. Archaeological finds indicate the presence of bone-cutting workshops, where bone and horny patches for complex bows, pins and needles were made. Weaving of cotton and woolen fabrics became widespread. Glassware also developed, but most likely it was limited to the production of dial-up belts, beads and inserts in the rings.

In the I century AD. in Khorezm begins to mint a copper coin (exchange), which indicates the development of commodity-money relations in society. The Parthian and Iranian copper was taken as a model of the copper denomination. A large number of coins were of Kushan production. At the same time, silver coins of Khorezm coins were also minted, which repeated the tetradrachms of Eucratides, the ruler of Greco-Bactria. The appearance of coins was associated with the growing revival of trade relations on the Great Silk Road, the northern branch of which was passing through Khorezm.


Zoroastrism in Ancient Khorezm


The dominant religion was Zoroastrianism, but, apparently, Khorezm preached its special “Khorezm variant”, rooted in local primitive beliefs. Prevalent asuric (asusuria – cancer) rite of burial. Discovered fortifications (for example, Koy-Krylgan-kala), associated with the funerary cult and funerary sanctuaries testify to the great influence of religion on society.

Khorezm in the ancient period represented a more geographical concept than an independent – political. He was a member of various state associations until the eleventh century. Beruni claimed that Khorezmshahs are descendants of Persian kings and conduct their genealogy from the Achaemenid era. It is known that the Achaemenids proclaimed themselves “shahinshah”, “Kings of kings”, and all territories under their control were administered on their behalf simply by shahs, i.e. kings. So the shirvanshahs appeared (rulers of the territory along the western coast of the Caspian Sea), so Khorezmshah appeared. This title was retained by the rulers of Khorezm until the beginning of the XIX century before the formation of the Khiva Khanate, although only a short period (1097-1231), Khorezmshahs were rulers of Khorezm, in all other times they were the nominal rulers of a vast territory, where the owners of individual fortified settlements (kala) were ruling. These settlements became the basis of small political associations that divided Khorezm into small states. They represented provincial princedoms with a city, a district, settlements of artisans, irrigation and defensive structures and tsars of local significance, carrying magnificent titles.

The historian-orientalist Khidoyatov G.A.
(in abbreviation, adapted)

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