Buddhist monuments of Western Central Asia

These pages are intended to give an insight into some efforts of the work done by archaeologists from Russia and the former Soviet Central Asian republics. One main result of this work may be seen in the discovery of the great Buddhist heritage of Western Central Asia, which was only known from Chinese and other written sources before the archaeologists came.

Pugatshenkova, Staviskiï, Litvinskiï Among the explorers of Buddhist sites in Western Central Asia are leading archaeologists like Galina Anatol'evna Pugatshenkova, Boris Yakovlevitsh Staviskiï, and Boris Anatol'evitsh Litvinskiï (see image, from left to right), as well as Lazar Izrail'evitsh Al'baum (see dedication). These names can only serve as examples; many more should be mentioned...

Our pages cannot cover the whole set of sites and single finds known today. Instead we present a selection that concentrates with a "site gallery" on monuments of Bactria-Tokharistan, the ancient lands north of the Amudar'ya-Oxus in Southern Uzbekistan and Southern Tadzhikistan. On the other hand, a select bibliography includes the remaining areas in question, i.e. Turkmenistan and Kirgizstan, too. Outline maps will provide the reader of these pages with some data on the geographical situation.

Ancient Bactria was the first region of Western Central Asia to meet the impact of Buddhism. In the period of the Kushan Empire, Buddhism spread over the Oxus boundary towards the north. And there, at the banks of the Oxus, monks and pilgrims from the south built first monasteries and sanctuaries.

Buddhism rapidly spread from Bactria to East and West. To the West Margiana was reached and Buddhist communities were established at ancient Merv during the Sasanian period. From Chinese records we hear of Buddhist missionaries coming from Bactria in the first centuries AD. But apart from Bactria itself, up to now there is no archaeological whitness of this path in Western Central Asia.

Only for the early mediaeval period, at the eve of the Muslim expansion to Central Asia, archaeology can trace a "Buddhist path" between the West and China. In this time monasteries existed in the Tshu area (today northern Kirgizstan and southern Kazakhstan). In Ferghana, at the small site of Kuva, an urban sanctuary may have been a Buddhist one, although the archaeological data are not conclusive. At the same time, Northern Bactria saw a last age of flourishing Buddhism, too. But all these later monuments seem to have been inspired mainly by Eastern Buddhist communities, especially from Xinjiang.

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