Samarkand: The Center of the World

Compareti 2016Compareti, Matteo. 2016. Samarkand: The center of the world. Proposals for the identification of the Afrasyab paintings (Sasanika Series 5). Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers.

In antiquity Samarkand was the capital of the Persian province of Sogdiana. Its language, culture, and “Zoroastrian” religion closely approximated those of the Persians. Following its conquest by Alexander, its strategic position and fertile soil made Sogdiana a coveted prize for Late Antique invaders of Central Asia. Around 660 CE — at the dawn of Arab invasion — local king Varkhuman promoted the execution of a unique painted program in one of his private rooms. Each wall was dedicated to a specific population: the north wall, the Chinese; the west, the Sogdians themselves; the east, the Indians and possibly the Turks. The south wall is probably the continuation of the scene on the west wall. In Chinese written sources, some support for this concept of the “division of the world” can be found. Accidentally discovered during Soviet times, the room was named “Hall of the Ambassadors” due to the representations of different peoples. However, many aspects of its painted program remain obscure. This study offers new ideas for better identifications of the rituals celebrated by the people on the different walls during precise moments of the year.

Matteo Compareti (PhD 2005) is Guitty Azarpay Distinguished Visitor in the History of the Arts of Iran and Central Asia at the University of California, Berkeley. He studied at the University of Venice “Ca’ Foscari” in the faculty of oriental studies in 1999 and took hid PhD from the University of Naples “L‘Orientale,” working on the Silk Road in 2005. His interest is on the iconography of Mazdean divinities in Pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia, especially Sasanian and Sogdian art.