Bactrian Frieze

A larger image of this Bactrian Frieze.

Illustration 111, pp130-131 in Tamara Talbot Rice, Ancient Arts of Central Asia, 1965
111, 112 Stone sculptured frieze, a detail of which is shown below, once adorned a Buddhist monastery at Airtam, near Termez. The style is clearly Kushan, the workmanship local. Hellenic influence was responsible for the use of acanthus leaves to separate the youths and girls, some of whom hold musical instruments of local origin. First century
111 Frieze: busts of youths and girls - musicians and garland-bearers. Stone. Possibly from a Buddhist temple. Airtam. First century. Photo: State Hermitage Museum, Leningrad

pp. 129-131
   The Bactrians were a gifted, war-like and clever race. Under Greek tutelage they rapidly became politically mature and intellectually sophisticated. They were thus soon producing native astronomers, physicists, mathematicians and philosophers of distinction. Their culture quickly became eclectic, and one result of this is reflected in the facility with which they used the Aramaic, Soghdian or Greek alphabets when writing their native Persian tongue and the readiness with which they adopted the Seleucid calendar. Nevertheless, many continued to adhere to their pagan beliefs though some became fervent Zoroastrians whilst others began to worship the deities of Greece, and then proceeded to invest them with local attributes till the resulting faith acquired a mixed character. Then, when Bactria's military conquests had brought her into direct touch with India, Buddhism penetrated into the country, swiftly gaining so many converts that the new faith spread eastward into Central Asia. Yet even among the Buddhist communities Greek influences often prevailed and were frequently able to hold their own against the rising tide of Sassanian Persia. The earlier Indo-Hellenistic blend is seen at its best in the fragments of a superb sculptured limestone frieze (Ill. 111) of the first century AD recently discovered at Airtam, a fortified Buddhist settlement, situated some 18 kilometres northwest of Termez, in what is now Soviet territory. It is thought originally to have adorned a Buddhist monastery, but the work is clearly Bactrian. The frieze displays a row of youths and girls shown half-length bearing garlands and musical instruments, some of which are of local origin (Ill. 112), set against a background of acanthus leaves. Hellenistic and Indian elements are reflected both in the modelling of the people and in the choice of such decorative motifs as garlands, but the vitality with which they are rendered points to the hand of a native artist.

A larger image of this detail of the Bactrian Frieze.

112 Frieze (detail): bust of a musician. Stone. Possibly from a Buddhist temple. Airtam. First century. Photo: State Hermitage Museum, Leningrad