Fragmentary painted wall scene depicting a goddess and a fantastic animal

Red goddess; mural from the Temple II, room 5, 6th century CE; State Hermitage Museum; photo by V. Terebenin.

CANCELLED: Rostovtzeff Lecture Series: Sogdian Culture: Its Prelude, Blossom and Afterlife

Lecture 1: The Formation of Sogdian Culture: On Building and Borrowing

Pavel Lurje

State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Note: This event has been CANCELLED. We apologize for any inconvenience.

The Sogdians, an eastern Iranian people who lived in the central part of modern Uzbekistan and neighboring areas of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan in the Late Antique and early Medieval periods (4th to 10th centuries CE), produced a culture that made a deep impact on the history of Eurasia. In the last decades, the study of the Sogdians has developed greatly in many countries, and the recent launch of a Sogdian digital exhibition at the Freer|Sackler Gallery marks a new phase of interest in the Sogdians. Archaeological remains and excavated documents tell us the multifaceted story of a society of landlords, merchants, craftsmen, and brave knights—and also of women and their rights and opinions. This is also a story that lacks imperial ambition, but shows religious pluralism in vibrant cities and the life in diasporas, most famously documented in the inclusion of Sogdian merchants in Chinese society, thus contradicting the common opinion of xenophobia of the Celestial Empire. The Sogdians produced outstanding work of visual art, combining intricate ornamental decorations with the rich narrative of epics, tales, and fables. Dr. Lurje's lectures will highlight crucial elements of Sogdian culture, putting together the jigsaw puzzle of archaeological, artistic, textual, and linguistic sources, and introducing discoveries of recent fieldwork activities at Panjakent, where Dr. Lurje has worked for the last 25 years.

In antiquity, Sogdiana stood under the shadow of its southern neighbor, Bactria. Only from the first centuries CE onwards do we find evidence for the expansion of Sogdians out of Sogdiana proper, and from the 4th century CE do we meet Sogdian merchants in China and India. The contact with these developed lands was obviously a driving force for urbanization and an increasing sophistication of culture that took place in Sogdiana during this period. The lecture will focus on the building of fortifications and settlements and will incorporate recent data obtained from the citadel of Panjakent, as well as early examples of monumental art—such as the wooden panels discovered by a Japanese-Uzbek team at Kafir-kala in recent years. The formation of Sogdian culture is deeply linked to the development of Sogdian religion. Its Iranian, Zoroastrian core was enriched with elements borrowed from Mesopotamia, the Greek world, and especially India. The lecture will focus on borrowed Indian concepts and iconographies, in particular the role of Shivaite imagery. Other foreign religions such as Christianity, Manichaeism, and Buddhism were known to the Sogdians but gained little footing in their motherland. Buddhist images, however, can be detected within ‘standard’ Sogdian monuments, and a question arises as to how much the concepts of the teaching of Buddha were incorporated into Sogdian folk religion.

Pavel Lurje is Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Section of Central Asia, Caucasus and Crimea in the Oriental Department of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Already as a student in the Department of History of the Middle East and Iranian Philology at Saint Petersburg State University, he began working on the long-term archaeological project in Panjakent and later also on projects in Bukhara and Semirechie (Kyrgyzstan). He received his PhD in 2004 from the Saint Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies, where his dissertation focused on "Historico-Linguistic Analysis of Sogdian Toponymy." After his PhD, Dr. Lurje was a postdoctoral fellow in the Institute for Iranian Studies at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, where he worked on a long-term research project focused on Sogdian onomastics. Since taking up his position at the State Hermitage Museum in 2009, his primary research projects have involved archaeological fieldwork at Panjakent and curating the Chorasmian collections of the museum.

Registration is required at Please note that separate registration is required for each of the four lectures in this series.

The Rostovtzeff Lectures are supported in part by a generous endowment fund given by Roger and Whitney Bagnall.

Admission to lecture closes 10 minutes after scheduled start time.

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