Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tashkent, Shi, Chach, Samarkand

I have been an ancient coin collector for many years now; I admitted that a couple'a posts back when I mentioned this Russian coin dealer I happened to meet down at a New York City International Coin Show at the World Trade Center back in the beginning of the awful-looking-so-far 21st Century--among a little hoard of Central Asian coins I bought from this Russian that day were several coins from Chach. Such a strange name. So I got to researching it and found little information about the Chach except on some 500 AD maps of Central Asia showing the territory of Sogdia, an area of what numismatists and historians called Transoxiana (due to the Oxus River, which today flows into the Aral Sea--they say that at the time of Sogdia, the Oxus changed its course a lot, sometimes flowing away from the Aral Sea to flow into the Caspian Sea at Balkan--a Tenth Century historian says that traces of the Oxus flowing into the Caspian Sea could still be seen then), the western border of a nation called Choresmia and whose eastern border was the Oxus and across the Oxus west was Sogdia in the north and Bactria in the south--and, too, across the Oxus west was the Kiyzl Kum (desert) and across the Kizyl Kum east over toward the Jaxartes River, the eastern boundary of Sogdia, was Samarkand, 2,747 years old in 2007 (give or take a few years, as the Uzbekistan Website puts it)--and on these 500 AD maps of that area I easily found Samarkand and right up above it, as though a northeastern suburb, was Chach. There it was on this map--Chach. Nothing about it, whether it was a city, a country, what? The coins showed they had kings--especially a King Tarnavch--the early Chach coins showed a man's profile on the obverse--the Chach evidently bound their heads some way to make them slope back from their foreheads into an almost football shape. On the reverse of these first Chach coins I bought was either what they called a "Galloping Beast" and said it was probably a snow leopard or a man on horseback. Chach coins are readily available now at auctions and on eBay (a lot of them on eBay are in Russia and Uzbekistan and we coin collectors are warned of tons of fakes and fraud coming out of those countries) though most are not in very good condition, most of their images are hard to see, though once I got into buying Chach coins I found some really nicer specimens in an ancient coin auction out of Chicago and then my Russian dealer friend contacted me to inform me that he had an auction coming up that had a lot of Central Asian coins in it, including 5 Chach coins, 3 of the snow leopard variety and 2 with the horseman--I bought all five of them they were so nice looking--but the cost of the better coins was doubled and tripled what I'd paid for the first ones I bought from the Russian. In this same sale I also bought two silver Sasanian imitation coins, one attributed to the Volgar-Bulgarians and the other one said to be from Khazar (or Khazaria). I couldn't find anything on Khazar at first and then I discovered a home-produced paperback book called The Coins of Khazar with a very poorly written text offering simplistic information accompanied by some grainy photos of some Khazar coins. What I did learn from the book sucked me in. The Khazars, it turns out, were a state in Kiev, Ukraine, and better than that, it seems the Khazars were Jews--supposedly made up of Jewish Silk Road traders and bankers and merchants--and, yes, the coins in this book did look like my coin. One day, my friend L Hat (, who I worked with at the time, brought me a big thick book, The Jews of Khazaria, and suddenly I knew all about the Khazar Jews though I still couldn't positively identify my coin as one of theirs. And then I began a correspondence with one of the world's greatest Islamic coin experts and in one email I asked him if he could attribute coins of Khazar and he said sure he could, send it to him and for $2 he'd attribute it.

However, in all this buying books and researching I never found anything developed only sketchy guessy clues on who the Chach were and then I came across an online Central Asian coin dealer who built a really great Website with a tightly bound history of Central Asia and a whole healthy catalog of Central Asian coins complete with photos--but in this history, Chach was mentioned but this dude said there wasn't much information available about the Chach at all neither in the works of the Chinese historians and travelers and the work of the Greek Herodotus, from whom most of the information we had about this area came before the Soviet Union disbanded and Russian archaeologists and numismatists began to reveal all the information on this area, information kept from Europe and the USA by the controlling Soviet ministry.

Later on, I came across a mint on Sogdian and area coins called Shash. Sounded same as Chach to me, though I was unable to relate the two until today when I went on the Uzbekistan Website and started reading about Tashkent! Tash. Shash. Get it. And CHACH, too!

Here it is:


