Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bactrian Seals and Amulets, an Introduction by Pierre Amiet

First, I might introduce my own interest in Bactria.  It began in the bazaars in Kabul, Afghanistan where my husband and I saw hundreds of obviously ancient artifacts, but we did not know where they came from, who made them, or how old they might be.  We only knew that they had lain in the earth a very long time and that they were different from the other arts we had seen in the Middle East.

We had lived in Ankara, Turkey for four years, then we made the overland trip on the map shown below, taking our time in Iran and then stopping in Kandahar before we reached Kabul, the city where merchants could sell the Bactrian artifacts that were found by unauthorized explorers of the ruins of Bactria and Margiana.  I have the region marked by the oval on the map and our journey is marked by the dark line from Ankara to Kabul, showing our stopping places.
Our journey from Ankara, Turkey to Kabul Afghanistan showing the Bactria-Margiana region in the oval

Now to explain how Victor Sarianidi, leader of the Russian excavations of Bactria and Margiana,  came to be one of my dear friends and how Pierre Amiet's writings on the Ancient History of Western Asia became interesting to me: 

After my family had put together quite a collection of various seals, amulets and grave goods from tombs, we met Victor through another collector who was in Afghanistan and Pakistan around the same time we lived there. We invited Victor to our home to see our collection and explain to us what it was, where it came from  and how the Bactrian people lived and behaved.  He was happy to do so.  My husband made clay impressions of our authenticated seals, photographed the seals and impressions and Victor examined each one, measured it and then wrote a short description and classification for publishing in his catalog: Myths of Ancient Bactria Margiana on Its Seals and Amulets.  

The introduction to the work is written by Pierre Amiet, Honorable General Inspector of the Museum of France.  The following is a synopsis of Monsieur Amiet's introduction to Victor Sarianidi's catalog of Bactria-Margiana archeological findings.  

Amiet's opening remarks concerning Victor Sarianidi's work: 
"Victor Sarianidi, excellent archeologist,...is known as an expert in field research.  Due to his excavations...we learn about astonishing fortresses of Bactria and Margiana situated on the border of the Iranian plateau and the steppes crossed by the Amu Darya river to [in-ed.] the north of of modern Afghanistan....Civilization of this "Outer Iran" formed a very original component in the immense network of the inter-Iranian exchange..."

Amiet points out that Bactria-Margiana,  this proto-Iranian (nascent) civilization, was rooted in their migration and mercantile exchanges as they came down from North of the Caspian Sea area and passed among the Elamites in the western part of Iran.  These previous connections between the Elamite and  the nearby Mesopotamian culture and the outer "colonies" of proto-Iranians probably happened before they settled in  Bactria and Margiana in the North and Quetta and Sibri [Sibi - ed.] in the South.  The latter mentioned cities are located in what is now the west central part of Pakistan.  This map may help show the locations of the  "Outer Iran" settlements of the mid-III millennium B.C.  The larger outlined area approximates the location of the northern proto-Iranian settlements and the smaller marked circle shows the southern location of other proto-Iranians. 

The people of the Bactria-Margiana culture did not produce any written documents; at least nothing with "writing" on it has been found yet.  Monsieur Amiet acknowledges the work of Victor Sarianidi in the final statement in his introduction to V. Sarianidi's book in Myths of Ancient Bactria Margiana on Its Seals and Amulets
"Victor Sarianidi approaches this mystery with courage and knowledge which is due to his understanding ...."

Dr. Sarianidi taught me a great deal about his interpretation of the images on Bactria-Margiana seals and amulets.  Contact me with questions or for invoice through the private message form at the top right of this page.


  1. Love the maps, Anna! I'm not sure I "get" the origins of the Bactria/Margiana culture, though. Were the Elamites the main source culture, their own culture influenced by Mesopotamia? (It's interesting that they were in western Iran, not eastern.) I don't understand how "the outer 'colonies' of proto-Iranians in Bactria and Margiana in the North" is functioning in the first sentence of the paragraph over your second map. Seems to say that the Elamites had previous connections with proto-Iranians in Bactria and Margiana. Which doesn't make entire sense, because it seems Bactria/Margiana wouldn't have been established at that time. I think I'm missing something. lol. (Brains?) In any case, thanks for sharing!

    1. I am sure it is my too-truncated explanations, trying to cram too much into one sentence! Amiet does indeed consider the Elamites as the inspiration of many of the motifs and styles of the amulets and seals produced in Bactria and Margiana. I don't think anyone knows whether it was through trade or through kinship that the Elamites and the Bactrians managed to produce so many similar beads, seals and amulets. I have also seen art similar to Bactrian products, but actually from the tombs at Ur, the heart of Mesopotamia. My own wild assumption is that the migrant Bactrians traveled through these regions on the way to settlement along the Murghab River and the Amu Darya. I think I should do some editing to make Amiet's and my own thoughts clearer.

      Thank you for your interest in this region of our planet. It is fascinating! And thanks for pointing out my obscure sentence ;)

  2. Hi again, Anna! I understand the situation much better from your explanation in the comment, but I'm still finding the explanation a little confusing in your article. In the revised area, I understand your second sentence; but the first confuses me in this clause: "Bactria-Margiana, this proto-Iranian (nascent) civilization, was rooted in their migration and mercantile exchanges ..." Do you mean that the culture of these people was rooted in these things? Or the development of these people?

    It's too bad there isn't evidence of the migrants in direct touch with their influences. :)

    1. It might well have been a combination of causes that allowed the steppe people from North of the Caspian to begin to make things that were similar to those of the Elamite/Mesopotamian civilizations. As they traveled all across what is now Iran, they finally became the Iranian civilization, fully developed into a Kingdom or kingdoms, worshipping as Zoroastrians, with scriptures that are still in existence: the Avesta used by the people that remained in Iran and the Rig Veda used by the people who settled in India. They seemed to have absorbed the artistic strain in the Elamite/Mesopotamian cultures, but brought their own religion that until Islam, was the major religion of the Iranians. India was more diverse and the Zoroastrians were not the major religion in South Asia.

      There is archeological evidence of the movements of the people that developed the Bactrian culture, but I have emphasized their artistic creations because I can illustrate those -- and hopefully sell some of them ;)

      I will occasionally write about the migration of the proto-Iranians in bits and pieces from the time they left the steppes to the point that they were Hellenized by Alexander the Great and half a century or so later, they were influenced by Hindu Buddhism and became a center of that culture in the Northeastern part of Afghanistan.

      I hope this is making sense. ;)

  3. Yes, it is. That would be great to have articles now and again that focus on the migration of these people and their points of influence!

    1. Great! It is of tremendous interest to me. I have been studying this for several years now and have learned that there are several different theories about the migration routes, but since I am not an authority, I can believe that they came together in Central Asia settlements from one and all of the possible routes ;)