Court art of Sogdian Samarqand in the 7th century AD

Home     General     Western Wall     Northern Wall     Eastern Wall     Southern Wall     Bibliography

Symbolism of the four cardinal points (page I)

As is evident from the Afrasiab paintings, the pictorial program of the four walls was organized according to a symbolism of directions.

Almost certainly the northern wall stands for the Chinese empire. The western wall comprises two directional systems. Firstly, there is an internal level of western and eastern directions marking the origins of two great rows of delegations. The second level consists of the wall itself, being the western one in the room and thus associated with the geographical west. In other words, the scene means a general western milieu, characterized by the state of Samarqand, but also by the presence of a Western Turk ruler and probably even by Sasanian Persians who are depicted among the delegates.

This interpretation fits very well with an extraordinary account from the Tang shu:

"le pays de Ho est aussi appelé K'iu-choang-ni-kia (Koschânyah) ou encore Koei-choang-ni; c'est l'ancien territoire de la ville de Fou-mo, petit-roi (dépendant) du K'ang-kiu. A gauche (à l'est) de la ville est un pavillon à étages dans lequel on a peint, au nord les anciens empereurs de Chine; à l'est, les princes et rois des Tou-kiue (Turcs) et des P'o-lo-men (Brahmanes = Hindous); à l'ouest, ceux de Po-se (Perse), de Fou-lin (Syrie) etc." [Transl. Chavannes]    

Kushaniyah was a Sogdian city situated about half the way between Samarqand and Bukhara. From the record it becomes quite clear that the Afrasiab mural program depends on the same symbolic system. Therefore, our considerations concerning the western and northern walls cannot be regarded as completely hypothetical constructions.

But there are some problems. Firstly, the Chinese account does not mention a southern wall. Therefore, the southern wall paintings from Afrasiab can be interpreted only from within themselves and from their relations to the remaining walls of the room.

       In our conclusion we will try to incorporate the southern wall paintings into the entire system of symbolic wall directions.

Furthermore, at first sight it seems difficult to connect the description of Kushaniyah's eastern wall with the actual murals on the eastern wall of the Afrasiab room. We are inclined to propose the following solution: The Polomen seem to give a hint that the eastern region in the Kushaniyah account means Eastern Turkestan. Parts of this region were under Western Turk control, at least up to AD 648, when the Chinese captured Kucha.

       Read more about  the eastern wall and its interpretation.

The symbolic conception of four principalities or regions - with the Chinese one in the northern direction - is certainly one of the most interesting features of the Afrasiab paintings, seemingly unique at least in this special configuration. Therefore, further research concerning roots and similar symbolism from other cultural areas is desirable.

Continue reading on the symbolism of directions

Home     General     Western Wall     Northern Wall     Eastern Wall     Southern Wall     Bibliography

Page created by Markus Mode   [top of page]top of page   HTML 4/CSS doc updated 2002-05-07 Webmaster