Sogdians Dominate Central Asian Trade Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Sogdians, a group with a Persian culture and language, dominated Central Asian trade for more than two centuries. Their influence waned only after the conversion of the area to Islam in about 750. As Sogdian merchants plied their trade along the Silk Road, the Sogdian language developed into the common tongue among traders along the entire route.

Summary of Event

The eastern and western sides of the Asian continent were connected by a series of trade routes known as the Silk Road Silk Road , beginning in about 138 b.c.e. The term Silk Road is somewhat misleading in that there was no single route. The trade routes across Asia developed several branches that passed through various oases. Branches led south to India, and a northern route led to the Caspian and Black Seas and ended at Byzantium (now Istanbul). Because the northern route was considered more dangerous and expensive to traverse, much of the silk trade traveled by the middle route, which passed through the Persian Gulf and Euphrates Valley and ended in such cities as Damascus. Travel by land;Silk Road However, no cities were more important than those of the Sogdian region. [kw]Sogdians Dominate Central Asian Trade (6th-8th centuries) [kw]Central Asian Trade, Sogdians Dominate (6th-8th centuries) [kw]Asian Trade, Sogdians Dominate Central (6th-8th centuries) [kw]Trade, Sogdians Dominate Central Asian (6th-8th centuries) Sogdians Trade;Central Asia Central Asia;6th-8th cent.: Sogdians Dominate Central Asian Trade[0060] Economics;6th-8th cent.: Sogdians Dominate Central Asian Trade[0060] Trade and commerce;6th-8th cent.: Sogdians Dominate Central Asian Trade[0060]

The Sogdian civilization in what is now southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan was well established by the time of Alexander the Great’s conquest of Central Asia in 328 b.c.e. and was apparently a subject of the kingdom of Darius the Great in 485 b.c.e. In 568 c.e., Sogdiana came under control of the Turks. Under Turkish rule, Sogdiana was essentially independent. Sogdiana, basically an oasis culture, was the point at which east, west, and south Asia met. As a result, various cultures left their imprint on Sogdian culture. Sogdiana was centrally situated between the northern and southern routes of the Silk Road and was an ideal location for traders and suppliers to the great caravans. As a result, the various oases became wealthy communities and were usually well stocked with luxury items from both Europe and China. The greatest Sogdian cities were Samarqand and Bukhara. It has been said that the Sogdians were good at commerce, loved profits, and were never reluctant to travel to any country where a profit could be made.

Because of their location, the Sogdians became great merchants who spread trade goods, ideas, language, and traditions throughout the cultures of Asia. One writer described them as “cultural bees.” Even before Samarqand and Bukhara were founded, the Sogdians were active in Silk Road caravans. The Sogdian merchants adopted Buddhism and spread the Buddha’s teaching along the Silk Road and throughout China. The merchants also exported cultural aspects such as Sogdian music Music;Sogdiana and dance to China. In return, the merchants brought back from China the technology of paper production. Because of the large number of Sogdian merchants on the route, the Sogdian language became the common language all along the Silk Road, and the Sogdian alphabet was incorporated into later alphabets in this area. Writing;Sogdiana

Sogdian colonies and trade communities, often numbering more than a thousand individuals, were widespread throughout Central Asia, even in much of China. The Sogdians in China often adopted Chinese names. Sogdian trade communities also stretched as far south as modern Sri Lanka and parts of India and as far north as the Ukraine and Mongolia. Individuals who lived in these communities worked largely in trade-related activities in a grand network of Sogdian merchants. In some cases, particularly in China, the Sogdians were appointed to official government positions overseeing the administration of foreign merchants. By the end of the eighth century, following the takeover of Sogdiana by the Arabs, these alien Sogdians began losing their recognizable identity and were absorbed into local society in the countries in which they were living.

