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Murals of the Silk Road

The Sogdians of Central Asia were the master traders of the Silk Road from the fifth to eighth century A.D. Their wealth enabled Sogdians from the highest nobles to members of the middle class to commission lavish murals that adorned temples, palaces, and modest homes alike. At the Sogdian city of Panjakent in modern-day Tajikistan, archaeologists have unearthed murals that depict deities, fables, and military campaigns of the day. The following images of murals from Panjakent are © The State Hermitage Museum. To see the Smithsonian’s comprehensive online exhibit on the Sogdians, go to: “The Sogdians: Influencers on the Silk Road.”

  • A detail of a mural from one of Panjakent’s temples depicts the god Weshparkar, the Sogdian equivalent of the Hindu deity Shiva. Both the art and religion of Sogdiana were heavily influenced by contact with India.
  • A panel of a mural in the reception hall of a Panjakent house depicts two scenes from the Panchatantra, a collection of Indian fables. On the left is the fable known as “The Blacksmith and His Ape Assistant,” and on the right is “The Tale of the Wise Men Who Brought a Tiger Back to Life.”
  •  A mural in the same reception hall at Panjakent depicts the well-known fable “The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg,” which appears in both the Panchatantra and Aesop’s Fables.
  •  A mural fragment discovered in the citadel palace of Panjakent’s ruler Devastich (r. ca. A.D. 706-722) appears to depict Arab soldiers besieging the prominent Sogdian city of Samarkand. In A.D. 722, Panjakent too was seized by Arab forces.
  • A temple was recently discovered at Panjakent by a team led by State Hermitage Museum archaeologist Pavel Lurje. Small fragments of wall paintings and two stone bases from the temple are visible in this photograph.

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