Showing posts with label Khwarezm. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Khwarezm. Show all posts

Friday, October 15, 2021

Uzbekistan | Khorezm | Nukus | Fifty Forts Region


From Khiva I wandered on down the Amu Darya River (also known as the Oxus)  to the city of Nukus. Actually I did not want to go to Nukus. I was much more interesting in the ruins of the old Silk Road cities and fortresses scattered along the north bank of the Amu Darya, but my driver insisted that all tourists who come this way go to Nukus to visit the Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art. Unfortunately he did not point out why all tourists go to the Karakalpakstan State Museum. It turns out, according to A Recent Story In The New York Times, that this “museum in the parched hinterland of Uzbekistan . . . is home to one of the world’s largest collections of Russian avant-garde art.”

I did not know this at the time. I did peek through a few doorways into galleries containing what looked like avant-garde art, but of course I did not go in, since I have not the slightest interest in anything avant-garde and indeed little interest in any art created since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. I did spend an enjoyable couple of hours examining the museum’s fair to middling collection of Zoroastrian Ossuaries, which were especially interesting to me since I had just recently visited a Zoroastrian Tower of Silence, also on the banks of the Amu Darya, where human corpses were stripped of their flesh so their bones could be collected and placed in funeral urns like these. I also drooled over the museum’s small but mouth-wateringly delectable collection of antique Turkmen Carpets.  

But enough of that. From Nukus we proceeded eastward along the northern bank of the Amu Darya through what is known as the Ellik Kala, or Fifty Forts Region. The area is dotted with ruins of cities and forts dating from perhaps the third or fourth century BC to the seventh century AD. At one time many of these settlements would have served as important way-stations on the Silk Road between Bukhara and Samarkand to the east and Kunya Urgench, farther on down the Amu Darya. 
 Kyzyl Kala (Fortress)
 Ruins of Toprak Kala, dating to about 2000 years ago
  Ruins of Toprak Kala
  Ruins of Toprak Kala
  Ruins of Toprak Kala
  Ruins of Toprak Kala
Aerial view of the ruins of the lower fortress of Ayaz Kala. Built sometime in the 4th–7th centuries AD, the fortress may have been destroyed during the Mongol Invasion of Khorezm in the 1220s (see Enlargement). The ruins of the old city can be seen to the left of the fortress. 
Ruins of the lower fortress of Ayaz Kala
Ruins of the lower fortress of Ayaz Kala
 Ruins of the lower fortress of Ayaz Kala
Just north of the Lower Fortress on a higher summit is another larger fortress dating back to the 4th century BCE.

Aerial View of Upper Fortress (see Enlargement)
 Ruins of the upper fortress of Ayaz Kala
 Ruins of the upper fortress of Ayaz Kala
Ruins of the upper fortress of Ayaz Kala

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Uzbekistan | Khoresm | Zoroastrians | Tower of Silence

Zoroastrianism, founded in Persia in perhaps the 6th century BC by the mysterious character known as Zoroaster, a.k.a Zarathustra of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” fame, is probably the world’s oldest “revealed” religion, and as such Zoroastrians are even regarded as “People of the Book”, along with Christians and Jews, by at least some Muslims (sorry, Buddhists remain garden-variety Idolators). The major premise of Zoroastrianism, as you no doubt know, is the vast cosmic struggle between Ahura Mazdah, the God of Light (very roughly speaking), and Ahriman, the principal of Darkness and Evil. Zoroastrianism was very widespread in the Transoxiania and Khorezm regions before the arrival of the Islam in the eight and ninth centuries. For an utterly titillating account of Zoroastrianism see In Search of Zarathustra. For still more see Magi