During the Tang Dynasty Tang Dynasty;Sogdians and (T’ang; 618-907), the Chinese defeated the Turks, and Sogdiana came under Chinese control, although the region stayed largely independent. Because of the importance of the region, the Chinese protected Sogdian trade. From 650 to 675, Sogdiana was essentially a protectorate of the Chinese, although the Turks also considered at least parts of the region as subject to their rule because the ruler of Samarqand had married a Turkish woman related to the khan. At that time, Samarqand, the capital, witnessed a vast expansion of trade, as evidenced by the quantity of coins that have survived to the present day. The Sogdian merchants dominated the Silk Road and what was sometimes called the “fur road” north to the Urals. Trade items, which have been discovered throughout Central Asia and China, included many silver and golden vessels crafted in Sogdiana in the seventh century. The Sogdians maintained favorable relationships with both the Turks and Chinese, both of whom considered them to be their subjects.

One indication of the wealth of the people, and perhaps their artistry, is the number of murals on the walls of homes. Russian archaeologists who excavated the city of Pendzhikent, located about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from the capital of Samarqand, found that at least a third of the homes had murals on the walls and carved statues, indicating a high level of wealth. Most houses were two or three stories in height and had many rooms. The murals depicted knights, holiday entertainment, nobles sitting at banquets, and hunters chasing their prey on horseback or atop elephants. The murals essentially showed a society that was cosmopolitan and affluent. Other sources indicate that the land was fertile and that horses were a major agricultural product. Many of these horses subsequently ended up in China.

During the mid-600’, the rise of Islam led to the increasing dominance of the Muslims in the Central Asian trade routes. Islamic law became dominant, and favorable tax rates and other concessions were given to Islamic traders. Between 706 and 712, Arabs under the Umayyad Dynasty Umayyad caliphate;Sogdians and took over the region, and the local rulers became servants of the Arabs. Various uprisings in the Sogdian city-states prolonged the Arab takeover. Some Sogdian villages and cities were abandoned or destroyed during the change in power. By about 750, the influence of the Sogdians had waned because of the wide conversion to Islam. Part of the reason for the Sogdians’s vulnerability to the Arabs was their weak system of government. Although the people were wealthy and there was a highly developed economy, each city was essentially a city-state with its own government. There was no centralized government beyond that of the city-state.


Even Sogdians who were not traders benefited from the proximity of trade. Sogdian artisans were admired for their craftsmanship and blend of eastern and western motifs. Silk weaving became a major industry, with the raw material being brought from China by the Sogdian merchants. Sogdian silk-weaving techniques were far superior to those of the Chinese, and Sogdian woven products were in great demand at the Tang court. Sogdian art motifs are quite recognizable and help pinpoint the spread of Sogdian commerce along the branches of the Silk Road. Silk;Sogdians and





The development of Sogdian trade and commerce did much to advance the state of civilization in the Middle Ages. A standardized language and many business practices traversed the same roads over which commodities passed, and some of those practices have continued to the present day. Varieties of fruits and vegetables traveled west from China, thus improving the agriculture of western Asia and Europe. Similarly, religions, particularly Buddhism, spread, following the path of the Sogdian merchants. Although the Sogdians were active traders along the Silk Road from as early as the third century, it was the period from the sixth through eighth centuries during which they reached their economic peak with total domination of Central Asian trade. Although it has been said that the Silk Road had a tremendous impact on Chinese culture, it was the Sogdian culture that was the instrument of that impact. In essence, China became internationalized because of the Silk Road and the activities of the Sogdian traders.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Azarpay, Guitty. Sogdian Painting: The Pictorial Epic in Oriental Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981. Classic work on Sogdian art. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boulnois, Luce. The Silk Road. Translated by Dennis Chamberlain. New York: Dutton, 1966. Excellent work on the Silk Road, including the Sogdians’s use of the trade routes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hopkirk, Peter. Foreign Devils on the Silk Road. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. The Sogdians are among the “foreign devils” highlighted in this volume. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Juliano, Annette L., and Judith A. Lerner, eds. Monks and Merchants: Silk Road Treasures from Northwest China. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001. This is an illustrated catalog of a 2001 exhibition on the Silk Road organized by the Asia Society Museum in New York. The exhibit included both art and manuscripts of merchants explaining the Sogdian civilization. Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kranz, Rachel. Across Asia by Land. New York: Facts on File, 1991. Surveys the history of trade routes in Asia, focusing especially on the Silk Road from China to the West, but also including studies of the Ambassador’s Road, Burma Road, Eurasian Steppe Route, and Russian river routes. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Categories: History