The revived legend of the Falcon
In 2006, in the town of Karshi, in the Kashkadarian state of Uzbekistan, residents celebrated the 2700th anniversary of the founding of the town. According to historical sources, Karshi began as a small town named Nautaka, on the Qashqadaryan Oasis, in the Erkugan region, in approximately the 8th to 5th Century BC.
In the year 329 BC, Alexander the Great began his campaign to take Central Asia, setting his sights on renowned, wealthy cities such as Samarkand and Merv. Without great effort, Alexander succeeded in taking Bukhara. He then made an unexpected move and headed southeast, for the City of Nautaka.
Why did Alexander come back here?
In the service of Macedonia was a priest named Melkonon who told him an important secret. In his youth, Melkonan had been captured by nomads and sold as a slave in to the service of the governor of Nautaka, Sesimitru. He lived in the city for ten years. Being an experienced healer, Melkonan was close to the royal family and for this reason was familiar with the fortress of Nautaka, the lifestyle of the palace and the wealth of the capital of the Qashqadarya Oasis. Among the treasures of the city, according Melkonon, there are three rarities, belonging to the ruler, Sesimitru. First, a golden sacred hedgehog with turquoise needles. Secondly, a green frog, skillfully carved out of a large block of agate. The chief priests of Nautaka were responsible for their safety. The hedgehog and the frog were taken out during sacred festivals and ceremonial processions.
Now the third curiosity was a ring of red agate, on which was carved a warrior holding a staff, with a falcon sitting on it. This ring adorned the left hand of the ruler of Nautaka. It was said to give its owner courage, wisdom and bravery. Anyone who owns an agate ring, will never know the bitterness of defeat, not give in to the enemy in a battle. So this is the story, if you believe the legend. Alexander was forced to divide his army into two parts. The main part of it was sent to the walls of Samarkand, the capital of Sogdiana, whilst he remained with the squad moving towards Nautaka.
Alexander's troops fought for two weeks at the walls of Nautaka, but the gate was not opened. The commander was forced to end the siege (thought - at the time) and go to Samarkand, which was also stubbornly resisting. After a fierce battle, he captured that magnificent city. Alexander never returned to the Qashqadaryan valley and never saw the three treasured wonders of Nautaka. Nautaka long remained unassailable. This was until the 6th century when Arab forces arrived and Nautaka was wiped off the face of the earth. The few surviving inhabitants fled the region.
Only after the Arab invasions, near Nautaka, near the bend of the Qashqadaryo river, did building works begin to build a city with a strong fortress wall. This became Nakhshab (Nasaf). This town stood for a century. The city teemed with life, mosques were built, as well as palaces and other monumental buildings. The northern part of the marshes was where residential areas of affluent citizens and aristocrats were located. To the West of the Shakhristan were the artisanal quarters. Arab geographers at the time recorded that the city wall had four gates. In the East and Northeast, Kesh and Samarkand gates were located in the directions pointing towards the Kesh and Samarkand. To the South was the Gubden gate, to the West, the Nedzhariaya gates, from which a road led to Bukhara. Also geographer’s maps of the time show that the Qashqadaryo river ran straight through the city. The palace and the prison were housed near the bridge over the river. An old and a new mosque were located in the southern part of the city. Major shopping bazaars were located towards the Gubdin gate. In the south-western and north-western outskirts of the oasis, a caravan route passed by. This led to the rapid growth of industry and trade.
But the capital of the oasis was raised to the ground again. The city was overcome by the hordes of Genghis Khan, after which only a huge mound remained. This can still be seen today.
A new, third town was subsequently built next to the deserted towns of Nautaka and Nasaf. Since the beginning of the XIVth century is has been known as Karshi, which in the old Turkic language means a palace or fortress. This was the residence of the Mongol Khan Kebek, descendant of Genghis Khan. In 1364, Amir Temur expanded the city to include a strong fortress in the south of the modern city and since then the city has been known as Karshi. The city flourished during the Sheibanid dynasty. At this time in Karshi various architectural masterpices were built including; the Odina Madrasah (XVI c.), the only women's institution of the region, the Kok Gumbaz Mosque (XVI), the Bekmir (XVI), the Kilichboy, the Hodge Kurbon, the Magzon and the Charmgar (XIX -XX). As well as this, a brick bridge across the Kashkadarya (XVI) and the Sardoba (XVI).
But what became of the three precious treasures that so interested Alexander the Great? Do they actually exist or is that story just another beautiful legend?
In 1973, when they began to lay the route for the main Karshi canal, it became clear that the excavation work would touch the remains of ancient Nautaka. Before the builders arrived, archaeologists visited the site. Little by little they carefully moved the mound away. When they moved away the earth that had covered the pagan temple of Nautaka, they discovered, among fragments, the very same gold hedgehog with turquoise spines. So there is some truth in legends after all. That meant that the frog ought to be searched for too, for according to legend, they were kept in the temple. However the frog was not there and was eventually found in another temple, next to the sanctuary. The frog was made of green Agate stone, just like the story had described. However what about the ring? Was it there too? According to the legend, the ring helped the last Prince of Nautaka ascend to heaven, during the last battle. Seven years later, with the start of work on Erkurgane in 1980, an agate stone was found. Not just any gem, but one that had been engraved.
This scarlet, blood-red stone, with traces of white running through it is sixteen millimeters in length and six millimeters in width. At some point the stone was set in to the ring. On the smooth surface of the stone, a soldier and a falcon have been carved in to it. The height of the figures is not greater than one centimetre. The athlete is toned and strong, in his hand he holds a pole, on the bar of which sits the falcon. The entirety of this marvellous artwork is not larger than a centimetre. The artefact is estimated to be older than two thousand years old. This raises questions: at this time in Qashqadaryo’s history, carving was a very fashionable and valued art form. Where carvings done on valuable gems? These sorts of arts flourished here and were practised by masters now long forgotten.
Nobody knows for sure exactly what happened all those years ago and is anyone really destined to ever find out? However this is how the legend goes, passed down over a thousand or more years.
From material by E. Bereznikova