Zoroastrian Burial Practices are of special interest. Bodies were placed on high hills or man-made summits and exposed to scavengers who soon stripped the bones clean. The bones were then preserved in containers known as ossuaries. A high place where the bodies were laid out was known as a Tower of Silence. One such Tower of Silence is located on the right bank of the Amu Darya River northeast of Khiva. After my stay in Khiva I wandered by this Tower of Silence.
Tower of Silence on the north bank of the Amu Darya 
This particular Tower of Silence a man-made structure on top of a natural hill
Closer view of the man-made platform at the top of the hill
The south side of the platform
View south from the entranceway
The flat top of the burial platform with the Amu Darya in the distance
Another view of the flat top of the platform. Bodies were left here to be stripped down to the bones by vultures.
Irrigated lands next to the Amu Darya
Another view of irrigated lands next to the Amu Darya
The Amu Darya from the top of the Tower of Silence

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Uzbekistan | Khwarezm | Janpiq Qala

From Gyaur Qala we drove southeastward 4.5 miles to Janpiq Qala. Built in the ninth or tenth century a.d. during an economic boom in Khwarezm, it was situated on the site of an older fortress dating back to the period between the fourth and first centuries b.c. The walled city, measuring 1500 feet long and up to a thousand feet wide, developed into a substantial craft center with quarters devoted to weaving, stone carving, blacksmithing, and the manufacture of glass and pottery. It was also an important trade entrepôt on the Amu Darya where goods from China, India, Egypt, and the Volga River and Black Sea regions all washed up. Russian researchers have suggested that a large breach in the southern wall was made by the besieging Mongols when they attacked Khwarezm in the winter of 1220-1221, perhaps with a huge battering ram. How much other damage the city suffered at the hands of the Mongols is unclear, but the city did recover and it eventually regained much of its former prominence (the breach in the southern wall was repaired). The city was attacked yet again by Amir Timur (Tamerlane) when he swept through the area in 1388. It never recovered from this onslaught, but the substantial ruins of the fortress and citadel walls have survived to the present day. 
Janpiq Qala (click on photos for enlargements)
Eastern wall of the fortress

Tower at the northeast corner of the fortress
Northern Wall
Northern Wall
Western Wall
Western Wall
Remains of tower in the wall
Eastern Wall
Tower in Eastern Wall
Outside of wall showing the opening allegedly made by the Mongols
Inside of wall showing the opening allegedly made by the Mongols
Entranceway from the outside
Entranceway from the inside
Southern Wall
Interior of the fortress 
Interior of the fortress 
 Ruins of Citadel 
 Ruins of Citadel 
 Ruins of Citadel 
Ruins of Citadel

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Emissaries and Trade Caravans

Having already received an Embassy from the Khwarezmshah and met with Traders from the Khwarezm Empire, Chingis decided to respond in kind by sending his own emissaries to the Sultan’s realm. He took a two-pronged approach. A diplomatic mission would make contact with the Khwarezmshah himself in hopes of establishing the peaceful relations necessary for further trade, and an officially sanctioned trading mission would demonstrate to the Khwarezmshah and his subjects just how how lucrative trading with Mongols could be. The three merchants who had just visited Chingis would accompany the Mongol-sponsored caravan of traders back to Khwarezm and presumably act as intermediaries. According to one account, the embassy was dispatched before the trading mission left for Khwarezm. Another maintains that the embassy left at the same time as the trading mission but then at some point en route hurried on ahead for a meeting with the Khwarezmshah himself. 

The leaders of the diplomatic embassy were three Muslim traders who were themselves from the domains of the Khwarezmshah: Mahmud, from somewhere in Khwarezm; Ali Khwajah from the city of Bukhara, and Yusuf Kanka from the city of Otrār. It is significant that these three men were nominal subjects of the Khwarezmshah but had now engaged themselves as agents of Chingis Khan. That Muslim traders like themselves would work for Chingis demonstrates the ever-widening gap between the ambitions of the Khwarezmshah and the interests of mercantile class of his own empire. As Silk Road traders they might well have considered their services available to the highest bidder, and it would seem that they were not hesitant about throwing their lot in with Chingis Khan, the rising power of the East. For Chingis’s part, he was no doubt eager to use their knowledge of trade networks, their language skills, and their familiarity with the social conventions of Inner Asian Muslims for his own purposes. The fact that they were Muslims obviously did not bother him at all. Since at least the time of the Baljuna Covenant he had dealt with Muslim traders and apparently interacted well with them (except of course for those who tried to cheat him). 

