Early Turks: Male Costume in the Chinese Art
Second half of the 6th – first half of the 8th cc. (Images of ‘Others’)
Sergey A. Yatsenko


Marble mortuary bed from the Miho Museum in the Japanese city of Shigaraki


The exact placing where the robbed grave was found is unknown. The panels of the mortuary bed depict the life of Chinese Sogdians among their servants and their Sogdian women (these women according to Zhoushu, were dressed in Chinese- while their husbands are shown in Cenral Asian garb: see Grener, Riboud 2007). There are Turks depicted on two of the panels.

One of the panels (fig. 11) depicts a mounted procession of noble foreign ambassadors (?) whose costume is neither Sogdian, Chinese, or Turkic; it is unknown from the Xinjiang oases and apparently does not belong to any Iranian-speaking peoples from Khotan in the west (it is also documented in the other panel where we also see dismounted servants and loaded camels).

At first sight an ethnic identification of this ethnos is not difficult since we know from the Chinese sources those countries which countries China had diplomatic and trade contacts as well as those which supplied China with population for "barbarian" quarters in Chinese towns at the beginning of the Middle Ages. However, the problem is that the costume worn by the nobility of many of these peoples in the 5th - 6th cc. is practically unknown (Kashgar, Ferghana, Chorasmia and others). However that may be, the influence of Late Sasanian Iran can be observed in the dress and outfit of these foreigners (upper garments put on over the head with high cuffs and the seam line below armpits, special straps embracing the upper part of the body, ribbons decorating showy umbrellas and horse harness (Yatsenko 2006a, fig. 158, 27, 32; 161, upper; 162-163). The narrow headbands of personages of this panel, with a large medallion are original. They are neither Sogdians, nor Tokharistanians. Instead, it may be proposed that the embassy depicted here and accompanied by Turks occurred during the period of long international stability of the situation which followed peace between the Kaghanate and Iran in 571. The embassy arrived in China before the united Sui Dynasty came to power in 582, which restricted political influence of Sogdians. It makes the dating of the funeral coach from the Miho Museum more exact, n the bounds of 10 years. It was during the period of Tapsar Kaghan's rule (572-582), when the dependence of both Chinese kingdoms from the Kaghanate was, probably, the most strong.


A larger image of Marble mortuary bed from the Miho Museum in the Japanese city of Shigaraki
No. 6 (fig. 11).
An evidently Turkic personage in the lower part of this panel is depicted alone. It is a horseman accompanying the embassy. His costume is practically identical in the smallest details (including costume items coloring) to the costumes of those personages from the next panel (No 7), who are giving presents (or serving drinks?) to the aristocrat in the yurt, but his clothes are much shorter. We can suppose that similar clothes are depicted in the same panel on the mounted hunter, but he is partially hidden by the figure of his neighbor. To differ from the above mentioned personages his footwear (black half boots) is better seen.


A larger image of Marble mortuary bed from the Miho Museum in the Japanese city of Shigaraki
No. 7 (fig. 12).
The second panel of this mortuary bed (Miho Museum 1997, p. 250, fig. C; Juliano, Lerner 2001, p. 309, fig. K) is of even greater interest. It shows the life of a Turkic aristocrat and his attendants visited by an embassy of Chinese Sogdians. In the composition of both banquet scenes with the Turk sitting in the yurt in Chinese-Sogdian engraving of the funeral couch from the second half of the 6th c. (described above in the second panel of An Qie's funeral coach and the panel under consideration from the Miho Museum) we see the same iconographic scheme. In both cases there is a yurt with the main personage in the background (the yurt is either completely white or, as in the latter case, mainly white with red and black decor; those two yurts have some differences in the construction of the top part and the size of the entrance). The sitting Turk is being served with vessel with a drink (?). To the left from the yurt there are 3-4 people from the escort sitting on the red round carpet, there are vessels with drinks in front of them (jugs, goblets or wineskins) and food; a large tree is growing to the left from the yurt; horses (for Turks) or camels and donkeys (for Sogdians) loaded with delivered provision are situated closer to the viewers; in the center of the composition we see the standing servants who has prepared drinks and refreshment and are guarding pack animals (Sogdians have one more man who is preparing food sitting to the right). In the foreground (along the lower edge of the picture) we see schematically presented mountain peaks (in An Qie's mortuary bed' mountains are in the background forming some mountain valley round the campsite). It is interesting to mark an interesting distinguishing feature: whereas in the first episode all the personages except for the guest in the yurt are Sogdian (in An Qie's funeral bed Sogdians generally outnumber Turks in all the scenes), in the second one, on the contrary, all the personages are Turks. The latter regularity is also marked in the other panels of the funeral bed from the Miho Museum (the presence of only foreigners - non-Sogdians, non-Chinese in the two panels depicts western embassies).

