ZandanIji silks: a history of the myth

Zvezdana Dode

Vostok/Oriens '2017, №6

DOI: 10.7868/S086919081706005X

In the late 1950s, an ink inscription discovered on the silk from the Collegiate Church of Notre Dame in Huy, Belgium, was deciphered by Walter Henning. The text was interpreted by the textile historian Dorothy Shepherd who identified the silk as Zandanījī dated to the seventh century. Medieval fabrics kept in European churches were classified into two groups of Zandanījī silks, Zandanījī I and Zandanījī II weaved, according to Shepherd, in the region of Bukhara. Later A.A. Ierusalimskaia added the third group, Zandanījī III, consisting of archaeological textiles from the North Caucasus that were kept in Russian Museums. But the earliest evidence of Zandanījī, known from “The History of Bukhara” written by Narshakhi in the tenth century, described Zandanījī as cotton fabric. However, due to Shepherd’s publication, the contradiction between textual evidence that clearly identified Zandanījī as cotton fabric and somewhat dubious arguments in favour of the existence of Zandanījī silk was rejected, disregarded, or misinterpreted. Recent research by Nicholas Sims-Williams and Geoffrey Khan (2008) demonstrated that the key piece of evidence that the myth of Zandanījī silks was based on an incorrect decipherment of the inscription on the Huy silk. Thus, a significant amount of medieval textile from the European churches and archaeological sites from the Northern Caucasus was incorrectly attributed and requires re-examination.

Keywords: Zandanījī, archaeological textiles, medieval written sources, Narshakhi, North Caucasus, rock burials, Sogd, medieval silk textiles

Pages: С. 48–60

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