The Central Asian Dimension of the Symbolic System in Bactria and Margiana

By Francfort, H. -P. | Antiquity, June 1994 | Go to article overview

The Central Asian Dimension of the Symbolic System in Bactria and Margiana


Francfort, H. -P., Antiquity


The Oxus and its iconography

The Bronze Age civilization of Bactria and Margiana emerged after 2500 BC from the local cultures represented at the sites of Sarazm, Mundigak and Shar-i Sokhta, incorporating elements from Turkmenia (especially in Margiana), from the Indus (pottery techniques and some iconographic traits) and from Iran through the Proto-Elamite past and by an Elamite influx (techniques, parts of iconography and mythology), but also incorporating old Central Asian features connected with Inner Asia.

This civilization flourished in Central Asia, in the Oxus basin 2300-1800 BC (Francfort 1984; Francfort et al. 1989; Hiebert 1993), in the deltas of the Murghab and Balkhab Rivers. It expanded to Uzbekistan, to eastern Iran and into Baluchistan (Santoni 1984; 1988; Jarrige & Hassan 1989; During-Caspers 1992; Hiebert & Lamberg-Karlovsky 1992), and Seistan (Besenval & Francfort in press), merging with the piedmont Namazga V at the Kelleli and ancient Gonur oasis of Margiana. At a later phase (Namazga VI or Mollali) 1800-1500 BC, it penetrated into Tadjikistan (works of P'yankova and Vinogradova) and northeast Afghanistan and reoccupied partially the abandoned cities of Turkmenia (Francfort 1981). Contemporary with the (late) Namazga V of Turkmenia, with the Indus Harappan and the Iranian Elamite civilizations, it is chronologically close to the supposed 'coming of the Aryans' from Central Asia or Syria to India.

Usually, the iconographic mythological elements known from the Oxus Civilization are analysed and interpreted by a framework of Indo-Iranian (Sarianidi works in references), Aryan (Parpola 1993), Iranian (Pottier 1981; 1984; Azarpay 1992) or Elamite terminology (Amiet 1986).

But the present approach is structuralist and therefore refrains from bestowing Zoroastrian or Elamite names on deities or devils. Structuralism is out of fashion but certainly not out-dated in a case like the Oxus Civilization iconography. Here the representations are taken as a whole set, in spite of their chronological dispersion, or the uncertainty of their origins from unstratified or approximately dated contexts. The relations between the iconographic elements are the primary focus, since no textual or oral tradition exists to define the nature of the various elements. Synchrony and sets of relations between discrete elements are basic to the structuralist approach in art history, as exemplified by the studies of Palaeolithic art by Laming-Emperaire and Leroi-Gourhan (for a fair account in Englmsh of the structural analysis in ancient art see Conkey 1989).

This approach permits a tentative reconstruction of a distinctive system of images. The Oxus Civilization scheme, representing the cycles of nature and life, is notably different from the usual and well-known interpretive schemes of the Mesopotamian, Indus or Avestan mythologies, but certainly related to the Iranian Elamite artistic language (forms and style) if not beliefs, and deeply rooted in Bactria-Margiana. In this respect, the symbolic system of the Oxus Civilization is an original expression of a more general Eurasian mythological universe of very ancient origin, which can be termed shamanistic.

Divine and human hierarchy

A system of hierarchical relations is represented in the antiquities of the Oxus Civilization, with a correspondence between the images of mythological beings in heraldic positions and the images of humans in narrative scenes. TABLE 1 summarizes this hierarchical system.

The mythological beings are represented on seals and vases of stone, copper, silver and TABULAR DATA OMITTED gold, mainly in relief or intaglio (Masimov 1981; Pittman 1984; Amiet 1978; 1983; 1986; 1989; Sarianidi works in references; for details of the corpus see Francfort 1992). Some small round sculpture statues depict a goddess or a devil (Ligabue & Salvatori 1989: plates 106, 108-15). The narrative human scenes are displayed on gold and silver vases (Amiet 1983; 1986: figures 201,202). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Central Asian Dimension of the Symbolic System in Bactria and Margiana
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.