City’s history can be observed from late III century B.C. – time from which the written sources and ancient city inside the contemporary city were preserved. This is the ancient city of Ming Urik situated on the Salar canal. Based on their excavations, the archeologists concluded that the first fortifications of the city were built at the end of I century B.C. - early I century A.D., i.e. the city is already 20 centuries old. Chinese chronicles that were based on the memoirs of the Chinese Ambassador Chjan Tsan with whom the concept of the first caravan route along the Great Silk Road is related can be named among the first written sources.
In various Chinese sources the city is called Shi. At that time it was part of the state of Kongyuy. However, after its disintegration in III-early IV century A.D. city of Shi turned into independent small state. Soon it was conquered by ephtalites [Mr. Ed: the White Hun, also Hephthalites] who established the great state on the territory of Central Asia. Chinese hieroglyph «Shi» means stone. But sources mention not only this name. For instance, according to writing of Sasanid king Shapur 1 in Iran in 262 A.D. the word «Chach» was drawn on the Zoroaster’s Kaaba.
Starting from IV century A.D. Chach was in the center of many confrontations. In 550 the Turkic Kaganate was established and it included also the conquered Chach. Large groups of nomadic Turkic population intruded it. After fall of the Turkic Kaganate, Chach was governed by local rulers.
In VII-VIII –ícenturies the population was mixed. Ruling elite consisted of Sogdian aristocracy mixed with Turkic one.
In 713 Kuteiba’s troops made a destructive campaign to Chach where later the Caliph’s rule was established. At the same time the network of 4 cities and 20 castles with Madinat-ash-Shash holding tthe central role among them had been formed during the early medieval era. Thus called the Arab sources the city, the ruin of which were studied in the ancient city of Ming Urik.
In VII-VIII centuries Ming Urik reached its maximum prosperity. It included the fortress-citadel and the city itself - Shahristan. Spread of Islam was very difficult. People of Chach supported the Mukanna’s doctrine - they stood against the violence of the Caliphate’s officials. As a result of repressive measures Chach was subjected to destruction and devastation. Destroyed city couldn’t recover for a long time and just a small settlement existed for centuries insted of Ming Urik city. In IX century at the order of Caliphate’s government large amount was released for irrigation needs of the city.

Oddly worded but very interesting, don't you think? A Chach coin showing the Galloping Beast (said to be a snow leopard by Russian numismatists) from the reign of King Tarnavch.

Turns out that doing some Internet surfing in preparing this post has turned up a Chach coin fanatic living just across New York Harbor from me on Staten Island. He's got tons of Chach coins and some new kings I hadn't heard of before, like King Z/Nirt or King Asbar--I'm buying some coins from this dude--and then, a guy in Tashkent revealed there is a new book out called A Catalog of the Coins of Chach, a collaboration between V. Shagalov and A. Kutznetzov and the leading Russian Central Asian numismatist E. V. Rtveladze.

This Internet is so cool--it's like an ethereal library--so many words of importance that are marrying on the Internet to form who knows how much actuality and how much fantasy blending together to form so many next steps that formerly we had to wait years to discover. I've poured over all the literature on Chach I could find in libraries, bookstores, and at auctions and come up with bare nothings really; ironically, however, just today while tackling this post I found more info than all that others combined, plus I found a huge find in this Chach coin book out of Russia. You see when Ronnie Raygun ordered Gorbachev to "tear down that wall" so much information about that area of the world that had for years been kept hidden among Soviet scholars and archaeologists became available; before now if you didn't read Russian or know someone in the Soviet Union who could "smuggle" out books and coins you were ignorant of a whole lot of discoveries made during Soviet rule--but then still, you had to know Russian--I mean, E.V. Rtveladze prints his books with Russian-English text, but you can tell reading the English and comparing it to the Russian, there's a lot more specific information in the Russian text than there is in the English.

So this post has been a selfish one--going over this Chach thing in my head; using Chach as a spectral curiosity in my desert-dweller and mountain-climbing instincts where yes my rivers flow into whatever other body of watery conclusions they wish to flow into. This Chach people who I thought of as "lost" people now seem to be dancing by thousands across the pages of thick volumes of new literature and mind framings--Russians opening up the vaults of the Hermitage and the store rooms of the museums and the research papers of their leading numismatists and catalogers and historians--we may be experiencing a true age of enlightenment--though it may be coming too late with all this global bullshit going on as though toppling down around us, leaving us in ruins, leaving us one day to be a "lost" people--was Aldous Huxley right in Apes and Essence? Will some baboons be seen dragging Einstein on a leash on a beach near ruined Los Angeles one day?

thegrowlingwolf (suffering a writer's bloc)
for The Daily Growler

May I add that I, thegrowlingwolf absolutely loved the apology the Growler staff gave to Anonymous! Absolutely.

More Chach and Tashkent Info

Tashkent started as an oasis on the Chirchik River, near the foothills of the Golestan Mountains. In ancient times, this area contained Beitian, probably the summer "capital" of the Kangju confederacy.[1]

The principality of Chach, whose main town had a square citadel built around the 5th to 3rd centuries BC, some 8 kilometers (5 mi) south of the Syr Darya River. By the 7th century AD, Chach had over 30 towns and a network of over 50 canals, forming a trade center between the Sogdians and Turkic nomads. The region came under the sway of Islam in the early parts of the 8th century.

Hsien-tsang (Xuanzang) mentioned the name of the city as Che-shih. The Chinese chronicles Sujshu, Bejshu and Tanshu mention a possession called Shi or Chzheshi with a capital with the same name since the V c. AD [Bichurin, 1950. v. II].

Under the Samanid dynasty, the city came to be known as Binkath. However, the Arabs retained the old name of Chach for the surrounding region, pronouncing it al-Shash instead. The modern Turkic name of Tashkent (City of Stone) comes from Kara-Khanid rule in the 10th century.

From Wikipedia

1 comment:

Language said...

Wow, amazing! I love this stuff, and I love the internet. And yes, that was a fine and well-merited apology; I hope Anonymouse was happy.