Penjikent murals

Penjikent murals
Penjikent mural in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.
Created5th century - 722 CE
DiscoveredPanjakent, Tajikistan
39°29′12″N 67°37′14″E / 39.486792°N 67.620477°E / 39.486792; 67.620477
Present locationHermitage Museum, National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan
Penjikent murals is located in West and Central Asia
Penjikent murals
Penjikent murals is located in Tokharistan
Penjikent murals
Penjikent murals is located in Tajikistan
Penjikent murals

The murals of Penjikent are among the most famous murals of the pre-Islamic period in Panjakent, ancient Sogdiana, in Tajikistan. Numerous murals were recovered from the site, and many of them are now on display in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, and in the National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan in Dushanbe. The murals reveal the cosmopolitan nature of the Penjikent society that was mainly composed of Sogdian and Turkic elites and likely other foreign merchant groups of heterogeneous origin.[1] Significant similarities with Old Turkic clothing, weapon items, hairstyles and ritual cups are noted by comparative research.[2]

The murals of Penjikent are the earliest known Sogdian murals, starting from the late 5th to early 6th century CE, and are preceded by the Hepthalite murals of Tukharistan as seen in Balalyk Tepe, from which they received iconographical and stylistic influence.[3] Also visible is a great variety of Hellenistic influences of Greek decorative styles along with local Zoroastrian, Christian, Buddhist and Indic cults.[citation needed]

The production of paintings started in the end of the 5th century CE and stopped in 722 CE with the invasion of the Abbasid Caliphate, in the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana, and many works of art were damaged or destroyed at that time.[4][5][6]


There are three known rulers of Penjikent:

  1. Čamughyan/Gamaukyan (end of the 7th century)
  2. Čekin Čur Bilgä (beginning of the 8th century)
  3. Dēwāštič (until 722 A.D.)

All rulers had no reported dynasties, the first ruler had a Chionite-Hephthalite and the second ruler had a Turkic name.[7][8][9][10][11] There is no conclusive evidence that "Queen Nana" was involved in the minting of the Penjikent coins.[4] There is conflicting information about the father of Čekin Čur Bilgä, known as Pyčwtt, who ruled Penjikent at the beginning of the 7th century and around 658 AD.[4]


Penjikent murals, detail, banquet with double-lapelled outfits, 5th-8th century

Scenes of festivities abound in the murals.[4][5][6] The men sitting in oriental manner are dressed in Turkic long coats with lapels similar to garments found in the Altai.[2] Lapels were not common in Parthian, Kushan, or Sasanian caftans, however they do appear in the art of Hepthalite, Sogdian and Buddhist sites. Images of both sexes in single- and double-lapelled outfits appear in large sites like Samarkand, Pendjikent and Xinjiang. Knauer suggests that the political ascendance of the Western Turks resulted in the adoption of lapels through a diffusion of nomadic Turkic tribes which later became assimilated.[12]

Rostam cycle

It is thought that the narrative of the Iranian Shahnameh and the epic cycle of Rostam is mirrored in a series of murals of the "Blue Hall" ("Rustemiada") at Penjikent dating to the first half of the 8th century. They are mainly hosted in the Hermitage Museum, Hall 49,[4][5][6][13] and are believed to be of Sogdian, Turkic or Kushan-Hephthalite origin.[11]

The protagonist Rostam, a mythical king of Zabulistan is thought to be shown in numerous activities and battles, both against human and mythical opponents, and is shown with an elongated skull, narrow skulls, V-shaped eyebrows, a hooked nose and heavy jaw (of Hephthalite prototype) and thus reminding some portraits of Khingila on coins, perhaps even having close identity with him. [11] This choice follows from the emblematic look of the Alchon Huns, who ruled in that same area until the 7th century CE.[9][14][15]

The complete “Rostam“ cycle, in the Hermitage Museum, Hall 49.