The three emissaries reached the court of the Khwarezmshah sometime in the spring of 1218. Some sources suggest that his court was in Bukhara at the time. The embassy, which did not involve itself in actual trading, did bring numerous gifts from Chingis Khan to the Khwarezmshah. These included a gold nugget “as large as a camel’s hump” which was so heavy it had to be carried in its own cart; ingots of various precious metals, walrus ivory from the northern shores of Asia which had somehow fallen into the hands of the Mongols; musk; and fine fabrics, including a material known as targhu, made from the wool of white camels, each length of which was worth fifty or more dinars

The Khwarezmshah deigned to accept the gifts and granted the three ambassadors a public audience where they relayed the messages sent by Chingis Khan. The Khwarazm Shah, they pointed out, must already know about the great victories of Chingis Khan in the East, including the subjugation of Northern China. The Mongol chieftain now controlled the eastern end of the Silk Road and the riches of the northern Chinese provinces. Likewise, Chingis Khan was fully aware that the Khwarezmshah’s many victories had made him the master of as vast swath of territory from the edge of the Iranian Plateau to the Tian Shan, an area which straddled the great trade routes connecting the Occident and Orient. Chingis was therefore proposing a peace treaty between the two powers and a normalization of trade relations which would allow trade and commerce to flourish between the two powers. Such a relationship, they pointed out, would be equally advantageous to both sides. The merchants added that if Khwarezmshah agreed to this proposal Chingis Khan would consider him “‘on a level with the dearest of his sons’” These men were merchants, not professional diplomats, and thus may not have fully realized how the Khwarezmshah would interpret this remark and what import it would have. 

The next day the Khwarezmshah called in Malmud of Khwarezm for a private interview. The Shah pointed out first that Malmud was a native of Khwarezm and thus nominally one of the his subjects. He then demanded to know the unvarnished truth about the conquests of Chingis Khan. Was it really true that he had conquered all of northern China? Malmud allowed that Chingis had taken the Central Capital of the Jin and subjugated large portions of China bordering on Mongolia. The Khwarezmshah countered with what was really bothering him. Even if he had conquered North China, the Khwarezmshah thundered, this gave Chingis Khan—who was after all an infidel whose true religious convictions were hazy at best—absolutely no right to call him, the mighty Khwarezmshah, the ruler of a great Islamic empire, his son. In the Khwarezmshah’s eyes “son” was synonymous with  “vassal” and the use of the word implied that Chingis Khan considered himself the Shah’s superior. Such an assumption was an outrage and the Shah was infuriated 

Frightened by the Khwarezmshah’s anger over this issue, the merchant quickly backtracked. While it was true Chingis Khan had conquered much of northern China his armies were vastly outnumbered by those of the Shah and he in no way way posed a threat to Khwarazm Empire and its mighty Sultan. Mollified by this flattery the Khwarezmshah finally agreed in principle to a peace treaty between the two powers. But he was not done with the merchant. Malmud must now agree to work as the Khwarezmshah’s spy in the court of Chingis Khan. Fearful for his life, Malmud quickly agreed to act a double agent and was given a precious jewel as advance payment of services to be rendered, thus sealing the deal. 

Armed with a document signed by the Khwarezmshah which apparently proposed a peace treaty but made no mention of trade relations, the merchant-emissaries started back to the court of Chingis Khan. Meanwhile the trade mission which Chingis had authorized was still on its way to Khwarezm. As mentioned, the embassy and the trade mission may have left together and the three emissaries had hurried on ahead of the slower-moving trade caravan. In any case, the caravan continued on to Otrār, one of the first major entrepôts in the Khwarezmshah’s empire. The members of the mission may not have been aware of the outcome of the diplomatic mission. If they were, they might well have assumed that the peace treaty proposal also sanctioned trade, or at least their safe conduct. This would lead to a fatal misunderstanding. The Khwarezmshah had no interest in either peace or trade. 

