YUE-CHE AND KUSHAN PERIODS (from the second half of the 2nd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D.)
In Bactria, distanced from the ancient states of the east Mediterranean Sea by large expanses of land, the political domination of the Greeks was unlikely to last. The majority of the population in the settled oases and the neighbouring nomadic tribes saw the Greeks as strangers who conquered them. The situation became worse in the second half of the 2nd century B.C. when drought reduced the pasture land and forced nomadic cattle herders to find new pastures. Emigration started mainly from the heart of East Asia and spread west. By 128 B.C., the Graeco-Bactrian kingdom had ceased to exist.
In the territory of the Central Asian districts, at the end of the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C., except in the South of actual Turkmenistan, some separate state formations appeared, which were ruled by nomads. The strongest of these was the Yue-che (or Tokhar) kingdom. Having captured Bactria, they formed five separate princedoms. One of them, the strongest, was the Kushans. It was able to reconcile divided principalities and form the Kushan kingdom.
Archaeological memorials from Kushan period highlight the process of cultural interaction with the local sedentary population which quickly brought about the assimilation of many elements of Bactrian culture in to the societies of their nomadic conquerors.
Among the ials belonging to the nomads, a particular place is taken by the discoveries made in south Tajikistan, the main part of which being situated in two regions: Beshkent and Dangara valleys. In Beshkent valley the cemeteries of Tulkhar, Araktau and Beshkent were explored. In Dangara district, Khatlon oblast, four cemeteries, Ksirov 1 - 4 were discovered and explored. The grave goods consisted of pottery, pieces of mutton, various pieces of jewellery (beads, earrings and rings), iron arrowheads and buckles. The pottery attests about relations with the local (north Bactrian) sedentary population.
A different picture emerges from the burial practices of sedentary-agricultural populations, for example, with the ceremonies held in the “Dushanbe site” cemetery. Three types of tombs were found in the cemetery. Two of these were rectangular, which were located between the north and south tombs. Limestone slabs were used to make the floors and sides with a lid made of two pitched slabs. In later examples the limestone was replaced with baked ceramic slabs. The third type was a tomb in Khum where the Bactrian (Tokhar) inscription was preserved (dating from the 1st to 2nd centuries A.D.).
The cemetery Tupkhona was found 1,5 km from Hissar fortress (27 km west of Dushanbe). The tombs were mainly pits closed over with unbaked brick. The body was laid on its back with its head to the north. Pottery with sacrificial food and various pieces of jewellery were placed with the body and a silver coin – obol ¬ was inserted in the mouth or placed on the chest. A similar burial custom was found in the cemetery “Ittifoq” (Parkhar region, Khatlon oblast). At that time, the life was also very intense in the site of Saksanakhur. A very large and varied collection of ceramic objects were found in the layers relating to the 1st – 2nd centuries A.D.
The Kushan period was marked by a time of intensive development of economy and culture. Large irrigational canals, up to 100 km in length, were constructed, enabling farmers, for the first time, to exploit the agricultural potential of the land. City life became more sophisticated in towns which had appeared during both the Graeco-Bactrian period and the Kushan epoch. The development of larger centralised city administrations replaced previous smaller, town-based centres. At that time Bactria was called the “the country of a thousand cities”.
One of the largest new cities was Shahrinau, located in Hissar valley, 44 km west of Dushanbe. Small new towns were also found and explored in the southern part of Tajikistan. The site of Tepai Shakh (Qubodiyon district) and Yovan site (Garavqala) in Yovon district are among them.
Bactria, more than any other Central Asian kingdom, experienced the influence of the religion and politics of the Kushan kings. The wide spread of Buddhism relates to the 1st century A.D. The Kushan king Kanishka appears to have been an ardent disciple and proponent of Buddhism and the numerous temples and cloisters attest to it. On the right bank of the Amu Darya, in Tajikistan, near the Verblyujya hill, the Buddhist cloister Ushturmullo has been explored.
In Sughd province (in the north of Tajikistan) there is no true information about the small princedoms. The layers of the Kushan period were discovered in the ancient site of Khujand. During Kushan time, the excavated area of the site of Shirin, and the settlements of Munchagteppa and Dungchateppa continued to expand.