The religious affiliation of the Penjikent population is uncertain. The local cults are thought to be a mix of Christian, Buddhist, Zoroastrian Iranian and Indian deities.[4][5][6]

Battle scenes

Female figures


See also


  1. ^ The Sogdians: Influencers on the Silk Roads, The City of Panjikent and Sogdian Town-Planning by Alexander Brey. Smithsonian Institution.
  2. ^ a b Ermolenko L.N., Soloviev A.I., Kurmankulov Z.K. An Old Turkic Statue at Borili, Ulytau Hills, Central Kazakhstan: Cultural Realia. Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia. 2016;44(4):102-113.
  3. ^ Azarpay, Guitty; Belenickij, Aleksandr M.; Maršak, Boris Il'ič; Dresden, Mark J. (January 1981). Sogdian Painting: The Pictorial Epic in Oriental Art. University of California Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-520-03765-6.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "PANJIKANT – Encyclopaedia Iranica".
  5. ^ a b c d Compareti, Matteo (2012). "Classical elements in Sogdian art: Aesop's fables represented in the mural paintings at Penjikent". Iranica Antiqua. XLVII: 303–316.
  6. ^ a b c d Guides, Insight (April 2017). Insight Guides Silk Road (Travel Guide eBook). Apa Publications (UK) Limited. p. 521. ISBN 978-1-78671-699-6.
  7. ^ Sogdiana* Sughd and Adjacent Regions B. I. Marshak and N. N. Negmatov. p.242. ISBN 978-92-3-103211-0
  8. ^ Voices On Central Asia: Panjikent, the Central Asian Pompeii. An Interview with Pavel Lurje, May 2020.
  9. ^ a b Rezakhani, Khodadad (15 March 2017). ReOrienting the Sasanians: East Iran in Late Antiquity. Edinburgh University Press. p. 124, 181. ISBN 978-1-4744-0030-5.
  10. ^ Aramaic Traces Through Coins in the Iranian world Archived 2022-03-22 at the Wayback Machine, I. Šafiʿī, p.146, in Shodoznavstvo, 2018, No. 82, pp. 125–16 ISSN 2415-8712 (on-line); ISSN 1682-671X (print)
  11. ^ a b c (Fig. 38. Pendzhikent. Wall painting. Rustam.) The Hephthalites: Archaeological And Historical Analysis by Aydogdy Kurbanov, 2010.
  12. ^ “A Man's Caftan and Leggings from the North Caucasus of the Eighth to Tenth Century: A Genealogical Study": Metropolitan Museum Journal, v. 36 (2001) Knauer, Elfriede R. (2001)
  13. ^ Mural Painting: Rustemiada. The Blue Hall, Hermitage Museum
  14. ^ "Hermitage Museum". Hermitage Museum.
  15. ^ "It is possible that the Sogdian aristocratic culture of that time preserved some memory of the glorious days of Khingila, the first Hephthalite conqueror of India. The profile of Rustam, shown on different paintings at Pendzhikent, is very distinct from the other depictions in the Sogdian art, and resembles the Hephthalite prototypes. The portraits feature narrow skulls, V-shaped eyebrows, hooked noses and heavy jaws, and thus closely resemble some portraits of Khingila on the coins(Grenet 2002, 218-219)." Kurbanov, Aydogdy (2014). "THE HEPHTHALITES: ICONOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS" (PDF). Tyragetia: 317–334.
  16. ^ Mode, Markus; Tubach, Jürgen; Vashalomidze, G. Sophia (2006). Arms and Armour as Indicators of Cultural Transfer: The Steppes and the Ancient World from Hellenistic Times to the Early Middle Ages (in German). Reichert. p. 86. ISBN 978-3-89500-529-9.
  17. ^ Sims, Eleanor (2002). Peerless images : Persian painting and its sources. New Haven : Yale University Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-300-09038-3.
  18. ^ Kageyama (Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, Kobe, Japan), Etsuko (2007). "The Winged Crown and the Triple-crescent Crown in the Sogdian Funerary Monuments from China: Their Relation to the Hephthalite Occupation of Central Asia" (PDF). Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology. 2: 20, drawing e. doi:10.1484/J.JIAAA.2.302540. S2CID 130640638. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-11-11.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ Also described in Marshak, Boris (1990). "Les fouilles de Pendjikent". Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. 134 (1): 298. doi:10.3406/crai.1990.14842.
  20. ^ Frantz, Grenet (2022). Splendeurs des oasis d'Ouzbékistan. Paris: Louvre Editions. pp. 149–153. ISBN 978-8412527858.
  21. ^ Sims, Eleanor (2002). Peerless images : Persian painting and its sources. New Haven : Yale University Press. pp. 127–128. ISBN 978-0-300-09038-3.
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