THE EARLY MEDIEVAL (VIth-VIIIth centuries)
The middle of the 5th century A.D. after the fall of the Kushan kingdom saw
the rise of the Khionits – a coalition of cattle-breeding tribes, led by rulers who minted their own coins. During the 5th century A.D. the power comes to the hands of Khion Hephthalites – the founder of the Hephthalite dynasty. Armenian sources dating from ca. 450 CE are the first known to have described the region as “the country of Eftalits”.
The Hephthalites ruled over a vast dominion. At the height of their power, during the second half of the Vth to VIth centuries A.D. they dominated a large part of Afghanistan, the southern and eastern areas of Central Asia and Eastern Turkestan. It consisted of 27 principalities as well as it possessed its own nobility. Thereafter in the middle of the 6th century A.D a new power emerges in Central Asia – the Turkic Kaganate (551-744). This was a powerful unit of nomadic tribes from Altai which launched its attack on its neighbours at first. By the middle of the 6th century, these tribes invaded Central Asia. Between 536 and 537, the Hephthalite dynasty collapsed. The vast majority of their domains fell within the control of the Turks (the Western Kaganate).
At the beginning of the 7th century A.D. the mutual relationships between local powers started to change. Not being satisfied after overcoming the tribes, the Turks tried to establish their power in the Central Asian principalities. At the same period were beginning the incursions of the Sassanids in order to occupy the territory of Central Asia. Raids were accompanied by skirmishes and widespread looting. In 657 A.D. as a result of this pressure, the Turkic Western Kaganate ceased to exist and, as a consequence, the threat posed by nomads to the agricultural territories in Central Asia disappeared.
During the 670s A.D., the Arabs started to make incursions into Mavarannahr (the territory between the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya rivers), incursions which, over time, developed into purposeful targeted military campaigns. At the beginning of the 8th century, the main regions of Central Asia were conquered. The imposition of Islam had begun. However, in spite of continuous wars and destruction, the lofty cultural traditions of the Bactrians and Sogdians did not disappear. The population of Mavarannahr revived many of the household and cultural traditions of their ancestors, which served to the further development of the culture and paved the way for new achievements.
In that period what was to become modern Tajikistan was beginning to be formed. An independent political unit already existed by that time, to the north of Sogd and Ustrushana (the eastern part of the Zaravshon valley). In each of these realms a process of socio-economic and historic-cultural reformation was undergoing. In the cultures of the different regions of Central Asia, one can very clearly see the initial stages of the process of its eventual unification. To that regard one should also note the leading role of Sogdiana and of its culture in this process. From very ancient times Sogd and Sogdian people has played a unique role in the land trade of Asia. The Sogdian people were not only great international traders but also main transmitters of culture from one nation of Asia to the other. The Sogdian language was, at that time, one of the main international languages.
At that time also, the center of power in Sogd was based on the outskirts of modern Panjakent town – the ancient Panjakent, which had appeared during the 5th century. Among the populations of local Zoroastrian religion in Panjakent also lived Buddhists, Christians, and in 8th century, Muslims. Panjakent was not the only town in the eastern part of Sogd. More than ten medieval sites have been found both in the Panjakent region and upstream of the Zaravshon river and its tributaries in the mountains. The fortified castle situated in the Mugh mountain, the village settlements of Gardani Hissor and Qum, the Sarvoda fortress and the site of Sanjarshoh are among them.
As in Sogd, in Ustrushana during the 6th to 8th centuries A.D. the cities Mugteppa in Istaravshan (former Ura-Tube city), the Kalai Kakhkakha I-III town, Bundjikat – the capital of Ustrushan) which originally appeared in the 5th century continued to develop. At Kalai Kakhkakha II there was a tympanum inside the big main hall with the king’s loggia near the entrance from inner the side. The tympanum is also a monument of the greatest historical and cultural value as its composition captures a central theme of the ancient Iranian heroic epic – the fight between Good and Evil. This topic was immortalised by Firdawsi in his epic, the Shohnoma (Book of the Kings), in the 10th century. The other sites still important for this period are the Tudai Kalon castle and the site of Mugteppa, which is presenting wonderful materials from the cultural stratum of the 6th-7th centuries. The discovery of ossuaries in the area of Kattaysai reservoir was also strongly worth of interest. The Chilkhudjra castle is particularly interesting in terms of both its architecture and fortification structure.
In the 6th to 7th centuries South Tajikistan entered into to the political realm of Tokharistan (the former territory in Bactria) and, within the boundaries of its north border, Tokharistan unified 27 principalities north and south of the Amu Darya river. According to the written sources, the Akhorun estate was occupying the west part of the Hissar valley, the eastern Shuman estate. There were also independent estates downstream of the Kafarnigan River and in Vakhsh valley (Vakhsh-Usha).
Developments both in economic and cultural arenas are evident during this period. The investigations conducted in Vakhsh valley showed a quite well developed irrigation system. The local name of the canal is Kafir, it unequivocally points to the fact that the origin of the construction is pre-Islamic. A small Buddhist temple was excavated at Kafir Kala. The written sources confirm the presence of the Buddhist temple at Kafir Kala. The Buddhist monastery, Ajinateppe, provides a much clearer picture about the spread of Buddhism in the territory of Vakhsh. It is situated 12 km east of Bokhtar (former Qurghonteppa) city. In the eastern part of the corridor on the temple side, on a low flat pedestal, was a giant statue of Buddha in Nirvana, (12.85 m in length) lying in the traditional posture of the “Sleeping Lion”, clothed in red samgat. Among the sculptures were numerous images of Buddha, bodhisatvas, different idols, demons, ascetics, legendary characters, animals, birds and friezes with different ornamental motives. The materials of the site of Kalai Kafarnigan, 80 km southwest of Dushanbe city, on the outskirts of Esambai village, revealed more reliefs connected with Buddhism. A large decorative plinth for statues was placed in the center of the almost square-shape sanctuary (measuring 4.69m x 4.95m). A sculpture of the sitting Buddha was in a bay set in one of the walls. There was also a pedestal with a statue of the sitting Buddha in the corridor. The walls and arch were covered with paintings. A section of a two-part painting was preserved: the upper section featured the sitting Buddha with two figures standing on either side of him and the lower section featured a ceremonial procession moving to the right.