The Hermitage collection of artifacts covering the culture and
art of Central Asia spans a period from the 4th millenium BC to
the 20th century AD. There are colourful fragments of wall
paintings, sculptures, woodcarvings and ivories, bronzes and
rare coins, pottery and tiles, jewellery, carpets and embroidery.
Eneolithic painted pottery with geometrical designs and stylized
animal figures, and clay and stone figurines, represent the
earliest examples of the culture of farming and cattle-breeding
tribes in Central Asia.
From the early Iron Age (1st millenium BC) comes a famous
bronze sacrificial altar of the Scythian period (Sakae culture).
The major part of the collection, however, consists of objects
found on the territory of the ancient states of Central Asia –
Parthia, Bactria, Soghdia and Khorezm.
Rhytons made from elephant tusks, with very delicate carved
designs, come from the Parthian kingdom. World famous
fragments of the Ayrtam – a stone relief of half-figures of
musicians set amidst a rich acanthus foliage from a temple in
northern Bactria – date to the time of the Kushan Empire (1st-3rd
Sculptures created in Khorezm in the 1st to 4th centuries AD
and objects of the 5th to 8th centuries AD from Pendjikent (60
km from Samarkand), the Soghdian capital, form the pride of the
collection. The most renowned pieces are stone and wooden
sculptures, remarkable wall paintings from the ruler's palace,
from temples and houses. A 12-metre long mural with a blue
ground (from the so-called ‘Blue Hall') shows scenes from the
Persian epic of Rustam and continues to impress those who see
it today, so many centuries after it was first created. No less
impressive is the mural from the ‘Red Hall' from the palace of a
ruler of Bukhara in Varaksha (7th-8th centuries). The collection
of bronze vessels from Bactria, Khorezm and Soghdia of the 4th
to 7th centuries is the most comprehensive in the world: these
are decorated with images and inscriptions. Pottery from
Afrasiab, ancient Samarkand, from the 9th to 12th centuries, is
largely decorated with designs including inscriptions of ‘good
wishes' and proverbs.
Of particular interest is a very unusual historical document, a
stone with an inscription in Arabic and Mongolian, the words of
Timur (Tamerlane) commemorating his victory over the Khan of
the Golden Horde, Tokhtamish, in 1391. From the Gur-Emir
Mausoleum in Samarkand, where Timur and his family are
buried, comes an exquisite 15th-century door. The double door
is made of juniper wood and covered with rich carving with
traces of silver, copper, nacre, ebony and rosewood inlaid
designs. It was Timur also who commissioned the bronze
candlesticks from the mausoleum of Ahmad Yasevi in Turkestan.
The later period is covered by marvellous tiles from Uzghen,
Samarkand and other towns, dating to the 12th to 17th centuries,
collections of 19th-century Turkmenian carpets, and Tadjik,
Uzbek and Kirgiz embroidery of the 19th to 20th centuries, as
well as rich collections of side-arms and jewellery.
If you enjoyed this collection, you might want to also visit the other collections at the State Hermitage Museum.
2nd-1st centuries BC
Fragment of the Ayrtam
Silver Cup with a Gazelle
The Heroic Rustam
First half of the 8th century
Panel with a Goddess on a Lion
First half of the 8th century