Chingis himself believed that trade in itself promoted peace, and that the trade mission would contribute to a mutually beneficial relationship between the Mongols and the Khwarezmshah. In a personal message for the Sultan which he sent with the traders he affirmed these beliefs: 
Merchants from your country have come among us, and we have sent them back in a manner that you shall hear. And we have likewise dispatched to your country in their company a group of merchants in order that they may acquire the wondrous wares of those regions; and that henceforth the abscess of evil thoughts may be lanced by the improvement of relations and agreement between us, and the pus of sedition and rebellion removed. 
The trade mission was a sizable undertaking. As an indication of how much importance Chingis placed on it, he ordered his sons and his top army commanders to each provide two or three men from their retinues to make up the party and to provide each of them with a balish of gold or silver as capital for trading ventures. A total of about 450 men were thus selected, all of them Muslims, since Muslims were much more experienced in the Silk Road trade than the Mongols and it was thought they would be better able to deal with their co-religionists in Khwarezm. From this it would appear that Chingis’s sons and army commanders already had sizable contingents of Muslims in their ranks, some of them from Islamic areas which Chingis had already conquered and others from Khwarezm who had already thrown in their lot with the Mongols. Along with the 450 merchants, who were presumable riding camels, the caravan had 500 pack camels laden with trade goods, including gold, silver, Chinese silk, targhu, as mentioned a fabric made from the wool of white camels; and various furs, including sable and beaver. Throw in camel men, cooks, and the usual assortment of hangers-on (religious pilgrims had a way of attaching themselves leech-like to such caravans) and we are probably looking at a string of a thousand or more camels.

The trade caravan was led by four men: Omar Khwajah Utrari (his name implies that he was from Otrār); Hammāl Marāghi; Fakhr al-Din Dizaki Bukhari (apparently from Bukhara); and Amin al-Din Harawi. At least two of these men were apparently from Khwarezm itself, demonstrating yet again that the Khwarezm mercantile class favored trade with the Mongols and vice-versa. As the Russian Orientalist Barthold points out, “the interests of [Chingis Khan] fully coincided with those of the Muslim capitalists.” He adds, however, that “There was not the same harmony between Muhammad’s [the Khwarezmshah] and the interests of the merchants of his kingdom.” This became painfully apparent when the caravan finally reached Otrār.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Chingis Khan and the Khwarezmshah

One ruler who could not help but take note of Chingis Khan’s sudden rise to power in the East was Ala ad-Din Muhammad II, the Sultan of the Khwarezm Empire, also known as the Khwarezmshah. The empire over which he reigned was by 1215 the most powerful state in Central Asia. Centered around the ancient province on Khwarezm on the lower valley of Amu Darya River—the Oxus of Antiquity—and the delta of the river where it flowed into the Aral Sea, the Khwarezmshah’s domains extended westward to the edge of the Iranian Plateau and south to the Persian Gulf, encompassing much of current-day Iran. HIs territories abutted Mesopotamia, home of the long-ruling ((750-1258) Abassid Caliphate whose ruler an-Nasir was the Caliph—the Commander of the Faithful—of the Muslim world. The Khwarezmshah had even launched an attack on the Abbasid Dynasty in an attempt to overthrow the Caliph an-Nasir and name one of his own nobles as “Commander of the Faithful”, thus making himself Islam’s most powerful figure. This venture had failed, but in 1215 he still posed a threat to the Abbasids. In the east he had defeated the Kara-Khitai, the remnants of the old Khitan Dynasty in China who after being overthrown by the Jin had migrated westward and founded their own state in Inner Asia, thereby extending his empire up the Amu Darya River valley into current-day Kyrgyzstan Thus in the northeast his empire had reached the ramparts of the Tian Shan, on the other side of which lie Uighuristan, now part of Chingis Khan’s burgeoning empire . . . Continued.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Uzbekistan | Khorezm | Khiva | al-Khwārizmī