Let us consider this scene from the life of nomadic Turks. The noble Turk in the yurt (his figure is approximately one and a half times as big as the others) makes the compositional center of this panel. Unfortunately, most of the Turks (five of nine) are shown from back (only the main personage is sitting en face, and the one standing in front of him is shown in profile). In the lower tier we see mounted Turks hunting in the mountains. The caftan of the yurt host has a wide decorative edge on the coat breasts; it is white with lines of red arch-shaped patterns (the only depiction of cloth ornamentation for Turks in the monuments under consideration to differ from Sogdian ones!), the shirt and the trousers are of the same white color

The caftan is undone in the upper part (it is less clearly seen in the image of the mounted hunter in the foreground). The clothes in this group are preserved only in three colors: red, white and, partly, black (the lack of paints being not the reason). There were also, probably, blue and gilding [according to J. Lerner] before the panels were inattentively cleaned. Close examination of the stones themselves shows that there were several other colors). We see here in the scene of hunting short caftans (knee-length) on the horsemen, and people standing at the yurt are wearing ankle-length oriental robes (long sleeved coats) (i.e. a "horse riding' and a festive complete sets. As far as the color of clothes for the upper part of the body is concerned we, very likely, deal with a social convention. The clothing is white for more significant personages, such as in group1 (the aristocrat in the yurt, the horseman in the foreground, the main attendant serving the ruler, the central one of the three guests sitting on the carpet) and red for less important characters (some guests of the aristocrat, the servant with horses, the horseman in the background). The decorative scheme of caftans is unified here - borders edging the coat-closures, cuffs and hem (red for white clothes and vice versa). As it has already been mentioned above, it was on the whole typical for Sogdians.

We see white trousers on the most significant Turks (the noble in the yurt, the horseman in the foreground). The belts on the Turks which are possible to be seen are white without pendant details and plaques (made of fabrics, most probably)12. The footwear is very specific in its details: high boots with triangular projections under knees on the yurt host (the only case in the Turkic series of that period) and red half boots on the horseman in the red caftan. All the Turks are without beards; their moustaches are the same - long horizontal ones (evidently, pomaded). The plaits are rather originally styled. They are as long as the hips (the same long plaits are observed in group 2) but in this case the engraver considered it necessary to show each plait separately. Notwithstanding poor foreshortening of most figures it is evident (judging from the depictions of the two horsemen whose heads are shown in profile and we clearly see the upper parts of their plaits) that they had seven plaits (which is often observed in Turkic statues), the plaits are tied with a white strap at the back part of the head.
They were somehow joined together at the lower part as the general contour is shown to be a little narrower there.


12 . In connection with the status of the white belt (compare, for example, the Altai peoples: during the ceremony "aiylchiga kur kurchaary" men- guests, to differ from women -guests, got monochrome (not motley) belts from the host and the most important of them is white (L'vova and others 1988, p. 183).



See also A Sogdian Mortuary Couch, Bas Relief, Anyang, Henan, 550-577AD
Sogdian murals from Panjakent (Panjikant), 6th-8th Centuries
Sogdian Silk Lampas Trousers, Central Asia, 7th - 8th Century
Iranian Dish with a (Sogdian) Horse-archer Hunting, c.8th Century
Sogdian split tapestry (kilim) coat with animal motifs, Central Asia, 9th/10th Century



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