The Medieval Cities of Kazakhstan on the Great Silk Road
Байпаков, Карл. Средневековые Города Казахстана на Великом Шелковом Пути. Алматы: Гылым, 1998, 212с.

Baipakov, Karl. Srednevekovye Goroda Kazakhstana na Velikom Shelkovom Puti. Almaty: Ghylym, 1998, 212pp.


The Medieval Cities of Kazakhstan on the Great Silk Road

Средневековые Города Казахстана на Великом Шелковом Пути

This book was written on the basis of archaeological material acquired over many years of research carried out by students at the A. X. Margulan Institute of Archaeology. The focus is on mediaeval cities along the Kazakh stretch of the Great Silk Road – Ispindzhab, Dzhuvikat, Suyab, Navakent, Kulan, Taraz, Otrar, and others. It is the opinion of the author that as a result of this research, it is possible to fill in gaps in the history of Kazakhstan and the region, and, furthermore, to reconstruct the “first contact between the peoples of the East and West” (p. 8).

Baipakov’s aim is to show that beyond nomadism a developed urban culture also existed in the territories of Kazakhstan. This point is argued on the basis of results acquired through field research, through examination of photography detailing other artefacts found in the area, and also by looking at topographical aerial photography, plans, and maps of the cities and localities. 

This work reveals the role of the Silk Road both as a trade and diplomatic artery and also as a vehicle for the spread of religions including Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Nestorianism and Islam. The data and artefacts used demonstrate the development of distinct cultures and also the interexchange between them. The author highlights the importance of nomadism and sedentary life in the process of mutual cultural enrichment and exchange along the Silk Road. 

A distinguishing feature of Baipakov’s book is that the results of his field research are of a predominantly descriptive nature. This adds to the credibility of the information discussed. A second is the nature of the other sources used: he offers a comparative analysis of literature in Chinese, Arabic, Mongolian and Persian, as well as an examination of Russian officers’ travel writing during the period of Russian colonisation of the steppe, which took place across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Data relating to architectural interchange between mediaeval cities, ancient irrigation systems, and the symbolic ornamentation of items used in ceremonial and ritual practice is of particular interest. Material about cities is divided according to modern areas of settlement, including the Turkistan, Chuy, and Iliisky regions. At the same time, however, Baipakov’s historical reconstruction of the economic, political and cultural life of the region begins in the second century BC and continues to the eighteenth century.

Although a number of Baipakov’s earlier works look at similar problems, this specific text has been produced during a new period of statehood in Kazakhstan. A novel aim is thus established: to present a modern account of Kazakh culture in the light of an urban tradition that is centuries old. 

Kulshat Medeuva
Translated by Morgan Stark
Medeuva, Kulshat. “English abstract of 'The Medieval Cities of Kazakhstan on the Great Silk Road'". Translated by Morgan Stark. In Cities as Built and Lived Environments: Scholarship from Muslim Contexts, 1875 to 2011, by Aptin Khanbaghi, 123. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.
Muslim Civilisations Abstracts - The Aga Khan University
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