After viewing the Summer Mosque in Khiva I wandered outside the city walls and soon found myself in front of the statue of Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (c. 780–c. 859). Sources vary on the birthplace of al-Khwārizmī, but at least one historian, Ibn al-Nadim, asserts that he was born in Khorezm (also known as Khwarizm), and local boosters insist that despite all the various nay-sayers he was born right here in Khiva, hence his statute here on the main drag in front of the city walls. Al-Khwārizmī was a celebrated geographer, astronomer and mathematician and is acknowledged as the inventor of Algebra, a dubious accomplishment which has earned him the well-deserved opprobrium of generations of high school students the world over.
Statue of Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (c. 780–c. 859)
Al-Khwarizmi's most famous (or perhaps most notorious) book, in which he formulated the basis principles of algebra, was entitled Hisab Al-Jabr W'al Mugabalah, translating roughly as "the science of reunion and reduction”.
A page from al-Khwārizmī's Hisab Al-Jabr W'al Mugabalah
Our current word algebra is indeed a corruption of the word “Al-Jabr in the title. This book is still in print for the benefit of those few interested in such folderol: The Book of Algebra.

I myself have no interest whatsoever in wasting any more of my time discussing anything so jejune as algebra; if you are really interesting in this subject and have nothing better to do see A History of Algebra: From Al-Khwarizmi to Emmy Noether and/or Al-Khwarizmi: The Inventor of Algebra.

On a more salubrious note, later translations into Latin of al-Khwārizmī's other books, notably On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals (c. 825), led to the introduction of the so-called Hindu-Arabic Numeral System (complete with a decimal point and the all-important value of zero), and “Arabic Numerals” (i.e., the numbers we now use), into the Occidental world. Otherwise we would probably still be hammering Roman numerals into granite with a chisel. So al-Khwārizmī did have his redeeming qualities. 

In any case, al-Khwārizmī eventually washed up in Baghdad, where he became an integral part of the so-called Bayt al-Hikmah, or House of Wisdom, an institute of advanced studies in various sciences which had sprung up during the time of Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, he of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights fame, and eventually flowered under the patronage of his son al-Mamun (r 813–833 AD).  

Indeed, I have just recently added The House of Wisdom to my Scriptorium and even more fortuitously a Review has just appeared in the New Year Times:
Abdullah ­al-­Mamun, caliph of Baghdad in the early 9th century, was indispensable to this intellectual flowering. The city was only four decades old but had already become the largest in the world. In this vibrant setting, al-Mamun established an institute, the House of Wisdom, the likes of which had not been seen since the great library at Alexandria. The author compares Baghdad in those days to Renaissance Florence or Athens in the age of Pericles. At first, the caliph followed his great-grandfather’s practice of pushing his savants for Arabic translations of Greek books in the country’s possession, a legacy of Hellenistic rule for several centuries after the conquests of Alexander the Great. Over the next two centuries, more works of Aristotle, Pythagoras, Archimedes and Hippocrates, as well as Persian and Indian thinkers, were rendered into Arabic. It became a lucrative business, abetted by advances in papermaking learned from captive Chinese soldiers. Other wealthy patrons, not only the caliph, supported the translation movement, al-Khalili points out, “in part for the practical benefits it brought them in finance, agriculture, engineering projects and medicine, and in part because this patronage quickly turned into a de rigueur cultural activity that defined their standing in society.” A modern budget proposal from a science-funding agency could not have put it better.
 The Bayt al-Hikmah has now been recreated in cyperspace. See The House of Wisdom, a blog about the latest developments in Arabic science.
Stamp commemorating al-Khwārizmī's 1200th birthday. Al-Khwārizmī also has An Area On The Moon named after him.