Ruins of Afrasiab

Afrasiab was a city in Central Asia and the forerunner of the city of Samarqand in Uzbekistan. A tell is in the northeast of the historical centre of Samarkand. It consists of a citadel and the actual fortified city (Shahristan). Tell is about 220 hectares in size and triangular in shape. It has four construction phases. The city had a system of right-angled cobbled streets and corresponding apartment blocks. Mosques and workshops have also been excavated.

Afrasiab was founded around 750 BC. Founded in the fertile plain of Serafshan as an oasis city and was the capital of the province of Sogdia in the Achaemenid Empire. At that time it was already surrounded by a high wall with gates. The city became prosperous through trade with the northern and eastern regions; the ancient Silk Road ran through Samarqand and the technology and cultural exchange that took place on this trade route contributed significantly to the prosperity of the city in antiquity.

The Afrasiab II and III layers date from the Greco-Bactrian period. The city was already a centre of ceramic production. In Afrasiab III a very fine product with a red coating and red glaze was produced. Fired bricks are used for the first time in the buildings. Even in the time of the Qushan Empire, Afrasiab was an important settlement.

Extensive wall paintings seem to be typical of Sogdian palaces. In addition to Afrasiab, they were also found in Panjakent, Bunjikat (near Shahristan), and small remains in Tursunzoda and in the palace of Varaksha (west of Bukhara).

In Afrasiab, wall paintings were found in a hall of 10 × 10 m² in a palace in the southern part of the city. Sogdian inscriptions provide information about the identity of the sitter and thus provide important information about the national costumes of the time. On the south wall, the reception of “Hunnish” ambassadors under the direction of Bur-Satak from Tianshan is shown at court. One of them is an ambassador from Korea. On the east wall, spear-armoured riders hunting tigers are depicted in Sogdian style against a blue background, while the north wall shows Chinese style.

Various terracotta figures have been excavated in Afrasiab. These include a helmeted Athena, Arethusa-style terracottas, Sogdian and Turkish riders, boys and girls with royal headgear, demonic creatures and an armed Sogdian paladin.